Email routing algorithm (not)

I you ever wondered how email gets from here to there watch this short video. If you never did wonder about that, watch it anyway. It's fun.

Extra Foamy

A Starbucks latte option is 'extra foam.' It makes your drink more like a cappuccino, but with out the cinnamon.

The folks at Yamba, Australia, near Sydney had foam with their water recently. In fact, their whole beach and many of the nearby buildings were swallowed by the stuff.

The foam, light as bubble bath foam, stretched 30 miles out into the Pacific Ocean
It was created by just the right combination of salts, chemicals, dead plants, decomposed fish and seaweed churned up by powerful currents.

Storms off the New South Wales Coast and further north off Queensland created a huge disturbance in the ocean, hitting a stretch of water where there was a particularly high amount of the substances which formed into bubbles.

You can help locate meteoroids

On Friday night/Saturday morning, August 31/September 1, there will be an outburst meteor shower. An outburst is a sudden, short burst of a lot of meteors, Aurigids in this case. This is debris left over from the 2000-year-period comet Kiess, and the Earth doesn’t pass through the meteor stream very often so they're very difficult to predict. But the best guess just now is that there will be about 200 meteors visible per hour at the peak -- but the peak comes at 4:36 AM Pacific Daylight Time, which means that it won't be visible from anywhere but the western United States and Hawaii.

The Aurigid Laptop Meteor Observation Project will use the Internet to accomplish something that has never been done before: combine the observations of thousands of people in order to build a three-dimensional map of a meteor stream. For all of history, meteors have been observed by independent observers, giving us an ant's-eye view of the forest. But with the Internet, the ants can combine their observations and, for the first time in history, we'll be able to see the whole forest at once!

The technology required is trivial: a laptop and a pair of eyeballs. All you do is watch the meteors and click the mouse whenever you see a meteor. A small Java applet records the time of your mouseclicks into a file. The next day, you email that file to the project coordinators, and they put it into a monster program that combines all the observations of all the people and builds a satellites-eye-view movie of where the meteors hit. The results will be available for everybody.

To participate, download the Aurigid program onto your laptop. On meteor night, you go outside at the right time, lie down, face East, turn on your laptop, and launch the Aurigid program. Whenever you see a meteor, you click the mouse. Observe meteors for as long as you want. When you're done, quit the Aurigid program and shut down your laptop. The next day, type your longitude and latitude into the log file, and email it to us. That's all it takes. Here are detailed instructions.

You can find more information on the Aurigid outburst at the NASA/SETI web page here.

Why Won't You Do As I say?

In the Dimensional Change Card sorting (DCCS) task, 3-year-olds can usually sort cards successfully by a first rule - whether by shape, color, size, etc. When asked to switch then to another rule, most 3-year-olds will perseverate by continuing to sort cards according to the first and now-irrelevant rule. This occurs even when the current rule is repeated every single time they're asked to sort a card! Children will even correctly repeat the name of the rule they should be using, and then proceed to actually sort the card by the old rule.

By age 4, however, most kids are able to successfully switch to a second rule (though many will still have trouble when asked to switch again). What then changes between 3 and 4 to allow this shift away from a remarkably strange behavior?

A new study by Wolfgang Mack begins to answer this question.

Mack concludes that the verbal information conveyed by the experimenters at the end of the first sorting rule—at the beginning of the second is merely insufficient for many 3 year olds to understand what they should be doing. Accordingly, providing pre-training may help through this route.

Oddly, Mack showed that switching performance can be improved simply by asking an irrelevant question, but he provides no explanation for this fascinating finding. One idea, based on Kirkham et al's attentional inertia account of perseveration, is that children are merely fixated on the first rule and need some sort of strong external prompt to think of something else.

Just Wow!—over and over and over

TED (Technology Entertainment Design) is an annual conference held in Monterey, California. TED describes itself as a "group of remarkable people that gather to exchange ideas of incalculable value".

Its 'performance' covers a broad set of topics including science, arts, politics, global issues, architecture, music and more. The speakers themselves are from a wide variety of communities and disciplines

Take a look at the speakers/performer list. Lectures, music, dance, a sense many of the best of humanity's thinkers, performers, and builders of tomorrow. Jan Goodall-chimpanzees, Jeff Bezos-Amazon, Martin Rees-cosmology, Rev. Tom Honey-religion, Bono - music (U2), Steve Jobs - Apple, and the list just goes on and on.

Click on a speaker that interests you and on their page you'll find a small video box that allows you for free (instead of $6000 attendance fee) to see and hear their presentation. There's an enlarge button on each video, and controls to go back or speed ahead

My goal is to watch every single one, one a day. Most are only 20 minutes or less. Based on those I've watched so far you won't be disappointed in a single one.

For example Jennifer Lin

If you follow only one link from this blog in your life, let it be this one to this performance by pianist and composer Jennifer Lin. Lin, then 14, starts by playing Joseph Hoffman's "Kaleidoscope," then Robert Schumann's "Abegg Variations." She talks about the process of composition and discusses the state of flow, when she can improvise beautiful music instantly -- a state of mind that cannot be forced. Lin invites audience member Goldie Hawn to choose a random sequence of notes, from which she improvises a beautiful and surprisingly moving piece, known to draw tears even via podcast. She finishes with a lightning performance of Jack Fina's "Bumble Boogie.

For example Jeff Hawkins on the human brain.

Jeff Hawkins' Palm PDA became such a widely used productivity tool during the 1990s that some fanatical users claimed it replaced their brains. But Hawkins' deepest interest was in the brain itself. So after the success of the Palm and Treo, which he brought to market at Handspring, Hawkins delved into brain research at the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience in Berkeley, Calif., and a new company called Numenta.

Hawkins' dual goal is to achieve an understanding of how the human brain actually works -- and then develop software to mimic its functionality, delivering true artificial intelligence. In his book On Intelligence (2004) he lays out his compelling, controversial theory: Contrary to popular AI wisdom, the human neocortex doesn't work like a processor; rather, it relies on a memory system that stores and plays back experiences to help us predict, intelligently, what will happen next. He thinks that "hierarchical temporal memory" computer platforms, which mimic this functionality (and which Numenta might pioneer), could enable groundbreaking new applications that could powerfully extend human intelligence.

Or try this dance group

Pilobolus dance company members Otis Cook and Jennifer Macavinta perform the sensuous duet "Symbiosis." Does it trace the birth of a human relationship, or the co-evolution of a pair of symbiotic species? That's left for you to decide. Gorgeous, organic choreography blurs the boundaries between the two performers, who use the body's own geometry to lift, move and combine. The music, recorded by the Kronos Quartet on Nonesuch Records, is a compilation of works: "God Music" from Black Angels by George Crumb, "Fratres" by Arvo Pärt, and "Morango ... Almost a Tango" by Thomas Oboe Lee.

Or this provocative Brazilian artist talking about and illustrating creativity (takes a couple of minutes to get to it, but it's unique and somewhat humorous)

Artist Vik Muniz delights in subverting the expected. He creates images from wire, thread, sugar, chocolate, even dust and clouds that simultaneously comment on art and are art. In a charming talk, he describes how growing up in Brazil turned him into a trickster, and shows lots of his work -- gorgeous photographs and constructions filled with mischievous spirit.

Or Sir Martin Rees on "Earth in its final century?"

In a taut soliloquy that takes us from the origins of the universe to the last days of a dying sun 6 billion years later, renowned cosmologist Sir Martin Rees explains why the 21st century is a pivotal moment in the history of humanity: the first time in history when we can materially change ourselves and our planet. Stunning imagery of cosmological wonders show us the universe as we know it now. Speaking as "a concerned member of the human race," Rees harkens to the wisdom of Einstein, calling for scientists to act as moral compasses, confronting the coming developments and ensuring our role in "the immense future."

Remember, all of these can be stopped, restarted or even allow you to replay a piece you might have missed or misunderstood.

Closeup of a star

Over about two and a half days (August 16-18, 2007), the Sun's prominences were seen in extreme ultraviolet light by the Ahead spacecraft.


Prominences are clouds of cooler gases controlled by powerful magnetic forces that extend above the Sun's surface. Look carefully and you can sometimes see the gases arcing out from one point and sliding above the surface to another point.

In an interesting sequence near the end of the clip, the upper prominence seems to arch away into space. Such sequences serve to show the dynamic nature of the Sun.

But did you know you could put you hand in a bucket of sun and not even feel any heat? Temperature is a measure of the energy in a substance (the speed of the molecules), but the sun at the surface is so diffuse that the few fast moving molecules wouldn't even be noticeable.

An espresso has less caffeine than a cup of coffee!

A cup of brewed coffee has about 110 milligrams of caffeine, and potent as it may seem an espresso about 80mg. But of course that's based on volume; 8 ounces for a cup of coffee and 1.5 oz for espresso. Drip coffee has about 13mg/oz., espresso has a whopping 51mg/oz, and instant decaf only has .31mg/oz.

A can of Coca-Cola has about 23mg of caffeine, Pepsi Cola 25mg, Mountain Dew 37mg, and TAB 31mg.

A cup of tea has about 40mg of caffeine, while an ounce of chocolate contains about 20mg.

This all comes up because I'd had a hard time concentrating lately. I'd be jumping from webpage to webpage, back to email, over to Flickr, back to email, check out the news, and and and . . . .

Decided to cut out caffeine (about 8 cups a day), and boy did I find out what cold turkey means. By the end of the first day and all through the second I had a headache that Tylenol couldn't cure. Second night, third day, and third night I had legs that ached as if I'd run 10 miles. By day four I felt human. Yup, all known symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.

Recounting the ordeal to a friend he told me that when he was in the Army he drank so much cofee that he had withdrawl symptoms on weekends. Couldn't figure out why by Sunday afternoon he was a wreck. Flight Surgeon told him it was coffee. Sure 'nuff.

Use of caffeine apparently goes back to stone Age, and coffee dates back to 9th century Ethiopia, although it was banned in 12th century Turkey. Nevertheless, coffee is the most widely used psychoactive stimulant in the world, and 90% of Americans use the drug everyday.

Not trying to make a point here, but it is one of those things that made me say, "Wow! Really?"

This is what caffeine does to a spider:


The Pentagon Sends Messengers of Apocalypse to Convert Soldiers in Iraq

By Max Blumenthal,
Posted on August 8, 2007, Printed on August 18, 2007

Actor Stephen Baldwin, the youngest member of the famous Baldwin brothers, is no longer playing Pauly Shore's sidekick in comedy masterpieces like Biodome. He has a much more serious calling these days.

Baldwin became a right-wing, born-again Christian after the 9/11 attacks, and now is the star of Operation Straight Up (OSU), an evangelical entertainment troupe that actively proselytizes among active-duty members of the US military. As an official arm of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, OSU plans to mail copies of the controversial apocalyptic video game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces to soldiers serving in Iraq. OSU is also scheduled to embark on a "Military Crusade in Iraq" in the near future.

"We feel the forces of heaven have encouraged us to perform multiple crusades that will sweep through this war torn region," OSU declares on its website about its planned trip to Iraq. "We'll hold the only religious crusade of its size in the dangerous land of Iraq."

The Defense Department's Chaplain's Office, which oversees OSU's activities, has not responded to calls seeking comment.

"The constitution has been assaulted and brutalized," Mikey Weinstein, former Reagan Administration White House counsel, ex-Air Force judge advocate (JAG), and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, told me. "Thanks to the influence of extreme Christian fundamentalism, the wall separating church and state is nothing but smoke and debris. And OSU is the IED that exploded the wall separating church and state in the Pentagon and throughout our military." Weinstein continued: "The fact that they would even consider taking their crusade to a Muslim country shows the threat to our national security and to the constitution and everyone that loves it."

. . .

With the endorsement of the Defense Department, OSU is mailing "Freedom Packages" to soldiers serving in Iraq. These are not your grandfather's care packages, however. Besides pairs of white socks and boxes of baby wipes . . . OSU's care packages contain the controversial Left Behind: Eternal Forces video game. The game is inspired by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' bestselling pulp fiction series about a blood-soaked Battle of Armageddon pitting born-again Christians against anybody who does not adhere to their particular theology. In LaHaye's and Jenkins' books, the non-believers are ultimately condemned to "everlasting punishment" while the evangelicals are "raptured" up to heaven.

. . .

Left Behind player kills a UN soldier, their virtual character exclaims, "Praise the Lord!" To win the game, players must kill or convert all the non-believers left behind after the rapture.

View the full story online at:

A Bitter Dose Of Reality

This blog was started because I often found myself exclaiming, "Wow! Really?" I though other folks might enjoy some of the wowsers, amazing facts and foolishness I discovered. This one I didn't enjoy—yet another indication along with our education and healthcare systems, that suggest we're rapidly moving toward second class nation status. Paul Craig Roberts* in Online Journal provides some evidence, although he didn't say it directly, that we've already achieved that dubious distinction:

Early this morning (August 9th) China let the idiots in Washington, and on Wall Street, know that it has them by the short hairs. Two senior spokesmen for the Chinese government observed that China’s considerable holdings of US dollars and Treasury bonds "contributes a great deal to maintaining the position of the dollar as a reserve currency." [China threatens 'nuclear option' of dollar sales, by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, London Telegraph, August 9, 2007]

Should the US proceed with sanctions intended to cause the Chinese currency to appreciate, "the Chinese central bank will be forced to sell dollars, which might lead to a mass depreciation of the dollar."

If Western financial markets are sufficiently intelligent to comprehend the message, US interest rates will rise regardless of any further action by China. At this point, China does not need to sell a single bond. In an instant, China has made it clear that US interest rates depend on China, not on the Federal Reserve.

The precarious position of the US dollar as reserve currency has been thoroughly ignored and denied. The delusion that the US is "the world’s sole superpower," whose currency is desirable regardless of its excess supply, reflects American hubris, not reality. This hubris is so extreme that only six weeks ago McKinsey Global Institute published a study that concluded that even a doubling of the US current account deficit to $1.6 trillion would pose no problem.

Strategic thinkers, if any remain who have not been purged by neocons, will quickly conclude that China’s power over the value of the dollar and US interest rates also gives China power over US foreign policy. The US was able to attack Afghanistan and Iraq only because China provided the largest part of the financing for Bush’s wars.

If China ceased to buy US Treasuries, Bush’s wars would end. The savings rate of US consumers is essentially zero, and several million are afflicted with mortgages that they cannot afford. With Bush’s budget in deficit and with no room in the US consumer’s budget for a tax increase, Bush’s wars can only be financed by foreigners.

No country on earth, except for Israel, supports the Bush regime's desire to attack Iran. It is China’s decision whether it calls in the US ambassador, and delivers the message that there will be no attack on Iran or further war unless the US is prepared to buy back $900 billion in US Treasury bonds and other dollar assets.

The US, of course, has no foreign reserves with which to make the purchase. The impact of such a large sale on US interest rates would wreck the US economy and effectively end Bush’s war-making capability. Moreover, other governments would likely follow the Chinese lead, as the main support for the US dollar has been China’s willingness to accumulate them. If the largest holder dumped the dollar, other countries would dump dollars, too.

The value and purchasing power of the US dollar would fall. When hard-pressed Americans went to Wal-Mart to make their purchases, the new prices would make them think they had wandered into Nieman Marcus. Americans would not be able to maintain their current living standard.

Simultaneously, Americans would be hit either with tax increases in order to close a budget deficit that foreigners will no longer finance or with large cuts in income security programs. The only other source of budgetary finance would be for the government to print money to pay its bills. In this event, Americans would experience inflation in addition to higher prices from dollar devaluation.

This is a grim outlook. We got in this position because our leaders are ignorant fools. So are our economists, many of whom are paid shills for some interest group. So are our corporate leaders whose greed gave China power over the US by offshoring the US production of goods and services to China. It was the corporate fat cats who turned US Gross Domestic Product into Chinese imports, and it was the "free trade, free market economists" who egged it on.

How did a people as stupid as Americans get so full of hubris?
*Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration. He is the author of Supply-Side Revolution : An Insider's Account of Policymaking in Washington; Alienation and the Soviet Economy and Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy, and is the co-author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice.

Oh, come ON!

There's yet another internet hoax* going around that starts something like:
"If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following. . . ."

It goes on to claim, among other things, that if the worlds population is represented by 100 people "1 would own a computer." That means there are only 0.01*6.6 billion or 66 million computers out there? Actually, in 2003 62 million US households alone had a computer, and many have more than one according to US Census Bureau.

And the email claims, "1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education" According to the 2000 United States census, 24.4% of Americans have at least a bachelor degree, or another higher degree. The US population is around 302 million. 302 million*0.24.4 = 73.7 million people in the US have a degree, but whoever wrote this claims 6.6 billion*0.01 = 66 million people in the whole world. Huh?

"70 would be unable to read" What? Take a look at these UN statistics: 61% of India and 93.5% of China is "Literate"; that's 40% of the worlds population right there. If UN stats are right India: 1.1 billion * 0.61 = 671 million people China: 1.3 billion * 0.935 = 1,215 million people. I could accept maybe 25% of the world is unable to read, but 70%?

Point is, this is just three of the claims this stupid piece gets wrong. It's simply one of those internet hoaxes that people mindlessly love and send to others, and—in keeping with modern style, nobody bothers to questions. Just because someone says something is doesn't make it so. For that matter just becuase you can think of something doesn't make it so either. Don't believe everything you think.

You want to see some accurate scary numbers try this:


*As the World Turns
-- Author Unknown (too chicken to admit it)

If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following.

There would be:

57 Asians 21 Europeans 14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south 8 would be Africans

52 would be female 48 would be male

70 would be non-white 30 would be white

70 would be non-Christian 30 would be Christian

89 would be heterosexual 11 would be homosexual

6 people would possess 59% of the entire world's wealth and all 6 would be from the United States

80 would live in substandard housing

70 would be unable to read

50 would suffer malnutrition

1 would be near death

1 would be near birth

1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education

1 (yes, only 1) would own a computer

When one considers our world from such a compressed perspective, the need for acceptance, understanding and education becomes glaringly apparent.

And, therefore. . .

If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the world's wealthy.

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week.

If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed than 3 billion people in the world (nearly half of the Earth's population).

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.

As you read this and are reminded how life is in the rest of the world, remember just how blessed you really are.

Stretching the limits of fashion

Chinese fashion show promoted condoms to combat HIV.

One of the docs we see is just back from three weeks in China--he goes there every 2-3 years, has been for the last 30. Said this visit was very disturbing.

Thanks to the one child law children are now unable/unwilling, by themselves, to take care of their elderly parents--virtually the basis of Chinese culture for the last 10,000 years. Living on a farm, and all working together, the family could manage. Now the kids take their folk's new national pension and buy sex from the few women around (girl babies were killed, considered less desirable).

Not a good outlook for the largest population in the world.

And consider this: