Archive for August, 2007

World Wide Web?

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WILLS POINT, Tex., Aug. 29 — Most spiders are solitary creatures. So the discovery of a vast web crawling with millions of spiders that is spreading across several acres of a North Texas park is causing a stir among scientists, and park visitors.

Sheets of web have encased several mature oak trees and are thick enough in places to block out the sun along a nature trail at Lake Tawakoni State Park, near this town about 50 miles east of Dallas.

The gossamer strands, slowly overtaking a lakefront peninsula, emit a fetid odor, perhaps from the dead insects entwined in the silk. The web whines with the sound of countless mosquitoes and flies trapped in its folds.

Mr. Dean and several other scientists said they had never seen a web of this size outside of the tropics, where the relatively few species of “social” spiders that build communal webs are most active.

Norman Horner, emeritus professor of biology at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Tex., was one of a number of spider experts to whom a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist sent online photos of the web. “It is amazing, absolutely amazing,” said Dr. Horner, who at first thought it an e-mail hoax.

The web may be a combined effort of social cobweb spiders. But their large communal webs generally take years to build, experts say, and this web was formed in just a few months.

from the New York Times

Federal authorities may have to intervene should the webs encircle the nearby North Texas Westmoreland Nuclear Generating Complex…

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  It’s back-to-school time so load up with those pencils, notebooks, rulers and, of course, a bullet-deflecting backpack, if you buy the pitch of the security accessory’s Danvers inventors.

  Dads Mike Pelonzi, 43, and Joe Curran, 42, dreamed up the bullet-proof backpack, which also blunts knife attacks, to protect their own children after witnessing the Columbine massacre in 1999.

“It was after seeing what happened in Columbine that we started thinking about this. I’m a parent and so is Joe and we wanted a way of keeping kids safe at school and this is what we came up with,” said Pelonzi, co-owner of MJ Safety Solutions which produces ‘My Child’s Pack’.

The backpacks, which will cost $175, have a super-lightweight bullet-proof plate sewn into the back which weighs no more than a bottle of water. Pelonzi said the material used is a secret.

The plate material meets National Institute of Justice safety standards, said Pelonzi, and during a three-year testing phase, stood up to bullets as well as machete, hatchet and Ka-bar knife attacks.

from the Boston Herald 

According to our yute expert, this is a terrible idea because the only kids who are going to be able to afford and/or need these units are drug dealers and gang members. My expert expects to see kids on corners wearing two – one on the front and one on the back. As he pointed out “It’s still cheaper than full body armor”. We’ll take his word for it…. 

Comic of the Day

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The China Conundrum was inevitable. Importing entire Wal-Marts full of goods from a third world country with as creative and casual an attitude towards standards and regulation as China was wound to have repercussions in a country as litigation-loco as the US. The first thing an American thinks when he stubs his toe is “Who can I sue?”

In fact, many Americans don’t even wait to stub anything, they wake up in the morning thinking “Who can I sue today?”

The fact that the answer to that question, in an increasing number of cases, is “Someone in China” is sure to lead to an increasing demand for American lawyers versed in the procedures of bringing suit in Chinese and international courts, and for English-speaking Chinese lawyers to defend the coming avalanche of suits.

Coincidentally, the Dowbrigade has recently become one of the world’s top experts in teaching legal English to foreign lawyers. Actually, one of the world’s few experts. But, be that as it may, we are evaluating where the best locale for an International Institute of Legal English – Hong Kong or Beijing?

Curious George Escapes from Peru

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NEW YORK (CNN) — Passengers aboard Spirit Airlines Flight 180 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to New York’s LaGuardia International Airport had an unexpected travel companion Tuesday: a small monkey.

A passenger who originally departed from Lima, Peru, and connected in Fort Lauderdale had been hiding the small monkey in his ponytail, under his hat, according to Spirit Airlines spokeswoman Alison Russell.

During the flight, the monkey crawled out of its hiding spot, forcing the owner to hold it in his hands, where the unexpected visitor was soon spotted by fellow passengers and crew members, Russell said.

The Port Authority Police Department was contacted by Spirit Airlines, and officials met the owner and the monkey at the gate.

from CNN

What a coincidence – the Dowbrigade’s own personal Curious George is also on his way from Peru to La Guardia with a monkey on his back. Getting out of the country might be a problem; his tourist visa is five years out of date. We are loathe to divulge any more details until the big ape surfaces somewhere in the free world…..

Buddha Boy’s Back – Preaches Peace – and Quiet

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Finally, Ram Bahadur Bomjom, the Buddha Boy, has started preaching. The committee that looks after ‘the modern Buddha’, Namo Buddha Tapoban Committee, assembled a large crowd yesterday in Hallori Jungle in Bara district of southern Nepal that was addressed by a long haired boy clad in a maroon robe. The notice about the first ever preaching by the boy was broadcast in a local FM radio station and the committed also invited people by phone. Around three thousand people gathered to listen to Ram Bahadur Bomjom.

Ram Bahadur Bomjom spoke with several pauses as if he was finding it very difficult to communicate in the language of human being. Just to kill another possible curiosity Ram Bahadur was using Nepali language while preaching via a big mike. He also requested the people not to be skeptical about him and disturb him.

from United We Blog for a Democratic Nepal 

This Buddha Boy is the  real thing.  He once went 5 months without eating while in a deep meditative state.  Unfortunately, his enlightened message to the rest of humanity seems to be “Go away and leave me alone.” No wonder prayers don’t get answered these days.

Man U Signs 9-year-old – No Joke

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jungsokerMANCHESTER, England: Manchester United, by most measures the #1 sports team in the world, has announced the signing of Rhain Davis, a 9-year-old soccer prodigy from Australia (see photo). Rhain was brought to the attention of the world soccer powerhouse by his grandfather, who sent the British team a video of the young star.

Manchester United is consistently ranked the most popular club team in the world, and according to Forbes Magazine is the highest valued franchise in all of sports, at $1.453 billion, edging out the Washington Redskins, worth $1.423 billion.

Man U, as it is know to fans and foes alike, maintains an extensive youth development program, where Rhain will presumably hone his skills while waiting for a crack at the big club. A copy of the video has been viewed on YouTube over 800,000 times.

The English side is teaching its American counterparts a thing to two about robbing the cradle. Most pundits on this side of the pond thought MLS team DC United was stretching the envelope when they drafted #1 and signed 14-year old Freddy Adu to a multimillion dollar contract three years ago.

Then came news earlier this summer that USC had gotten a verbal commitment from 8th-grade basketball player Ryan Boatwright, who hadn’t even decided where to go to HIGH SCHOOL yet, to play for USC. USC, apearantly, has adopted an “SAT-optional” admissions policy.

The Rhein Davis case lowers the bar yet again. In a world of professional sports, where the difference between a multi-million dollar career and a career cleaning carpets consists of a torn tendon, a random traffic stop or an inability to hit an 87-mile-an-hour curveball, and where even seasoned professionals represent a risk of losing their ability to perform consistently at a world-class level at any time, how can supposedly sound businesspeople justify investing money and ruining the childhood of a 9-year-old kid?

What’s next? It’s hard to discern any actual talent in kids younger than 9, although we saw Meredith Vieira interview a 5-year-old tennis player live on the Today show the other morning. The logical next step is to start awarding contracts, or at least options, on the basic of genetic inheritance alone. In some sports, blood lines run strong.

In baseball, for example, you have the Alomars, Sandy, Roberto and Sandy Jr., Felipe and Moises Alou and Tony Armas, Sr. and Jr. There is Buddy Bell and his two sons, David and Mike, as well as his brother Gus Bell and his son Buddy. Yogi and Dale Berra. And of course Bobby Bonds and the man of the hour, his son Barry. And who could forget Ray Boone and his son Bob Boone and his grandsons Aaron Boone and Bret Boone. One gets the idea, and we are still in the “B”s.

Would it be so far fetched for baseball blue bloods to sell futures options on their progeny? It might be a way to defray the costs of child rearing. Of course, the mega super-stars, whose kids would have the greatest probability of achieving athletic success, would not be likely to need the extra income. On the other hand, super-talented athletes whose careers were cut short by injury would be a natural market, sort of like champion thoroughbreds who pull a muscle are put out to stud, preserving their genetic and financial equity.

From there, as biotech and goddless globalization advance, how far could it be to Designer DNA, Boutique Genetics, 2 genes from column B, 4 from column C, resulting in prospective parents being able to order up a 7-foot lefty with world-class coordination and competitive drive.

Of course, if cloning became a legal and acceptable alternative, there would be no need to hunt for the magical mix of talent and temperament that makes a champion. We could market exact genetic duplicates of any cooperating pro athlete still alive at the time the technique was developed, assuming that cells from any heathly adult could be used as DNA starter kits.

Envision a day when the starting five on the NBA Champions consists of three Michael Jordans and two Shaquille O’Neals, with Bill Russell and Bob Cousy on the bench.

It wouldn’t be quite as easy as ordering a lemon-yellow Lamborghini. Hoping for a professional athlete like a Shaquille would be an expensive and risky proposition. 18 years of care and feeding, and no guarantee you wouldn’t end up with a 7 foot 3 inch interior decorator, or a thrash metal rocker.

But the message is clear, even from here. When sports becomes absolutely subservient to business, anything that sells tickets, garners publicity and wins titles will eventually be tried.

As a logical extension of the parallel and intertwined encroachment of gambling into every facet of modern life, the public will be able to buy shares in the future careers of these budding superstars. Welcome to the brave new world of prenatal to postmortem sports betting, a cradle to grave fantasy league reality show. Why be content to bet on tonight’s game, when you can buy actions in some kid who hasn’t even been born yet?

The Details are in the Devil

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Australia’s new $200m synchrotron in Melbourne could contribute to the fight to save the Tasmanian devil from the outbreak of facial tumour disease currently decimating devil populations, according to Dr Jeff Church from CSIRO Textile and Fibre Technology in Geelong.

Dr Church says he will use the synchrotron to see if the disease causes any biochemical changes in the devils which could be detected in their hair before the disease becomes apparent.

“If we find a consistent change, it could lead to the development of a test which will allow detection of the cancer before the tumours become evident,” he says. “This would make any quarantine strategy easier to establish, as well as much more efficient.”

The idea is based on Australian research showing disease-related changes in the composition of human hair. The suggestion is that similar changes could occur in Tasmanian devils’ hair when the facial tumour disease is triggered. “But, the theory needs to be fully tested,” Dr Church says. “It might work or it might not.”

“If a diagnostic test for the facial tumour disease using the synchrotron does look possible, only having a machine nearby would make it viable. Having to queue-up for time on a synchrotron at least nine hours flying time from Tasmania – more likely further – would make the whole thing very difficult, particularly in terms of biosecurity concerns because we would need to transport biological samples between different countries.”

from a Eureka Alert press release

We figure Australian taxpayers wouldn’t mind schlepping a few of these $200 million babies out to the outback so they can be in place on the frontlines of the war on facial tumors afflicting carnivorous marsupials.

In related news, American scientists have announced plans to retask Fermilabs Tevitron 4-mile particle accelerator in order to investigate the efficacy of using top quarks to treat genital herpes lesions in ferrets.

Waterworld Wired

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(Watertown, MA) – Tired of swimming laps with nothing but the sound of water sloshing in your ears, while your land-lubber mates work out to the latest tunes or podcasts? A Watertown company has come up with a solution: an MP3 player and high-response headphones built into a stylish swimming cap.

Tuneslapper Swim Caps feature a 2 GB flash memory mp3 player embedded in flexible, waterproof plastic which is in turn incorporated into an ordinary-looking swimming cap. The manufacturer, AudioAquatics, designed the music system to be inconspicuous, in anticipation of potential objections by pool operators reluctant to allow electrical devices into the pool.

“The Tuneslapper caps are perfectly safe and operate on such low voltages that even if the battery chamber were breached there would be no danger to the user or other swimmers. Nevertheless, once you have the cap in place and turned on, no one will know you are bopping to your favorite beats,” according to Michael Feldman, AudioAquatics product designer and CEO.

The recharegable battery is built of flexible layers of lithium and ionized carbon built into the back of the cap, and recharged through a tiny connector that folds into the cap when not in use.

The headphones themselves are also an innovative flexible design, which cover the ears and offer superior acoustics, even underwater. There is even a small flexible 3-line LCD readout to deliver information on track, playlist, volume, etc.

However, adjusting the cap once in the water can be a problem, as it must be removed from the head in order to see the LCD or reach the controls, not to mention the difficulty of flying under the lifeguard’s sonar while staring at and repeatedly pressing your swimming cap. It is best to load and lock in the locker room, and then let it play throughout your swim.

Whether you fancy a leisurely crawl to Handel’s Water Music, a strong backbeat backstroke to Beastie Boys Intergalactic, a ballatic breaststroke to a Dolly Parton torcher, or a frenetic butterfly to speed thrash standards, the Tuneslapper can provide the soundtrack to those who prefer to get their exercise in the swimming pool.

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