Saturday, December 31, 2005

News Roundup

A 19-year-old PETA staffer changed his name from Chris Garnett to to protest alleged mistreatment of animals by KFC. A statement by fellow PETA supporter Pamela Anderson says "I'm sure Chris can't wait till KFC stops torturing chickens so he can change his name back." No details on what humane procedures the group would like implemented while the chickens are parted out and deep fried in a crispy coating with 11 herbs and spices. Also, no mention of any inhumane treatment of potatoes and cole slaw. Where is the outrage over biscuits?

Guppies go through menopause. The subject is intriguing, but the article authors could probably have found a better phrase than "raises the question of why some female animals live beyond their fertile years at all."

Researchers spice up cow manure
. One of the active ingredients in thyme neutralizes the odor and bacteria in cowpies, which could lead to breakthroughs in large cattle operation sanitation. Apparently, oregano also works. Yes, I know thyme is an herb, not a spice.

Police officer attacked by a pack of angry chihuahuas
. Insert your own Taco Bell joke here.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

New Year's Resolutions

I'm not big on the New Year's Resolutions. I prefer hitting the post-resolution sales and resolving change around Groundhog Day (note to self: run marmota check Feb. 2). This year, I made a resolution at the end of November to get myself into a shape besides round. If you are making a similar resolution, allow me to shamelessly plug the following. I have no commercial ties, or at least none that involve money coming to me from them. I use these and have found them helpful, to the tune of 6 pounds and one pants size.

e-diets. This is an online diet site. For a small monthly fee ($12, I think), they plan healthy menus for you and provide recipes. What makes this different from any other diet plan? It is flexible and it is not weight-loss oriented as much as it is geared toward instilling good nutrition habits. They encourage substitution, so if you don't like pita or there is no way you are shelling out for fresh blueberries in December, you can substitute another bread or fruit. You never have to eat anything you don't like on this plan. I mean that. If you don't like fish or tofu, it will create an entire varied menu selection without those items. There is a wide selection of home-cooked meals, convenience foods, and what to order at fast food restaurants, which allows you to cater to your schedule. Best of all, the weekly menus come with a shopping list that includes everything you need down to the parsley.

Push. Customized workout DVDs delivered to your mailbox every month. You choose among trainers and specify focus areas and length of workouts. Based on your fitness level and goals, they compile a disc of workouts just for you.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Top 50 Robots

Wired Magazine lists the top 50 robots of all time. To their credit, only 18 are fictional. There is an excellent picture of #40, Elektro and Sparko, whom I discuss here. Wired mistakenly calls him "cable-controlled." It's an honest mistake. Elektro runs on AC power, so a cord runs from his heel to supply the current. Strictly speaking, though, he is voice controlled.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Geek Gifts

Emp. Peng. got me an ionic hairbrush. Basically, it is a brush with a small Ionic Breeze air purifier built in behind the bristles to shoot purified air through the hair as I brush. Weird, but it does pep up the hair and take out that used hair smell. Since I have enough hair for myself and four bald men, that takes some doing. We found out, entirely by accident, that the brush also will turn off the touch-activated lamp from a distance of 3 feet. That was almost as funny as the time we found out why one should never have the bedroom lamp attached to The Clapper when one has a chest cold.

I got him an Alien Clock. The clock on the page there reads 12:59.

Merrappy Whichever

If you are celebrating or preparing to celebrate a holiday, have a merry/happy one.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


A penguin chick was stolen from a British Zoo over the weekend. No, this isn't the hoax about some little kid sticking a penguin in his backpack and bringing it home. Amazon World has confirmed that their 3-month-old jackass penguin* is missing. Fear is that someone got enamored with March of the Penguins and decided a live chick would make a great Christmas gift. They're in for a big surprise, since the penguin will not likely survive to Christmas without the special care of its keepers. If it does manage to live, the recipient will soon find out that, contrary to Madagascar, penguins are not in fact cute and cuddly. They bite, and if they think pet hair is a cleaning problem, wait until this thing fledges.

I suppose I should take this opportunity to clarify that I had nothing to do with this. I do not know the whereabouts of this unfortunate chick. I have never been to the Isle of Wight, where the penguin was snatched, nor do I know anyone there.

*-That really is the common name for the penguin. They have a very distinctive bray-like call. For the prudish, they are also called Blackfoot penguins or African penguins because their feet are black and they are native to the African coast.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Study Says...

A new study shows that people eat more in the fall and winter. "Winter variations may be partly due to the 'calorie dense' foods consumed during the holidays, [study author] Ma notes." No kidding. I'll invite the researchers to my house for Thanksgiving, the meal where I use a full pound of butter just for the stuffing, mashed potatoes and yams.

Also, we exercise less in the winter. No conjecture from the researchers on why, but I'll venture that it might have something to do with a lack of desire to go jogging when it is 2 degrees fahrenheit outside (actual current thermometer reading).

Who are the people who fund these and where can I apply for several thousand dollars from them?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Everyone Dreaming of a White Christmas, Grab a Shovel

Going grocery shopping was not, in itself, a problem. Trying to get back up the driveway, on the other hand, will henceforth be known as Mistake #3. Owing to a series of partial thaws, followed by 12 degree nights, our sloped gravel driveway is now a sloped gravel ice rink. Still, we figured with a little kitty litter for traction and enough momentum, we just might be able to park indoors. I'm not sure if the kitty litter would have worked. We never quite got that far. We never quite got past the snowbank at the edge of the lawn. We also learned Murphy's Law of Getting Your Car Stuck in a Snowbank on Your Own Lawn: it will happen right as your neighbors come home to witness your ineptitude.

As soon as we got the car dug out and the groceries packed up the driveway, I went online and ordered a blowtorch so this doesn't happen again.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Heads Up!

It's almost time for the annual NORAD Tracks Santa Night (some may know it as Christmas Eve). Here's the video promo, with some of last year's Santa footage.

Penguins in the News

To keep the king penguins annual winter weight gain in check, penguin keepers at the Asahiyama Zoo in northern Japan have implemented twice-daily walks around the zoo grounds. No word on the peng-lates classes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Amish Internet Sex Scandal

The story starts with a lonely, 75-year-old Amish widower looking for what we will euphemistically call "companionship" in the personals. He found a 35-year-old Cleveland prostitute, who met with him about 6 times. That works out to $10,000 per visit with the $67,000 that the prostitute and her boyfriend got out of the Amish man after convincing him that incriminating photos of him were on the internet. Note: I understand many women consider buggy rides romantic, and I've known a few women who will provide "companionship" after little more than a couple dinners out.

The story is all in this article.

Seriously, though: convincing an Amish guy there are naked photos of him and a hooker on the internet? Why not just go throw some dynamite in a barrel full of fish? There are easy marks, but pinning an internet sex scandal on an elderly Amish guy? That's just phoning it in.

Friday, December 09, 2005

That's a Bold New Look, All Right

Between my bank and my grocery store sits a Taco Bell. Since it remodeled last summer to come in line with the chain's new gold, magenta and blue color scheme, the restaurant's message board has declared, "Come see our bold new look!" The sign still says the same thing, but as I drove by today, something about the restaurant's decor seemed different. The roof was in the dining area, and one whole side of the building was burned out. According to the newspaper, the fire happened a bit past 8 o'clock last night. The other side of the sign still says, "Now hiring."

Religious Officially Lose Moral High Ground on Christmas

The New York Times reports that several churches plan to be closed this year on Christmas. Why, you may ask, would a house of worship lock its doors on the second most important holiday on the religious calendar? Because this year Christmas falls on a Sunday. You know, the day most Christians observe as the 10-commandment-mandated sabbath. The day people are supposed to refrain from secular pursuits and contemplate God, coinciding with the celebration of the birth of the religion's central figure, apparently is a day that churches have decided it is not worthwhile to offer observances.

Come to think of it, this also negates their moral high ground on the display of the 10 Commandments in classrooms, courthouses, and other public places. Here's the deal: they can display them after they manage to get their houses of worship to follow them regardless of inconvenience.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

For Boobs, By Boobs

Just what the world needs: a tinfoil hat for the mammaries. A Taiwanese inventor has patented an innovation in brassiere technology to block electromagnetic waves. The proposal is to add an intermediate layer to bra cups comprising 75% cotton fiber and 25% stainless steel. News flash: underwires are bad enough. I'll let my bosom keep getting good AM radio reception before I stuff my bra with a Brillo pad.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Robots (and one gratuitous emu)

Technology saturates life these days, but have you ever seen a real robot in person? Think about that for a second. Robots are mostly confined to industrial uses. Unless you count the three days I owned a Roomba, I've never shared breathing space with a robot.

Until today. I met Elektro. He is over 7 feet tall and walks freely. He can talk and his mouth syncs with the words he speaks. He can even exhale to inflate a balloon. He is voice controlled and can distinguish a limited range of colors. Oh, and he does this without a single chip or microprocessor. He has to. He was built in the 1930's, serving as Westinghouse's centerpiece for the 1939 World's Fair.

Elektro lives in a museum here in Mansfield as part of an exhibit on the family robots Westinghouse created from the late 1920's through the 1940's. The first, Televox, invented in 1927, could call a preselected telephone number to reach its owner, answer the phone, and manage a few switches to control certain actions in the house remotely. In short, the internet-enabled toaster predates the internet by almost a half century. Elektro himself is still fully functional, except that the motors that move his legs are not installed so he could not walk even if he were connected to the power supply.

The way the museum exhibit is laid out, one doesn't immediately notice Elektro, which is quite a feat to accomplish with something that is 7-foot-six, silver, and has footprints the size of a coffee table tome. The floor layout draws one first to a non-functional replica of Televox, some photos and documentation of the other early Westinghouse Robots, and a taxidermied emu. You read that right: an emu. Really. I still don't understand what the emu was doing there. When I turned to ask the curator, that was when I saw the gleaming seven foot robot behind him. He looks like something out of Metropolis. That was an omigawd moment.

I've written this all about "him." In the room with Elektro, it is amazing how quickly and naturally one falls into speaking of "him" and relating to him on human terms. Noticing a dent in his left foot, I commented to the curator, "He looks like he stubbed his toe," even though the lack of toes is quite apparent. I asked, "Can he see?" knowing that the technology for vision was in its infancy at best back then (he can distinguish between red and green).

Evangelical Christians: Christmas not Commercialized Enough

Does anyone else remember when the alleged problem with December was that Christmas was that a sacred holiday was being co-opted by department stores just to line their coffers? Seems the new problem is that stores are not sufficiently exploiting Christmas.

Jerry Falwell is spearheading a campaign that includes lawyers sending letters to organizations that don't secularize Christmas enough. According to the president of another group involved in the effort, "We'll try to educate, but if we can't we'll litigate." Did I miss the memo where the meaning of Christmas was changed to "celebrate the holiday or we'll haul your ass to court!"?

The Catholic Rights League has called off a boycott of Wal-Mart, instigated after the employees wished people "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Apparently, they were satified when someone lost her job and had to retract an entirely truthful statement.

Bill O'Reilly has a whole list of stores he wants shunned because they're not using the word "Christmas" to attract the commercial feeding frenzy of December.

The American Family Association posts an online form for people to register their offense at the lack of commericalization of Christmas by major retailers. It is billed as a petition, but no mention is made of when or to whom the group is submitting it.