Whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on

Clean-up week at home, crazy amounts of changes at work, and the world keeps spinning in the meantime. Let’s get caught up on some of the happenings.

Personal news: Home Depot is trading my microwave up to a GE to make up for the craptastic Magic Chef. It arrives on or about May 5th.

First up, all sorts of buzz about the Swine Flu. Seems to only be killing people secondarily, e.g. with pneumonia, while their immune systems are working overtime trying to fight with itself (which is why it’s mostly hitting young and healthy people the hardest). WHO says it’s still a potential pandemic, but it honestly doesn’t seem any more serious than any other flu, and it responds well to Tamiflu, presently. Might be an idea to get infected by it now, to grant you immunity to some future offshoot or mutation that’s close enough to this one for the immunity blanket to work (think cow pox / smallpox).

Michelle Bachmann, mayor of Crazyland USA (or something), believes it’s an “interesting coincidence” that Obama is in charge during this swine flu outbreak, and that the last swine flu outbreak also happened under a Democrat. Wait, that was Gerald Ford. Wasn’t he a Republican?

The ultra-religious Deputy Health Minister of Israel wants to change the name of the Swine Flu to Mexican Flu, now that instances are being discovered within their borders. This call for change comes so the Israeli won’t have to pronounce the word “swine” which is, obviously, un-kosher. Their emissary to Mexico however said it won’t happen. Either way, hilarity. The crazies always seem to have the loudest voice and the most faith.

Orac eviscerates Huffington Post, and rightly so, for giving platform to Kim Evans, proponent of enemas as a bulwark against swine flu. Seriously — because rinsing your butt out with water or coffee or hydrochloric acid or whatever, will keep you from getting a virus.

And finally on the pig front: XKCD’s take on idiots panicking on Twitter about the swine flu. Go to the site and mouseover the comic for some useful advice!

Microsoft wants to include a fully functional virtualized Windows XP on Windows 7, in order to keep people interested in upgrading, but are opening up a can of worms for themselves since they’d have to keep updating XP (in the virtualized form at least) for as long as Windows 7 is around. Soooo… that brings up the question: If Windows XP is working for you, and Windows 7 will just require you to get more hardware to do the same things, and none of 7’s upgrades are useful to you… why upgrade at all?

If you’re going to upgrade, why not upgrade from Windows to Linux? Keep XP around for playing games or whatnot, but get a real operating system with real security and real functionality. Ubuntu 9.04 is out, and it’s great. Got it on both my laptop and desktop now, have been running on the laptop for a while through the beta period. The increased boot speed is not just hype, I promise.

The cooling in Antarctica seems to be a direct result of the hole in the ozone layer, and as CFCs dissipate, and the ozone replenishes, apparently it will start to warm back up. Quirks and Quarks suggests this is a blow to people who deny humans could ever have any kind of effect on our environment. I suggest this won’t stop these same people from simultaneously admitting the global climate is changing, and denying we have anything to do with it, blaming everything from solar forcing (despite our presently abnormally quiet spotless sun) to cosmic rays (which can be measured and therefore the hypothesis can be tested, and the test results are unconvincing so far). It’s kind of sad that rather than looking at the evidence before them, once again a certain breed of people would rather knee-jerk declare the science to be wrong so as not to have to deal with the consequences of it being right.

Yes, I said a “certain breed”. I’m talking about the same kind of person who endorses enemas and chiropractic to treat the flu, and reading a 2000 year old book to find out how old the universe is. Pick your side, then stick to it, and damn any evidence that comes along. Personally, I prefer reality. Where you do science to figure things out, then take the truth no matter how much it pains you to do so. This isn’t limited to conservatism, though that mode of thinking lends far more to religious indoctrination — in fact, my example above of the Huffington Post is a great illustration of how easily left-wing folks can get duped into believing bullshit.

Okay. I’m going to bed before I get all raged out or something. Blogging is so cathartic!

Detecting life in the universe without leaving our armchairs

Now this is really cool. Almost all life on Earth is made up of amino acids that are “left-handed” (by which I mean, the molecules are oriented in one particular manner as opposed to the other, even though a molecule could exist in one of two orientations and still be the same molecule — like how your left hand and your right hand are not identical, but are both still hands). This handedness, or “chirality“, has an interesting effect when it comes to chlorophyll in photosynthesizing plants, which absorb the ultraviolet portion of the spectrum and reflect the green, the most “active”, portion of the spectrum. You see, light can have chirality as well, and when light bounces off of an object, it takes on the chirality of whatever molecule it bounces off of. Because almost all the life on Earth is left-handed, light bouncing off of Earth (and thus the copious amounts of plant life) would come back mostly left-handed. Except archaea, which is the group of bacteria-like, but unrelated to bacteria, life forms that can withstand some wicked extremes of temperature and acidity, but this is mostly found near volcanic vents, acid runoff from mines, etc.

The upshot of knowing that most of the life on this planet picked a chirality, is that it might be a property of life itself that once the runaway chain reaction begins, it might naturally swing toward one chirality or the other, and as a consequence, we might be able to remotely discover whether a planet discovered elsewhere in the universe has life on it, based on the uniformity of the light’s chirality. The only potential stumbling blocks to this technique are the light bouncing off intermediary material such as our atmosphere, nebulae, etc., and the sensitivity of our equipment. We’d need a very big, very powerful telescope outside the confines of our planet to get a good enough glimpse of an extrasolar planet, and the knowledge of that planet’s star enough to be able to weed out what light is bouncing off the star and what’s coming straight off the planet. We’d need a really good look at that planet, in other words, before this could even be tested. For the time being, testing whether or not the light bouncing off of, say, the moon, or Saturn, has the same chirality, should prove interesting to suggest whether or not this is even a viable indicator of the presence of light.

Incidentally, the makeup of molecules’ chirality as defined as being left-handed on Earth, might be wholly arbitrary — just because we see molecules occurring in nature in both hands, doesn’t mean that the righthand orientation is particularly right-handed. To illustrate, if you see a molecule structured as ABC and CBA in nature equally, and all life happens to have that molecule in CBA format, doesn’t mean CBA is by necessity left-handed — we just arbitrarily picked one as being the “right” makeup of the molecule, and its mirror image being the “left” one. Rotate them 180 degrees and suddenly the left is on the right and the right on the left, but the molecules are still mirrored to one another.

A few people at work recently told me I missed my calling (independently of one another, even). I dunno. I’m such a layman at this stuff that I probably got half of this entry wrong, and don’t even realize it.

RIP GeoCities

Bad news for those of you who love animated gifs and the <blink> tag: GeoCities shut down this past Thursday. Later this year all existing sites will go offline.

My first website was on Geocities.  It had auto-playing midi files and an animated spinning globe gif on a starfield background.  And no content to speak of.  Well, except for a crappy novel I started when I was a kid, called Ragnarok.  Good times!

Wonder if I can still get full price back when I take it back.

You gotta be fucking kidding me! This just came via Gmail not ten seconds ago.

Dear JASON THIBEAULT,

We have received your rebate submission for Magic Chef $20 Mail-In Rebate – Over-the-Range Microwave Oven Rebate.

Your rebate tracking number is: xxxxx

To check your rebate status just click on xxxxx

Please be sure to keep a copy of your tracking number for future reference.

Thank you for your purchase. We look forward to serving you again.

Sincerely,
Your Rebate Center

You will be unable to reply to this email because it has been automatically generated. You have not been added to an email list. This message was sent in response to your rebate submission.

I sent out the rebate form a week after originally purchasing it. Thought it was completely forgotten about, and was planning to use that fact as ammo in the fight for money back. Hey Magic Chef: TWO OF YOUR MICROWAVES DIED BEFORE YOU COULD PROCESS THE REBATE FORM.

Now I’m in a foul mood…

Brain asplode

I went home early today with a migraine, been napping or medicating myself all day in between dealing with my regular workload from home, so I didn’t deal with the microwave like I was going to. We’re now relying on the 15-year-old small microwave I’d been using since university presently (making it roughly 90 times longer lived than your average Magic Chef offering!).

So I’ve been feeling pretty blah today, but there was one definite high point. We got the gigantic tax return we’ve been expecting, half will go toward Jodi’s student loan, and the other half toward a major upgrade of our living room. That’s right, I’m finally buying a new TV for the second time in my life (every other one was a hand-me-down save for a 21-inch CRT I bought about seven years ago), and building the wall unit we’ve been talking about for forever now. That of course means we’ll have to get power tools. And wood. Lots of wood. Playing around with some Linux CAD programs now, to see if I can’t make a decent plan before diving into this thing headlong. Adding “talk about cool Linux programs” to my list of blog posts that I need to get around to writing someday. Good thing WordPress can create drafts of posts.

Oh. And hi Sara. Blog stalkers = readers!

$270 right down the damned drain!

Day after Boxing Day, we went shopping, bought ourselves an over the range microwave and a lovely coffee table from Home Depot. Before January was over, it had fried itself, the fan having stopped working midway through cooking some potatoes. We got a replacement hassle-free, however they asked for the receipt to send to the manufacturer. I have a scanned copy, but not the original.

Just twenty minutes ago, the replacement burned out, and not while doing any microwaving — when I was opening the door to take out some popcorn, there was a snap and the light and clock turned off. Unplug, replug, nothing. Check the fuse, it’s fine. Try something else in the outlet, it’s fine. Proceed to swear profusely.

The last owners of this two-year-old house had an over the range microwave and tried to sell it to us for $500. Evidently it was still functional when they left, so it’s not that wall socket. And it’s not dirty power. Boy. I can’t wait to have to go deal with it tomorrow night.

I want My SQL

Oracle just bought out Sun, and geeks like me fear for the fate of Sun’s open source offerings such as MySQL. Marten Mickos believes they won’t kill it, because they bid so highly on it when MySQL originally went up for sale.

Being that I use MySQL almost exclusively, both at work and at home (not to mention it’s my, and most, hosting providers’ database of choice). I’m cautiously optimistic, knowing that Oracle has been a generally good company and a close ally of Sun for quite a while.

Closer and closer to Earth-sized

The technology we’re using to discover extra-solar planets is getting better and better — a Swiss group managed to find a two-Earth-mass planet in a circular, 3-day orbit around its star. This is fantastic! Obviously the planet is not habitable or anything, and it’s 20 light years away so it’s not exactly terribly far away or anything, but still, we’re improving on the technology day after day. I can’t wait until we manage to find something worth sending a probe out to investigate.