Monday, May 30, 2005

Watching New Love as It Sears the Brain - New York Times

"New love can look for all the world like mental illness, a blend of mania, dementia and obsession that cuts people off from friends and family and prompts out-of-character behavior - compulsive phone calling, serenades, yelling from rooftops - that could almost be mistaken for psychosis.

A new study suggests that an area of the brain known as the caudate is associated with passion.

Now for the first time, neuroscientists have produced brain scan images of this fevered activity, before it settles into the wine and roses phase of romance or the joint holiday card routines of long-term commitment."

'Corpse Flower' Set to Bloom in San Fran

"SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A giant, stinky flower is attracting a nosy crowd to San Francisco's Conservatory of Flowers this holiday weekend.

The titan arum, more commonly known as the 'corpse flower,' is set to bloom for the first time in two years.

The plant celebrity is world-famous for the big stink it makes when it opens for three or four days every few years. The flower is known both for its scent, which has been compared to dirty gym socks or rotting meat, and its size.

The 10-year-old plant at the conservatory, nicknamed 'Ted the Titan,' is expected to reach a height of 5 feet.

'It's so voluptuous,' said Scot Medbury, director of the Conservatory of Flowers, as he watched visitors pose for photographs with the towering bud. 'It's more bizarrely beautiful than anything you can imagine, but it's something that really evolved on this planet.'

The conservatory has extended its hours this weekend, bracing for crowds. The titan arum has even been featured in an episode of 'The Simpsons.'

The plant, which is native to Sumatra, uses its scent in the same way that sweet-smelling flowers do: to attract pollinating insects. But this flower hopes to attract flies and carrion beetles that think its pungent odor means food.

The flower is actually made up of many smaller flowers. The arum lily has a potato-like root that weighs 44 pounds, Medbury said. When its hood unfurls, the deep reddish-purple bloom will last a few days, with the scent peaking on the second day. Then the bloom will collapse and the plant will go dormant again.

'Even closed, this truly is just exquisite,' said Tricia Hall of Kentfield, who traveled to the conservatory with her husband, Tom, to see the titan arum. 'We were able to enjoy it without being driven away' by the smell, she added with a smile.


Information from: San Francisco Chronicle "

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Red Spot on Titan

"The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer instrument onboard Cassini has found an unusual bright, red spot on Titan.

Credit:NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

This dramatic color (but not true color) image was taken during the April 16, 2005, encounter with Titan. North is to the right. In the center it shows the dark lanes of the 'H'-shaped feature (see Titan's surface revealed) discovered from Earth and first seen by Cassini last July shortly after it arrived in the Saturn system. At the southwestern edge of the 'H' feature, near Titan's limb (edge), is an area roughly 500 kilometers (300 miles) across. That area is 50 percent brighter, when viewed using light with a wavelength of 5 microns, than the bright continent-sized area known as Xanadu (see Eyes on Xanadu).

Xanadu extends to the northwest of the bright spot, beyond the limb (edge) of Titan in this image. Near the terminator (the line between day and night) at the bottom of this image is the 80 kilometer (50 mile) crater that has been previously seen by the Cassini radar, imaging cameras, and the visual and infrared spectrometer (see Titan Crater in Three Views).

At wavelengths shorter than 5 microns, the spot is not unusually bright. The strange spectral character of this enigmatic feature has left the team with four possibilities for its source: the spot could be a surface coloration, a mountain range, a cloud, or a hot spot.

The hot spot hypothesis will be tested during a Titan flyby on July 2, 2006, when the visual and infrared spectrometer will take nighttime images of this area. If it is hot, it will glow at night.

This color image was created from separate images in the 1.7 micron (blue), 2.0 micron (green), and 5.0 micron (red) spectral windows through which it is possible to see Titan's surface. The yellow that humans see has a wavelength of about 0.5 microns, so the colors shown are between 3 and 10 times more red than the human eye can detect.

The Cassini-H"

The Sun Online - News: 'Mutant' children are best

I have real doubts about the veracity of this story, as it comes from the British 'Sun', which I'm told is somewhat equivalent to our National Enquirer. I'll be interested to see if there's any independent follow-up on this story from other sources.

The only reason I've blogged it is that there have been some experiments done in the past about beneficial effects of some forms of low-level radiation published in science journals, but the radiation source, type and intensity if of course quite key!

"THE Chernobyl nuclear disaster has spawned a generation of ‘mutant’ super-brainy children.

Kids growing up in areas damaged by radiation from the plant have a higher IQ and faster reaction times, say Russian doctors.

They are also growing faster and have stronger immune systems.

Radiation from the Ukrainian Chernobyl plant swept the globe and affected more than seven million people.

Professor Vladimir Mikhalev from Bryansk State University, has tracked the health of youngsters growing up in areas hit by the fallout since the 1986 accident.

He compared their mental agility and health to those in unaffected areas and found they came out top in tests.

The kids had been exposed to radiation in the atmosphere and their food supply."

Friday, May 27, 2005 - Chess News - Breaking news: Fischer comeback?

"27.05.2005 Bobby Fischer is considering returning to the arena of competitive chess. Yesterday he met with his former adversary Boris Spassky, who travelled to Iceland with the expressed purpose of 'drawing Fischer back to the chessboard'. Fischer is agreeable to the notion, but insists on a worthy opponent and Fischer Random rules.

Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer

Einar S. Einarsson of the RJF Group tells us: Boris Spassky revisited Reykjavik yesterday to meet with his old friend and former adversary Bobby Fischer. It was a happy reunion, as they have not met since 1994 in Budapest. Boris expressed his gladness over Bobby's freedom and new life in Iceland.

Spassky was in the company of GM Joel Lautier of France, President of ACP (Association of Chess Professionals) and Dr. Alex Titomirov, a Russian/American sicentist and businessman. The purpose of their visit was to discuss the possible comeback of the 11th world champion, specifically for Bobby to play a Fischer random chess match against a worthy opponent.

Fischer at the original 1972 Fischer vs. Spassky table in Reykjavik

This historic event if held would take place in Iceland later this year. Nothing was signed or concluded, but the parties are expected to meet again in 2-3 weeks. The meeting with Mr. Fischer was arranged with the help of GM Helgi Ólafsson and Einar S. Einarsson, chairman of the RJF-Group.
Report in Icelandic TV

Spassky's visit to Iceland and the plans of Alex Titomirov were the subject of a news item in an Icelandic TV news channel last night.

Dr. Alex Titomirov: "All I can say is that we have discussions. There are some number of steps which we have to undertake. I will probably be back in a couple of weeks, or three weeks, and then we can talk about it. I think that human civilisation is going to have huge benefit as a result of this event. Citizens of the world will see the progress in chess, especially in Fischer Random Chess. That is one of my main interests." Asked whether we can expect to see a championship in Iceland Titomirov answers: "Everything is possible.

For True Healing to Begin, Simply Turn Off Your Western Mind

Strong shades of Carlos Castaneda and 'Don Juan':

"# My tia, Teresita Urrea, a.k.a. the Mexican Joan of Arc, was long a myth to me.

By Luis Alberto Urrea, Journalist and novelist Luis Alberto Urrea is the author 'The Hummingbird's Daughter,' a fictionalized life of his cousin Teresita published last week by Little, Brown.

I was there to research a book. The curanderas (healer women) of Cuernavaca had agreed to meet with me and discuss the secrets of their trade. They lived in a modest house, and later in the night they offered me a plastic bowl of green Jell-O. Nothing magical. No one was burning incense, burning candles, sprinkling holy water or chanting mantras. A very noisy, very bad ranchero band was playing in the neighbor's yard to celebrate a barrio wedding. The curanderas' TV had rabbit ears wrapped in aluminum foil.

I had never met them or spoken to them: The meeting had been set up by a go-between. Before I left, a Lakota medicine man I knew in South Dakota said he was worried about me. He could not see into Mexico far enough to know whether I would be safe. So he said he was going to send a Sioux warrior's spirit with me, to stand behind me and protect me. In those days, it was all still symbolic to me. But you learn soon enough that shamans often say exactly what they mean.

When I first entered the curanderas' house, they let out shrieks of terror. They had goose bumps on their arms. They had to sit down. The old one, Hermanita Irma, cried out that there was a tall Indian standing behind me. He had long hair held back by a leather thong and he had his hand on my shoulder.

I, of course, looked over my shoulder and saw nothing. It was not the last time I would write in my journal something like: How could this be real? It must have been some bizarre coincidence.

I had been working on this book for 20 years. I was trying to understand a woman known as the Saint of Cabora. She lived from 1873 to 1906 and she was also known as the Mexican Joan of Arc, and as the patron saint of the Yaqui Indians. Her name happened to be Teresita Urrea. She was my aunt — well, a distant cousin really, but in my family she was Tía Teresita.

I had spent my boyhood thinking she was a myth, taking her place among all the demons, ghosts, apparitions and cads populating the crowded Urrea tall-tale arsenal. But as I discovered her historical trail, I found the documented events more astounding than the lies I'd heard in Tijuana. Here was a woman who could, according to newspaper reporters from Mexico, the United States and Europe, heal the sick with a touch. While exuding the scent of roses, no less.

The more I entered her shamanic world, the less I wanted to write about it. I confessed this once to the Native American author Linda Hogan. I told her my "Western mind" couldn't wrap itself around all this mystical stuff. She said: "Honey, the Western mind is a fever. It will pass."

Like most Mexican American kids, I had been raised among herbalists and occultists, fabulists and miraclebelieving Catholics. I had been the first in my family to graduate from college, and certainly the first to teach writing at Harvard. Western mind? I had a Western hard-shell, and now I had to come full circle and believe that my dirt-street abuelas knew more than all those snarky PhDs.

I landed in Tucson one year, hoping to get closer to the Yaqui people. The Arizona Historical Society, with its archives of Sonoran desert phenomena, was also a strong draw. In Tucson, I learned I had distant cousins who were Apaches. And cousins who were Yaquis. I found out that words I had heard all my life in Tijuana were actually Cahita, the language of the Yaquis. Like "bichi," for naked. I also, like the adept in a Carlos Castaneda book (the Yaquis still want to roast Castaneda over a mesquite fire for lying about them), met my teacher, Cousin Esperanza.

Esperanza is a medicine woman descended from the Mayo, sister tribe to the Yaquis. Her grandmother was the healer of the Mayo village of El Jupare, Sonora, and her name was Maclovia Moroyoqui. She was a descendant of Moroyoqui, the greatest war-leader of the Mayos. Esperanza, then, stood at the apex of two powerful bloodlines — Teresita's and Moroyoqui's. And one of the first lessons she gave me was this: "White people think what we do is magic. It's not magic. It's science." (Well, she actually said something unprintable about gringos.

When we met, she told me I had something out of balance in me, and she subjected me to a painful massage. When she was done, she said, "In 90 minutes, you will start to cry. But don't worry."

An hour and a half later, I started to sob. I was suspicious. Had she worked some juju on me, or had she merely programmed my mind? Had she just put in a magician's suggestion? When I asked her, she said, "What's the difference?"

Recalling my talks with Hogan, I confessed to Esperanza that I was unsure about writing the book. Not only was I deeply wary of those groove merchants who shopped among indigenous religions to cobble together feel-good New Age tomes, but I didn't know if a man could tell a woman's story. And she said: "You men. If you want to know something about women, why don't you ask? And when we tell you, why don't you listen?"

I tried. To listen and learn. I heard tales of miracles. I saw ghosts. I might even confess all that I saw when I get to know my readers better. But I never saw a single healing. Not a moment when someone rose from a wheelchair and danced. Except on Benny Hinn TV broadcasts. But I learned of a deeper kind of healing. Something inexplicable. It has to do with serenity.

One of the curanderas in Cuernavaca told me, "If you do not want to join us in Teresita's work, then you must heal in the power of your own medicine. You must heal them with words. Literature is medicine too." The band outside started the roosters and dogs going. We all smiled at each other and ate our Jell-O."

Wired 13.06: The Mad Genius from the Bottom of the Sea

"Unlimited energy. Fast-growing fruit. Free air-conditioning. John Piña Craven says we can have it all by tapping the icy waters of the deep."

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Stanford lab reveals hidden writing on ancient parchment / Scientists analyze Archimedes text at accelerator center

"A super-X-ray beam in Menlo Park is literally shedding new light on the achievements of an ancient titan of math and engineering who lived almost 23 centuries ago.

Associated Press photo, 1999, by Beth A. Keiser

Just as today's scientists learn the latest developments from journals such as Science and Nature, scholars circa A.D. 1000 consulted scientific writings etched in ink on goatskin parchments. A millennium later, time has seriously eroded these inky ruminations of scholars who perhaps scribbled within earshot of chanting monks, feudal lords, suffering serfs and armor- clanking knights.

Those old writings are being recovered thanks to scientists at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. With excruciating slowness and care, they have begun using a beam of X-ray radiation no thicker than a human hair to scan a goatskin parchment known as the Archimedes Palimpsest. It's of unusual interest because it shows how advanced mathematics -- the so-called Queen of the Sciences -- was in ancient times, at least in the mind of a legendary mathematician.

Normally, the SLAC X-ray beam is used for more immediately practical purposes such as research in solid-state physics, materials science and structural biology.

In this case, though, the beam is revealing 'the previously hidden work of one of the founding fathers of all science,' said Keith Hodgson, director of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory, where the research was conducted this month. A color picture of a high-resolution image of the palimpsest, recovered via the Stanford technique, is reproduced in a short news item in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

Hardly any of the palimpsest's original ink is left -- only a layer between 1- and 2-millionths of an inch thick. The SLAC technique is roughly akin to peeling off wallpaper and discovering older, badly faded wallpaperings beneath it.

The palimpsest is the only known source of information on two previously unknown treatises of Archimedes, who lived in Sicily three centuries before Jesus. In a sense, Archimedes -- an ingenious mathematician and inventor -- was both the Einstein and Edison of his epoch.

In about A.D. 1000 in Constantinople, the 174-page palimpsest was copied from papyrus versions made over the centuries from even earlier replicas of Archimedes' original calculations and mathematical diagrams. The palimpsest includes his discussions of geometrical topics such as circles, spheres and cylinders, as well as his insights into the mathematics of infinity.

The manuscript suffered various abuses -- including the scraping or washing off of most of the original text, which was then written over with prayers -- sometime in the centuries between about A.D. 1000 and 1906. In the latter year, a philologist examined the palimpsest in an Istanbul church and identified its underlying text as Archimedean.

Soon after, the palimpsest was lost. Apparently unaware of its identity and value, an unknown forger painted gold-leaf medieval-style pictures in the book. About 1930, a Parisian collector purchased the palimpsest and kept it at home for several decades. In 1991, an antiquities expert at Christie's auction house in Paris saw the palimpsest and recognized its identity. In 1998, it was sold to an anonymous buyer for $2 million.

Most of what we know about ancient thought is indebted to those innumerable medieval scribes, like the one who produced the Archimedes Palimpsest. They copied and commented upon ancient writings, to preserve the intellectual treasures of antiquity in the days before Gutenberg-style printing, Xerox machines and PDF files sent via the Internet.

"If you see the palimpsest, you have goose bumps," said Uwe Bergmann, a scientist who is spearheading the SLAC investigation. Today's scientists are "in effect Archimedes' great-great-great-grandchildren."

Legends (some of them dubious) surround Archimedes' life: For example, that he discovered a key principle of hydrostatics when he sat in a tub and noticed the water rising around him as it was displaced by his body. Thrilled, he supposedly yelled, "Eureka!" and excitedly ran naked through the streets. He also allegedly built a giant mirror that reflected and focused the sun's rays into an ancient version of a "Star Wars" laser; according to myth, he used the device to burn the sails of invading Roman ships.

Another story holds that he was killed by a Roman soldier about 212 B.C., when Romans invaded Syracuse. Legend says that the soldier killed Archimedes because he was too busy doing calculations to obey the soldier's order.

So far, the SLAC analysis hasn't altered scholars' previous understanding of Archimedes' accomplishments, said Reviel Netz, a Stanford classics professor who is involved with the project.

But, Netz added, new understandings about Archimedes and other ancient geniuses might arrive in the future, thanks to such high-tech methods.

"Greek civilization has produced lots of writings, and many of them (were illegible to past scholars) because the techniques available for reading them were not up to the job," Netz said.

The SLAC X-ray beam is a type of radiation known as synchrotron light. It's generated when electrons traveling at almost the speed of light race around a curved "storage ring," emitting radiation ranging from X-ray to infrared wavelengths in the process.

The SLAC ring is surrounded by different experiments, like piglets suckling at different nipples on a sow. For example, a common alternate experiment uses synchrotron radiation to image exquisitely precise atom-by- atom images of organic molecules.

"It's far too early" to know how the SLAC technique might eventually modify our understanding of Archimedes, Netz said. Still, "we can see very well that the technique is very powerful. We're refining techniques, which no doubt will be very valuable for the study of (aged) manuscripts in general."

The person who bought the palimpsest in 1998 has since lent it to Walters Art Museum in Baltimore for research purposes. Walters, in turn, has provided it to various scientists, at SLAC and elsewhere, for recent analyses. Other institutions involved in the palimpsest's research include RB Toth Associates, Rochester Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, ConocoPhillips and Rutgers University.

Sometimes, such scientific analyses of medieval writings require judgment calls. For example, a scholar might have to decide: Was an inky marking intentionally inscribed by the author? Or is it just a stray fleck of ink that was dislodged over the centuries?

"None of these (scientific) techniques are magic wands that transform an illegible text into a text one can read," Netz said.

Being so precious, the palimpsest is handled with extreme care. It was brought from the Baltimore Museum to Menlo Park by a museum official who carried it with her as carry-on luggage in the first-class section of an airplane.

To ensure SLAC's X-ray beam wouldn't damage the palimpsest, Bergmann and his colleagues exposed another old goatskin parchment to the beam, then sent it to a researcher in Ottawa for analysis.

The researcher, Gregory Young of the Canadian Conservation Institute, analyzed fibers in the test parchment. He concluded, he told The Chronicle, there was "no negative effect of the synchrotron's high-flux X-rays on the molecular stability and integrity of the test parchment ... (Thus) the exposure will have no deleterious effect on the parchment of the Archimedes Palimpsest."

In theory, humidity extremes (too dry or too damp) can damage the palimpsest. Hence, while X-raying the palimpsest at SLAC, the Stanford team made sure the room humidity stayed around 50 percent, partly by "buying a $100 Sears humidifier," said Bergmann, a physicist and X-ray spectroscopist who received his doctorate in physics at State University of New York at Stony Brook.

They even devised a procedure to protect the palimpsest in case power failure shut off the humidifier -- the precious parchment would be slipped into a hermetically sealed, low-humidity container.

Archimedes dabbled with one form of calculus -- the mathematical basis of much modern science -- two millennia before 17th century physicist Isaac Newton figured out how to use it to calculate planetary orbits.

The ancient mathematician was so brilliant, Bergmann said with a laugh, that "I'm sure if he were sitting here watching me (analyzing the palimpsest), he could think of a way we could do the experiment better -- he might say, 'Why don't you turn the detector this way?' "

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Bird flu virus 'close to pandemic'

"Mark Honigsbaum
Thursday May 26, 2005
The Guardian

A leading scientist warned yesterday that the avian flu virus is on the point of mutating into a pandemic disease and says that current estimates that such a pandemic could cause 7.5m deaths may understate the threat.

His warnings come as experts writing in today's edition of Nature voice concerns about the world's inability to manufacture sufficient vaccines for a pandemic and warn of the impact that the virus - H5N1 - could have on the global economy."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

CIA Overseeing 3-Day War Game on Internet

"May 25, 6:42 PM (ET)


WASHINGTON - The CIA is conducting a war game this week to simulate an unprecedented, Sept. 11-like electronic assault against the United States. The three-day exercise, known as 'Silent Horizon,' is meant to test the ability of government and industry to respond to escalating Internet disruptions over many months, according to participants.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because the CIA asked them not to disclose details of the sensitive exercise taking place in Charlottesville, Va., about two hours southwest of Washington.

The simulated attacks were carried out five years in the future by a fictional new alliance of anti-American organizations that included anti-globalization hackers. The most serious damage was expected to be inflicted in the closing hours of the war game Thursday.

The national security simulation was significant because its premise - a devastating cyberattack that affects government and parts of the economy on the scale of the 2001 suicide hijackings - contradicts assurances by U.S. counterterrorism experts that such effects from a cyberattack are highly unlikely.

'You hear less and less about the digital Pearl Harbor,' said Dennis McGrath, who has helped run three similar exercises for the Institute for Security Technology Studies at Dartmouth College. 'What people call cyberterrorism, it's just not at the top of the list.'

The CIA's little-known Information Operations Center, which evaluates threats to U.S. computer systems from foreign governments, criminal organizations and hackers, was running the war game. About 75 people, mostly from the CIA, along with other current and former U.S. officials, gathered in conference rooms and pretended to react to signs of mock computer attacks.

The government remains most concerned about terrorists using explosions, radiation and biological threats. FBI Director Robert Mueller warned earlier this year that terrorists increasingly are recruiting computer scientists but said most hackers "do not have the resources or motivation to attack the U.S. critical information infrastructures."

The government's most recent intelligence assessment of future threats through the year 2020 said cyberattacks are expected but terrorists "will continue to primarily employ conventional weapons." Authorities have expressed concerns about terrorists combining physical attacks such as bombings with hacker attacks to disrupt rescue efforts, known as hybrid or "swarming" attacks.

"One of the things the intelligence community was accused of was a lack of imagination," said Dorothy Denning of the Naval Postgraduate School, an expert on Internet threats who was invited by the CIA to participate but declined. "You want to think about not just what you think may affect you but about scenarios that might seem unlikely."

An earlier cyberterrorism exercise called "Livewire" for the Homeland Security Department and other federal agencies concluded there were serious questions over government's role during a cyberattack depending on who was identified as the culprit - terrorists, a foreign government or bored teenagers.

It also questioned whether the U.S. government would be able to detect the early stages of such an attack without significant help from private technology companies."

More clues point to Blackbeard’s last ship - Science -

"By Tom Foreman Jr.
The Associated Press
Updated: 9:03 p.m. ET May 24, 2005

OFF THE COAST OF ATLANTIC BEACH, N.C. - Researchers Tuesday raised another cannon from an underwater site 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) offshore, and hope it will help prove the sunken wreckage was once the flagship of the notorious pirate Blackbeard."

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Hackers Holding Computer Files 'Hostage'

"WASHINGTON (AP) - Computer users already anxious about viruses and identity theft have new reason to worry: Hackers have found a way to lock up the electronic documents on your computer and then demand $200 over the Internet to get them back. "

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Accelerator Used to Decipher Archimedes

"May 22, 2:19 PM (ET)


BALTIMORE (AP) - A particle accelerator is being used to reveal the long-lost writings of the Greek mathematician Archimedes, work hidden for centuries after a Christian monk wrote over it in the Middle Ages.

Highly focused X-rays produced at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center were used last week to begin deciphering the parts of the 174-page text that have not yet been revealed. The X-rays cause iron in the hidden ink to glow."

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Tsunami Quake Stronger Than Believed - New York Times

Published: May 21, 2005

WASHINGTON, May 20 (Reuters) - The Asian earthquake that triggered the deadly tsunami in December was more powerful than scientists had estimated, according to new studies published in Friday's issue of Science.

'The Earth is still ringing like a bell today,' nearly six months after the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake, Roland Burgmann, professor of earth and planetary science at the University of California, Berkeley, told the journal.

According to the study, researchers now believe the quake had a magnitude of 9.15. Initial measurements put it at 9.0. The quake generated a tsunami that killed about 300,000 people in states around the Indian Ocean.

It also set records for the longest fault rupture and the longest duration of faulting, the researchers reported.

In another study published in Friday's issue of Science, Professor Jeffrey Park of Yale said the quake's rupture moved giant slabs of rock a record distance, equivalent to moving from Florida to New England."

Family of Stephen Jay Gould sues doctors, hospitals - Science -

"The Associated Press
Updated: 10:19 p.m. ET May 20, 2005

BOSTON - The family of the late paleontologist and evolutionary scientist Stephen Jay Gould sued two Boston hospitals and three doctors Friday, alleging that the famed author would still be alive if they had properly diagnosed his cancer four years ago."

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Rocky Mountain News: Pen fetishist flunked manager school

From the RockyMountainNews online:

"May 13, 2005

Would Commerce City's city manager still be a fountain-pen fetishist if he had to spend his own money on the luxury models he favors?

Our guess is, probably not.

Manager Perry Vandeventer has played fast and loose with the taxpayer dollar, spending $1,391 on just six pens over eight months. Someone should tell him that most pens can be refilled and need not be replaced when they run out of ink.

If the Commerce City (population a modest 22,000) manager has been irresponsible, he must be reflecting the irresponsibility of Mayor Sean Ford. 'If the city manager can meet budget and these are tools he needs to do the job, it's up to his discretion,' said Ford.

Ford doesn't get it. Budgets aren't set to spend up to; they're supposed to balance available funds with real civic needs.

Vandeventer has admitted he bought some of the pricey pens for himself and his staff, but he has the gall to refuse to say which of his employees were the lucky recipients.

If the pens are bad, Vandeventer's flower purchases are worse. They smell - of an ethics problem. He spent $1,200 in city funds over the past two years on flowers, primarily for secretaries and administrators. By happy coincidence, he purchased the flowers from his wife's Longmont flower shop.

Spending city money on businesses owned by relatives should have been the first no-no he was taught in city manager school."

Hibbing finally gives Old Dylan his due

"The street where Bob Dylan grew up is being given the name 'Dylan Drive' in his honor.

It's the first time the city of Hibbing, where Dylan also attended high school as Robert Zimmerman, is doing something permanent to honor the elusive singer-songwriter.

'This street sign, and the support we've received from so many people here in town, show once and for all that this town is proud of Bob and what he's accomplished,' said Aaron Brown, committee chairman of Dylan Days, a four-day festival that honors Dylan that begins next Friday.

The city had issued a proclamation on May 24, 2001, Dylan's 60th birthday, but that was just a one-day event, Brown said. The sign will be permanent but is honorary only, meaning that 7th Avenue will remain the official name of the street, and that residents won't have to change their addresses.

The street sign project came up after a group of Hibbing citizens approached the City Council and gathered signatures of support."

Lake disappears, baffling villagers

"MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian village was left baffled Thursday after its lake disappeared overnight.

NTV television showed pictures of a giant muddy hole bathed in summer sun, while fishermen from the village of Bolotnikovo looked on disconsolately.

'It is very dangerous. If a person had been in this disaster, he would have had almost no chance of survival. The trees flew downwards, under the ground,' said Dmitry Zaitsev, a local Emergencies Ministry official interviewed by the channel.

Officials in Nizhegorodskaya region, on the Volga river east of Moscow, said water in the lake might have been sucked down into an underground water-course or cave system, but some villagers had more sinister explanations.

'I am thinking, well, America has finally got to us,' said one old woman, as she sat on the ground outside her house."

Monday, May 16, 2005


"May 15, 2005 — Forecasters at the NOAA Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo., observed a geomagnetic storm on Sunday, May 15, which they classified as an extreme event, measuring G-5—the highest level—on the NOAA Space Weather Scales.

Image of the sun from the SOHO spacecraft of the intense solar activity taken May 15, 2005, at 7:50 a.m. EDT.

"This event registered a 9 on the K-Index, which measures the maximum deviation of the Earth's magnetic field in a given three-hour period," said Gayle Nelson, lead operations specialist at NOAA Space Environment Center. "The scale ranges from 0 to 9, with 9 being the highest. This was a significant event."

Possible impacts from such a geomagnetic storm include widespread power system voltage control problems; some grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts. Transformers may experience damage. Spacecraft operations may experience extensive surface charging; problems with orientation; uplink/downlink and tracking satellites. Satellite navigation may be degraded for days, and low-frequency radio navigation can be out for hours. Reports received by the NOAA Space Environment Center indicate that such impacts have been observed in the United States."

Stationary Stationery

Teresa and I have returned absolutely exhausted from our foray to the National Stationery Show, held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, from May 15th through the 18th. Swollen feet and aching muscles attest to the fact that no mere humans can get through more than a third of the floor space in the course of one day (approximately 275,00 square feet in total).

As with our trip to the show last year, we decided to drive from home base in Allentown, PA to Far Hills, NJ and catch a train from there (planning to switch to another train in Summit, which goes directly to Penn Station in the city). Just like last year, Far Hills was pretty much closed down for a major bike race in the area. Unlike last year, the police wouldn't let us sneak through to the train station! Consequently we drove on to Summit directly, and hopped the rails there. With a bit of waiting for our train on both the outbound and return trip, it took us just about 3 hours each way.

The National Stationery Show is a huge affair, with somewhere in the vicinity of 1,400 exhibitors -- many with quite large booths, and expected attendance of 14,000 buyers (which, if my enhanced mathematical abilities are properly honed, equals about 10 buyers per vendor!). This isn't a show open to the general public, but rather to buyers such as yours truly. In my case, I'm looking for that special new writing instrument or desk accessory, such as I found last year with the Acura Dragon & Serpent overlay pens, or a great source for NOS (new, old stock) Sheaffer pens -- as I found 6 or 7 years ago, when I attended my first show.

It's largely a huge 'meet and greet' within the stationery industry (the vast majority of exhibitors deal directly with stationery, cards, office accessories, etc.). Those that supply writing instruments directly are rather few -- and unfortunately for my barking dogs -- far between. Orders can be taken at the show, but as a rule, merchandise doesn't actually change hands there. Rather, the usual encounter involves the obtaining of a product catalog and price sheet in exchange for a business card. I often wonder about the value of those collected business cards though, as I received my first 'follow-up' call from one company I'd visited last year...just this past Thursday!

Upon first arrival (while Teresa scooted away to spend a few hours in Chinatown), I went to visit my friends at YAFA -- importer of Delta, Nettuno, Parafernalia, etc. and manufacturer of Monteverde pens. They always have the same corner booth each year -- one of the larger and nicest at the show -- and it gave me a chance to see some of the new models from each company they represent, as well as a few prototypes (including a fountain pen version of the Revolution!). It was also a chance to renew ties with Jerry Greenberg and Michael Gordon (president and vice-president of YAFA), as well as put a face to voices previously only heard on the telephone, such as the much abused (by me) Dot Stern ("Dot, what's my tracking number?!"..."Dot, where's my backorder?!"...Dot, what do you mean it doesn't come in a fountain pen version?!!!!!").

Moving on, in search of the 'next great find' I found myself spending time at the booth of a new pen company from Hong Kong (whose name I'll keep to myself for awhile, thank you very much) and was deep in discussion with the owner (through a lovely young woman translator, as my Cantonese is as good as the owner's English), when I was tapped on the arm by Maryann and Steve Zucker of Empire Pens. They're wonderful people, famous these days for being the importers of Signum pens from Italy, as well as for originating and hosting the New York Pen Show, held in September. I quickly let them know that I'd just signed an exclusive deal with this new pen manufacturer and that even if I couldn't speak Cantonese, my wife could! Knowing me as the charlatan that I am, they ignored that, and Maryann proceeded to ask me if I could guess how much they'd had to pay for parking across the street for the day. I hazarded "Twenty-five dollars?", to which Maryann replied "Fifty!".

After we both railed for a bit about the obvious cessation of the latest 'Welcome to New York' campaign -- with Maryann pledging a heated missive to Mayor Bloomberg (on really nice stationery, no doubt) -- I took my leave to proceed down the next endless aisle.

I stopped at the booths of a number of the better known manufacturers, such as Visconti, Laban, Retro 51, Conklin, Recife, etc. and had the pleasure of sitting down and 'speaking' with the owner of Stipula, from Italy. I've long admired many of their innovative designs (the 'Iris' pen of a number of years ago comes to mind), and he took great pleasure in showing me some of his newest 'safety pen' designs, with retractable nibs, which were really gorgeous. As he spoke little English, and I no Italian ("Cosa Nostra" didn't seem to go over too well), we communicated by hand gestures, a few understandable phrases '14K', '18K', 'loupe' (I had to borrow his, to examine the nibs), cartridge/converter, and a mutual enthusiasm for the pens themselves.

Eventually, his beautiful young woman translator returned, and I was able to get down to the important essentials, such as nib variations offered, retail prices, servicing of defective merchandise, and the possibility of my visiting the translator back in Florence (remember, Teresa was still in Chinatown, and who knows what she was doing).

Regretfully moving on I did come across a new pen that caught my fancy, which I may well carry in the coming weeks. It's a ballpoint -- not my usual writing instrument of choice -- but of a quite innovative design. It has a roll of paper wrapped inside the barrel, so that one is never at a loss for something to write with -- or on! The paper can be blank on both sides, and easily torn off after writing a note, or an imprinted roll with calendar, daily to-do list or address book on one side is also available, and the paper easily retracts back into the pen if retaining the information is important. It's one of those 'Why didn't someone -- perhaps even me -- think of that before?' experiences, and the company has it's patent granted or pending in more than 40 countries.

Teresa eventually returned from Dim Sum land, and I took her back to the Hong Kong manufacturer for some more detailed discussions in Cantonese (I once tried to show off my language skills to a table of Chinese women at a pen show, by pointing across to the His Nibs table which Teresa was manning, and confidently informed them that she was my 'husband' -- more bizarre looks you couldn't imagine).

While there at the 'Hong Kong booth', my sleeve was again tugged upon, this time by Patrick Chu of Loiminchay Pens, who just wanted to say "Hi", while he was "...scoping out the competition". Patrick doesn't have competition for the unique pens that he creates!

Anyway, a fun day was had by all, I had other adventures over the course of 4 or 5 grueling hours that might bear repeating, but my feet are now demanding that they be elevated above my head, and I'm not presently limber enough to continue using a keyboard whilst engaged in
ancient yogic practices of bodily inversion.

Friday, May 13, 2005

It would've stumped Einstein: the missing-pen-by-the-phone theorem

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Yeah, yeah, this is the 100th anniversary of Einstein's "Miracle Year" - the year he figured out everything from relativity to atoms to e=mc2. So how come Mr. Genius never bothered to explain the deepest physics mystery of all: Where does the pen by the phone go?"

Ms. Skenazy questions a group of physicists -- and a professional organzier -- to help her solve the mystery!

Monday, May 09, 2005

A Different Set of Chronicles - New York Times

A terrific, if short, interview and profile with Jakob Dylan -- Bob Dylan's 35 year old son, as the Wallflower's (his band) 5th album is set for release.

For the first time that I've seen, he has some comments about his father as his father.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

How to make holograms at home - Tech News & Reviews -

A new product from Liti Holographics allows anyone to create holograms at home, for less than $150.00. The title link will take you to the favorable coverage of the home-kit from MSNBC.

Here's the link to Liti Holographics

While this link has a negative (pun intended) review (from December of last year).

It appears that results might be somewhat sporadic at this point, but it can only improve and is pretty amazing that this can be done now in this price range.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Time Travelers to Meet in Not Too Distant Future - New York Times

"CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 5 - Suppose it is the future - maybe a thousand years from now. There is no static cling, diapers change themselves, and everyone who is anyone summers on Mars.

What's more, it is possible to travel back in time, to any place, any era. Where would people go? Would they zoom to a 2005 Saturday night for chips and burgers in a college courtyard, eager to schmooze with computer science majors possessing way too many brain cells?

Why not, say some students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who have organized what they call the first convention for time travelers.

Actually, they contend that theirs is the only time traveler convention the world needs, because people from the future can travel to it anytime they want."

Read the full article in the NY Times by clicking on the link above. It's actually quite a creative idea. You can also read more about it here.

Earth Has Become Brighter, but No One Is Sure Why - New York Times

After several decades of dimming light on Earth's surface (I truly remember the world being brighter as a child -- and I'm not speaking metaphorically :-)), that trend is apparently reversing itself.

The link above is to an article which discusses possible reasons for both conditions.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

New postal stamps honor four scientists

Four prominent scientists are being honored today by the U.S. Postal Service with stamps of their own.

Barbara McClintock won the 1983 Nobel Prize in medicine for her discoveries in genetics. She was among the first scientists to study the way genetic material controls the development of an organism.

Josiah Willard Gibbs, who lived from 1839 to 1903, was a pioneer in the study of vector analysis, electromagnetic theory, statistical analysis and thermodynamics. He earned the first doctorate in engineering to be conferred in the United States. He taught at Yale University and was the author of several books and scientific papers.

John von Neumann was one of the top mathematicians of the 20th century. He helped develop a machine that became a model for modern computers, worked with Albert Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Study and was a consultant in the project to build the first atomic bomb.

Richard P. Feynman won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1965 for work in quantum electrodynamics. His work included diagrams that help visualize the dynamics of atomic particles.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Bob Dylan film attracting stars

"The stars are beginning to align for the upcoming biography of legendary musician Bob Dylan.

Variety reports Cate Blanchett, Colin Farrell, Adrien Brody, Richard Gere, Julianne Moore and Charlotte Gains are all eying roles in the film, titled 'I'm Not There.'

The actors will officially sign on when the film's finances are in place.

The bio, directed by Todd Haynes ('Far From Heaven,' 'Velvet Goldmine') will focus on seven characters, each embodying a different aspect of Dylan's life story and music.

Production is scheduled to begin this fall."

Monday, May 02, 2005

CBS News | In Search Of The Hobbit | May 1, 2005 23:49:15

The lastest on the 'Hobbit' species of humans, found last year on the island of Flores in Indonesia, from both '60 Minutes' and National Geographic magazine.

Titanic Items Auction for More Than $150K

"BROOKLINE, Mass. (AP) - Dozens of Titanic relics auctioned for more than $150,000 Sunday, including a gold pocket watch owned by an Irish immigrant that stopped ticking the day of the sinking when she was rescued in a lifeboat.

The watch, once owned by Nora Keane of County Limerick, Ireland, was sold for $24,675, more than three times its estimated value, said Jon Baddeley, Bonhams & Butterfields auction house's marine collectibles expert.

Keane, who had emigrated to Harrisburg, Pa., was returning to the United States on the luxury liner's maiden voyage after a four-month visit to see her mother. It was damaged by water as she was rescued in lifeboat No. 10.

'It's been stopped ever since,' Baddeley said. 'We had a lot of interest from Ireland.'

On the back of the watch was engraved the message: 'To my dearest Nora, your visit to County Limerick warmed my heart. God bless and be with you on your return to Pennsylvania.' It's signed: 'Loving mother.'

The Titanic sank in the North Atlantic on April 14 and 15, 1912, killing about 1,500 people.

The top sale price at the auction was $44,650 for the only known example of a 3rd class menu postcard, dated April 14, 1912. The card has a picture of the Titanic at the top, with the entire day's menu printed on it.

Baddeley said the items had belonged to a British private collector who wished to remain anonymous."

Read of my recent visit to the Titanic Museum in Orlando, Florida here.