Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Space Penguin

Raytheon Co. has unveiled the Space Penguin. The unmanned lunar lander device is still in the concept stage, but engineers believe it could be launched by 2009.

According to the company, the lander looks absolutely nothing like a penguin. Why then Space Penguin? They don't explain, but the original mission for the Space Penguin was to land at the south pole of the moon.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Feline Weirdness

One of the lessons of the internet has been that, no matter how odd our eccentricities are, there's someone out there who shares the very same proclivity. Take for example, our cat Chessie. Ever since kittenhood, she has had what we thought was a weird habit of curling up in the bathroom sink. Now I find there is an entire website devoted to cats who like to be in sinks, including pictures of the kitties in their favorite basins. It's called, what else,

Tasteful vs. Legal

A quotation attributed to Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, in an article on Salon (if you're not a paid Salon member, you have to watch a brief ad to access the article):
Certainly broadcasters and cable operators have significant First Amendment rights, but these rights are not without boundaries. They are limited by law. They also should be limited by good taste.
The problem with that sort of mindset, other than it is held by someone who might actually be able to implement it, is that applying the freedom of speech only to legal and tasteful speech is pretty much the antithesis of the First Amendment. It has long been my understanding that we have a Constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech specifically so we can say things that are legal but not necessarily tasteful. It's illegal to advocate violence against high-ranking government officials, but it's only in poor taste to refer to them as the explosive diarrhea of an elephant. The latter is protected speech and should remain so no matter what media it is broadcast on.

If these "pro-child, pro-family" advocates think it is hard to legislate a working definition of pornography that catches all of their objectionable content but doesn't include legitimate medical information, they should try defining "good taste." That's even more nebulous that "community standards." At least the latter can be empirically determined by subpoenaing the mailing lists of magazines and catalogs that arrive in plain brown wrappers.

The reason that over-the-air broadcasts are subject to the FCC is that they transmit over segments of the radio frequency spectrum that are considered public property held in common by the people of the US. What keeps cable and satellite to lower levels of regulation is a matter of jurisdiction: the satellites and miles of cable used in transmission are privately held, not public or government property. However, if the FCC manages to get jurisdiction over the wires that feed cable TV to our homes, I don't see as there is anything stopping them from regulating the internet traffic that flows over those same wires.

Monday, August 29, 2005


Scientist have built a better Scotchgard. This is a good thing since the old Scotchgard stain repellent involved perfluorooctanic acid, a chemical with an unfortunate tendency to accumulate in the environment and possibly have some nasty effects on mammalian physiology.

Also, the primary source of antioxidants in the American diet is coffee. The reseachers say that, of all the food and beverages studied, dates actually have the highest concentration of antioxidants per serving. However, coffee comes out on top as a dietary source because few people have a 5-cup-a-day date habit.

Go to Pluto

Sign up here to send your name to Pluto. NASA is taking names to be included on a mission to Pluto, which should arrive somewhere around 2017-2020.

Of course, they're sending the names on CD. Considering we Earthlings can't agree on which of two mutually incompatible formats (Blu-Ray or HD-DVD) for bouncing lasers off shiny discs to encode information, the odds that E.T. will be able to read a CD are pretty negligible. However, since I don't have the $200,000 to put down for a seat on Virgin Galactic's first suborbital flights, much less whatever it would take to get my whole self all the way out of orbit and to Pluto, a CD with my name will do.

Hurricane Watch

Predictions are that Hurricane Katrina will run out of most of the wind before she mows over me later in the week. With luck, the hurricane gets The Weather Channel and knows that she's only supposed to drench Ohio and not blow anything over or off. I'm keeping half an eye on the forecasts anyway.

That half an eye caught President Bush admonishing us to pray for the people being affected by the hurricane. With respect to the president and organized religion in general, that presents something of a conflict of interest. Hurricanes, after all, are one of those things that fall somewhere between Act of God and Wrath of God.

In other religious/hurricane related humor, CNN Headline News just followed up a story about Katrina's attendant flooding with announcer Chuck Roberts saying what sounded like "And a late update from Noah..." Actually, it was "And a late update from NOAA," NOAA being the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


The New York Times has a short article on Sudoku, a deceptively simple sounding puzzle. I got hooked when I read an article online, so I thought I would spread the joy.

According to the NYT, one of the appeals of sudoku is that the rules can be summed up easily in a sentence. Basically, place the digits 1 through 9 in a 9x9 grid so that each digit appears once in each row and column, as well as each of 9 3x3 blocks which the grid is divided into. That's all there is to it. A lot of newspapers have taken to printing sudoku by popular demand. The flight attendant on my last flight had a sudoku torn from USA Today that she was working in flight between attending to passengers. Since I don't subscribe to print newspapers, I get my fix online. The down side to this site is that it only posts one puzzle per day and you're stuck with whatever difficulty level the day's puzzle is. On the up side, it allows you to pencil in up to 5 possible digits per square before committing to a digit. This site allows you to pick from four difficulty levels (easy, medium, hard and evil), and you can access several billion puzzles at your leisure. There is a button that allows you to check whether any of your answers are wrong, but unless you enable cookies in your browser and change the settings, it won't tell you where the errors are. Also, you must enable cookies to get the pencil-in feature.

Sudoku free for your Palm There are other Palm-based Sudoku games out there, and even some for Pocket PC. This is the one I use, mostly because it's freeware.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

We Have Seal!

Preliminary evidence suggests that my first attempt at canning has been a success. In less than 10 minutes, I achieved the safety seal on a half pint of homemade maple pear butter. By the way, when I say "a half pint," I mean I only did one jar. This was just a test run in preparation for when the rest of the pear tree and the two apple trees drop.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


The temp agency finally called with a job for me. For the next couple months, until the regular receptionist returns from maternity leave or they get tired of me, I'm answering phones for an architecture firm. My primary responsibility is to properly route phone calls to 58 people, a full third of whom are named Al, Chris, Dave, Pat or Todd.

Monday, August 22, 2005


Happy birthday to Ray Bradbury. To my knowledge, he's the only sci-fi writer who has managed to get put on high school required reading lists. It's too bad so many people never get past Fahrenheit 451, because the catalog of science fiction has some even better offerings. Unfortunately, the literary elite has an inherent bias against sci fi, apparently forgetting that half of the great English literature is little more than the pulps of the day, and the rest is so gawdawful that were it not for pretentious literature classes, it would have died the quick death it deserved. The best sci fi has always been, front and center, about the essence of humanity. That's why I enjoy writing it so much.

If you are looking for some of the most entertaining way to ponder your place in the universe beyond Fahrenheit 451, here are a few of my recommendations:

"The Star" by Arthur C. Clarke. Read this around Christmas.
The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter.
Come to think of it, you really can't go wrong with anything by Arthur C. Clarke.
"I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" by Harlan Ellison
Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin. This one occasionally makes required reading lists, too.

This is far from exhaustive, and feel free to leave a comment to add your own recommendations.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Floss Time

Over at News From ME (which everyone should read daily), ME is hawking the benefits of the Reach Access Daily Flosser. I took advantage of the free flosser offer (click here to, ahem, access the offer) a while back and I must credit Reach for getting me to floss again. For the longest time, I refused to floss because I find the officially sanctioned technique absolutely disgusting. The thought of wrapping my used floss, coated with dental plaque, around my finger is about as appealing as going without toilet paper, since both end up with bodily waste on your hands. The Reach flosser solves that problem, as you never touch used floss.

The down side that ME does not mention is that the refill cartridges for the Daily Flosser run somewhere around $5 for a 28-pack, which can get spendy. Also, you're stuck using the floss that comes pre-packed in the cartridges, which I don't particularly like. Butler GUM has come up with an even better flossing solution in the Floss Mate floss handle. Basically, it is an inexpensive Y-shaped contraption that you thread with your own preferred floss (unwaxed mint, for me). It's more economical, but you still don't need to smear your plaque all over your hands.

Bug Off, Part II

Ann O. just pointed out that my saga with the World's Largest Grasshopper Creature is not over yet. I still have to extract the creature from my vacuum cleaner. I'm taking suggestions.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Photo Op

During our recent trip, my father gave me some photos he had found from my infancy and toddler years. Imagine my horror when the hotel called to tell me that housekeeping had found some baby pictures in our room after we checked out. I'm usually very conscientious about checking hotel rooms before I check out, and had I missed some of the pictures, I was sure my parents, who picked us up to take us to the airport, would have noticed them sitting on the desk. Nonetheless, apparently we had left some behind. We agreed to pay the shipping for them to send me the pictures, and today's mail contained a package from the hotel.

I've never seen that baby before in my life. Someone left baby pictures in our room, but it wasn't me.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Down Side of Home Owership

It was the biggest bug I have ever seen in my life. Even worse, it was in my bedroom today.

I'm not sure what exactly it was. We have grasshoppers in the driveway and a variety of mid-sized songbirds in the backyard. I think they got together and somehow managed to have a child, and that child took up residence on the bracket doohicky that hold the curtain swags up. It took up the entire top.

When one is face-to-antennae with a bug roughly the size of a sparrow, the problem becomes how to eradicate it. Squishing it is out of the question. Aside from the large stain that would create, I'm pretty sure it would have just annoyed this bug and possibly provoked it. In the end, it took enough Raid For Flying Insects to create a haze in the room. The first coat barely stunned it. The carcass almost clogged the vacuum cleaner hose.

Sign of the Times

First, let me say I do not play World of Warcraft. However, I saw this WOW forum posted somewhere else and just had to pass it on. The fun begins with post #5, which reads, in part "Brion - if you don't want your mother to know you were up and on the computer at 3:29 in the morning - DON'T post on a forum that she reads. Busted. Grounded."

Not Quite Goldilocks

A woman in Arnold, Pennsylvania, came home to find--you guessed it--someone had been sleeping in her bed, and he's still there! So was his alleged cocaine or cocaine-like powder and chunky stuff that may or may not have been crack.

Now, if I were to come home and find someone I did not know asleep in my bed, my first reaction would not be to try to wake him up. I might, say, call the police first and let them wake him up. Then again, that's just me. Apparently, women handle sleeping intruders somewhat differently in Arnold, Pennsylvania.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

New Toys

Is someone driving you nuts? Return the favor with this gizmo. It's a 2-inch by 1-inch device that connects to a 9-volt battery. It has one function: emit a loud electronic chirp every few minutes. When the device is concealed near an unsuspecting but deserving person, that one function can really mess with a person's head while he/she searches for the source of the sound, which owing to its peculiar sonic properties, is no easy task. The best part is that even if the person finds it, the device is not marked with any indication of what it is. I can think of a few people who would be worth the $25 plus shipping.

Remember, National Boss Day is October 16. That's only 57 shopping days away.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Dumb Criminal Tricks

Here at Penguin Perspectives, I'm taking a "whatever" approach to gas prices since I'm already doing everything I can to lower my fuel usage. After buying a hybrid car, planning the most efficient route for any excursions, and working from home to eliminate the commute, what's left?

Two guys in Indiana were not so indifferent to rising gas prices. Also, they were not so bright. If one is going to pump and run (which we all know is illegal, no matter how high prices are), it is best not to pump one's gasoline-powered automobile full of off-road-grade diesel fuel. It really cuts into the "run" part.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

I'm Back...

...and for the first time, I actually hoped for a sudden loss of cabin pressure. At least then, the feral herd of Satan's minions in the form of five small children seated directly in front of me would have had something over their mouths. Sure, duct tape would have created a better seal than the oxygen mask, but I'd take anything after a child under 4 feet tall decided it was necessary to spend the entire flight with the seat fully reclined into my lap.

I have an idea for another rule the TSA can implement to make our travel safer. Any children who start throwing tantrums at top volume before the cabin doors close get to ride in the cargo hold. I'd suggest strapping them to the wing, but I'm not sure how a 4-year-old would affect the aerodynamics.

Nonetheless, we made it home safely. I'm still waiting for the luggage, which didn't make the connection in Dallas. If our flight crew hadn't been delayed, we wouldn't have made the connection ourselves.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Campbell's Soup

A loyal reader pointed out to me yesterday that I neglected to post an away message. You might have noticed that the posting has been a bit sparse--okay, nonexistant--for the better part of the past week. Emp. Peng. and I have been out visiting some of the extended clan, so blogging time and internet connectivity have been somewhat sporadic. I should be catching up in the next few days.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Turn of Phrase

"They're riding on the back of a crocodile, knowing they can neither stay where they are nor jump off."

I came across that sentence yesterday in a book of essays about Firefly, a short-lived TV show that is being resurrected as a movie at the end of September. In the context of the essay, it referred to a certain plot twist of the show, but the phrase struck me as the perfect description of the situation our military currently faces in Iraq.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Well, That Sucks

During my first trip to a mall after moving to Omaha, Nebraska, I found myself a bit thirsty. Off I went in search of an Orange Julius stand. In my world up to then, no self-respecting mall was without an Orange Julius stand.

I was proven horribly and publicly wrong. I went through six apartments in two states, all without access to the trademarked orange juice smoothies. Four months ago, we moved away from Toledo to another Julius-impaired region. Fast-forward to yesterday, when I went back to Toledo to take care of some business. Wasting some time at the local mall, what did I see but a huge sign, "Coming Soon: Orange Julius."

As I try to keep this blog PG-13, I will not recount exactly what I said then.

Laws and Sausage

As the saying goes, two things you don't want to see made. However, if you have ever wanted to see how many, many other things are made, I highly recommend a show currently running on the Science Channel, called (if all things) "How It's Made." As the title suggests, it shows how things are made, or as the promos say "If you see, hear, eat or wear it, the Science Channel can show you how they make it." So far, they've shown things like bubble bath, hearing aids, apple juice, pantyhose, holograms, aluminum foil, mozerella cheese, toilet paper, plate glass, toothpicks, landing gear, and work boots. At the moment, I'm watching a segment on canned corn. Obviously, they gloss over the parts that are trade secrets, but who among us hasn't wondered, if only for a moment, how they get the ball into the container of roll-on deoderant? Thanks to this show, I know. I'm also getting better with my metric conversion. The show is originally Canadian, so the Science Channel has thoughtfully added pop-ups to translate the metric measurements in the voice overs.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Vacation Time

Today, President Bush started his 33-day vacation. How is it that the Leader Of The Free World gets more vacation time than my mail carrier and the Sears associate who sold me my riding mower combined.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A Further Note on AOL and Emperor Penguin

In a sign of how technology has changed the world, AOL figured prominently in a major relationship milestone with Emperor Penguin and me. When we first started seeing each other (man, eight years ago now), I knew he was serious when he added a username for me on his AOL account. Time was a man would signal intent by giving a watch. Now, it's an email address.


Just as we started the process of defecting from AOL, news comes out that AOL is "reinventing" itself, basically abandoning the proprietary content model. Also, they've started free email. Without the email and AOL-exclusive content, what is left for people to pay for?

According to an article on CNet:
AOL subscribers will be paying for customer support, security features such as antispam, anti-spyware, antivirus and parental controls, and access to more than 200 radio channels at a higher quality and with no commercials, [Executive VP of programming and products Jim] Bankoff said.

You can go get yourself a cup of coffee while I laugh at that. I'll still be laughing when you get back.

Customer support? Without the buggy software, I'm not going to need customer support. Every new alleged upgrade causes more problems in my computer. As I type this, I'm still waiting for AOL to close, having logged off and quit the program a good 20 minutes ago. I've become very good at closing down the program the hard way, by manually ending every AOL process through the Windows task manager.

Anti-Spam? It isn't that AOL's anti-spam software has a problem differentiating between the messages I get from an email group I like and the messages promising ways to enhance portions of the human anatomy that I do not have. It does have a problem figuring out where I might like those messages to go. Emails from my list often go to the Spam folder while the stuff I would consider spam--mortgage offers, black market prescription drugs, and the aforementioned anatomical enhancement product offers--go right on to my inbox. With our new email setup, we have a special address set up to use for any situation that may lead to spamming. My personal email is going to be held very close to the vest.

Anti-Virus? We disabled AOL's antivirus a long time ago in favor of one that works a lot better.

Parental Controls? I have the easiest form of parental control out there: no children.

Access to more than 200 radio channels at higher quality with no commercials? I don't have time to listen to the radio, over the air or by internet. Most of what I do want to listen to is by download, anyway.

In short, we, like 4.7 million other ex-AOL members, have come to the realization that there is absolutely nothing left for us on AOL that we can't get elsewhere better or cheaper. Paying for AOL was one thing when the world was dialup and AOL actually provided access to the internet. Now that having AOL means paying twice for the net--first for the high speed connection, then for AOL--there's no sense, particularly since they've made free the few things that were worth paying for and left subscribers paying for all of the stuff that we tolerated because it was bundled in with the decent parts.