Tuesday, December 27, 2005

5 TV shows to watch marathon-style on DVD

I love TV shows on DVD. The world's few great TV shows are best appreciated in 12-hour marathons. Also, watching TV shows on DVD provides maximum flexibility--even if you're not sure you have the time or attention span for a 2-hour movie, you can probably manage a 22- or 44-minute tv show. If you find that you're in the mood for more, you can watch another. Before you know it, you've wasted your entire weekend. Awesome.

So, when you're ready to put on some lounging clothes, order a pizza, and settle in for a few dozen hours of lazy happiness, here are my suggestions for what to watch:

1. Sports Night. This 2-season comedy/drama about the staff of a Sportscenter-style show was great. It's an Aaron Sorkin show, and it has the same complex and witty dialogue and the same earnestness as the West Wing. Somehow, I like it even more than the West Wing, despite my love of politics and hatred of sports. Everyone involved in it still talks about it as one of their greatest experiences. Watch it.

2. Profit. This show aired for 6 episodes or so in 1996, but people have been talking about it ever since. It's about a deeply disturbed and evil guy who screws people over as he takes control of a huge corporation. He's a terrible person, but he's so charming and smart that you root for him anyway. It's very dark, and it probably would have been more successful had it aired on HBO or Showtime. It was ahead of its time.

3. Newsradio. Probably the best sitcom ever, certainly the most underrated. Great ensemble cast, especially Phil Hartman and Dave Foley. The first set (seasons 1 & 2) has commentary on almost every episode.

4. Kids in the Hall. The greatest sketch comedy show ever (or at least since Monty Python.) I watched it with my friends in college, and half of our conversation was conducted in Kids in the Hall quotes.

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This was the first show I ever watched for the first time on DVD. I'm not much of a sci-fi/horror/fantasy/vampire lover, but the supernatural backdrop increases the intensity of the soap opera elements, which I do love. Also, Joss Whedon has a flair for entertaining dialogue. Seasons 1, 2, and 3 are nearly perfect. Seasons 4 and 5 are good. Seasons 6 and 7...well, once you've watched that far, you're going to watch them. And season 6 has the brilliant musical episode.

Honorable mentions: Corner Gas, Freaks and Geeks, The West Wing, Queer as Folk (U.S.), Soap.

Happy watching!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Happy Boxing Day!

It's December 26th, and it's Boxing Day in the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. My U.S. readers may not know that Boxing Day exists. Even some Canadians may be vague on the details--when I was in Vancouver near Christmas a few years ago and asked a Canadian about it, he said he didn't know much about it except that department stores had Boxing Day sales. So I did a little research.

Basically, Boxing Day originated as a day on which to give money or stuff to the less fortunate. According to one theory, it began as a tradition of giving boxes of food to servants as a sort of early Christmas tip. According to another, it comes from the tradition of opening the locked box of church donations for the needy on Christmas, then distributing them the following day.

Today, Boxing Day is celebrated with after-Christmas sales, sporting events (particularly in England), acts of charity, and gatherings with friends and family.

I think Boxing Day sounds just swell, and we in the U.S. should start observing it. I particularly like the idea that, after you get a bunch of stuff for Christmas, you turn around and give a bunch of stuff to people who need it more than you do.

This site gives you five steps to celebrating boxing day. The Wikipedia article about Boxing Day is here. This site explores some myths about Boxing Day and some different theories of its origins.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Adoptee rights revisited

A woman who gave up her child for adoption 18 years ago recently commented on my Adoptee Rights post. Her perspective is interesting, and not one I see brought up often; I encourage everyone who was interested in the issue to check it out. Also, she addresses adoption and birth parent issues on her own blog, Musings of the Lame. Thanks to her for her personal perspective.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Am I getting too close to the truth about chemtrails?

I just noticed that someone from the United States Government (domain "senate.gov") came to my blog using the search terms "chemtrails & first" and stayed on my blog for 2 minutes and 54 seconds. What's going on here? Am I under surveillance?

If you're from the government and you're watching me, please read this: I don't really think you're spraying us with mind-control chemicals. I posted that because I thought it was ludicrous. And if you are, more power to you. I'm sure you know what's best for us. Also, I don't really think George Bush is a reptilian shapeshifter. But if he is, that's just great too. Whatever.

Next Blogs of the Week: TV blogs

In a recent trip around the NextBlogosphere, I came across two notable television-related blogs.

The first is Give Me My Remote. The author watches TV and blogs about it. I was drawn to the site because she, like me, has a bit of an obsession with The Office (US) and, in particular, John Krasinski (Jim). She also seems to be more in the know than your average blogspotter, because she has scored an interview with one of the show's stars and is asking readers to submit questions. She also likes Lost, Prison Break, and Veronica Mars.

The second is TV Oracle. The author blogs about TV but is planning to expand to other forms of pop culture as well. TV Oracle has daily TV highlights right on the front page, so you'll never miss important events like the premiere of "Superstar Weddings Gone Bad." They also have some TV show reviews--and they do not like The Colbert Report.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Worst Christmas Song Ever

I have recently heard the worst holiday song in the history of holiday songs. It may be the worst song in the history of songs, period. It's called "The Christmas Shoes." Here's the chorus.

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size

Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time

You see she's been sick for quite a while

And I know these shoes would make her smile

And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight

That is just so wrong. Wrong. Ick. Why would you want to hear that, ever? Yet I have heard it twice in the last two days on the Christmas station. Horrible, horrible, horrible. Want to hear the whole, horrifically depressing story of this kid and his dying mom? The full lyrics are here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Pen testimonial

I have found the greatest pen ever, and I want to share my joy with you.

I have trouble with pens. Ball-point pens are nice because they don't have wet, smeary ink, but you have to press down hard for them to work. On the other hand, gel pens are very easy to write with, but they are very smeary and messy. I realize that more expensive pens might solve this problem, but I have a tendency to lose them, so I'm sticking with the disposable ones.

This week, I found the answer to my pen problems: The Uni-ball Jetstream. It claims to have a "new hybrid ink" and to be "smooth like a gel" but "quick drying like a ball point." And those claims are 100% true! I will never use anything else.

Unfortunately, I've already lost the pen. If you find it in the law school, let me know.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The War on Christmas hits home

Fishfrog has recently posted about the supposed "War on Christmas" here and here, so it' s been on my mind. I used to think that the idea of a War on Christmas was stupid. If your religion's big problem is that Target clerks don't mention your holiday as explicitly as you'd like when you buy toilet paper, you don't have much to complain about.

But now I realize that the War on Christmas crowd has a point.

As I said in my last post, I'm a big fan of Christmas songs. Specifically, I'm a fan of traditional Christmas carols, because they are awesome; I generally find modern pop-holiday songs annoying, because they are. While listening to the all-holiday music station for three hours yesterday, I heard only ONE traditional song, Hark the Herald Angels Sing. However, I heard each of the following songs at least twice: Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Sleigh Ride, Winter Wonderland, and Jingle Bell Rock.

What is going on here? I thought I lived in a Christian country! What good is electing the religious right if I have to listen to ACLU-sanctioned, secular crap like Hilary Duff singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" on the public airwaves? I'm being oppressed, and I'm not going to stand for it.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Holiday Song Poll

I love Christmas songs. I'm sitting here listening to the all-Christmas-song radio station, which I love, even if I question their decision to play "Wonderful Christmastime" by Paul McCartney every 15 minutes.

I am waiting and hoping for them to play my own favorite songs. What are they, you ask? Here they are:

Traditional: Joy to the World. There are so many reasons to love this song. It's easy for most people to sing, so it sounds really good even in a group of untrained singers. Its message and tone are happy (joyous, even). It's also very satisfying to play on the piano, with lots of big slamming chords that are easy but sound cool. Also, I know all three verses.

Nontraditional: Baby, It's Cold Outside (Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald version). This is not even remotely about a holiday, but it's about cold weather, so they play it at this time of year and it counts. It's an a duet between a couple about whether the girl should go home at the end of the evening. ("I really can't stay..." "But baby, it's cold outside.") The singing in this version is really beautiful and charming. It's also incredibly fun to sing.

So what are your favorite holiday songs, traditional and nontraditional, and why? This is not a contest, but if you pick awesome songs or reasons, I will compliment you.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Earthquakes, actual and predicted

Just over 15 years ago, a pseudoscientist named Iben Browning predicted that on December 3rd, 1990, a massive earthquake would hit the New Madrid fault in southeastern Missouri. The prediction caused mass hysteria. People bought earthquake insurance, news stations did stories about standing in doorways, and many of my classmates stayed home from school, "just in case."

The prediction, while silly and baseless, did bring something surprising to the attention of midwesterners: the largest earthquakes ever to hit the contiguous United States occurred along the New Madrid fault.

In 1811 and 1812, three earthquakes believed to be over 8.0 on the Richter scale occurred with epicenters in or near southeastern Missouri. They are said to have caused the Mississippi River to run backwards and were felt as far away as Massachusetts. Seismologists predict that another large earthquake will hit the area in the next few decades.

Want to read more? This is a site with a brief description of the New Madrid fault and links to eyewitness accounts of the 1811-1812 quakes. This is an article by a guy reflecting on the 1990 prediction hysteria. Want to read a lot more about Browning's prediction? The USGS will mail you a free 248-page report (!) about the incident.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The secret to getting more blog traffic

Of the last 100 visitors to scarlet panda, ten got here by doing google or msn searches. The searches are listed below.

genetics calico cats
dissecting a fly
body temperature of panda
jewkraine (the author of the "My Heart is Like Glass" blog I posted about last week)
fahrenheit 0 solution
reptile DNA and the Illuminati
secret reptilian members
david icke shape shifting reptilian humanoids
reptilian shape shifters (2 times)

The moral of the story: if you want more blog traffic, liberally add references to shapeshifting reptiles.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Adoptee rights

I came across this article yesterday in the New York Times. It was written by a woman who was adopted and now has a son of her own. The son was having heart problems, and a critical decision in his treatment depended on whether he had a family history of a certain genetic disease. The mother, because she knew virtually nothing about her biological relatives, could not answer the question.

The author points out that the existing law, allowing for secret records, was designed to protect birth parents and adoptive parents, but not adoptees. She supports legislation pending in New Jersey that would allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates.

I completely see the author's point; it seems unfair that one would lack access to important medical records just because one was adopted. On the other hand, I worry that many birth mothers would be reluctant to consider adoption at all if they did not have the option of anonymity. Discouraging adoption doesn't help anyone, least of all the adoptee. Also, there are plenty of other people who can't get detailed data on their relatives because those relatives are deceased or geographically distant.

What do you think?

A modest proposal for the "Next Blog" button

If you're on an English-language blog, "Next Blog" should only take you to other English-language blogs. I cannot read Chinese or Russian or even Spanish, and I don't want to waste my time going to those sites.

Next Blog of the Week: Bama Hockey

Each week, I select a blog I found using the "Next Blog" button. Today's blog: Bama Hockey. The author set up the blog as a requirement for his English 101 course at the University of Alabama. On the blog, the author posts his assignments, which bear little resemblance to my old college English assignments and include a review of the movie First Blood (a Rambo film), a discussion of Snoopy's psychology, and an interview with himself. I wonder if the blog will continue in the spring, when presumably English 101 will have ended.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Raise her gold and blue and cheer with voices true

If you weren't watching the Notre Dame/Stanford game last night, you really missed out. It should have been a blowout. It almost had not occurred to me that Notre Dame might not win. Yet with less than a minute remaining, Notre Dame was down 31-30. We scored a touchdown and made a 2-point conversion to bring it up to 38-31, which ended up being the final score. It was a little too exciting a game for my taste, but fun to watch.

Because of this win, Notre Dame is now eligible for a BCS bowl. They haven't officially gotten a bowl yet, but they almost certainly will get picked--humans, rather than computers, make the decision, and Notre Dame has huge appeal because of its national appeal and its comeback-from-10-years-of-sucking story.

I'm not even going to try to explain the system of BCS standings--if you want to know a little more, look here; if you want to know a lot more, look here. Basically, the system is supposed to put the 8 top college football teams in four postseason BCS bowl games, one of which will determine the national championship. The way teams are picked for the bowls is convoluted and bizarre and leads to a lot of whining about who "deserves" to go. If we really cared about deserving, we'd have a playoff system. The BCS rewards a combination of athletic accomplishment and general team appeal. Deal with it.

Go Irish!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Rapture Index

I came across this website, the Rapture Index, a while ago. Every day, it attempts to estimate the likelihood that the rapture (the event in which Christians are taken into heaven and non-Christians are left behind) will occur that day. The author assigns numerical values to 45 factors (examples: Inflation, Anti-Semitism, Volcanoes, Satanism), adds up the numbers, and comes up with the "Rapture Index." It's at 156 today, very high--anything above 145 means "Fasten your seat belts," because we're speeding toward the occurrence of pre-tribulation rapture.

Each day, the author comments on the factors that are in flux. Some of the explanations make sense--the "Flood" factor is up because of Hurricane Katrina. Others are less obvious: the "Antichrist" factor is down lately because of "The French no vote on the EU constitution."

If you like, you can also check out the Rapture Ready FAQ, guaranteed to offend everyone I know. One of the questions: "Is the Pope the Antichrist?" Answer: probably not, because he's not Jewish. Lovely.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Oh no! I missed Gilmore Girls!

Even the most dedicated fan of a particular TV show can miss an episode. When none of your friends happened to tape the show, what are you to do? You can't just go on to the next week of Lost without knowing what happened before--you would be mystified. Even more mystified than usual, I mean.

Television Without Pity is a wonderful website that provides comprehensive and humorous recaps of a variety of TV shows each week. The day after an episode, a brief "recaplet" appears to tell you the basics of what happened; after a few days, a full, multi-page scene-by-scene recap appears. They are almost always entertaining, whether you've seen the episode or not. Shows of interest to my readership that are covered include Lost, Gilmore Girls, Smallville, The Apprentice, Veronica Mars. and House.

Another feature of TWOP is its incredibly well-moderated forums section. There are forums for the covered shows, other shows currently on the air, and long-gone but brilliant shows. Unlike most internet forums, which are full of fights, grammar mistakes, annoying smiley face icons, off-topic conversations, and in-jokes, these forums are awesome. The moderators rule with an iron fist--when posters are off-topic, rude, or incomprehensible, they get warned or banned. The result is a set of forums that are civil and interesting.


Monday, November 21, 2005

Go ahead and sneeze

I just read the following story in my Employment Law book:

A guy was attending a meeting when he "felt a sneeze coming on." He tried to suppress the sneeze in an effort to avoid spreading germs. He failed, and as a result, his retina detached and he lost his vision in his left eye.

I plan to sneeze freely from now on.

Thanksgiving Traditions

I love holidays. I love elaborate meals, decorations, getting together with family, and holiday-specific traditions like gift-giving, egg-hunting, and trick-or-treating. I have recently decided that Thanksgiving, at least in my family, is lacking in the "decorations" and "holiday-specific traditions" departments. We do the basics--a big, delicious meal and some football on TV. But as much as I love TV and food, I think we need some special Thanksgiving activity to do every year.

So, I ask for Thanksgiving tradition suggestions. What do you do for Thanksgiving? What do you wish you did? What do you think would be fun? Be as creative as you can. The deadline is Thursday.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I'm "Texas."

The book quiz site that warmfuzzy posted about recently has several other quizzes. In addition to to book quiz, there's the state quiz, the country quiz, the animal quiz, and, very weirdly, the trains and railroad quiz. The state and animal quizzes aren't very good, but I found them interesting enough when the alternative was paying attention in Evidence. Anyway, here are my results:

Country: Texas (yes, for the country quiz) ("You aren't really much of your own person, but everyone around you wishes you'd go away, so you might as well be independent. You're sort of loud-mouthed and abrasive, but you do have a fair amount of power. You like big trucks, big cattle, and big oil rigs. And sometimes you really smell. But it's not all bad, you're big enough to have some soft spots somewhere in all that redneck madness.")

Railroad: The Reading Railroad ("Despite what many people mistakenly think, you actually have no connection to Levar Burton.")

State: Iowa (I've gone back through this quiz several times, but I still haven't figured out how to get to Missouri)

Animal: Flamingo (apparently I'm "absurdly thin," I love shrimp, and pink is my favorite color)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Reptilian shape-shifters run the world

Time for more weirdos. Today's topic: David Icke.

Like many conspiracy theorists, David Icke believes that the world is run by a secret, elite society that includes many government leaders. Unlike most conspiracy theorists, he believes that the government leaders in the secret society are really giant lizards.

Icke believes that George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, the members of the British royal family, and others are reptilian humanoids from the fourth dimension. Their DNA is a hybrid of reptile and human DNA, and they can "shape shift"--change from reptile form to human form--when they drink human blood. He claims to have heard eyewitness reports of people who have seen these shape-shifting events. He also claims to have done scientific research supporting his reptile theory.

According to Icke, this secret reptilian government is responsible for the Holocaust, the September 11 attacks, and just about every action the government takes.

Many people believe that Icke is a dangerous anti-Semite, arguing that when Icke says "reptiles," it is a code word for "Jews." This theory is bolstered by (a) the fact that his theories echo many other theories involving a secret Jewish ruling elite, (b) the fact that he has, especially in early writings, cited anti-semitic writings and praised far-right leaders, and (c) the praise he has received from various neo-nazi groups.

Going against this theory: (a) many of the members of the reptilian society are clearly not Jewish (George Bush, Queen Elizabeth), (b) he has a really elaborate theory about the reptilian race that makes it seem like he really is talking about reptiles, and (c) he publicly professes respect for the Jewish people.

Icke has a surprisingly large following, especially among New Age-type people and especially in Canada. Before he got into the reptile stuff, Icke was professional soccer player and later a BBC sportscaster in the U.K.

Want to know more? I first read about David Icke in the book Them: Adventures with Extremists, by Jon Ronson. Here is an excerpt. His own website is here. The wikipedia article about him is here.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Political Quiz Results

Economic results:

Matt –7.6
Nell –5.4
Scarlet Panda –4.3
Fishfrog –3.6
Leo & Squishy Burrito –3.5
Warmfuzzy –2.5
Washrambler –0.8
Cster +0.1

Social results:

Scarlet Panda –7.3 (but I don't even break traffic laws!)
Matt & Nell –5.9
Fishfrog –5.3
Washrambler –4.7
Leo –4.4
Squishy Burrito –1.8
Cster –0.5

Any surprises? Comments?

Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame

This is a picture of my old school. I lived in a dorm just to the right of where the domed building is.

I wish I were there right now instead of sitting at my dining room table writing about the First Amendment and half-listening to the Navy game on NBC.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Cat Contest Winner...Matt!

This is Tiffany von Spindeleben, found by our very own Matt. I'd also like to give a shout-out to nell and warmfuzzy for their excellent guesses.

Tiffany's genetics:
C gene is the Siamese version (active only in the warm areas)
O gene is normal and functional.

Extra credit: Can anyone (other than Matt) explain Ms. von Spindeleben's appearance in terms of her genes?

Political Quiz!

Since I enjoyed hearing people's responses to the Belief-O-Matic a couple of weeks ago, I thought I'd post a new quiz for everyone: What's your political compass? It asks you a bunch of questions, then plots your political beliefs on a 2-dimensional graph--one dimension for your economic views and one for your social views.

My results:
Economic -4.25 (-10 is socialism; +10 is pure capitalism)
Social -7.25 (-10 is anarchy; +10 is authoritarianism)
My closest world leader on the graph: The Dalai Lama.
My most distant: a tie between George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Ira Glass on TiVo

I love TiVo. I love Ira Glass (host of This American Life.) I just discovered that Ira loves TiVo, and now I love them both all the more. Ira on TiVo:

"Married people always want you to get married, people with kids always think you'll be happier with kids, and TiVo owners always believe your life won't truly begin until the day you get TiVo. God knows I believe that."

Read the whole
testimonial here.

I can't sleep.

For the past two weeks or so, I've spent several hours laying awake in bed, unable to sleep. I need help. Warmfuzzy had an entertaining and useful suggestion. Anyone else? What do you do when you can't get to sleep?

Cat Contest

What would a cat look like if it had the following genetics?

Gene C: the weird, semi-functional siamese version
Gene O: functional

The first person to find a picture of such a cat on the web and post the link in a comment wins.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Lessons in Cat Genetics, Part One: Siamese Cats

Sometimes science is fun. Example: the genes that control cat coat color.

Here is a really simplified way of thinking about cat color:

Colorless stuff --Gene C--> Black pigment --Gene O--> Orange pigment

To get past the first arrow (to make Black pigment), you have to have a functioning copy of Gene C. To get past the second arrow (to make Orange pigment), you have to have a functioning copy of Gene O.

Orange cats have at least one functioning copy of Gene C, so they can get past the first arrow. They also have at least one functioning copy of Gene O, so they can get past the second arrow. If you have an orange cat, congratulations!

Colorless stuff --Gene C--> Black pigment --Gene O--> Orange pigment

Black cats have at least one functional copy of the Gene C. But they can go no further, because they have no functional Gene O. Their pigment gets stuck at black. This is warmfuzzy's cat.

Colorless stuff --Gene C--> Black pigment

White cats (100% white, with pink eyes) have two nonfunctional copies of Gene C. They might have a good copy of Gene O, but there is no way to tell, because they can’t even get past the first arrow. [note: this is really rare; most white cats have colored eyes and have white fur for a different reason]

Colorless stuff

Siamese cats have a weird, semi-functional version of the Gene C. They can make black pigment, but not very well. Their Gene C has a mutation that causes the product of Gene C to stop working at high temperatures. The result? In the colder areas of the cat’s body, the cat can get past the first arrow. In the warmer areas, it can’t. So you end up with a cat that looks like this one. The cold areas (feet, tail, nose, ears) are black, and the warmer areas are not. (This cat also has a nonfunctional Gene O, so it can't make orange.)

Colorless stuff --Gene C, working in cold areas--> Black pigment in cold areas

True story.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Looks-based discrimination

I recently came across a law review article arguing that looks-based employment discrimination should be banned along with race-, age-, sex-, and disability-based discrimination. It pointed out that one's level of attractiveness is, like these other categories, largely immutable. It cited many studies suggesting that looks-based discrimination has a huge effect on hiring, promotions, and earnings--in some cases greater than the effect of race-based discrimination.

Of course, if looks are important to your job (model, maybe receptionist, etc.) the discrimination would be ok (just as blind people can't sue when they are denied positions as busdrivers.) But for most jobs, looks aren't really important.

Any thoughts?

A temperature poem

Those of us who grew up as red-blooded Americans tend to be unfamiliar with the Celsius temperature scale, sensible though it may be. We probably know what 0 and 100 are, and we retain some vague notion from elementary school science that you can convert to Fahrenheit if you use some formula involving weird fractions like "5/9" (or is it "9/5"?). None of that is much help if you're on vacation in, say, Manitoba, and you turn on the morning weather report, and you want to know what it means when the weatherperson says there will be a high of "21." For all of you, I offer this poem, which was on the wall of my 7th grade pre-algebra classroom.

0's freezing,
10 is not,
20's pleasing,
30's hot.

This will be my last temperature-related post for at least a week, I promise.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Red Pandas

Warm fuzzy asked me yesterday if "scarlet panda" had anything to do with red pandas. It does not. But red pandas are cute.

Indigo Children

There are many people in New Age-type groups who believe in a phenomenon known as "Indigo Children." Basically, the idea is that more and more of the children being born over the last 50 years represent an evolution of a new kind of human. In fact, they say, if your child was born after 1992, she is probably an Indigo. Indigos are creative, easily frustrated, and strong-willed. They are often diagnosed with ADHD. They have unusually large eyes as children. Also, their auras are indigo, rather than blue or violet.

There are many books and websites related to the Indigo Children, ranging from the benign (parents should find supportive environments for their gifted Indigo Children) to the bizarre (the pharmaceutical industry is conspiring with the Illuminati to suppress the evolution of Indigo Children with Ritalin.)

One aspect of this movement that I find interesting is that many (not all) proponents of the Indigo Children theory posit that Indigos are so special because unlike regular humans, who only use 2 strands of DNA, they use all 12 (or 22 or 144, depending on which website you look at). Another theory is that while we only use 20 codons (encoding 20 amino acids), Indigo children have activated an extra 4 codons. Fortunately, an industry has sprung up to allow all of us to use our extra DNA strands and codons for a reasonable price. You can activate more of your DNA strands by phone or in a private session. You can get codon activations for $54 each by e-mail.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

One year of perfect happiness

I heard this question once (I don't know where), and for some reason it popped into my head today:

If you could have one year of perfect happiness, but afterward you would remember nothing of the experience, would you take the year of happiness? Why or why not?

Monday, October 31, 2005

Georgia Highway Construction

I got some spam comments on my last post. One of them explained to me that if I clicked on a link, I could get information about how to buy and sell products related to "georgia highway construction!" And I could learn more about "georgia highway construction!" I did not click on these, because I do not want to encourage the spam. But I was intrigued. Is there some sophisticated internet tracking device on my computer that has determined that I have a secret interest in roads being built a few states away?

The Mysteries of Fahrenheit

The Celsius system of temperature measurement is based on the freezing and boiling temperatures of water: 0 degrees is the temperature at which water freezes, and 100 degrees is the temperature at which water boils. That makes sense.

So what is the Fahrenheit system about? 0 degrees F doesn’t seem to be significant; nor does 100. Water freezes at 32 and boils at 212. So what’s going on?

Well, it turns out that we don’t really know. However, there are several interesting theories. Here are some of them. Some only explain one point on the scale, but of course he had to fix at least two points to create a meaningful scale.

1. Body temperature as 100 theory. According to this theory, Fahrenheit decided to set 100 degrees at the human body temperature. He measured his own body temperature and called it 100. Unfortunately, it seems that he was having a bit of a fever that day, because when other people used his thermometer, they found that their temperatures were generally closer to 98.6 (or so) on his measurement scale. So our whole system is based on an error.

2. Body temperature as 96 theory. Same idea as above, but he wanted body temperature to be 96. While 100 is nice if you like decimals, 96 is easily divided into fractions involving even numbers--it’s divisible by 48, 24, 12, 4, 3, and 2. According to this theory, Fahrenheit’s own temperature was a little lower than the average when he took it.

3. Making it easy to discuss the weather theory. According to this theory, he wanted the commonly encountered temperatures in Western Europe to be between 0 and 100--easy for the weatherman to talk about without using negative numbers or triple digits. So he measured the temperature in his Denmark hometown for a couple of winters and set 0 as the lowest temperature he encountered. Similarly, he set 100 to the hottest temperature he encountered in Western Europe.

4. Salt solution as 0 theory. If you’ve ever made homemade ice cream, you know that you use a solution of salt, ice, and water to get water cold enough to freeze the ice cream. It works because salt water can be colder than plain water without freezing. According to this theory, Fahrenheit mixed salt, ice, and water and set 0 degrees as the coldest temperature he could get without freezing it.

5. Freemason theory. According to this theory, Fahrenheit was a Freemason. In Freemasonry, there are 32 degrees of enlightenment, and 32 is the highest. Also, the word “degree” may come from Freemasonry.

I don't know which I believe, except that #3 sounds sort of stupid and #5 sounds very weird.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

You must listen to This American Life

I am obsessed with This American Life. If you haven't heard of it, it's a public radio show that airs for an hour each week, typically on the weekend. The idea is this: each week, the show chooses a theme and puts together a few stories related to that theme. They're just stories about regular people, some funny, some moving, all fascinating. I cannot say enough good things about it.

You can listen to archived shows at their website for free using RealPlayer. To actually download mp3s of the shows, you have to pay for them on iTunes or Audible.com. If you know how to get the mp3s for free through some illegal scheme, don't tell me; I don't want to know.

Because there are so many shows, the site can be overwhelming. My recommendations:

How to Take Money from Strangers: Includes a story about what it's like to work as a phone psychic when you know you're faking.

The Fix is In: The unbelievable tale of an FBI informant as he documents a price-fixing scheme at ADM. Knowledge of antitrust law not required.

Who's Canadian?: "Notes and stories about the Canadians among us. Are they in fact any different from red-blooded Americans? They claim they're not. Skeptical Americans put their position to the test." This one goes out to my readers from the great land to the north.

Windfall: Stories of how unexpected money changes people's lives, including stories about a lottery winner and an Indian tribe with a sudden influx of casino cash.

Hoaxing Yourself: People who tell lies and then come to believe the lies. Includes a story about an American teenager who starts speaking with a British accent and keeps it up for months or years. Awesome.

20 Acts in 60 Minutes: Unusual, because it's all very short stories. Good if you have a short attention span or if you're in the mood for something funny.

Superpowers: Includes an exploration of which is better, flight or invisibility--and what your answer says about you.


I enjoy reading about conspiracy theorists and other people with unusual beliefs. I will probably post about these people from time to time. Today's topic: chemtrails.

You may have noticed that when jet airplanes fly on a clear day, you can see trails of water vapor behind them. Those are called "contrails." What you may not have noticed is that some of those supposed "contrails" are really not made of water at all. Instead, they consist of chemicals being sprayed by the government as part of a massive conspiracy: chemtrails.

The government's purpose in spraying is not 100% clear; some think it is to control the weather; others think it is to prevent its citizens from attaining spiritual enlightenment. Fortunately, there is a large community of chemtrail observers meticulously documenting, photographing, and analyzing instances of vapor in the sky in an effort to solve the mystery.

You can get the basics here and recent updates here.

A somewhat more scholarly introduction can be found in the FAQ at Chemtrail Central. That site also has ways for you to get involved. Good luck fighting the New World Order, everyone!

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Ph.D.s

Like so many young college students, I found myself several years ago about to graduate with an impractical degree and a decent GPA. I liked school. I liked my subject. I didn't know how to get a job. My advisor suggested grad school. Five years later, I found myself dissecting fruit fly brains 10 hours a day for a barely living wage, with no end in sight. While college friends had good jobs, houses, and adult lives, I was still at least 5 years away from having the "real job" I was going for--a tenure-track professorship. I got my Ph.D. and got out, but I consider it my responsibility as a refugee from academic science to keep others from repeating my mistakes.

I'm sure there are good things to be said about a career path that makes you go through 10 years of postgraduate education before you have a slim chance at getting a job with mediocre pay in a geographic region not of your choosing, but I'm not going to say those things. Instead, I offer the following articles to anyone with a friend or loved one considering getting a Ph.D.:

Wanted: Really Smart Suckers is an excellent article about the academic career path. Though it's specifically about the humanities, just about everything in it applies to science as well.

Here is an article naming research science one of three career paths with the most disproportionate ratios of training to pay.

So you want to go to grad school? Don't.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The panda needs to get fit

Tonight I hit the elliptical trainer for the first time in many, many months. I was disturbed to discover that I am in spectacularly bad shape. I almost reached my target heart rate just by punching in my weight and exercise time on the keypad.

I did manage to do 60 minutes, though (albeit at an embarassingly slow pace), because of wonderful, wonderful cable tv. I do not have cable. The exercise room in my apartment building does. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are on back-to-back at a time when I am almost always home. I will soon be able to run marathons.

Behold the scarlet panda

Because I'm enjoying my friends' recently created blogs, I've decided to join the fun.

Why scarlet panda? I spent several hours yesterday trying to come up with a meaningful, witty blog name. I reflected on my childhood experiences, my favorite books, and fruit fly-related terms from back when I was a scientist. I tried using a random band name generator for ideas. I tried opening the dictionary and pointing to random words with my eyes closed. I generated many possibilities, but none seemed perfect. I was paralyzed with indecision.

Finally, this afternoon, I said to my pal teddo, "I really want to start my blog tonight, but I don't have a name yet." He said something about the Dover Panda link on his blog. I said, "Maybe my blog name should have the word panda in it." He said, "scarlet panda?" I said, "Ok." So here it is. It means nothing.