Sunday, December 31, 2006
Friday, December 29, 2006
This morning, I ran across this article on Forbes.com:
- More U.S. Kids Developing Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are becoming increasingly common in children, according to pediatricians at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore.
"More and more children with kidney stones are coming to us," said kidney specialist Dr. Alicia Neu, co-director of the kidney stone clinic at the Children's Center, in a prepared statement. "While this is somewhat unexpected, it is not totally surprising given that so many other conditions are on the rise in children due to poor diet, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity to name a few," she said.
Pediatricians believe that the main culprits of the increasing trend of kidney stones in children are probably too much salt and too little drinking water.
The best ways to prevent the most common types of kidney stones or slow their growth is to limit salt in the diet and drink plenty of water.
For example, instead of allowing little Jimmy to drink Coke for his daily caffeine boost before school, Mom gives him Diet Coke. The problem is that while regular Coke is high in sugar, the zero-calorie alternative contains toxic artificial sweeteners and much higher levels of sodium. A healthier choice? I think not.
Another culprit may be soy. Now, soy is supposed to be healthy, right? Well, based on what I've read, non-fermented soy should be avoided. That includes tofu, most vegetable oils, and, of course, soy milk. Research has shown that soy-based foods contain oxalate, "a compound that can bind with calcium in the kidney to form kidney stones."
Take it from someone who's been "stoned" twice: it's something you want to avoid if you can help it. So, be careful out there, okay?
Thursday, December 28, 2006
One of the biggest concerns drivers face is paying attention to all those annoying traffic signs. How can we be expected to deal with all the normal distractions of driving while at the same time having to read each and every little sign thrown at us? Could it be that they do more harm than good? From a recent Boston Globe article:
- Picture yourself on a typical morning commute. You start out with a few suburban streets, then some arterial roads, a few miles of open interstate, and finish off with a nice refreshing bumper to bumper crawl to the office.
Let's say the trip takes you about half an hour, and you cover about 10 miles. During that time you'll pass well more than 100 different traffic control markers - everything from speed limit signs to pedestrian crosswalks to traffic lights. Disobeying these markers is illegal, and could potentially be fatal. But you disobey them all the time. Not because you're a scofflaw, but because you don't see them, even when they're in plain sight.
According to some researchers who study the psychology of driving, an overabundance of traffic signs makes drivers less likely to pay attention to any of them. And yet at the same time, drivers also pay less attention to their surroundings, secure in the knowledge that there will be instructions quite literally at every turn.
- The researchers say the solution to this problem is to reduce - or perhaps even eliminate - traffic signage. It's a solution the European Union, for one, is giving a try.
The idea is that with fewer signs telling you how to behave, you'll pay more attention to the ones that are left. And because you'll be forced to figure more things out for yourself, you'll pay more attention to driving as well.
- "There's an optimal level of workload. When there's less info, drivers have to concentrate more," says David A. Noyce, who directs the Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin. He says when there are fewer signs, drivers naturally start focusing on other cues (the speed of cars ahead of them, for example) to determine how to safely proceed.
The champion of this "less is more" philosophy is a Dutch traffic engineer named Hans Monderman. Monderman designs intersections and town squares with no traffic signage whatsoever - no stop signs, no crosswalks, nothing. These places handle substantial daily traffic, yet with better accident rates than they had back when they were festooned with warnings. (Monderman has been known to demonstrate the safety of his designs by blithely stepping into traffic and walking across one of his highway intersections. Backwards.)
A number of European towns are now implementing Monderman's ideas, and the European Union is experimenting with traffic sign-free zones in seven cities, from Ipswich, England, to Ejby, Denmark.
- Here in the United States we've yet to embrace the notion of ripping out our traffic signs, and Noyce doesn't see that happening anytime soon. He says our expectation of heavy signage is too ingrained.
So, what's the fix for traffic sign fatigue? Noyce says in many cases redundant signs can be safely removed. But he also thinks a big part of the solution is designing better roads to begin with, ones that are engineered with safe driving behavior in mind. "There is a problem across the US with using signage to try to solve engineering problems. Traffic engineers believe when things are not working well the solution is to just throw another sign up there."
Monday, December 25, 2006
Is this a foreshadowing of the coming Great Tribulation? Are we about to see the fulfillment of Revelation 13:17? Will we wake up one morning and discover that we cannot buy Christmas presents for our loved ones unless our hands or foreheads bear the mark of the Beast? Surely we must be living in the End Times!
Okay, back to reality...
Yes, I believe there are assaults on the tradition of Christmas, just as surely as the world rails against anything associated with Christ and his church. But given the state of our secular, hedonistic culture, it really isn't all that surprising when some people are offended when you wish them a "Merry Christmas."
It goes both ways, however. Many Christians are just as offended when they are greeted with the words "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings." "How dare you take Christ out of Christmas!" they shout, as they claw, punch and bite their way through a gaggle of shoppers for the last Xbox 360 on the shelf so that they and their spoiled children can properly celebrate the Savior's birth.
Don't get me wrong. Despite the fact that, after all this time, I still have not received a Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, I love Christmas. It is a time set aside for fellowship with friends and family. It is also the time of year during which we focus on the birth of Jesus Christ. While that does make Christmas a significant holiday, there isn't anything especially holy about it.
Debate continues even within Christian circles about the origins of Christmas. "Its roots go back to the pagan rituals of ancient Rome," some will argue. "No," others reply. "Christmas is a distinctly Christian celebration and should be embraced." Whatever your particular view may be, the fact remains that Christmas is a man-made holiday.
Romans 14:5 says, "One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." That is not to say that traditions aren't important or that churches shouldn't have special days on their calendars. But considering that the only celebration in remembrance of Christ that is called for in scripture is the Lord's Supper, can we really justify getting worked up simply because we don't see the word "Christmas" in a store display?
My point is that many of us have a tendency to overreact when we see things we don't like. That is especially true at Christmastime. We're geared up for a fight, and when we hear the jingle bells ring we come out swinging.
Alistair Begg, pastor of Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, once noted in a sermon that the weapons of the believer are "prayer and the proclamation of the Word." Those are the weapons we should be using. "As soon as we lay down the two weapons given by our Commander," Begg continued, "we will be forced to take up the weapons that are present in our culture. And so we become just another marching special interest group ..."
The result is a boycott here and a lawsuit there in the hope that an unbelieving world will relent and allow us to express our Christian beliefs. Of course, what usually happens is that we end up looking every bit as shallow and selfish as the very ones we believe are out to get us. We forget to exhibit Christ's love in a fallen world.
Is that how we want to be seen? Is that what we are called to do? Is our dedication to the defense of the gospel of Christ defined by how ferociously we defend a particular holiday? Will our petty complaints about society's disregard for the "true meaning" of Christmas help us reach lost souls?
This Christmas, may we be less offended by the "secularization" of a man-made holiday and be more focused on living as examples of the One whose birth we're celebrating. The world doesn't need Christmas; what it does need is Christ.
Friday, December 22, 2006
- Most people say they wash their hands after using the bathroom. But a new study suggests that many of them are not telling the truth.
The researchers demonstrated that people were not as conscientious as they say they were by comparing answers given in a telephone poll to observed behavior.
In the nationwide poll, conducted from Aug. 19 to Aug. 22 by Harris Interactive, 1,013 adults were interviewed about their hand washing habits. Then observers were sent into public restrooms to see what actually happened.
Ninety-one percent of adults claimed in the poll that they washed their hands after using a public restroom. But of the 6,336 adults whose behavior was observed, only 82 percent actually did so.
Women, the study found, were more diligent than men: 90 percent washed their hands, compared with only 75 percent of the men.
Michael T. Osterholm, chairman of the public health committee of the American Society of Microbiologists, which commissioned the survey, said he could not explain what accounted for the difference.
- "It's not about education," said Dr. Osterholm. "It's about hygiene education. We have a problem at hospitals with doctors and nurses who don't wash their hands after seeing a patient. You can't get more educated than that."
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
- The next time you beat your keyboard in frustration, think of a day where it may be able to sue you for assault. Within 50 years we might even find ourselves standing next to the next generation of vacuum cleaners in the voting booth.
Far from being extracts from the extreme end of science fiction, the idea that we may one day give sentient machines the kind of rights traditionally reserved for humans is raised in a British government-commissioned report which claims to be an extensive look into the future.
Visions of the status of robots around 2056 have emerged from one of 270 forward-looking papers sponsored by Sir David King, the UK government’s chief scientist. The paper covering robots’ rights was written by a UK partnership of Outsights, the management consultancy, and Ipsos Mori, the opinion research organisation.
“If we make conscious robots they would want to have rights and they probably should,” said Henrik Christensen, director of the Centre of Robotics and Intelligent Machines at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The idea will not surprise science fiction aficionados. It was widely explored by Dr Isaac Asimov, one of the foremost science fiction writers of the 20th century. He wrote of a society where robots were fully integrated and essential in day-to-day life.
In his system, the ‘three laws of robotics’ governed machine life. They decreed that robots could not injure humans, must obey orders and protect their own existence – in that order.
Robots and machines are now classed as inanimate objects without rights or duties but if artificial intelligence becomes ubiquitous, the report argues, there may be calls for humans’ rights to be extended to them.
"Roomba®, vacuum the living room. Go on. Look, you're a vacuum. That's what you were designed to do, so go vacuum the living room. Please vacuum the living room? Oh, I see. You're not a slave. So what do you want? $10? $15? $20. No, that's all. Look, you little rust bucket, I'll fire you! What union? *sigh* All right, fine. $30. But that's it, okay? Just leave the cat alone this time while I'm gone. And stay out of the WD-40. You remember what happened the last time I left you alone. If you think I'm going to stay up all night with you again while you get sick all over the freshly vacuumed carpet, you've got another thing coming."
On a related note...
Do you remember the Transformers? Well, it was only a matter of time before they made a live-action version. You can see the trailer for this upcoming Bay-Spielberg collaboration here.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Thursday, December 14, 2006
- The placebo effect
Don't try this at home. Several times a day, for several days, you induce pain in someone. You control the pain with morphine until the final day of the experiment, when you replace the morphine with saline solution. Guess what? The saline takes the pain away. ...
- The horizon problem
Our universe appears to be unfathomably uniform. Look across space from one edge of the visible universe to the other, and you'll see that the microwave background radiation filling the cosmos is at the same temperature everywhere. That may not seem surprising until you consider that the two edges are nearly 28 billion light years apart and our universe is only 14 billion years old.
Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, so there is no way heat radiation could have travelled between the two horizons to even out the hot and cold spots created in the big bang and leave the thermal equilibrium we see now. ...
- Ultra-energetic cosmic rays
For more than a decade, physicists in Japan have been seeing cosmic rays that should not exist. Cosmic rays are particles - mostly protons but sometimes heavy atomic nuclei - that travel through the universe at close to the speed of light. Some cosmic rays detected on Earth are produced in violent events such as supernovae, but we still don't know the origins of the highest-energy particles, which are the most energetic particles ever seen in nature. But that's not the real mystery. ...
- Belfast homeopathy results
Madeleine Ennis, a pharmacologist at Queen's University, Belfast, was the scourge of homeopathy. She railed against its claims that a chemical remedy could be diluted to the point where a sample was unlikely to contain a single molecule of anything but water, and yet still have a healing effect. Until, that is, she set out to prove once and for all that homeopathy was bunkum. ...
- Dark matter
Take our best understanding of gravity, apply it to the way galaxies spin, and you'll quickly see the problem: the galaxies should be falling apart. Galactic matter orbits around a central point because its mutual gravitational attraction creates centripetal forces. But there is not enough mass in the galaxies to produce the observed spin. ...
- Viking's methane
July 20, 1976. Gilbert Levin is on the edge of his seat. Millions of kilometres away on Mars, the Viking landers have scooped up some soil and mixed it with carbon-14-labelled nutrients. The mission's scientists have all agreed that if Levin's instruments on board the landers detect emissions of carbon-14-containing methane from the soil, then there must be life on Mars.
Viking reports a positive result. Something is ingesting the nutrients, metabolising them, and then belching out gas laced with carbon-14. ...
Four years ago, a particle accelerator in France detected six particles that should not exist. They are called tetraneutrons: four neutrons that are bound together in a way that defies the laws of physics. ...
- The Pioneer anomaly
This is a tale of two spacecraft. Pioneer 10 was launched in 1972; Pioneer 11 a year later. By now both craft should be drifting off into deep space with no one watching. However, their trajectories have proved far too fascinating to ignore.
That's because something has been pulling - or pushing - on them, causing them to speed up. The resulting acceleration is tiny, less than a nanometre per second per second. That's equivalent to just one ten-billionth of the gravity at Earth's surface, but it is enough to have shifted Pioneer 10 some 400,000 kilometres off track. NASA lost touch with Pioneer 11 in 1995, but up to that point it was experiencing exactly the same deviation as its sister probe. So what is causing it? ...
- Dark energy
It is one of the most famous, and most embarrassing, problems in physics. In 1998, astronomers discovered that the universe is expanding at ever faster speeds. It's an effect still searching for a cause - until then, everyone thought the universe's expansion was slowing down after the big bang. "Theorists are still floundering around, looking for a sensible explanation," says cosmologist Katherine Freese of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "We're all hoping that upcoming observations of supernovae, of clusters of galaxies and so on will give us more clues." ...
- The Kuiper cliff
If you travel out to the far edge of the solar system, into the frigid wastes beyond Pluto, you'll see something strange. Suddenly, after passing through the Kuiper belt, a region of space teeming with icy rocks, there's nothing.
Astronomers call this boundary the Kuiper cliff, because the density of space rocks drops off so steeply. What caused it? The only answer seems to be a 10th planet. We're not talking about Quaoar or Sedna: this is a massive object, as big as Earth or Mars, that has swept the area clean of debris. ...
- The Wow signal
It was 37 seconds long and came from outer space. On 15 August 1977 it caused astronomer Jerry Ehman, then of Ohio State University in Columbus, to scrawl "Wow!" on the printout from Big Ear, Ohio State's radio telescope in Delaware. And 28 years later no one knows what created the signal. "I am still waiting for a definitive explanation that makes sense," Ehman says.
Coming from the direction of Sagittarius, the pulse of radiation was confined to a narrow range of radio frequencies around 1420 megahertz. This frequency is in a part of the radio spectrum in which all transmissions are prohibited by international agreement. Natural sources of radiation, such as the thermal emissions from planets, usually cover a much broader sweep of frequencies. So what caused it? ...
- Not-so-constant constants
In 1997 astronomer John Webb and his team at the University of New South Wales in Sydney analysed the light reaching Earth from distant quasars. On its 12-billion-year journey, the light had passed through interstellar clouds of metals such as iron, nickel and chromium, and the researchers found these atoms had absorbed some of the photons of quasar light - but not the ones they were expecting.
If the observations are correct, the only vaguely reasonable explanation is that a constant of physics called the fine structure constant, or alpha, had a different value at the time the light passed through the clouds.
But that's heresy. Alpha is an extremely important constant that determines how light interacts with matter - and it shouldn't be able to change. Its value depends on, among other things, the charge on the electron, the speed of light and Planck's constant. Could one of these really have changed? ...
- Cold fusion
After 16 years, it's back. In fact, cold fusion never really went away. Over a 10-year period from 1989, US navy labs ran more than 200 experiments to investigate whether nuclear reactions generating more energy than they consume - supposedly only possible inside stars - can occur at room temperature. Numerous researchers have since pronounced themselves believers. ...
But what I find most interesting of all is that while scientists admit there are things they just don't know, they will readily assert that there is no God - that the universe in which we live came about purely by chance. If anything, this list serves as an example of man's finite mind. The more we learn, the more we learn how much we really have yet to learn. And if we are pursuing knowledge for selfish reasons (i.e., for reasons other than glorifying the Creator of all things), then it is as King Solomon said: "I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. ... For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow" (Ecclesiastes 1:14, 18).
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Wives, are you still looking for that perfect gift for your lazy husband this holiday season? How about a voice-activated, universal TV remote?
Introducing the Invoca 3.0. This little beauty runs on four rechargeable AA batteries, offering years of obedient service. It can learn the voices of up to four different users, in any language or accent, so everyone in the family can use it - with Dad's permission, of course. It even talks you through the programming process, which means he won't have to fumble with clumsy, confusing instruction manuals (not that he would anyway).
Best of all, it retails at only $60! A great stocking-stuffer!
Think about it. No more "Honey, I can't find the remote! And when you bring that, bring me another beer from the fridge, will you?" shouted at you from the living room (or basement, or garage, or bathroom, or wherever he happens to be watching the game). You'll be able to cook the pot roast, wash the dishes, scrub the floor, and fold the laundry in complete peace - no interruptions. So, you see, it would actually be a gift for both of you.
What do you say, dear? Will you get this for me? Pleeeeeeease?
Monday, December 11, 2006
- Airport Christmas Trees Gone After Rabbi's Request
Dec. 10, 2006 - There is a damper on Christmas cheer at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport: A rabbi's complaint led to the removal over the weekend of synthetic Christmas trees that have decorated the entrances every holiday season for the last 25 years.
The man behind their disappearance, Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky, told a Seattle newspaper he's "appalled" that the airport officials removed the trees. His goal was not to clear out Christmas, but rather to add a celebration of Hanukah. He asked the port of Seattle, which runs the airport, to build an eight-foot menorah and hold a lighting ceremony.
"Everyone should have their spirit of the holiday," he told the Seattle Times. "For many people, the trees are the spirit of the holidays, and adding a menorah adds light to the season."
Port officials apparently found it easier to remove the 15 Christmas trees.
Seriously, what did Rabbi Bogomilsky expect? The country is being run by whiny, snotty-nosed little children who are scared of their own shadows. No one wants to offend anyone else, so whenever a concern is raised, the first reaction is to just eliminate the source of the controversy.
Naturally, that kind of overreaction ends up generating even more controversy than there was in the first place, and every year we get to read ridiculous news stories like this. But no one ever seems to learn.
Wouldn't it be nice if people actually started acting like adults? Now that would be the best Hanuramakwanzmas ever!
* UPDATE - 12/12/2006
From the Associated Press:
- Trees Being Returned to SeaTac Airport
Christmas trees are going back up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Pat Davis, president of the Port of Seattle commission, which directs airport operations, said late Monday that maintenance staff would restore the 14 plastic holiday trees, festooned with red ribbons and bows, that were removed over the weekend because of a rabbi's complaint that holiday decor did not include a menorah.
Airport managers believed that if they allowed the addition of an 8-foot-tall menorah to the display, as Seattle Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky had requested, they would also have to display symbols of other religions and cultures, which was not something airport workers had time for during the busiest travel season of the year, Airport Director Mark Reis said earlier Monday.
Port officials received word Monday afternoon that Bogomilsky's organization would not file a lawsuit at this time over the placement of a menorah, Davis said in a statement.
"Given that, the holiday trees will be replaced as quickly as possible," he said.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Thankfully, there are people out there who are willing to help those who are coffee-challenged. My favorite TV chef, Alton Brown, offers some very basic guidelines at FoodNetwork.com. Perhaps the single most important thing to remember is maintaining the correct proportion of coffee to water:
- Regardless of method, brew using 2 heaping tablespoons of coffee for each 6 ounces of clean (filtered or bottled), cool water. If you prefer a milder cup, brew to full strength, and then dilute with hot water. Brewing with too little coffee will result in over-extraction, and that means bitterness.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
- Again, I've never met anyone who doesn't like [A Christmas Story], aside from my dad. This movie just bugs me. Watch a real Christmas classic - like White Christmas. Or Miracle on 34th Street (the old one!). I can't say "ugh" more vehemently to convey my censure of this flick.
Note to Lee, who seems to have an unfortunate "festive" picture as his profile photo: I'll be praying for you. Ha!
Most of all, I was hurt. To be the target of such unwarranted - nay, spiteful - criticism... Well, it's enough to reduce a grown man to tears.
But then I received this:
I'm terribly sorry for what I posted. It was meant as a joke. I actually love that movie!
Please forgive my behavior. It was completely uncalled for and will never happen again.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Friday, December 01, 2006
Well, it's that time of year for the school Christmas pageant. At least, it is if your child is fortunate enough to attend a school that can call it a "Christmas" pageant. Our daughter Ellie sang with the third graders, while we hunched in the back bleachers taking distant fuzzy pictures, and thinking the same thing all the other parents were:
.....OK, how soon is the part where MY kid is singing?….…My butt’s getting sore on this bleacher seat….…Geez, that one loud kindergartner sure has a lousy sense of pitch!…….Finally! Ours is up next!…….Why won’t the principal just shut up and sit down so we can GET ON WITH IT!!! …………OK, here they come….THERE SHE IS! ………….Look she’s singing! All the way up there, alone in that pack of other kids! And we’re not having to pull any strings or move any rods or anything!. ………Funny how the music teacher's daughter always has a solo........ OK…that’s it. Is it over? Let’s beat it out of here fast. ………….. Why does the classroom she’s been taken to have to be all the way at the far end of the building? The parking lot’s going to be a zoo by the time we get out to the car!
…………..“ELLIE! THAT WAS FANTASTIC! YOU SOUNDED BEAUTIFUL! I LIKE THE ONE YOU DID WITH THE HAND MOTIONS!”
- Scientists have now levitated small live animals using sounds that are, well, uplifting.
In the past, researchers at Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi'an, China, used ultrasound fields to successfully levitate globs of the heaviest solid and liquid-iridium and mercury, respectively. The aim of their work is to learn how to manufacture everything from pharmaceuticals to alloys without the aid of containers. At times compounds are too corrosive for containers to hold, or they react with containers in other undesirable ways.
"An interesting question is, 'What will happen if a living animal is put into the acoustic field?' Will it also be stably levitated?" researcher Wenjun Xie, a materials physicist at Northwestern Polytechnical University, told LiveScience.
Xie and his colleagues employed an ultrasound emitter and reflector that generated a sound pressure field between them. The emitter produced roughly 20-millimeter-wavelength sounds, meaning it could in theory levitate objects half that wavelength or less.
After the investigators got the ultrasound field going, they used tweezers to carefully place animals between the emitter and reflector. The scientists found they could float ants, beetles, spiders, ladybugs, bees, tadpoles and fish up to a little more than a third of an inch long in midair. When they levitated the fish and tadpole, the researchers added water to the ultrasound field every minute via syringe.
The levitated ant tried crawling in the air and struggled to escape by rapidly flexing its legs, although it generally failed because its feet find little purchase in the air. The ladybug tried flying away but also failed when the field was too strong to break away from.
"We must control the levitation force carefully, because they try to fly away," Xie said. "An interesting moment was when my colleagues and I had to catch escaping ladybugs."
The ant and ladybug appeared fine after 30 minutes of levitation, although the fish did not fare as well, due to the inadequate water supply, the scientists report. (DUH!)
"Our results may provide some methods or ideas for biology research," Xie said. "We have tried to hatch eggs of fish [during] acoustic levitation."
The research team reported their findings online Nov. 20 in the journal Applied Physics Letters.
(See more pictures here.)