Dispatches from Outland
A little song. A little dance. A little seltzer down your pants. Copyright © 2003 Roy M. Jacobsen.


Friday, August 22, 2003  

Beyond Parody Department: A group of Egyptian legal scholars have just pegged my Dumb-O-Meter (TM): they want to sue the world's Jews for the gold (and all the other goods) they took when they left Egypt. No, I'm not making this up.

Jonah Goldberg points out something that these legal geniuses have conveniently overlooked: the fact that the Jews were held in bondage as slaves during their sojourn in Egypt. Thus, the Jews have a counterclaim agains the Egyptians.

Of course, if we’re going to play this game, the Egyptians owe the Jews some shmundo too. After all, they held Jews in bondage for generations. The average, say, Jewish accountant or surgeon, makes a very nice living these days. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, $100,000 a year. Multiply that times the number of Hebrews forced to make bricks from straw, times the number of generations in bondage, including overtime and paid vacation – plus night work – compounded over 5,758 years and we’re not talking baklahvah either. Plus, what about the Jews cut of Egypt’s tourism industry? Since the Jews built a lot of that stuff – without compensation – shouldn’t they get a cut of all that too?

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 11:43 AM
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Wednesday, August 20, 2003  

Exquisite Design/Exquisite Designer Department: There's a sponge living in the deep ocean that creates glass fibers that are better than anything man can create. This creature (just in case you forgot, sponges are animals) is called the "Venus flower basket." The fibers in question can be tied in knots without breaking, and they conduct light better than our best stuff too.

The sponge grows in deep water in the tropics. It is about a foot and a half tall (45 centimeters tall) with an intricate silica mesh skeleton that also serves as a home for shrimp. The glass fibers form a crown at its base that appear to help anchor the sponge to the ocean floor. The fibers are about 2 to 7 inches (5 to 17 centimeters) long, and each is about the thickness of a human hair.
The study, which appears in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature, details one of the latest discoveries in the emerging field of biomimetics — the effort to understand how biological systems are engineered and apply the principles to technology.
“It’s such a wonderful example of how exquisite nature is as a designer and builder of complex systems,” said Geri Richmond, a chemist and materials scientist at the University of Oregon who was not involved in the study.
“We can draw it on paper and think about engineering it, but we’re in the stone age compared to nature,” she said. [Emphasis added.]
Hmmmm. I always though that engineering, designing and building complex systems was something that took intelligence.

So many of these biologists would be quick to tell you that all these amazing things--like this sponge--are just the results of blind chance (a.k.a. evolution). At the same time, they can't help but use words like engineered and designed.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 1:59 PM
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Hello! McFly! Department: We've got a couple of nasty worms crawling around the internet. People on various blogs and websites (even the comic strips) are complaining about being deluged with virus-infected emails. (I'm not, at least so far.) It seems like some kind of bug makes the rounds every couple of months, and every year or so, there's a major outbreak that makes the nightly news headlines on the major networks. And I just can't figure out why these things keep happening. Well, I can, but I don't understand it.

These problems could be avoided if people would install virus protection and keep it updated, and keep their OS updated with the latest patches (and if you use Windows XP, you don't have an excuse for not doing that). Every stinking time one of these viruses or worms makes headlines, you get the same advice: install virus software and keep it updated; install the latest patches to your OS.

I guess it's akin to all those warnings about buckling your seatbelt that seemingly bounce off peoples' skulls without even ruffling their hair. Seems like significant share of the traffic fatalities I hear about involve someone being thrown from their vehicle, while a familiar saying attributed to highway patrol personel is "I've never had to unbuckle a dead person."

People, please, please, please: If you don't have antivirus software, get some and install it today. Set it up to automatically download the updates. Find out if you need to download any security patches for your operating system, and if you need them, download them and install them today.

If you don't do it for yourself, do it for the children.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 1:30 PM
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Tuesday, August 19, 2003  

Diamonds Are A Geek's Best Friend Department: It's taken a while, but the boys and girls in the labs have figured out how to make gem-quality diamonds--up to 3 carats--for a hundred dollars, or even less. De Beers doesn't like this. No, they don't like it one bit. People who play with semiconductors love it.

Wired magazine has the story, and it's a fascinating read.

Some of the funny notes in this come from the representatives of the "natural" diamond cartel. For example, we have Jef Van Royen, a senior scientist at the Diamond High Council, the official representative of the diamond industry in Belgium, who opines:

"If people really love each other, then they give each other the real stone," he says, during an interview at council headquarters on the Hoveniersstraat in Antwerp. "It is not a symbol of eternal love if it is something that was created last week." So goes the De Beers-backed line.
Oh, yah, right. Eternal love, eh? Just like between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor? He gave her plenty of diamonds, and some big ones too. They married, divorced, married again, and divorced again. That's eternal love, eh?

More telling were the comments of a jewler who saw some of the "cultured" diamonds at a Las Vegas lapidary show
Kevin Castro, a jeweler in Cedar City, Utah, comes to a surprised halt. "These are awfully pretty," he says.

I tell him that they are man-made and ask if that bothers him.

"If you go into a florist and buy a beautiful orchid, it's not grown in some steamy hot jungle in Central America," he says. "It's grown in a hothouse somewhere in California. But that doesn't change the fact that it's a beautiful orchid."

"Do you care that it's not from De Beers?" I ask.

"De Beers?" he says. "Nobody cares if it's from De Beers. My clients just want a nice diamond."

That sounds right.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 11:11 AM
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Now THAT'S What I Call Teaching Department: Sgt. Mom remembers Mr. Terranova.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 9:38 AM
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Monday, August 18, 2003  

OK, Now I'm Getting Cranky Department: Dopey me. For most all my life, I thought the teacher's job was to teach. Not if you ask John Dewey:

Every teacher should realize he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of the proper social order and the securing of the right social growth.
Excuse me?!?

All this time, I thought that our modern education system was broken, that it wasn't doing what it was designed to do. Turns out that I was wrong, that it is doing what it's designed to do. But what it's designed to do is not to educate; at least not in the sense that most of us understand.

You can order the book The Underground History of American Education from Barnes and Noble by clicking here:
The Underground History of American Education: A Schoolteacher's Intimate Investigation into the Problem of Modern Schooling


Thanks to theosebes for the pointer.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 1:21 PM
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Touchy Touchy Department: From the King County Journal:

KENT -- A woman shopping at Top Food and Drug took offense Tuesday when another customer looked past her to ask a Top Food employee when a new batch of Zingers snack cakes were going to be put on the shelf.

``Don't you talk around me,'' said the 34-year-old Kent woman police described as ``rather large.''

She then began whacking the Zingers customer about the head. When a manager tried to intervene, he was pelted with a barrage of Twinkies and other assorted snack cakes.

The woman also assaulted arriving Kent police officers, who suffered minor injuries and booked the woman into the Kent jail.


No comment.

posted by Roy M. Jacobsen at 9:36 AM
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