Saturday, December 27, 2008

Irregular Christmas Party RSVP's needed!!

Hi guys!
If you've noticed on our calendar at the bottom,
our Irregular's Christmas Party is coming up!
The date is Saturday, January 10th
Time is 5:00pm. It will be in town,
details and specifics will be emailed to
the ones that can come out.
Hope to see you guys soon,
(by Friday Jan. 2nd)

PS If you haven't come out to meet us yet, here is your chance-
if IS ok to be irregular even if only occasionally!!
Come on out, you're have fun!

What the *&!?

Okay, what is up with that? Racine 52 degrees, Tucson 37 (my weather station says 32). This is a freakish turn of events.

Well, that five day forecast still looks better here!

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Bio-Hacker Next Door

An AP story that appeared in today's Arizona Daily Star focuses on those who play with DNA at home. We are to the point where hobbyists have the knowledge to use off the shelf equipment to start playing around at home and creating life with new genes and properties. One example is a woman who is trying to create yogurt bacteria which glow green when exposed to melamine.

I am sure most people who do this are well intentioned, but it doesn't take a lot of imagination to see the some potential nasty side effects. The law of unintended consequences could come into play quickly. The unlikely but frightening scenario is someone accidentally (or intentionally) creates an easily transmittable deadly bacteria. What if the yougurt bacteria works at its assigned task of glowing in melamine, but causes human health effects? Say someone is working on genetically modified crops and the pollen gets out in the wild, altering crops of nearby fields? The potential economic cost is huge and the person probably would have substantial liability.

This is a particularly difficult activity to regulate. Scientific journals publish enough details for skilled amateurs to recreate and advance a lot of work. These journals are readily available either through subscription or university libraries. The equipment is not expensive and easy to obtain.

This is not really my field so I am not sure how large the threat and potential benefits really are. Perhaps even more worrying, I am not sure there is anything that can really be done except educate the bio-hackers as much as we can about safety and ethics in their research.

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist blog.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas in the Air

Back in '88, a family was attempting to travel back to Milwaukee on Christmas eve was stranded in O'Hare airport due to a snowstorm. They had spent their last dime on transportation and were going nowhere fast.

Just when things were at their bleakest, the mom overheard a young man on the telephone. He mentioned that he would be in Milwaukee in an hour. She desperately approached him. Grabbing him by the arm, she asked if he had found a flight to Milwaukee.

When he explained that he was taking a limo to Milwaukee, she was severley disappointed. However, Her desperation moved him. He instructed her to take her children and husband to the waiting limo. They shared an enjoyable ride from O'Hare to Milwaukwee.

Once at home, she asked for her benefactor's phone number. All she wanted was to deliver some thanks the next day. He readily supplied a number and went on his way into the night.

The next day, she called the number. An older woman's voice answered. The Milwaukee woman mentioned that she just wanted to thank "Joey" for his kindness the night before. The older woman was a little confused, but thanked the woman for her sentiment. The older woman explained: You see, we know Joey did many favors for folks when he was a pilot, but he's been dead these past ten years. We thank you for your remembrence.

The Milwaukee woman was taken aback. She said "No, he took us to Milwaukee last night, in a Limo!". The older woman was polite: "No dear, young Joey died in a plane crash 10 years ago with his wife and children. They were comimg back from vacation in Florida. The older woman then said: "Thanks so much for your sentiment" and hung up.

Be careful in you treatment of strangers, because some have entertained angels, unawares.

Christmas Cinamom Rolls

A Christmas tradition was cinnamon rolls. We would mix the dough around 10:00pm or so on Christmas eve...why such an odd time? Because we would let it rise while going to midnight Mass (Catholic household). After midnight mass is when they would go in the oven and we would have hot cinnamon rolls with maple frosting about 2:30 in the morning. Best cinnamon rolls that ever were or ever will be.

What was your odd family holiday tradition growing up?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas JTI

Very Funny Christmas Article

This is an article submitted to a 1999 Louisville Sentinel contest to find out who had the wildest Christmas dinners. It won first prize.

As a joke, my brother Jay used to hang a pair of panty hose over his fireplace before Christmas. He said all he wanted was for Santa to fill them.

What they say about Santa checking the list twice must be true because every Christmas morning, although Jay's kids' stockings overflowed, his poor pantyhose hung sadly empty.

One year I decided to make his dream come true. I put on sunglasses and went in search of an inflatable love doll. They don't sell those things at Wal-Mart. I had to go to an adult bookstore downtown.

If you've never been in an X-rated store, don't go. You'll only confuse yourself. I was there an hour saying things like, 'What does this do?' 'You're kidding me!' 'Who would buy that?' Finally, I made it to the inflatable doll section.

I wanted to buy a standard, uncomplicated doll that could also substitute as a passenger in my truck so I could use the car pool lane during rush hour.

Finding what I wanted was difficult. 'Love Dolls' come in many different models. The top of the line, according to the side of the box, could do things I'd only seen in a book on animal husbandry. I settled for 'Lovable Louise.' She was at the bottom of the price scale.

To call Louise a 'doll' took a huge leap of imagination.

On Christmas Eve and with the help of an old bicycle pump, Louise came to life.

My sister-in-law was in on the plan and let me in during the wee morning hours. Long after Santa had come and gone, I filled the dangling pantyhose with Louise's pliant legs and bottom. I also ate some cookies and drank what remained of a glass of milk on a nearby tray. I went home, and giggled for a couple of hours.

The next morning my brother called to say that Santa had been to his house and left a present that had made him VERY happy, but had left the dog confused. She would bark, start to walk away, then come back and bark some more.

We all agreed that Louise should remain in her pantyhose so the rest of the family could admire her when they came over for the traditional Christmas dinner.

My grandmother noticed Louise the moment she walked in the door. 'What the hell is that?' she asked.

My brother quickly explained, 'It's a doll.'
'Who would play with something like that?' Granny snapped.

I kept my mouth shut.

'Where are her clothes?' Granny continued.

'Boy, that turkey sure smells nice, Gran,' Jay said, to steer her into the dining room.

But Granny was relentless. 'Why doesn't she have any teeth?'

Again, I could have answered, but why would I? It was Christmas and no one wanted to ride in the back of the ambulance saying, 'Hang on Granny, hang on!'

My grandfather, a delightful old man with poor eyesight, sidled up to me and said, ' Hey, who's the naked gal by the fireplace?' I told him she was Jay's friend.

A few minutes later I noticed Grandpa by the mantel, talking to Louise. Not just talking, but actually flirting. It was then that we realized this might be Grandpa's last Christmas at home.

The dinner went well. We made the usual small talk about who had died, who was dying, and who should be killed, when suddenly Louise made a noise like my father in the bathroom in the morning. Then she lurched from the mantel, flew around the room twice, and fell in a heap in front of the sofa. The cat screamed. I passed cranberry sauce through my nose, and Grandpa ran across the room, fell to his knees, and began administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

My brother fell back over his chair and wet his pants.

Granny threw down her napkin, stomped out of the room, and sat in the car.

It was indeed a Christmas to treasure and remember.

Later in my brother's garage, we conducted a thorough examination to decide the cause of Louise's collapse. We discovered that Louise had suffered from a hot ember to the back of her right thigh.

Fortunately, thanks to a wonder drug called duct tape, we restored her to perfect health.

I can't wait until next Christmas.

Merry Christmas to the JT Irregulars!

I want to personally wish the JT Irregulars a Merry Christmas! You guys and gals has made this year a pleasant one. I thank you all! Hope you guys have a great holiday and you get what you wish for!

Here's a video from one of my favorite bands, The Eagles.

Pimp My Radio Flyer

CNN is reporting that the little red Radio Flyer wagon of your childhood is getting an extreme makeover. Tricked out with the latest in modern safety features and technology.

Gone is the flat metal bottom, replaced with padded seats with 5 point safety harnesses. Foot brakes provide stopping power (no word if they are anti-lock brakes). The digital handle tracks speed, distance and temperature to keep junior from getting too hot or cold. Cup holders to make sure there is adequate hydration. An MP3 holder and built in speakers mean kids won't be bored while their parents enjoy things such as "nature".

When I was young, we would build a small ramp at the edge of a ditch and take turns pushing each other over the ramp and play Evil Knieval, inevitably crashing down well short of the other side (I didn't have good parental supervision as a child!) Wonder how this would hold up to that type of abuse!

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

Dear Madame Zoltar

Hello, hello, my frosty friends! Adeste Fidelis and God Rest Ye Merry, Ladies and Gentlemen. A most Merry Christmas to each and every one of you. Ho, ho, ho!

Everyone that I know has been frazzled and frizzled by the holiday rush. But it’s a good frazzled and frizzled, no? There’s been little time for emails or my blog this week, so instead I’ve decided to present some of my competitors’ predictions for the coming New Year. If any of you think that I’m occasionally a little strange, wait till you behold some of these doozies. Let’s begin with my old friend, Robert Shapiro, who appears to have finally sobered up, somewhat. I think.

Bob shares a blog with our host, so I have to give him a plug:

Next is a take on the coming year by Lance Norris, “Boston's Only Straight Film Critic.”

Lance, if Tony Bennett passes away in the coming year, I’m holding you personally responsible.

Here’s a fellow named Chance offering to give you a personal prediction if you post a video. Someone should have offered Chance some sound editing equipment.

Later, yes, much later . . .

Finally, here is the most plodding, doddering psychic prediction that it has ever been my displeasure to witness. I still haven’t watched the entire video because it is too painfully drawn out for me to withstand. The man gives professional psychics a bad name.

Once again my childrens, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. If you’re in the Racine area, your Christmas most definitely will be white. Enjoy the love of your family and friends.

Don’t forget to send your comments and questions to:

See you all next week. Until then, stay warm. Peace.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

40 Years Since Apollo 8

40 years ago, Apollo 8 embarked on its famous mission and returned what has to be on anyone's short list of the greatest photos of all time.
Known as Earthrise, William Anders captured this photo of Earth slowly rising above the Moon's surface. The astronauts later said they went to study the Moon but discovered Earth.

Apollo 8 was originally supposed to be a test of the lunar module and command module in Earth orbit. The lunar module was behind schedule (surprise!) and there were rumors that the Soviets were planning a Moon mission, so NASA decided to go for a lunar orbit mission in August leaving a much shorter training period than usual. It was also the first manned launch on a Saturn V.

I believe it was the series "When We Left Earth" where they interviewed Lovell's wife. She asked someone (I forget who) from NASA what he thought the odds were of her husband coming back alive and he told her 50%. She was relieved..."I thought it would be much lower" she said. It was not seen as a sure thing to say the least.

The mission went well. They got the famous Earthrise photo. And, in a live Christmas Eve broadcast, the crew gave a truly moving reading of the first 10 verses of Genesis. I have heard it dozens of times but still sometimes tear up hearing the emotion in those voices coming over that crackly radio broadcast. Thanks to the magic of Youtube, we can all watch it again on today's 40th anniversary of that historic broadcast.

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.


Where do you go to find out about foreclosure sales? The net is full of shylocks trying to cash in on a simple search. There has to be a place you can go for free information.

Holiday Shcadenfreude:

Happiness at the misfortune of others. Normally I consider myself a pretty empathetic person. However, I have my limits especially when the condition is self induced.

I took a bike ride Sunday afternoon...I intentionally rode past the mall to see all the stressed out holiday shoppers. That's one of the shcadenfreude moments. All the pressure people put on themselves to have a perfect holiday kind made me chuckle. Hey, news flash! There is no such thing as a perfect holiday! Little things will always go wrong, Aunt Gladys won't like someone's haircut, Kevin will get left Home Alone, you can't always afford the perfect gift and the turkey might be a little dry (but still pretty tasty all things considered).

My advice, relax and chill a little bit. It may not be perfect, but I bet any little imperfections will pale in comparison to your increased ability to enjoy the day...regardless of which holiday you might celebrate.

You can wish me Happy Chocolate Day tomorrow...I know many of you celebrate Christmas, so Merry Christmas to you...and I apologize for missing the first day... Happy Hannukkah

JSOnline Time Lapse Video of Recent Winter Storm

On December 19, check out the car buried by snow on the lower left. I didn't think they'd get it out.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Geekiest Christmas Card Ever!

Has to come from Fermilab, celebrating the most weekly collisions ever generated by the tevatron, the large particle accelerator.

I think a tax on the oil companies is needed.

They are now exploitatively gouging the public. You may think $1.75 per gallon is a good deal, and compared to $4.00 it is. History however shows that we were paying 1.08 last time oil was this cheap. Now that the Oil Barrons are leaving office, it's time to spank the gougers hard.

Anyone else notice prices were ceap before Bush, and now that he's living? Yeah pure coincidence, but can be twisted and would be if the spin doctors wanted to make a point.

Out if date food at Piggly Wiggly

I plan to not shop at the Pig anymore. WAY too much food has best used by dates that are months old. Sad day though as it was close, convinient, and affordable. Even Aldies has fresher foods. Sentry and Pick and Save are about equal distance, but I stopped using P&S when they refused tor refund a pack of country ribs I found a broken hypo needle in. (yes the breeder must have broke it off and the meat ot sold to me.)

I also boycot walmart, so even if they have fresh food, they wont get my money. Looks like I pay to eat and shop at Sentry.

Who Let the (Sun) Dogs Out?

I just saw on Spaceweather an image of a sun dog from Grafton, Iowa.
Sundogs are one of many atmospheric phenomena caused by sunlight reflecting off of ice crystals...and there are a lot of ice crystals near Racine right now. The Weather Underground also lists clear skies. So go outside and look up. Don't look directly at the Sun...look around it. You might see Sundogs, arcs, or halos around the Sun.

The best Sun dogs I ever saw were in February of 1988 when I was driving to Fermilab with my college physics club. We left at about 3:00am and got the sunrise over the plains of Illinois with spectacular Sun dogs (and it was frakkin cold...don't think it got above 10 below zero that day!)

I will leave you with picture of a halo I took in Tucson...yes, we get some ice crystals here sometimes as well!

Have Fun with the President

A Love Song.........

Reporting from the road,,,

It's beautiful here in sunny Florida!!
Beejay, you're an AWESOME hostess!
Happy Monday all!
If you haven't caught the bus yet,
we can still beam you aboard!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

This is bad.......

From the War of the Worlds to the Internet

One of my favorite shows is Radio Lab. Radio Lab, from WNYC, is a quirky science show where they explore a different topic each episode with a quirky, humorous style. They recently rebroadcast their episode looking at the radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds" and you can download it for free and listen.

Some interesting notes on the show: in the original broadcast, the guy who played the reported studied the tapes of the Hindenberg broadcast to try and strike the right tone. The Mercury Theater was not popular at the time so not many people listened to the beginning of the broadcast. Lots of the people who paniced were what we would now call channel surfers. Surveys found about 1 out of 12 people listening didn't get that it was a radio play and thought it was real. They even read transcripts of the emergency calls they got...many people thought it was the Germans who were invading!

They also talk about a 1950s version in Quito, Ecquador. In Quito, they seeded the audience by getting the major newspaper to print fake stories about happenings on Mars leading up to the broadcast. On the night of the broadcast, they promoted a live radio performance by a popular singing group to ensure a large audience. Of course, they changed all the locations to be near Quito. Well, it worked. People paniced, even the military went out to find the Martians (which led more people to believe it was true!) At the end of the evening, when the hoax was revealed, pitchfork and torch wielding mob set the radio station on fire...6 people died (including the producer's girlfriend...okay, I don't know if the mob really had pitchforks, but the obviously had some type of fire).

They conclude with a telling of the Disco War of the Worlds done in Buffalo in 1978 which got the Canadian military to block bridges at the border.

So how does the connect to the internet? Well, what percentage of people still think Obama is a muslim? More than 1 out of 12! People want to believe what they hear from "credible" sources (credible in quotations since credible can be in the eye of the beholder). And it is not always easy to tell what is a credible source since some nonsense does sneak into the wire services.

Take the story about the burglar subdued by the ghost I blogged about. Sounds suspicious...could be a hoax. They even talked about that story on this week's Skeptics Guide to the Universe. They talked about various medical conditions that could have come into play or the possibility that it was all BS.

People think we are smarter, more sophisticated and less likely to fall for those hoaxes now than in 1938. Looking around the internet, I think we are probably MORE likely to fall for this nonsense as many people have become much less discerning about their sources of information.

I am already dreading all the 2012 doomsday nonsense I will have to put up with for the next few years (and I have already been interviewed by a television producer from Spain asking my opinion...don't think it will make the show based on what she wanted me to say and what I said!)

Sunday Morning Grin........

This one is for everyone who...

a) has kids
b) had kids
c) was a kid
d) knows a kid
e) is going to have kids.
I guess that means all of us!!


I was packing for my business trip and my three year old daughter was having a wonderful time playing on the bed. At one point she said, 'Daddy, look at this', and stuck out two of her fingers.

Trying to keep her entertained, I reached out and stuck her tiny fingers in my mouth and said, 'Daddy's gonna eat your fingers,'...pretending to eat them.

I went back to packing, looked up again and my daughter was standing on the bed staring at her fingers with a devastated look on her face.

I said,'What's wrong, honey?'

She replied,

‘What happened to my booger?'