Saturday, September 30, 2006

Now they just have to find the chicken

This is an extremely clever molecule. Permit me to introduce ... the bucky-egg! Now you may say, yeah, an egg-shaped fullerene, big deal-- but this egg-shape is CHEATING! It isn't supposed to have adjacent touching pentagons, and it does. (This reminds me of one of my favorite biology jokes--under the most carefully controlled experimental conditions, the organism will do whatever it damn well pleases.) In my years of fullerene research, I did come across some pretty nifty variants, such as the bucky-onion (which can be "roasted" to remove layers) and carbon-nitride nanotubes, but I think this is the funniest. Moreover, the strange shape is caused by making the carbon fullerene "cage" wrap around an odd-shaped molecule of some terbium compound.

Fun trivia facts nobody else cares about:
- the chemical symbol to indicate something is stuffed inside a fullerene cage is @. See, there's something inside the circle! (Sigh. Chemist humor.) E.g. Au@C80.
- Terbium, erbium, yttrium, and ytterbium were all discovered in a sample of ore from the mining town of Ytterby in Sweden. At first they thought they only had one new element, and politely named it after the town. When they discovered three more new elements, somebody had a massive failure of imagination and scientists to this day wish they had tried harder.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

"UN" is a term of negation

I see the United Nations comissary has run out of thorazine-flavored lollipops again. Where do all the nutcases come from, and why are so many of them a) in charge of actual countries and b) able to access live ammo? And while I'm on the subject, I have a few more questions ...
-Why are non-democracies allowed to vote in the UN? If we really respected their "unique and colorful folkways" we (meaning the United States, you know, the one with the big bleeping military with the coolest toys?) would tell them what to do, how high to jump, and we'd shoot them if they didn't smile while doing it.
-If it is considered gauche for the United States to intervene so noticably in other countries and to take more than its "fair share" of the world's resources, why exactly are they so eager to send our soldiers (safely encased in blue helmets) and never their own? Why are they so eager to spend more than their "fair share" of OUR money?
-Wouldn't it be fun to see them apply the same standards they hold Israel to, to other countries?

The problem is there is no incentive for the folks blatherating at the United Nations to fix anything. For one thing, all the problems are somewhere other than New York City. Others have suggested that a sudden desire for progress would seize this august body if the General Assembly were to be relocated to, say, Sudan. There are also strongly held opinions that we should simply kick the bastards out and decontaminate the site. Alas, I suspect we signed some treaty or other that means we can't take that supremely satisfying step. However, I very much doubt we guaranteed the delegates would be able to taste the sinful delights of the Big Apple. So ... why not include, in the "Secure Our Borders With a Fence STAT" plan, the site of the UN? We don't have to be rude about it. No concertina wire, no ugly concrete barriers, *definitely* no observation towers. I'm thinking something along the line of a ring of allegorical statues (in blast-hardened ferro-concrete)-- say, Pallas Athena (with spear and shield) surrounded by cute marble kittens (with motion sensors and laser-beam eyes). Maybe even some of those impossible-to-bulldoze giant flowerpots with red, white, and blue geraniums, for a dash of color. We'll build them a nice dorm for the delegates to live in. (We'll provide the cinderblock and linoleum. If they want something nicer, they pay. And they have to return it to original condition or they don't get their security deposit back.) Nobody leaves without special permission, restrictions set by country of origin. The Saudis, for example, will not be allowed to visit any American mosque (since Americans certainly can't visit any church or temple or synagogue in Saudi Arabia, now can they?) Plus, any Saudi male delegate must be escorted by an American woman at all times outside the UN compound. (As a minor concession, I will allow them to specify a woman with a head covering, but those women will be Roman Catholic nuns. With rulers.) He will also not be allowed to buy anything, drive a car, or talk.

With these new rules, I believe you would see a thunderous rush for the exits. There's no point in going all the way to the Great Satan's doorstep to castigate aforementioned satanic entity if you can't even go shopping. The few bewildered delegates remaining would be the idealistic ones who actually believe in the UN's stated purpose. It would be highly entertaining.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

You know what day it is...

Be sure to visit the site for important piratical information such as phone etiquette for ITLAPD, Pirate Name Generators, instructional videos, knitting patterns, and other helpful stuff. Er, loot.

I'm not making this up, you know.

International Talk like a Pirate Day is brought to you by the letter R and the number 8. And a lot of very, very silly people.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Ready Smile, A Messy Desk

John J. Tobin, 47
Kenilworth, New Jersey
Senior Vice President of Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc., Finpro division.
Killed in the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001.

That's the newspaper stuff. Here's the rest of the story.

From da Bronx. Even though he was an executive, he wasn't the type that reveled in status symbols like expensive watches and fancy cars. John Tobin made sure he got his work done in time to coach his son's Little League team. He worked hard, but was modest about it. When he asked someone new to the firm to let him know if there was anything he could do, he meant it. Regardless of their status, regardless of how busy he was, if they came to him he would help.

John Tobin didn't even work in the World Trade Center -- he was there for a meeting. His death made his co-workers realize just how much they had relied on his cheerfulness, his unobtrusive kindness ... his messy desk.

For his wife Barbara, children Jennifer and Sean, sister Margaret, brother Michael, sister-in-law Kathleen, and two nieces, their world has become much smaller. And so has ours.

Marsh & McLennan lost 295 people on September 11.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Terror economics 101:Oil

Living as I do in a highly eco-twitchy, rabid granola-eater infested area, there are many, many bumperstickers and other literary devices exhorting the masses to use the bus, to bike, to live in cramped little shoebox apartments in dense, grimy urban environments like the Japanese do so that the new nobility (that would be the eco-oligarchs) might have vast unspoiled acreage to drive in their SUVs to and admire pristine nature. To give them credit, there are a significant number of folk who brave Seattle hills, drivers, and our famous liquid sunshine to bike to work. It can't be fun for them. It certainly isn't for me, stuck behind them.

A new variant on automotive guilt shows up now and then in the papers, especially of late. You see, we wouldn't need all that nasty war and fighting if we simply didn't use oil. That way, the allegedly evil terrorists wouldn't have our money, BushHitlerHaliburtonKittenKiller would have no need to coddle the Saudis for their oil, and we could go back to thinking up new reasons why growing hemp would solve everything.

Alas--even if we invented a new form of clean fusion energy that would power everything we could possibly want and the only byproduct would be a faint pleasant lemon scent, we would still have the problem of oil money financing terrorists. Because everybody ELSE on the planet would still want the oil. China in particular. We don't want foreign oil? Great, they'll take it. And pay money for it. Aaaaand ... we're right back where we started. Plus, there is the minor detail of replacing everything that uses oil right now with the Miracle Power Source, but that's something I've noted about the Whine-Grower's Union. They are very sparse with practical details. They must be conserving those too.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Noted and disapproved

So we have this primary election coming up September 19. I don't know why they bother with a specific day, unless it's specified in the law, because we are now at mail-in ballots only in my county. Maybe they ran out of a reliable supply of sweet elderly ladies and old coots who usually man the polling stations.

Anyway, I can cope with the mail-in ballots. What has my eyebrow hairs standing up in fright is the election ads. For judges. And the judges themselves take part in these ads. Clearly, a sign of the End Times. Elections for judicial positions I can sorta-kinda understand, at least at the state and local level. I don't like it at all for any Supreme Court position (state or federal). There's a reason we have different ways of populating the three branches of government, and anyone doubting this is invited to listen to the rather sad and pathetic judicial radio ads I've encountered. I don't recall ever hearing such things before. I don't know why they are starting now. I DO know they will get better over time--more slick, less awkward, in short, more like the current political ads that give used-car salesmen a bad name. In true political style, the judges are denigrating their opponents and promoting themselves. The first time I heard one of these ads it felt like hearing about a nun promoting a topless bar.

You are supposed to respect a judge. This makes it much, much harder.