Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My Only Comfort is the Night Gone Black

Good Afternoon Ladies & Gentlemen,

So… the thunderstorms have been a plenty and a violent the past few days. I haven’t really seen sunlight for three days up until this morning… and even then it was just when I went to work and was above the fog line. I like it a lot. Sure, the bit of ice on the roads in the mornings is a reminder that winter is once again approaching… but hey, I knew what I was getting into when I moved here. Absolute paradise half the year, and then a winter wonderland the other half… with a few muddy weeks in between, you know, just as a reminder to make sure your snow tires are on & your chains and shovel are back in your vehicle. Let’s see, my dad is flying in on Saturday, football game Sunday night, flying out on Monday. I may have another date some time this next week but… you know, schedules. Three weeks from now I’ll be packing up for a week in New Orleans… and I still don’t have a set Halloween costume. I don’t think that a makeshift Captain Hammer costume is going to fly this year… but hey, I’m fairly clever and resourceful. Hmm… we shall see. Maybe I’ll keep it as a surprise too.

Last night, I finally watched the latest remake of “Alice in Wonderland” by director Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Anne Hathaway and the voices of Alan Rickman & Stephen Fry. You all know the story… with the only twist being that Alice is a teenager in this one… and doesn’t like the life that’s set up for her… so she runs off and falls down the rabbit hole… and the rest is pretty standard to the Disney story from there, just with some cool CGI and pretty entertaining performances from Depp & Carter. It’s quirky and awkward and awesome like most Tim Burton movies. That’s… really all I have to say about it. Not incredible, not horrible, just if you like Tim Burton, it is exactly what you would expect. So yeah… I’m sure if you wanted to see it, you already have… but if not, go ahead and check it out. I’ve got “Labyrinth” to watch tonight through Netflix… hmm… maybe I can go as a taller, sexier David Bowie for Halloween. Sigh… if only I knew how to do that crystal ball juggling stuff like a pro. That’d be sweet. Anyway, here’s the news…

Graphene – So a while back, I told you about this super cool substance that scientists are messing around with called graphene. Well, apparently I wasn’t the only one that thought it was pretty awesome… as they deemed it worthy of a Noble Prize. Why? Well, it is the thinnest and strongest material known to mankind & no thicker than a single atom and 100 times tougher than steel. Could graphene be the next plastic? Maybe so, says one of two scientists who won a Nobel Prize on Tuesday for isolating and studying it. Faster computers, lighter airplanes, transparent touch screens — the list of potential uses runs on. Some scientists say we can't even imagine what kinds of products might be possible with the substance, which hides in ordinary pencil lead and first was extracted using a piece of Scotch tape. Two Russian-born researchers shared the physics Nobel for their groundbreaking experiments with graphene, which is a sheet of carbon atoms joined together in a pattern that resembles chicken wire. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of the University of Manchester in England used Scotch tape to rip off flakes of graphene from a chunk of graphite, the stuff of pencil leads. That achievement, reported just six years ago, opened the door to studying what scientists say should be a versatile building block for electronics and strong materials. "It has all the potential to change your life in the same way that plastics did," Geim, 51, a Dutch citizen, told The Associated Press. "It is really exciting." Michael Strano, a chemist at MIT, said trying to predict its uses would be "folly ... We can't even imagine the uses we're going to find." But he and others have some ideas. Graphene's electrical properties mean it might make for faster transistors, key components of electronic circuits, and so lead to better computers, the Nobel committee says. As a single layer of carbon atoms it's tiny, which could pay off in more powerful cell phones, several scientists said. And since it's practically transparent, it could lead to see-through touch screens and maybe solar cells, the committee says. It might even pay off for big TV screens. Its tremendous strength could produce new composite materials that are super-strong and lightweight, for use in building airplanes, cars and satellites, the committee says. So why aren't pencil leads super strong, if they contain graphene? Breaking a lead generally involves a shearing off between graphene sheets rather than breaking the sheets themselves, explained James Tour of Rice University. And while a person can tear up a single sheet of graphene, it's still stronger than a one-atom-thick sheet of anything else. "There's nothing stronger," Tour said. Graphene has not made its mark in ordinary consumer products yet, although some prototype electronic display screens and composite materials have been created, Strano said. Lots of scientists are studying it, in some cases to learn about basic physics, Strano said. Researchers are still trying to find a practical way to make large quantities of pure graphene, something more amenable to large-scale use than the Scotch-tape approach, he said. "The field is still very new," he said, and the awarding of the $1.5 million prize to Geim and Novoselov is "absolutely marvelous." (By the way, Peyton Manning made that on Sunday just for playing the game of football… and probably doubled it with all the commercials he starred in. Stay in school, kids!!!) Joseph Stroscio, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said he had thought it would take a few more years of scientific appraisal before graphene would win a Nobel. But its potential applications and the brand-new behavior it presents for basic physics have drawn strong interest since the 2004 breakthrough, and the prize is well-deserved, he said. It might take five or 10 years before graphene shows up in products like cell phones, he said. Novoselov, 36, is the youngest Nobel winner since 1973 of a prize that normally goes to scientists with decades of experience. He holds both British and Russian citizenship. Paolo Radaelli, a physics professor at the University of Oxford, marveled at the simple methods the winners used. "In this age of complexity, with machines like the super collider, they managed to get the Nobel using Scotch tape," Radaelli said. Congratulations comrades. Can’t wait to see what marvels will come out of this simplest of atomic arrangements. Oh… and speaking of scientific breakthroughs…

Vegas Death Ray – Not exactly what Tesla had in mind… but it’ll do for today’s technology. Okay, so it’s not really a death ray… but perhaps a slight exaggeration. MGM Resorts International is taking the heat for an intense beam of searing desert sunlight, jokingly dubbed the "death ray," that some hotel guests say poses a risk of severe burns to bathers lounging poolside. The beam is actually a concentrated reflection of solar rays bouncing off the gleaming glass facade of the concave-shaped, high-rise Vdara hotel and condominium, which opened on the Las Vegas "strip" in December (must be CityCentre). Local media, as well as some hotel staff and guests, have come to refer to the reflection as the "death ray," but MGM Resorts officials prefer to call it a "solar convergence phenomenon" which has an obviously less threatening tone to it. "The refraction moves across the pool deck over a period of 90 minutes," company spokesman Gordon Absher told Reuters. "It's never in the same place from day to day or week to week because the sun is changing its elevation in the sky." MGM Resorts, which owns the property, has sought to correct the problem by installing a high-tech solar film over each of the 3,000 glass panes covering the south facade of the Vdara to scatter the rays. But the concentrated sunlight remains hot enough at certain times, in certain spots, to melt plastic and singe hair, said William Pintas, 49, a Chicago lawyer and Vdara condo owner who first encountered the effect earlier after a dip in the pool. When his head started burning, he thought it was from chemicals in the pool. "So I just laid down in the chair, and that's when my back and the back of my legs started burning, and I ran under a nearby umbrella. And I'm under the umbrella and there is no shading from the light or heat," he recounted. "It was the strangest thing." Pintas said he could even smell his hair starting to burn. Astonished and angry, he alerted hotel staff, then called the local newspaper to draw attention to the problem. Absher said MGM Resorts is "now looking into further mitigation procedures," including more umbrellas, additional foliage or shade structures. He said not everyone has complained. On cooler days, he said, he has seen sunbathers deliberately lay their blankets on the convergence spot for additional warmth. But Pintas said he worries that sooner or later, someone will end up seriously burned if they fall asleep in the path of the ray, even if under an umbrella, because as he found the concentrated light can penetrate the shade. "In Vegas, people are out drinking the night before, so it's not hard to imagine people being unconscious there under an umbrella," he said. So what do you think? Is it a Chicago lawyer trying to get some additional scratch? Or a serious concern because they unintentionally somehow found a way to make Vegas even hotter? Death ray may be a bit of an exaggeration… but then again, have you been there in the 115 degree sun? Now add it under a magnifying glass? The point of this story – Don’t stay at Vdara. You know what, don’t even go to Vegas. Come to Reno!!! And while you’re at it, slip on over to Lake Tahoe. We’re free of Death Rays… and at this altitude, intoxication is guaranteed. Sigh… I’m sorry, Vegas. You f**ked me over a few times. I was angry. I do miss you. Hopefully we’ll meet up again shortly.

The Rockets Red Blare – How sure are you that you know all the words to the Star Spangled Banner? Really? THAT sure? Sure enough to risk jail time? In the Philippines, a land of passionate singers, taking on the national anthem is about to get a little more daunting -- get it wrong and you could land in jail for a couple of years and be fined more than $2,000. A ban on the improper singing of Lupang Hinirang (Beloved Land) and unpatriotic displays of the Philippine flag is a Senate vote away from becoming law after the lower house voted 196-0 in favor of it on Monday. Repeat: Something is about to pass through the Filipino government… after a vote of 196 to 0. You probably couldn’t get our congress to agree 196 to 0 that women are people too. Go ahead. Try it. Prove me wrong. Let’s see what Strom Thurman has to say on the subject at the hearing. Anyway, back to the Philippines, "Our Congress has given more teeth to government's campaign to invigorate patriotism, respect and love of country by singing our anthem properly," Representative Salvador Escudero, the bill's principal author, told reporters. He lamented that Filipino artists and singers had been changing the anthem's military march melody and beat, and that the flag had been made into shirts and short pants (and probably underwear). If the Senate passes the law, the first approved by the lower house since the change of administrations in June, violators face up to two years in jail and a fine of 100,000 pesos ($2,280). Okay, now it’s quiz time. “Ooh say can you see / By the dawn’s early light / What so proudly we hail… as the twilight’s last” EEEEH!!! It’s AT the twilight’s last gleaming. Hands behind your head! Pretty messed up, huh? Imagine what they would think about these patriotic wonders…

Bacon Update - October may be Breast Cancer Awareness Month… but it definitely won't be the best month to be a feral hog in the state of Texas. Instead of declaring Bacon Awareness Month, the state's Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples has declared October "Hog Out Month - Get the Hog Outta Texas!" as part of a campaign to eradicate the delicious pests. The campaign aims to get Texans to lock and load and hunt down the animals, which cause widespread damage to farmers and other landowners. "Not only are feral hogs a costly nuisance to agricultural operations and wildlife habitats, but they are increasingly finding their way into urban areas and destroying residents' yards, public parks and golf courses," Staples said in a statement this week when the campaign was unveiled. "On my ranch in East Texas, I have eliminated a number of hogs and I am asking Texans around the state to step up and join the county challenge to learn about feral hogs and how best to legally hunt and trap them in their area," he added. Feral hogs are mostly domestic pigs that have gone wild, with some European wild boars that have escaped from exotic game ranches thrown into the mix and bloodlines. State officials estimate the feral hog population in Texas to be around 2 million and they are estimated to cause around $400 million in damage annually as they eat or root up pastures, crops and even golf courses. That’s $200 per hog… and I’m thinking this is a great stimulus plan as you can easily get that much pork out of a big one. This makes them one of the most costly invasive species in the country… but can also be profitable (unlike snake meat down in the Everglades, which is why I assume the Apocalypse is still continuing as scheduled). The campaign may not please some animal rights groups but Texas farmers don't need much prompting to pull the trigger when it comes to feral hogs (and frankly, they just don’t give a sh*t what those hippies think anyway). Their numbers are growing because they are prolific breeders with few natural predators and are moving into suburban and urban areas. They are also regarded as a challenge to hunt or trap because they are wary and intelligent (slow cooked on a rye bun with my grandpa’s recipe of mesquite barbecue sauce). "Get the Hog Outta Texas" month will feature a challenge among Texas counties that will run until October 31. The county that documents the most hogs removed during the month will get a $25,000 grant toward what the Texas Department of Agriculture terms "feral hog abatement technologies." So let’s go get some bacon!!!

Panda Update - Chinese experts sent to Japan to investigate the death of a giant panda on loan to a zoo have determined that the animal died of asphyxiation, state media reported Saturday. Kou Kou died last month at the Oji zoo in the western port city of Kobe (great beef) after it had received an anesthetic so that veterinarians could extract semen from the 14-year-old male panda to impregnate his partner, Tan Tan. Experts found that Kou Kou had suffocated when "objects in its stomach went into its lungs, leading to asphyxiation," the official Xinhua news agency reported. Earlier, reports suggested the experts believed that the death could have been caused by an overdose of sedatives and were questioning why Japanese veterinarians were extracting semen outside the animal's mating period. A breeding agreement between Beijing and Tokyo includes the stipulation that Japan pay 500,000 dollars in compensation if a panda dies due to human error, state media reported previously. Xinhua said Saturday that China and Japan would settle the matter in accordance with their cooperation agreement on panda research, without providing further details. The panda's death came amid the worst crisis in relations between the two countries in years, stemming from the collision of a Chinese fishing trawler and two Japanese coastguard vessels near disputed islets in the East China Sea. It also comes after Tokyo's Ueno Zoo reached an agreement in July to receive a pair of pandas from China in a deal that will cost nearly one million dollars a year for the next decade. The money is to be spent on protecting wild animals in China. Giant pandas, a highly endangered species native to parts of China, are notoriously slow at reproducing in captivity. There are just 1,600 pandas left in the wild. Nearly 300 others are in captive-breeding programs worldwide, mainly in China, according to official reports. I’ve probably repeated that information dozens of times though… but never before had I reported about a possible… PANDA MURDER!!! (Dun dun duuuuuh…) Sure, the media wants you to believe that it was an accidental drug overdose… while in the act of getting jerked off by a few hot Asian scientists while in a dream state… but are you really going to believe that? There are just too many questions. Who stands to gain from this? Sure, China can try to get a half-million bucks if they find it was due to human error, but Japan’s got a few hostages… and don’t think for a minute that they don’t have ninja guards ready to execute those two pandas if negotiations don’t go their way. Could this lead to international war between the two (and obviously bring us in as Japan’s buddy)? Was this panda’s death REALLY an accident? Could the panda have simply taken a cyanide pill in an effect to bring about the Apocalypse through an alliance with snakes, alligators, tigers & bears? And the most important question of all – Do pandas REALLY need to be sedated to be jerked off? Doesn’t that usually have the opposite effect? Sure, a little sedating can greatly improve the stamina but we’re talking about just getting the gravy in an effective manner. Are pandas such prudes that they won’t even allow themselves to be released by another? So many questions… so few answers.

That’ll wrap it up for today. Sorry to leave you with that image of a panda in a precarious position but… what can I say? I’m a sucker for science. Getting VERY excited for the game this weekend, possible date in the near future & New Orleans at the end of the month… plus plenty of fun stuff in between I’m sure. Gotta make a few more trips out to the lake before it gets too icy to safely traverse. Have a great night everybody!!!

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