Monday, February 26, 2007

Life Imitates Sci-Fi (Again)

It took 47 years, but science is making Flowers for Algernon a reality. Headline in the LA Times reads, "Retarded Mice Get Smarter with Drug." The mice have Down Syndrome, and once treated, the mice perform as well as normal mice on tests of rodent intelligence. And, just as in the book (spoiler alert for the four people on this planet who were not compelled to read it in middle school):
Researchers said the drug took effect after several days. Once established, the improvements were long-lasting, although after three months the circuits in the brain showed a decline in activity, Garner said.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

For Your Amusement

Funny pictures of vegetables. As you might expect, I am particularly fond of the second to last one.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Movin' on up

I must be making progress as a writer. I just got my best quality rejection yet. I haven't worked up to getting a full 8.5x11 sheet of paper, but for the first time, I actually got rejected by name and title, rather than just a mass-photocopied form slip stuffed into my SASE. The assistant editor even included why he was rejecting it (apparently, I bored him) and signed it himself. The rejection slip is good enough that I can almost overlook that the manuscript has only been gone for a week.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Update on Previous

Well, wouldn't you know it, Dave Barry addressed this very issue in 2004.

Breakfast Aisle Boy's Club

Last night, Emp. Peng. and I were sitting around impugning the integrity of the cereal spokescartoons of our youth, when we were stunned by the sudden realization that neither one of us could think of a female spokescartoon for a cereal. We mentally went up and down the cereal aisle and through the entire Saturday Morning Cartoon commercial lineup--all male, as far as we can tell. Even the androgynous cartoons (that's you, Trix Rabbit) had distinctly masculine voices behind them.

So here's the burning question: are or were there any animated female shills for sugary breakfast cereals? Bonus points if you know why. The comment line is open.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Call Hitchcock

I got a bit of a surprise today when, after I finally finished clearing a set of ruts up the driveway, I went to change out of the jeans that had developed a crunchy coating of snow, salt, and kitty litter dust. There was a bird perched on the windowsill--inside. I have no idea how a sparrow got into the house at all, much less how it got to the back bedroom. After a quick primer on the Treaty on Indoor Wildlife, I pulled a screen off a window and let it find its way out. The cats were apathetic toward the entire situation.

Monday, February 05, 2007

You Might Be A Computer Geek If...

It's five degrees Fahrenheit out, with a decent breeze--the type of weather that makes one notice every little failing of the weatherstripping. One of the back bedrooms had a nice draft coming in through the edges of the window frame, so I took some indoor rope caulk to it this morning. As I emerged from the room, Emp. Peng. inquired as to what I had been up to.

"Patching a window," I answered.

He got that look about him that is generally reserved for after I tell him not to worry, the fire is out. "What? Is something wrong with the computer?"

"Not Windows. Window, singular. You know, those big glass things in the wall that let light in the house."

Today is a Good Day to Die (of coronary artery disease)

My local supermarket started carrying Tillamook cheese.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Recommended Reading

Here's an excellent article over at LiveScience about the detrimental effects of cuteness on species conservation. Turns out, cuter animals siphon resources away from needer, less cute animals. Even within a cute species like penguins, we pay more attention to the subspecies at lower risk because the high-risk ones aren't quite as cute.

Emperor penguins have been getting a lot of the penguin spotlight lately. We've had two high-profile Emperor-centric movies, March of the Penguins and Happy Feet, with the associated books, video games, plushies and educational materials. Now, no penguin subspecies is currently in the clear as far as the World Conservation Union--keepers of the endangered species list--is concerned, but Emperors are one of the least threatened penguins.

Keeping the emperors company on the lowest level of endangered speciesdom are the Little Blues, spokespenguins for the Little Penguin wines and target of the "Adopt a Penguin" efforts that the Little Penguin Winery is helping promote and support. Also at "lower risk" status, the Gentoo, which gained notoriety as the namesake of a Linux distro.

The most critical ranking that the World Conservation Union gives to any penguin subspecies is "Endangered," which is a step safer than "critically endangered" and two steps above "extinct in the wild." The Endangered tag goes to three subspecies: the White Flippered, the Erect-crested, and the Galapagos, none of which gets much beak time in the popular media.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Well, When You Put it That Way

The Agence France-Presse did a writeup on Groundhog Day. The AFP is a global, French-based news agency and wire service akin to the AP or Reuters. Interesting to see the outsider's perspective of our holiday devoted to rodential meteorology, starting with the headline, "Supernatural Rodent Predicts Early Spring for US."

The article starts:
Punxsutawney Phil, a chubby rodent with supposed powers of prognostication, has been dragged from his burrow in Pennsylvania and predicted an early spring in the United States.
Fair enough assessment of the events. After getting a National Weather Service meteorologist to weigh in, and the obligatory Bill Murray reference, the AFP reporter gets to the part of the Groundhog Day story that doesn't get told:

According to tradition, Phil speaks to the town's Groundhog Club president in "Groundhogese," which the club says is understood only by the president of the Inner Circle -- a group of dignitaries who dress in top hats for the event.

Punxsutawney Phil is held by town authorities to be the original seer and over 120 years old, even though groundhogs usually only live for around two or three years. He allegedly owes his longevity to a secret elixir.

Phil in fact spends most of the year living in the town's library and is moved to the heated burrow on Gobbler's Knob in time to be pulled out at 7:25 am every February 2.

Again, factually accurate, but when you put it like that, those of us who enjoy a good marmota-based diversion in late winter seem just a touch crazy.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Woodchuck in the Spotlight

Punxsutawney Phil issued the following statement out of Gobbler's Knob:

El Nino has caused high winds, heavy snow, ice and freezing temperatures in the west.
Here in the East with much mild winter weather we have been blessed.

Global warming has caused a great debate.
This mild winter makes it seem just great.

On this Groundhog Day we think of one thing.
Will we have winter or will we have spring?

On Gobbler's Knob I see no shadow today.
I predict that early spring is on the way.

That is one eloquent rodent, and for an animal that has spent the last several months hibernating, he seems to be well versed on current events.

Here at Cobbler Knob (behind the apples and blackberries), no one expects to see Woodrow for another three or four months. As usual, he leaves the weather forecasting to those higher profile woodchucks. He likes the quiet life eating dropped apples.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Primates to Marmota

In anticipation of Groundhog Day tomorrow, here's an article on how global climate change may be waking groundhogs--and other hibernating animals--earlier and earlier. In the past 30 years, observed marmota emergence has gone back a month, from late May to late April. At this rate, before the century is out, Phil will emerge from his burrow on February 2 without being prodded by men in archaic headgear.

Hyper Post-Gorilla Suiting

Note to self: when you get a new novelty coffee maker, do not drink all the cups of coffee you make trying to get the hang of it. On the bright side, I'm not completely desensitized to caffeine, after all.