Archive for September 15th, 2006|Daily archive page

Bacon. Cat. Bacon on the Cat…

Some people will do anything to procrastinate. John Scalzi, science fiction author (and cat owner), has raised this to an art form.

It all started when he put a To-Do list up on his blog. Somewhere after the entries ‘Fight Crime’ and ‘Eat cheese,’ he mentioned he needed to ‘tape bacon to cat.’ This ill advised entry led, as some people might have guessed, indeed to a cat being taped to bacon. (or the other way around, I forget).

In order to prove to those on Hte Internets, Mr Scalzi published photos of said cat with bespoke tape shortly after the original post.  This photographic evidence, which could possibly be used in a court of law, was interspersed with the transcript of the the obligitory ‘ask wife for permission first’ telephone call.

Me [John Scalzi](to Krissy[The Wife]): So, would you mind if I tape bacon to the cat?
Krissy: That’s a fairly interesting question. What’s the purpose here?
Me: I put taping bacon to the cat on a list of things I said I was going to do today and people seemed to be skeptical.
Krissy: You said you were going to tape bacon to the cat on the Whatever.
Me: Yeah.
Krissy (audible sigh): Since you are going to do it, and take a picture of it, all I ask is that you take the bacon off right after. All right?
Me: Okay.
Krissy: You’re a strange, strange, strange man.

The results are already blogging and internet history.

Well, time to stop –um – procrastinating. And no I’m not even going to think of putting up a To Do list.

Hat tip, Chad Orzel at Uncertain Priniples 

Reality-based thinkin’? We don’ need no stinkin’ reality-based thinkin’

Noah Shachtman has a scary post up about the current state of the military. Most of the post is a quote from a document from one of Nancy Pelosi’s  aides. (And no he doesn’t like Ms Pelosi much either. *shutter*) Congressmen Dave Obey and John Murtha.

This is my problem with non-reality based politicos. The Bush administration has chosen to ignore facts and create reality. The only problem is that the real reality has a tendency to come back and bitch slap those that try this. I’d be cool with that if only Bush, Rummy, Donny and Co. were involved. Unfortunately they have almost 3,000 dead and over 17,000 American injured to account for. The numbers of Iraqi casualties both civilian and military have never been really tallied.

Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol chose to ignore reality when creating PNAC ( Without ever having served, they think you can walk in to a country, kick ass and walk out again. Unfortunately the world doesn’t work that way. There was to be no post conflict planning, no long term commitments, no long term support. Walk in, get the flag waved and leave. The military knew it wouldn’t work. But in the military, unless you want to leave, you’re going to do the best you can with the orders you have. You just try to get the job done with what’s there.

Now, it appears, the US military is slowly reaching the end of it’s rope. Will this hang Rummy? No, because by the time the damage becomes unmistakable, he will have left his post. If a Democat gets elected president in 2 years, the Republicans will probably point to the bad shape the military is in . (AKA break something, look innocent and point to the ass donkey standing next to you.)

All this adds up to a simple equation:
Bad Planning + Good Execution = Up sh*t creek without a paddle

Curse you Skepchick

Skepchick posted a list of alternative women for those geeks whose fantasy was crushed by the fact that Lonely15 wasn’t what she seemed to be.  One of those alternatives was Eugenie Scott . I’ve never met Ms Scott, but everything of hers I’ve read or anything I’ve heard from or about her has been pretty impressive. I must have a real respect for her.

At least that’s the most harmless explanation I can come up with for my dream last night.

I had this really weird dream that I was in ancient Greece. Eugenie Scott and Barbara Forrest were sitting on pedestals (yes, pedestals. I know *hangs head in shame*), dressed in the standard pseudo-Greco garb found only in Italian sword and sandal films from the 1960’s and both were telling stories about creationist stupidities. I was sitting like an ancient philosophy student in the dust at their feet absorbing the knowledge of my elders. Now I am followed by this feeling I ought to be out verbally abusing a creationist while wearing sandals.

How did this creep into my (un-)conscious mind. I blame Skepchick!

Fade to black, Fade in to view through iron wrought gate of old, ominous building. Black storm clouds darken the sky in background. It is very windy, leaves blowing across the weed-covered drive.

Pan up to show the word ASYLUM worked into the stone arch over the gate.

The camera recedes into the sky, remaining focused on the building, showing it to be on a wind swept cliff next to an iron colored sea.

Voice from off (with reverb): Curse you skepchick!
Lightning flashes followed immediately by thunder clap. Roll credits.

A real Bionic Woman

I remember thinking two things as a teenager watching the Bionic Woman. “They’ll be able to do that some day if they ever solve the power problems” and “Whoever came up with the DaaaatTaTaTaTaTaTa sound should be shot.” Today’s frontpage, color story in the LA Times features the newest bionic woman.

Now I would argue she is more a cyborg than a bionic person. As I understand it, bionics (AKA biomimetics) deals with taking patterns and structures from nature and using them to create designs. There are several examples of biomimicry in recent years. One example uses the nanostructures found on lotus leaves to create hydrophobic surfaces (see here). Using biological structures in architecture has also become increasingly popular. Cyborgs on the other hand are people with hi-tech stuff implanted or attached (think Seven of Nine). Thanks to a couple of bad TV-series in the 70’s, the word bionics is (mis-)used to mean cybernetics. Note: neither of these are to be mistaken for body modification, which is stuffing low-tech stuff into your body.

Take home lesson:
Bionics:  Nature –> Engineered stuff
Cyborg: Engineered stuff  –> Person
Body Modification: ick, ick, ick.

Anyway, thought controlled prosthesis have been around for several years. The improvement here seems to be the amount of control and variability allowed in the new system. Now thought control isn’t quite right, the control comes from implanting sensors near nerves that were used to control the muscles in the now missing limb. This allows the prosthetic to fulfil some function by thinking about moving phantom limb. Your brain fires a signal which goes to the nerve and the signal from that nerve is picked up by the sensor and relayed to the prosthesis. The prosthesis then moves.

There are two really tough engineering problems here. Getting the weight of the prosthesis down and having something with enough power to run all day.

Reducing the weight is the “easier” of the two. While there are limits to how small effective motors or actuators can be, I would guess a consistent use of hi-tech materials (carbon fiber bones for example) and miniaturisation of the electronics involved could reduce the weight. Here the limiting factor probably isn’t the doable, it’s the cost.

The real problem is powering the thing. One of the major weight penalties in electrical gadgetry, like notebooks or cybernetic arms, is the battery pack. Now imagine having to go through life a) with a laptop battery strapped to you and b)having to recharge your arm every few hours. This would be a bummer. There is one highlight on this front though. Building better rechargeable batteries is a major research goal of the military. When the military looks at something, you know lots of money will be tossed in that direction. (Most of it will probably miss its mark, but thats another story) But, even if civilian use of these technologies will only be one generation behind the military components, any improvement should be welcomed.

I, for one, am really happy for the worlds newest bionic woman cyborg.


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