Monday, August 15, 2005


There is not much happening today. Work was uneventful. The drive home was routine. Dinner was a garbonzo and tuna pasta salad that has been sitting in the fridge since Saturday. All in all Tuesday, 15 August 2005 was not a day that I am likely to remember much beyond the end of this week. Usually on Mondays I try to post something about squid, or other cephalopodea. Today I want to point out Squidblog, a blog about "giant squid, colossal squid, any squid at all". It is not a bad blog, but it would be nice if it were updated a bit more often. The 15 July, 2005 entry describes the possible sighting of a live giant squid. If true this is the first time that a giant squid as ever been seen in its natural habitat. Unfortunately all we have is one person's description. There is no film or other physical evidence. Still, there is no reason not to believe this report, and even if John Howard did not see a giant squid, whatever it was was still big enough to eat him if it had wanted to.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Caps are Going to be Big

The Washington Capitals have been quietly putting together a new team over the past week. Louis Robitaille (F) and Matt Petinger (LW) will be back when the coming season opens on October 4. In addition the Caps have signed two free agents, Boyd Kane (LW) and Jamie Heward (D). They also obtained Bryan Muir (D) from Los Angeles for future considerations. The Muir trade is interesting. At 100 kg and 1.95 m Muir is a big defenceman. Add to this the signing on Wednesday of Ivan Majesky and Mathieu Miron, both of whom are even bigger than Muir, and the Capitols look like they are going to be a team that does its share of pushing other teams around.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

2005 Booker Prize Longlist Announced

The long list for the 2005 Mann-Booker prize was announced last Wednesday. The full list is
  • Aw, Tash - The Harmony Silk Factory
  • Banville, John - The Sea
  • Barnes, Julian - Arthur and George
  • Barry, Sebastian - A Long Long Way
  • Coetzee, J. M. - Slow Man
  • Cusk, Rachel - In the Fold
  • Ishiguro, Kazuo - Never Let Me Go
  • Jacobson, Dan - All for Love
  • Lewycka, Marina - A Short Histor of Tractors in Ukranian
  • McEwan, Ian - Saturday
  • Mantel, Hilary - Beyond Black
  • Meek, James - A Peoples' Act of Love
  • Rushdie, Salman - Shalimar the Clown
  • Smith, Ali - The Accidental
  • Smith, Zadie - On Beauty
  • Thompson, Harry - This Thing of Darkness
  • Wall, William - This Is the Country
The Prince George's County Memorial Library System only has two of these book, which is a little surprising considering that man of these books have been in print for much of the last year. Personally I find this a bit disappointing since one of the functions of a public library is to allow people to be exposed to new literature, and the Booker Prize nominees are generally considered to be among the best of the previous year's crop of English-language fiction. On thing to notice about this list is the large number of established authors, like Rushdie, McEwan, and Coetzee. I would prefer that the prize committee be a bit more adventurous in setting the long list. Rushdie, for example, is a highly over-rated writer, and Shalimar the Clown has not even been published yet! Why is it on the list? It would be rather sad if the Booker Prize became as irrelevant as the Nobel Prize in Literature. Watch this space on September 8 for the short list.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Sixty Days to Go

There are only 60 days to go until the 2005-2006 NHL season starts. It is hard to imagine hockey in the depths of August, but hockey will soon be back in Washington, DC. The Washington Capitals have managed to sign Alexander Ovechkin to a three-year deal. Ovechkin, a Russian left-winger, is one of the most promising new players to enter the league this year. Forget all this talk about Sydney Crosby. I will be watching Ovechkin and the Caps.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Xtreme Sushi

Here we have a blatent case of octopus abuse.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Deep Fried Live

Some people say that British tv is far superior to American tv. My experience was that British tv, especially the BBC, was mostly awful. Most of it was so painfully bad that my wife and I ended up going out and socializing. There were a few exceptions to the general rule that British tv is far worse than US tv. A handful of comedies were brilliant, but the real gems were the cooking shows. Programming like Can't Cook, Won't Cook and Ready, Steady, Cook are entertaining, and taught people practical cooking. In contrast US cooking shows tend to resemble Xtreme sports events, or blood feuds. However, the other day I discovered the best North American cooking programme of them all, and it is only available over the Web. Deep Fried Live is all that a cooking show should be. Check out, for example, the episode about how to cook a steak. The show explains in a clear, entertaining way how to cook a steak with out the cow's sacrifice being in vain. And the host is cool.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The NHL's CBA Failure

The NHL is back! As much as I hate to admit it I am glad the National Hockey League is playing again. I missed listening to Canucks games. I missed Yahoo's fantasy hockey. I missed watching the Capitals reach for the bottom of the barrel, and overshoot. Unfortunately the recent collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players' union has not solved the underlying problem with the sport: hockey is a regional sport. It is highly popular in Canada and parts of the US, but in much of America hockey is as popular as a squid in a bathtub. Adding shoot-outs is not going to make hockey pay in Florida. Until the NHL is willing to face reality (and the new CBA suggests that that is not going to happen for a while) and let teams like the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes go under the league is not going to be financially stable. The NHL needs to stop pretending that it is the NBA. There is simply no interest in hockey in some parts of the US, and manipulating the finances of the entire league to subsidize teams in cities where most people think that ice is found in a ring, not a rink, will just hurt the league in the long run. In a perfect world I would like the see the NHL in Florida, and North Carolina, and DC, and Arizona; but in the real world that is a pipe dream. My message to the NHL is to practice some tough love and let the 800 hockey fans in those states watch the game on tv instead of live.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Republicans Court Porn Stars

At first I thought that this was a joke. President Bush and the Republican Party invite an adult film producer and and adult film star to a GOP fundraiser. But, it is true. The GOP invited adult film producer Mark Kulkis of Kick Ass Pictures (the Web link is link omitted in good taste, but a quick Google will find it for you if you want) to attend a $2500 a plate fund raiser in Washington, DC on Wednesday, June 15, 2005. Also on the guest list was porn star Mary Carey. President Bush was present at the fund raiser. Imagine if that had been a Democratic fund raiser. We would never have heard the end of it. Why is the right-wing media suddenly silent on this breach of good taste and family values? Where is the FOX News coverage? Where is the indignation from middle America? It is funny how right and wrong depend on who is involved.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Octopus Suicides

Today is the 4th of July, so I did not have to go to work today. However, I ended up drawing the short straw and spening the day on call in case Swift detected a gamma-ray burst. That means that I am tied to my laptop and internet connection. To pass the time I did some research on octopuses. One of the more interesting things that I found is an article about the apparent suicides of some animals. It sometimes bothers me when people assume that animals, by definition, can not be conscious. No one really know what consciousness is, so it seems a bit arrogant to say that it is a purely human phenomenon. Probably the best approach is to say that animal consciousness is simply not understood.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


Never mind swimming with the dolphins. For an Xtreme experience try swimming with the squid.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Lord Vader Knows All

So you think that you are a real tough dude. So you think that you were born to be a Sith lord. Well, know you can challenge Lord Vader to a battle of wits to find out if you realy do belong at the Emporer's side. It is silly, but amusing.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Swimming in Greenbelt

I went swimming yesterday after work. The local outdoor pool opened about three weeks ago and I have been trying to go two or three times a week. Splashing around in the water is one of the nicer ways to deal with 30 degree heat and 95% humidity. I can barely swim, so I tend to spend a lot of time sitting in the pool watching people, and I have come to the conclusion that thong swimwear for men should be banned. Greenbelt is not Rio de Janeiro, so why do some guys insist on dressing as if it was?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Star Trek: The New Voyages

Now that Enterprise has died a long overdue death Star Trek has been delegated to the world of syndication and reruns, just like it was during that dark era known as the 1970s. Or has it been... A group of Star Trek fans has decided that the original Star Trek needs to be revived, but with new stories and new actors. The future of Star Trek may be on the InterNet in the form of Star Trek: New Voyages. New Voyages tells the stories of the fourth year of the Enterprise's five year mission. The creators have gone to considerable length to ensure that these new episodes capture the look and feel of the original series, and they succeed. Once I got past the fact that Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest are being portrayed by new actors I found myself caught up in the story. It made me feel like I was watching an episode of the original series. Star Trek, for me, is wrapped up in nostalgia. The original Star Trek was my first exposure to science fiction, and almost my first exposure to television. It was also one of the first things that I remember liking that my parents had no interest in. And I have not seen an episode of the original series in donkey's ages. This makes it hard for me to make an objective comparision between Star Trek, the original series, and Star Trek: New Voyages. Do I like the New Voyages because it has intrinsic merit, or do I like it because it reminds me of seeing an episode of the original series for the first time? I do not know, or care. Star Trek: New Voyages is worth watching. This may be the future of Star Trek: not as high-budget tv shows or movies, but as fan projects. The trekkies who created Star Trek: New Voyages were able to do something that no-one else has been able to do since the original series was cancelled: capture the feel of Star Trek. Check it out.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Giant Squid Recipe

Here is a recipe for giant squid. I suspect that "begihaundi" is not really architeuthis dux.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A Day in the Life

0730: Wake up and realise that I have overslept. Take a quick shower and run out the door to catch the bus.

0800: Catch the bus and doze off for fifteen minutes.

0820: Get to my office and realise that I forgot the keys at home. The next ten minutes is spent trying to find someone who has a master key.

0830: I finally get into my office. I spend the next half hour looking at the data from last night's big, bright, exciting gamma-ray burst.

0900: The dreaded Mission Operations Control daily teleconference. I waste an hour on the phone when I would much rather be looking at data, or even getting a root canal done.

1015: The weekly Swift/UVOT (UltraViolet/Optical Telescope) science teleconference takes place. Everyone is all atwitter about the big, bright, exciting gamma-ray burst that happened last night (and kept me up until one in the morning). We decide to write a paper on it and I get assigned the task of analysing the way that the optical and ultraviolet light faded.

1130: I spend the next hour and a half analysing the data and having a grand old time. This is the best part of my job.

1300: Buy a sandwich at the canteen and take it back to my desk. No lunch hour for the dedicated.

1315: Spend the next three hours or so working on the gamma-ray burst data. It looks good!

1600: Yet another teleconference. We prattle on to each other for about an hour and accomplish essentially nothing. I spend far to much of my time talking to people.

1700: Work on the gamma-ray burst data some more.

1740: Get a ride home with the person a couple of offices down.

1750: Arrive home, change my shoes, and go to T`ai Chi class.

1800: Spend two hours doing T`ai Chi. All stress seeps out of me and into the ground, where I never need to worry about it again.

2000: Go shopping for something for supper. I buy an ham steak, a quart of milk, a loaf of bread, some breakfast cereal, and a small box of cookies. Junk food rules.

2030: Arrive home and make supper. I make a rosti (potato pancake) and fry up half of the ham steak. Serve it with a green salad and drink a couple of glasses of water. For dessert I pig out on cookies.

2100: Socialize with my roommate for an hour or so, and learn more than I ever imagined about artificial legs.

2200: Write today's blog entry.

2230: Go to bed and read a chapter or two of Neverwhere (a great book).

2300: Go to sleep.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Cool NASA Picture

This is cool. One spacecraft takes pictures of spacecraft orbiting another planet.

BC Politics as Seen from Inside the Beltway

This blog is probably the only coverage that the 2005 BC election will get in the DC area. I actually do not have much to say. The NDP got about 40% of the vote, just like they always do. The Green Party did not manage to elect anyone (as usual) and Social Credit (currently going under the name "Liberals") won with a little less than half of the vote. This is not much different than any other BC election in the past 52 years. At least the public-transit-hating NDP did not win the election. What is interesting about the election is that the voters soundly rejected the first-past-the-post voting system. Slightly more than 57% of the voters voted to replace it with a single transferable vote (STV) system that about 17 people on the planet understand. Unfortunately it needed to get 60% of the vote to be adopted for future elections. If the proposed new system was not so incredibly opaque it would have easily raced past that mark and BC would have an electoral system that actually produced results that match the way people vote. STV is a fundamentally good idea, but it is far too complex. Let's hope that the next step in BC is not the STV supporters trying to convince another 3% of the voters, but that the people who want electoral reform throw their enthusiasm behind a more intuitive system, such as the mixed proportional representation system that has worked so well in other parts of the world. Electoral reform can easily become a reality in BC, if the people who are working for it are willing to move on from the results of this election.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Coffee for Non-Snobs

Coffee. It is what fuels western civilization. There are those who say that coffee in undrinkable unless if it is made with Kona beans, or Jamaica Blue Mountain, or something similarly expensive. There is some truth to this. However, most of the time the reason that a cup of coffee is undrinkable has nothing to do with the coffee. Here are three simple rules for making a decent cup of wake-up juice. They will not save coffee made with Safeway Bargain Blend, but failing to follow any one of these rules can make even the best beans taste like industrial sludge. First, use clean equipment. Nothing destroys the taste of coffee quite like yesterday's coffee does. Use hot water and mild soap to clean your equipment after each use. Do not let old coffee or grounds sit in the pot. Clean up immediately. Second, use water that tastes good. There is no need to go to extremes, like using distilled water, but if you don't like the taste of the water on its own, you will not like the taste of it in coffee. Third, use a china cup or ceramic mug. Never drink coffee from a paper, styrofoam, or metal cup, unless if you are in the mood for the taste of paper, styrofoam, or metal. One should taste the coffee, not the mug. That is it. Follow these three rules and most coffee will taste good.

Friday, May 13, 2005

All the Geeks Will Want One

I think that I have found the perfect new computer for me. If only fish could live in mineral oil. My German is fairly useless, but as near as I can tell our hero got annoyed with the noise of the forced-air cooling in his computer so he simply dumped his entire motherboard into an aquarium filled with mineral oil. No modifications were necessary; he even left the fans running to keep the oil moving about. The only thing not submersed in oil is the hard disk.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Doctor Who. Where? When?

I have found another problem with living in the USA. Don't get me wrong, I like it here. The USA has a lot going for it, even if people here do think that red is the colour of conservatism. The problem is that BBC's new Doctor Who series is not being shown here. The only way to see Doctor Who is to be lucky enough to live near enough to the Canadian border to get CBC tv. CBC, for those who live in the USA, is the Canadian Broadcasting Company and is widely recognized as one of the best publicly-owned tv networks on the planet. But most people in this country have never heard of it. This brings up a general problem with tv in the USA: almost all of it comes from inside the USA. To be fair there are networks like Telemundo that broadcast in Spanish, but they are still American stations. Unless if one lives in a border town it is very unlikely that the local cable company will carry any station that originates outside the USA. This means that Americans tend to be rather insulated from what the rest of the world thinks, which is never a good thing. There is a lot of good in American tv. The Simpsons, Battlestar Galactica, King of the Hill, and Smallville, to name but a few, demonstrate that television has finally become a medium that can tell stories as well as the best traditional literature does. We may be on the edge of a paradigm shift in the way that we tell stories thanks to American tv. However, I still regret that I can not see the new Doctor Who which, judging from some reports, belongs in the upper echelons of today's tv shows.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Life in the Fallout Zone

Guess where I live. It is about where 495 and 295 intersect on the map. If the wind is from the southwest, and someone decides the set of a ten kiloton nuclear bomb next to the White House all that would be left for me to do is say good-bye to my spice rack. DC Fallout Map Living in the DC (well, okay, technically I am living in Maryland) is a bit like having a vineyard on the slopes of Mt Etna: know what is going to happen, you just hope that it happens when you are somewhere else. Fortunately, there are too many good things in life to spend much time worrying about what might happen. I am at much greater risk when I cross the street to get to work each morning than I am from an atomic attack. The odds of me dying of food poisoning dwarf the odds of me dying from biological weapons. The most dangerous chemical threat in my life is the cat's litter box. I do want to live forever, but I do not want to spend that eternity worried about what I can not control. This map was intended to scare me, but in the end it just reassured me.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Time and Squid Wait for No Man

Today's Globe and Mail has a nice article about a man who caught a jumbo squid off the B.C. coast. These squid are perhaps the most viscous mollusks in the oceans. As the Globe and Mail writes:
Imagine Todd Bertuzzi with bulging eyes, eight arms, two tentacles, three hearts, a beak for a mouth, a brain wrapped around his esophagus and gullet with a willingness -- nay, eagerness -- to dine on his own kind every other meal, and you get a sense of how the squid has earned such a fearsome reputation.
If squid jigging isn't your thing there is a convention at MIT on Saturday, May 7, 2005 for time travellers. I have a T'ai Chi class that day, but perhaps I will go last year.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Red or Blue

One can usually tell whether a US baby boomer votes red or blue from whether or not they got laid during the Summer of Love.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

What Use is a Newspaper?

I sat down today, like I do most days, to read the Washington Post. It is not one of the best newspapers in the US, but it is the best daily in DC, and I am old enough to have been conditioned to think that one should read the local papers. As I finished I realized that I had skimmed through the front section without reading any of the articles. Thinking about this for a minute or two I realized that that is what I usually do: skim the headlines and ignore the articles. This is not true for the business, sports, entertainment, and other sections; those I usually read in detail. The news sections, however, I tended to ignore. Newspapers, for me, have stopped being about news. Over the past year or two I have been getting almost all of my news from the internet. Google's excellent news site allows me to keep up with breaking news several times a day. Several stories about an event are only a click away. By the time that the morning paper arrives the "news" stories seem hopelessly out of date. For example, today's Washington Post contained an article about a Florida woman who had been kidnapped from her own wedding. However, before my paper even made it to the breakfast table I had read an on-line article about how she had faked her own kidnapping in a case cold feet. The "news" in the newspaper was worse than old, it was obsolete. The rĂ´le of the print media is no longer to provide news. It is to provide the in-depth information that I do not have the time to read during my daily Web surfing. If newspapers are to survive they are going to need to provide content that can not be delivered to my laptop over the home WiFi network. Headlines, the score of last night's Capitals-Canucks game, and stock quotes are not relevant to modern newspapers. In-depth articles about what is happening in the world, opinion pieces, detailed analyses of DC United's chances this summer, and comprehensive reviews of local events and offerings are. In other words, I want my newspaper to provide timely information that is not easy to get online. If my local newspaper does not do this, I probably will not buy it--or miss it.