Sunday, July 23, 2006

An Appeal for Laughs... plus some misc....

On a completely different topic....

Have any of you subscribed to Jim Baen's UNIVERSE MAGAZINE yet?

I urge that you do so! This is the very best online magazine yet, filled with GREAT content. The top paying market, it has attracted the very best authors, including you know who. ;-)

There is a second reason to do so. If you read my serialized novel... my first comedy (!)... you will have a special chance to participate and possibly even get Tuckerized!

By that I mean that if you read the story and get inspired by an IDEA or two... for a pun or something very very funny to include in this new satire... then among the rewards for Best Suggestion may be to have your name included in a list of minor characters in the book.

There is precedent, of course. Piers Anthony, in his Xanth series, got so many awful puns and jokes sent in to him that his later books almost wrote themselves. I would not do that, of course. Still, comedy IS hard. I am not too proud to accept help. Especially if it's funny.

So, if anyone who reads about Dr. Montessori and the Demmies suddenly gets a flash of humorous insight, let me know!

And now this from maven Mark Anderson:

“I magine a single chip the size of a grain of rice (actually, it's the size of half a grain of rice), or 2-4mm. long, capable of carrying up to 4Mbs of memory. At about 2K per page of text, that would be about 2,000 pages.

HP Labs calls it a Memory Spot. Sounds more like a revolution to me.

The Spot acts like an RFID device: it has no battery, but gets power from induction currents set up by a separate read/write device. It does have an antenna, capable of data transfer speeds of about 10Mbps.

The company suggests primary markets may include storing medical records on a hospital patient's wristband, providing AV supplements to postcards and photos, stopping pharmaceutical counterfeiting, adding security to ID cards and passports, and providing supplemental information for printed documents.

In other words, Everything.

-... and...

A new study revealed that non-Hispanic blacks have better hearing on average compared to non-Hispanic whites and Hispanic adults in the United States, and that women tend to have better hearing than men. (Huh? What’s that, honey?)

A massive crater in Antarctica may have been caused by a meteor that wiped out more than 90 percent of the species on Earth 250 million years ago. (The Permian exctinction.) The 300-mile-wide crater lies hidden more than a mile beneath a sheet of ice and was discovered by scientists using satellite data. As if you needed another reason to eat chocolate, German researchers have shown that ingesting types rich in cocoa solids and flavonoids - dark chocolate - can fight skin cancer.

It's hundreds of times thinner than a human hair but as sensitive as a human finger. Researchers have devised a "nanosheet" that can be wrapped around any surface - such as that of a surgical instrument or a robotic hand - to mimic the sensitivity of touch. The sensitive sheet was produced by encouraging microscopic particles to bond to the sensor surface by dipping the materials in a series of chemical baths.

Someone report back here to us about this!

Nearly 50 tons of mysterious red particles showered India in 2001. Now the race is on to figure out what they were. One Scientist speculates that the particles could be extraterrestrial bacteria adapted to the harsh conditions of space and that the microbes hitched a ride on a comet or meteorite that later broke apart in the upper atmosphere and mixed with rain clouds above India


Anonymous said...

Thank GOD . . . after three days of stifling hot weather, including a day combining heat and humidity (pretty rare around Portland) we're finally getting some breezes.

More on the cool science news front:

Details on on Titan's continent Xanadu!

Windmills with "frictionless" magnetic bearings . . . from China!

The 95 Theses of Geek Activism!

Anonymous said...

Nearly 50 tons of mysterious red particles showered India in 2001.

Ah, one of my favorite neo-science topics, Fortean Falls. As you may or may not know, there's weird shit raining out of the sky all the time: rocks, fish, frogs, blood, icky goo... this sounds like a classic example of pwdre ser ... literally translated, "rot of the stars".

Nothing new there, but nice to see some attention being paid to it.

Anonymous said...

For those of us who aren't subscribers...could we get a brief outline of the story you are working on before we try to bring teh funny?

Rob Perkins said...


I've been out of town these last 2 1/2 weeks, in southern Utah, where we've been getting unseasonably cool weather, complete with rainstorms. The rest of the West is baking under triple digits, but the altitude and the relatively high humidity is making rain in a place that doesn't usually get rain in July.

I hope my zuchinnis and pole beans didn't die.

Anonymous said...

The official report is that the red particles in the rain were the same as the red algae in local lichen.

Anonymous said...


John Rogers ("Kung Fu Monkey") describes a visit by a Saudi Prince to the restaurant where he was bartending at the time.

David Brin said...

Very inspiring!!

Except of course that the restaurant owner made the Prince even MORE determined to bring us down.

Seriously, where are the guys who did corelations during WWII? During the Cold War?

Is ANYBODY minding the store? making sophisticate counter-intelligence charts mapping the fraction of administration officials -- especially political appointees in security/intelligence/defense -- who had direct employment or crony histories with the Roil House?

Dig it. EVERY clash of civilizations has featured attempts by rival empires to suborn the leadership clade in the opposing state. It is utterly routine and almost automatic.

Now add the fact that the RH has made NO SECRET of its underlying ideological desire to see total destruction of our nation, beliefs, way or life and civilization. I mean, it's all there. Never said in English but in every textbook that they give their kids.

And, of course, our "patriots" will "support the troops" with flag waving, but never with higher efficiency standards for cars and SUVs.

With "cut-and-run" sneers straight out of Vietnam, but never by PAYING for the war - as every other generation did - with either war bonds or war taxes.

(Can members of my generation REALLY repeat every cliche from Vietnam, and not even BEGIN to suspect that we might have been TRICKED into repeating our worst mistake of the 20th Century? Exactly what Ike warned us against. A land war of attrition in Asia, dividing our country bitterly, busting the bank, strengthening enemies (Iran and RH have been the big winners) driving off every ally and absolutely RUINING our effective leadership of the world. And yet, they repeat every Vietnam cliche. Dang.)

Tony Fisk said...

In Xanadu, did Kublai Khan, a stately pleasure dome decree...

Just to follow up on Stefan's comments on cool science, and as something of a balm for you folks stifling on the west Coast. They have finally found lakes on Titan! (maybe)

On KF's tale: a prince should know his place, not just think he knows it!

Tony Fisk said...

More evidence of white anting:

Apparently the phrase 'to understand and protect our home planet' has been quietly removed from the updated NASA mission statement. (See

Anonymous said...

To repeat my comment to John Roger's post:

Would it me cruel to hope that that Saudi prince's son someday has the character-building experience of bussing tables at that restaurant?

David Ivory said...

Random science post...

Man Machine Singularity - from NPR

Sidereus said...

More on Titan's "lakes":

Where are we on the future probe destination list?:

1. Titan - rover?
2. Enceladus
3. Europa

Space advocates seek NASA course correction:

Anonymous said...

Katyusha Katcher?

I was reading about Barrage Balloons:

...and wondered if Israel could use something like them to defend against rocket attacks?

The Katyusha rockets look pretty delicate.

Could Israel line their border with Lebanon (and Gaza) with Barrage balloons and then string something between them to katch the commercial drift nets (some of these nets are 10 miles long)?

It would cost less than a single F-16 and could be easily raised and lowered.

Or am I crazy?

David Brin said...

Alas, ballistic missiles arc over and down, they do not fly flat trajectories. The new laser systems ought to work pretty well on small rockets fairly soon.

Indeed, as part of my campaign for political unpredictability, I am NOT anywhere near as down on Missle Defense as one might think, from my anti-neocon rhetoric.

True, the ABM systems now being built (1) do not work as advertised, (2) were based on ridiculously rigged tests, (3) are trivially bypassed by a determined enemy. STILL I favor the system, for reasons I now decide not to tell. ;-)

As for NASA, here's a couple of cruel jokes.

How can we and the Russians best cooperate?

Send them half our lawyers -> freedom goes up in both

Send them half our business school grad -> both
economies boom.

Send them half our NASA middle managers -> we get a
great space program and they get good farm labor..

Answer #2:
Borrow Cossacks. Surround Marshall Spaceflight

Let nothing out alive.


Seriously. I believe there are at leasttwo nests of aliens on Earth. One is at Marshall, determined to prevent human space exploration by any means possible.

The other is at Microsoft. They are a less nasty species. They actually believe they are writing good software for us! But they think different from regular human beings. And they insist that we learn THEIR reasoning. e.g. never do with one keystroke what could be done with five.

While I am on the subject, can anyone out there who (like me) uses BOTH macs and ps's tell me this? If Macs can (with Spotlight) INSTANTLY find any file for you based on words not only in the title but content as well... why does the SEARCH function in Windows work like some kind of horrid medieval torture device? Is there a secret trick?

Anonymous said...

It's true they are ballistic, but how high do they go? The balloons can go just as high as the top of any rocket's arc...

The lasers may be promising, but they are still many years away...the nets could be deployed tomorrow.

The border between Lebanon and Israel is only 30 miles long...some commercial drift nets are over twice that long.

At the very least Israel could deny Hezbollah a firing solution on Haifa...

Sidereus said...


Spotlight is infinitely better than the awful Windows search feature. However, Vista's search (Microsoft's XP replacement due Jan. '07) is very similar to OS X's Spotlight.

And you may be interested to know that Office 2007 (due later this year) features a "ribbon bar" which greately alleviates Office 2003's terrible clutter.

Vista may be a difficult sell for the average user (intially), however, Office 2007 looks like a very good product. I've been beta testing for a few months and would concur on both accounts.

Finally, hope for your Word woes ;)


Rob Perkins said...

Odd... I never touch Spotlight, but probably because I tried using it to search documentation about my mac, and came up with nothing.

The search function in Windows is decent... if the system is configured only to search "my documents" folders, and users are disciplined enough to both switch on indexing and put documents only in the indexed folders.

OK, so that means the search function is not that decent...

In any case I think that people who dis Microsoft for writing difficult software forget: Writing software is hard! The complexities present exceed that of any physical human invention, including the microprocessors and stock markets which preceded Word 95.

I've my own list of appalling Microsoft anecdotes, but I have to say: 1) with a little more effort than is required to learn AppleScript, one can learn VBA and create single-keystroke macros for *anything* in any Office program. 2) I've been watching IT vendors since 1990, and I say that Netscape was worse, Sun was worse, Novell and WordPerfect were roughly the same, and Oracle was/is far worse. And I think I've already said my piece about Linux around here.

I may have bad things to say about Microsoft, but I have nothing better to say about any competitor, and I say that as a former employee of two of those (defeated) competitors.

Tony Fisk said...

Another problem with that net idea is the weight.

(And, of course, will it stop tanks and shells going the other way?)

On the thought of that Prince's son bussing the tables: Earth contains a suggestion that the biggest threat to wannabe apex dynasties is the defection of no-wannabe bored sybarite offspring.

Anonymous said...

I thought of that, Tony.

The nets could be hung in thin strips...balloons offer a massive amount of cheap lifing power, they could do it.

Replacement nets could be stored at the base of each net...or a rail line with replacements could be built parallel to the wall with replacements ready to go stored on flat cars.

It would be cool if you could make each net a work of art...imagine a 5 mile high King David guarding Israel's northern would make Christo's work look like a child's scribbles.

Ohio is home to some companies making modern dirigibles: I'm sure the U.S. would kick in some funding...if American blimps were used.

The balloons and the nets could be up tomorrow. Just gotta figure out a cheap and quick way to make them either detonate or catch the rockets...

It's a pity so few scientists come from Israel :)

Anonymous said...

Here's some good news. Apparently some of the Republicans in Congress are beginning to grow a spine.

WASHINGTON (AP) - A powerful Republican committee chairman who has led the fight against President Bush's signing statements said Monday he would have a bill ready by the end of the week allowing Congress to sue him in federal court.

"We will submit legislation to the United States Senate which will...authorize the Congress to undertake judicial review of those signing statements with the view to having the president's acts declared unconstitutional," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said on the Senate floor.

Specter's announcement came the same day that an American Bar Association task force concluded that by attaching conditions to legislation, the president has sidestepped his constitutional duty to either sign a bill, veto it, or take no action.

Anonymous said...

@ monkyboy

Do the fire-ant-warfare thing and make your net energy-based: hundreds of little balloons with lasers on them.

One of the problems with anti-missile technology is that it's like trying to shoot a bullet out of the sky with another bullet. Keeping even a powerful laser focused on a missile long enough to damage it has proved to be problematic.

So, don't use one powerful laser, use hundreds of little ones. They don't even ALL have to work, just ENOUGH of them. You could scatter the frequencies a bit, and I don't think it would be impossible to get them all to aim at the same spot just by aiming at the reflected light from the other lasers, using a little smart targeting.

Power requirements might make that idea infeasible, but I've never seen it discussed, to my recollection.

Anonymous said...


Interesting idea, but too expensive and high-tech, I think.

The Katyusha is 70 year old tech...old tech should counter it better than modern tech (assuming it even gets built).

I was thinking more along the lines of explosive reactive tank armor.

Hang tiny explosive charges in the net...rocket hits...charge detonates...rocket warhead detonates.

Haul down the old net and fly a new one...the same way the WWII barrage ballons worked.

Anonymous said...

this almost is the same plan the US used to bankrupt the soviet union (except of course it was the threat of a US missile defense that casued the SU to keep building missiles they couldnt afford rather than the other way around (the crucial difference of course was no one was actualy willing to USE those missiles) ;

So israel buys this expensive net with lots of things that can go wrong with it (its hung with explosive charges so dont tell me its going to be simple)

someone fires one cheep misle into it. it goes off.
same someone fires nother 3 missiles through gap.

Wait1 night fro net to be repaired - repeat.

thae start shooting down the baloons......

Mark said...

Monkeyboy, you can't protect yourself with a net because all the cool kids will make fun of you. Other than that it would probably work against low-tech (and low range) missiles for short periods of time.

David, I don't think anyone is against missile defense any more. There used to be those during the cold war that worried if one side thought Mutually Assured Destruction wasn't so mutual they might nuke everyone else, but that concern largely went away with the Berlin Wall. There is still a crowd that dislikes all military spending, but beyond them we are all aboard the idea.

We just don't think we should actually build the system until, you know, there is some real evidence it will work. Right now it doesn't work, so building a huge, expensive system seems unwise.

I suspect the final solution will involve lots of smaller smart missiles, each with sensors and the ability to share it's information with the others via broad-spectrum radio and using the multiple data points to accurately identify targets and hit them with redundancy, I bet if I Google 'smart swarm' I'll find others have already thought of this... (Well, not as much as I thought, but it's there.)

Oh, I had another thought for your terrorist scenarios: GPS, winged bomb, simple feedback loop, helium balloon, outdoor political speech at a known time a mile or so downwind.....

Anonymous said...

Hehe, always doubters.

Space the charges far enough apart to prevent a chain reaction.

Helium is an inert no go boom.

Kayushas aren't that accurate...Hezbollah would have little chance of even hitting the same net twice

Plus Israeli counter-battery fire is good enough that nobody wants to hang around a launch site longer than it takes to fire the first missile.

It's not perfect, but it could be working in less than a month. The whole 30 mile net could be movable (low-tech trains again) to keep the bad guys guessing.

And if you could put art on it...corporate sponsors...giant logos in the sky!

It would pay for itself :)

Rob Perkins said...

That like painting a Coca-Cola logo on the moon? I seem to recall Heinlein writing a story about that...

Tony Fisk said...

Helium do go boom... in the wallet!

(Nothing works! But that's getting high tech again!!)

It would be cool if you could make each net a work of art

It's already been done (in a manner of speaking ;-) here and here

Come to think of it, a thirty mile drift net bearing down on you is something of an art statement in itself!

@Rob: That was Clarke: 'Venture to The Moon' (1956)

(Speaking of stories, David, that mode of transport is seriously disturbed!)

Anonymous said...

That like painting a Coca-Cola logo on the moon? I seem to recall Heinlein writing a story about that...

I thought that was a storyline from The Tick! Where Chairface Chippendale managed to burn the first three initials of his name on the face the moon. After being thwarted by The Tick, everyone blamed the CHA on the left-hand side of the moon on CHARO.

Anonymous said...

I just heard a radio interview of Mr. Thomas Ricks, about his new book: Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.

Perhaps we're finally seeing more evidence of the politically-oriented (mis)management of the professional intelligence and military clades mentioned elsewhere in this blog?

-- Matt

Anonymous said...


I think it's statistically impossible to screw up as badly as our leaders did in Iraq. How do you make the wrong choice every single time?

It's easier to believe things are going exactly as they planned. The neocons are all getting rich off the "war." Even Tommy "No Plan" Franks got a $4 million book deal out of it.

Then again, looking at how Israel is doing in Southern Lebanon, maybe it's not impossible.

Bombing the U.N.? Hehe, how stupid can you get? There's actually a nontrivial chance Israel could lose to Hezbollah now.

Better to build the Katyusha Katcher than try and fail to occupy a "buffer zone."

Just to assure myself that politicians, generals and scientists weren't always this incompetent, I was rereading the Manhattan Project!

From a doodle on a napkin to fully functioning atomic weapons in a little over 3 years. All for less than $20 billion in today's dollars.

I wonder how long it would take Leslie Groves and Robert Oppenheimer to come up with a functioning missile defense for Israel?

Probably less than 10 minutes....

Walid said...

Loath as I am to pass over a high-tech solution, I must chime in to say that the cheapest way to end the missilies would be to call Condoleeza Rice back to Washington and let everyone else negotiate the cease-fire and long-term peace that they all say they want. Condi is the only one refusing a bilateral cease fire right now.

my full rant.

Anonymous said...

@Rob and Palliard and Tony Fisk...

"The Man who Sold the Moon" by Robert Heinlien used the IDEA of writing a logo (7+) on the moon to get a rival soda company to finance a moon trip... (and the idea of putting a 'Hammer and Sickle' on the moon to get the military to release classified rocketry data...)

Mark Brown said...

You said:
The other is at Microsoft. They are a less nasty species. They actually believe they are writing good software for us! But they think different from regular human beings. And they insist that we learn THEIR reasoning. e.g. never do with one keystroke what could be done with five.<----------------

And to add insult to injury Microsoft Just acquired one of the MAJOR producers of NT type tools (

Sigh. Now I am bummed out totally.
Bet they take ALL the tools IMMEDIATELY off the market forever!

Mark Brown said...

btw, monkyboy said...(snip...)

It's a pity so few scientists come from Israel :)

What? Are you kidding?

Did you know that:
Windows XP and Win 2000 were DEVELOPED in Israel?
Checkpoint Systems is an Israeli Owned company
and lots more

little chuckle department:

Imagine what would happen if Microsoft (and Microsoft's Israel Development department instituted a new policy)

NO new updates for NT based OS's (Win2000/2003, XP, XPlite (for Pentiums), Vista, etc in ARABIC
Unless ALL arab countries
a) cease the (still ongoing) arab boycott of israel
b) Pledge to accept the 1948 UN two state solution that was rejected by the Arab side.
c) Recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist (on Land, rather then in the sea, like some maps show!)

Or what if Checkpoint had a new update that checked if language was arabic, if so, operations stopped?!!!

Just food for thought folks!

(blog at

Anonymous said...

I was indeed kidding, markbnj.

Though I gotta question the logic of Israel's scientists.

They may see things differently, but I think we have been watching the end of Israel these last few weeks.

I'd say there is now a 50-50 chance Israel will fall within 5 years.

Most people will blame Israel's politicians and generals, but this monkey will always blame Israel's (and America's) scientists.

Olmert and his boy soldiers may be incompetent, but they had to come up some response to the rockets...and they didn't really have any good option.

Time is running out for Israel, it may already be too late.

Now would be a good time for the West's scientists to take a few minutes break from the 42nd Annual Still Haven't Found the Higgs Boson party and find a way to stop the rocket attacks on Israel.

Doesn't have to be elegant or brilliant, it just has to work...right now.

Anonymous said...

I'd say there is now a 50-50 chance Israel will fall within 5 years.

How do you figure that? They're the most heavily armed, technologically advanced, and cohesively militant power in the region, floated by a blank check from the USA. They're surrounded by people who throw rocks at them and think the 12th century was dangerously advanced.

The only way your scenario seems feasible is if Israel splinters in a way that I can't grasp how is possible, or if some crazy Arab group gets its hands on a nuke and uses it on Tel Aviv.

Tony Fisk said...

...anyway, the Israelis have putting up with rude ballistics for decades. I don't think they suddenly need a missile defence system as a matter of national survival (although why they've reacted like an epileptic psychopath to a couple of kidnapped soldiers is beyond me!)

Speaking of fear and loathing, it seems that the War on Terror has reached Melbourne (Southbank seeks to ban photographs: another example of pros vs public).

...I think we're winning, though.

Anonymous said...


How do you figure that? They're the most heavily armed, technologically advanced, and cohesively militant power in the region, floated by a blank check from the USA. They're surrounded by people who throw rocks at them and think the 12th century was dangerously advanced.

File that away with We will be greeted as liberators!

There's technology and then there's effective technology.

Israel's F-15s and F-16s are no better in the ground assault role than the 50 year old Skyhawks they replaced.

They are, however, far more expensive to operate.

Ditto Israel's Apache helicopters.

These things were designed to stop a Soviet armored thrust through the Fulda Gap...they don't offer Israel anything new in Lebanon.

They do cost $2-3000 an hour to operate, though.

The flyboys have destroyed so many roads and bridges in Southern Lebanon that Israel's tanks are almost useless now. Off-road in S. Lebanon is a deathtrap for them.

Israel has to take out Hezbollah or:

1. Nuke S. Lebanon
2. Become mole people and move everybody underground
3. Surrender
4. Leave

And they may be faced with an Iwo Jima style battle that could cost them 5-10,000 dead soldiers...

As for a "blank check" from America...don't count on it...we're broke.

Saudi Arabia just gave Lebanon $1.5 billion today...and Iran's oil is now worth so much money they could buy America outright.

Times change...not always for the better.