Woman loses her job over coffins photo:

A military contractor has fired Tami Silicio, a Kuwait-based cargo worker whose photograph of flag-draped coffins of fallen U.S. soldiers was published in Sunday's edition of The Seattle Times. Silicio was let go yesterday for violating U.S. government and company regulations.

The Memory Hole:

Since March 2003, a newly-enforced military regulation has forbidden taking or distributing images of caskets or body tubes containing the remains of soldiers who died overseas. Immediately after hearing about this, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request [...] Not surpisingly, my request was completely rejected. Not taking 'no' for an answer, I appealed on several grounds, and--to my amazement--the ruling was reversed. The Air Force then sent me a CD containing 361 photographs of flag-draped coffins and the services welcoming the deceased soldiers.
Tags: , , , ,

rotary-dial web browser

Phone Dial:

"To use it, one dials an IP address rather than typing a URL. Dots are entered by pressing a button, external to the dial."
Tags: , , ,

Fecal Tongs

Let Me Show You My Collection of Fecal Tongs:

"Fecal tongs have been part of our world since the dawn of recorded history. One can see them in the Neolithic cave paintings in Lascaux, France: Men of the time lacked the know-how to build a hinge, yet they still expressed a desire for fecal tongs. Genghis Khan is said to have always kept his personal tongbearer at his side. Whether used as a medical necessity or as a pleasure, the history of fecal tongs is in many ways the history of man."
Tags: ,

I, for one, welcome our new Martian Andromeda Strain microbial overlords

I've been reading "A Draft Test Protocol For Detecting Possible Biohazards In Martian Samples Returned To Earth" (PDF.) It's pretty interesting -- they're even considering the possibility that Martian life might not be carbon-based:

If there were a life-form on Mars based on other than carbon-containing molecules, the energies holding such molecules together would not be much different than those for proteins and polynucleotides. Hence, bond breakage by heat or gamma radiation should be similar for Earth and Mars life-forms, and sterilization conditions for Earth microorganisms should eradicate microorganisms of similar size from Mars.

Irrespective of the chemical basis of any life-form, a confidence level of sterilization can be provided with only two assumptions: 1) any reproducing life-form must be based on macromolecules (i.e., polymers) with interatomic covalent bonds (not crystal lattices), and 2) since all such bonds have similar strength, destroying these bonds destroys the life-form.

Through most of the document they don't refer so much to "life" as to the problem of "introducing a replicating entity of non-terrestrial origin into the biosphere." But they've got a pretty nifty definition of "life" in there too:

Evidence for only a subset of these properties in an extraterrestrial specimen might constitute a sign of life (e.g., evidence for a self-sustaining catalytic system). However, it is the presence and combination of all of these properties that define life as we know it.

  • Life is catalytic
    • There should be significant deviations from what chemical kinetics predicts
    • Life modifies its environment
    • Life consumes energy
    • Life creates waste products
    • Life is exothermic
    • Life uses thermodynamic disequilibria to build and maintain other thermodynamic disequilibria (in open systems or within a "wall")
  • Life is genetic
    • There will be some system for storing and propagating information
    • There will be molecular distributions with significant capacity for complexity
  • Life replicates and evolves
    • There will be evidence for replication of structures and complexity
    • There may be evidence (structural & chemical) of evolution of form & function
Tags: , , , ,

The Holy Foreskin

A History of the Fourteen Foreskins of Jesus Christ:
"In the end, it was Charroux who 'won' the battle of the foreskins when Pope Clement VII (1523-1534) issued a bull granting indulgences to any and all who made a pilgrimage to the Charroux foreskin. Just think - you could have sins forgiven by God just for getting a glimpse at a bit of severed genitalia! But then tragedy struck: the foreskin went missing!"

(More here and here.)

Current Music: Delerium -- Mecca ♬

I, for one, welcome our new eight-wheeled robot overlords.

Octopus: An Autonomous Wheeled Climbing Robot with Tactile Wheels

"The idea is to have a tactile wheel that is able to detect and locate physical contact to the terrain surface on its circumference. A motorized tactile wheel was designed using 16 infrared sensors, which measure the tire deformation caused by the ground contact forces. This measurement gives the contact points an approximation of the normal contact forces acting on the wheel. The mechanical design allows the sensors to be fixed on the wheel hub. The advantage is that the sensors do not turn with the wheel rims and the tire."

The economics of stealing an election

Crypto-Gram, April 15:

Democrats could have gained the majority in the House by switching less than 1/4 of one percent of the total votes -- less than one in 250 votes. [...] In contested House races in 2002, candidates typically spent $3M to $4M, although the highest was over $8M. The outcomes of the 20 closest races would have changed by swinging an average of 2,593 votes each. Assuming (conservatively) a candidate would pay $1M to switch 5,000 votes, votes are worth $200 each. [...]

In 2002, all the Congressional candidates together raised over $500M. As a result, one can conservatively conclude that affecting the balance of power in the House of Representatives is worth at least $100M to the party who would otherwise be losing. So when designing the security behind the software, one must assume an attacker with a $100M budget.

Tags: , ,

for when your ballroom needs that air of "Sharper Image" class

An Art Deco falling spiral chandelier had crowds of party-goers mesmerised as they sent text messages to the light and watched their SMSs trickle through the crystal strands like a luxurious ticker tape.

"It's time to shake up the industry. There are too many chandeliers around with no life and soul -- just expensive cookie-cutter designs," said Nadja Swarovski, grand-daughter of the company's founder and vice president of communications.

"OMG LOL U SUX0R", said the chandelier.

Tags: ,

"What is your one purpose in life?"

"To explode, of course!"

"Currently, police robots simply destroy suspicious packages - along with any fingerprint evidence. RAFFE consists of a small box with a heating element, cartridge of Superglue and short pipe. Using remote controls, police direct the robot to the package and heat the Superglue in the box. The glue produces fumes that are piped towards the package. The fumes, containing cyanoacrylate, react with the oils and moisture in the fingerprints, turning them white. The fingerprints can then be photographed using the robot's high-definition camera prior to the safe disposal of the package."

No Bush for Oil

I'm sure the upcoming October Surprise won't be anything so prosaic as lower gas prices.

Today, Senator John Kerry quickly seized on Mr. Woodward's assertion on Sunday that the Saudi ambassador to the United States had agreed that his country would make sure that oil prices did not get too out of hand and would lower them to boost the American economy prior to the election -- a decision that would presumably help Mr. Bush politically.

Mr. Kerry, who has come under attack from the Bush campaign for a past proposal to raise gas taxes, said Americans were now paying billions of dollars more for gas due to a "secret White House" deal to manipulate prices for political reasons.

Tags: ,