If you've been curious about what's been going on at Michael Shermer's Origins conference, here's someone who has been live-blogging it. It sounds like most of the morning talks were somewhat interesting, but the afternoon panel session (sponsored by the Templeton Foundation) sounds like it suffered from a shortage of militant atheists, and an excess of apologists, as expected.Read the comments on this post...
...and if you wanna do some work ~ you can track the movements of the Kilimanjaro lion Ndelie through this map:
Just click the play button in the right sidebar of the page and you'll get an idea of the movement patterns of a random male lion - how it covers vast distances over time..
I've read that tigers, particularly the maneating ones, follow a specific circular parameter as their path across the jungle - over which they move constantly, taking prey at regular intervals in their journey. This ensures that a) they never stay in the same place for too long to avoid persecution by man and b) they never exhaust the prey base completely in one area. Lions being social and different cats by nature may have an alternative movement pattern. But it certainly seems that this male's movements are concentrated in a particular region in the bottom left of the map. Maybe it has to do with the location of the pride and the fact that they made a large kill like a buffalo in that place - or it maybe that he is patrolling the region regularly for some reason. Interesting study in any case...
Kitchen Gardens are a great vehicle to bring a little bit of nature into our everyday lives. While the plants and flowers are a source of joy in themselves, greater is the joy if these plants attract small wildlife like butterflies, insects, birds and squirrels as well.
Here is a slide show of the creative efforts of a group of ladies who are members of the Kitchen Garden Association of India.
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So I’m doing my thing, surfing and reading and writing, and I go to click on my Gmail tab in Firefox. When I look at the tab, I notice something weird: little, single-pixel-high black rectangles beneath the tab.What the…?Sometimes if you[...]
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Go watch “Religulous.” Now.And then make all your friend and family go watch it.
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Tennessee v. John T. Scopes Trial: John Thomas Scopes.Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...
Tennessee v. John T. Scopes Trial: Privies outside the Rhea County (Tennessee) courthouse with "Read Your Bible" sign.
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For the first time ever, a series of 39 original photographs from the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial are now available for your viewing pleasure.
Hebridean Black-faced Sheep near Arnol (Isle of Lewis, Scotland)
Image: Dave Rintoul, Summer 2008 [larger view].Read the comments on this post...
Neal Stephenson writes ambitious books. I got hooked with Snow Crash(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), an amazingly imaginative book about near-future virtual worlds; Zodiac(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) is required reading for anyone interested in chemistry and the environment; I had mixed feelings about Cryptonomicon(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), but only because it was two books in one, and only one of those books was excellent; The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) was a fabulously weird exploration of a New Victorian culture with nanotechnology; and I ate up his big trilogy, The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), The Confusion(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), and The System of the World(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll)), which I consider his best to date — historical fiction bubbling over with a fascinatingly skewed perspective on the Enlightenment. He's definitely one of my favorite authors. He's an acquired taste; he often seems to abandon the narrative of his book to go noodling about with strange ideas, and it can be frustrating if you read a book with the goal of getting to the end. On the other hand, all of those little distractions and detours seem to culminate in fireworks, so as long as you're willing to go along for the ride, they're great.
Now he has a new one out, Anathem(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), and I don't know whether I'll be able to finish it. I'm about halfway into it, and it's a difficult read (most of his books are), but no fireworks. It definitely has an interesting idea at the core, but it doesn't seem to be one that translates into an interesting novel.
The premise is that it is a story of an alien culture where the philosopher-mathematicians are set aside and isolated from the general population, living in monastery-like "concents" where they live a life focused on ritual and contemplation of their work, undistracted by the outside world of saeculars or even the interests of the applied science and technology class, the itas. The life of these mathematicians very much parallels the life of monks in our world, except they aren't religious at all — they're even called "avout" (rather than devout) to emphasize the agnostic nature of their existence. Every once in a while, the outside world intrudes: there are regular events every decade, century, or millennium when the doors of the concents are opened and avouts briefly mingle with the extramuros, or world outside, and in times of need the saeculars will evoke individual avouts, calling them to work in their specialty in the world beyond the concent. Anathem is about a small group of avouts who are suddenly called to carry out a little peregrination after astronomers notice something peculiar in the sky.
As I admitted, I've only made it halfway through so far, so perhaps there is some excitement coming up, but I have to admit: the lives of scholastic hermits are excruciatingly boring. No offense intended to any mathematicians reading this, but I think even you would find these math monks tedious, since the excitement (I presume) of their discipline is only described vaguely and indirectly, since no actual math is directly described in the text (there are a couple of appendices that describe some proofs). Of course, this is a small blessing to the rest of us, because perhaps the only thing more dreary than describing the lives of obsessed mathematicians would be a book describing the actual mathematics of a collection of obsessed mathematicians. It does not, however, enthuse the reader to contemplate how easily this book could have been rendered even more uneventful and abstract.
So far, in my progress through the book, we have explored this strange world of Stephenson's and been introduced to the life of the avout, and a small group of central characters. They have been evoked, and are crossing over the North Pole on their way to a remote continent, where, somehow, they are going to solve (I presume) they mystery of a pattern of lights observed in orbit around the world, which for some so-far unexplained reason, has unsettled many influential people among the saeculars. Not much has happened, actually. It's a fine exercise in science-fiction world-building, especially if you are fond of dessicated academics, but as stories go…it's a little less than enthralling.
I should mention that being halfway through it means I'm on page 450.
Like I said, I'm beginning to doubt that I will make it to the end of this epic journey. I am parched and fading, and there aren't even any fireworks. I may bring it along on my next plane trip, but even there I fear it will only promote more napping while airborne.
The book has another flaw, which you may deduce from my summary. Stephenson is making up words like a Pentecostal on a meth/caffeine/LSD cocktail. I can understand why he's doing it — it's to give his philosophomathematicians an atmosphere of the cloister and the cathedral while not freighting them with any kind of religious sense — but it makes the whole book even more wearing. I got this book for fun (fireworks!), it's already turning into a hard slog, and on top of that, I have to learn a whole new language in order to understand it? Ouch. Even the title is one of his odd hybrid words!
Randall Munroe seems to be feeling the same way I do.
This book is only for True Fans™ of Neal Stephenson, and even at that, I suspect there will be much shuffling of feet and averted eyes when it comes up for discussion at the SF cons.Read the comments on this post...
How about those modesty police?
In Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where the rule of law sometimes takes a back seat to the rule of God, zealots are on a campaign to stamp out behavior they consider unchaste. They hurl stones at women for such "sins" as wearing a red blouse, and attack stores selling devices that can access the Internet.
In recent weeks, self-styled "modesty patrols" have been accused of breaking into the apartment of a Jerusalem woman and beating her for allegedly consorting with men. They have torched a store that sells MP4 players, fearing devout Jews would use them to download pornography.
"These breaches of purity and modesty endanger our community," said 38-year-old Elchanan Blau, defending the bearded, black-robed zealots. "If it takes fire to get them to stop, then so be it."
And the significant difference between Judaism and Islam is…? I guess it's merely a matter of degree: a Muslim cleric wants women to wear clothing that covers up all but one and only one eye, while the Jewish fundamentalists, I presume, still allow women to use both eyes. So far.
Hey, I have a suggestion for all those fearful people who want to punish women for being so darn tempting. Instead of targeting women, let's have all orthodox, fundamentalist men fitted with devices that measure penis enlargement, and that set off blinking lights and whistles mounted on the gentleman's hats when significant arousal is detected. Then the clerics and rabbis and orthodox mobs can patrol the streets and stone anyone with a flashing hat — one way or another, the visible responses to perfectly ordinary human forms will disappear, the clerics will be able to claim victory over temptation, and they can stop abusing innocent women.
I'm sure there's a clever dick somewhere who can come up with such a device.Read the comments on this post...