Wrong line of work

$400,000 to write algorithms and optimized code? Did I pick the wrong industry or what?

The drive-thru zoo

About 50 miles south of Norman (in Arbuckle), there is a drive-thru zoo. We'd never been until last weekend. Interesting to see a camel smooshed against your car window ...
The kids had a blast feeding the animals food pellets. The zoo itself sells these. Nice way to outsource the feeding of the animals, eh?
Most of the animals were large. Nothing too exotic, athough I suppose zebras in Oklahoma are exotic.
But what the kids loved the most was a "bumper boats". The boats squirted water everytime you pushed the lever to move it, so it was a bumper ride and water pistol fight combined.
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Sheltered worlds

An Indian grocery store in Oklahoma City finds the need to post this sign:
The store carries ten different varieties of lentils and even more varieties of rice without a single word of explanation -- so obviously their clientiele is quite familiar with all that. But caraway seeds and cumin seeds, they have to distinguish!
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S1's pictures

A few more of S1's pictures. Obviously, we can't save all of them. But I can definitely save digital photographs ...

He madea drawing of me in my study. That's not a cross above my head -- it's a fan. It's pretty much a catalogue of the main stuff in the scene -- a window to my right, a tree seen through the window, a picture on the wall to my left, a glass-topped table with thin legs ... He's learned perspective in his art classes, but somehow he didn't see fit to incorporate it into this drawing. He started to color the background, then moved on.
This story book is another unfinished project. "Unfinished" is being charitable. He thought of the title and decided that it would be funny to use a Dr. Seuss-like font on the cover. He started to write one page and then got distracted. So, I have a one-page manuscript. Nicely colored though.
A bird in flight:
A bird on a window sill ... notice that the bird is walking on the sill, away from the center, giving the whole scene some tension. He's also experimenting with perspective here, with the tree and the bird being the same size.
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Pink Elephant

The second Friday of every month, Norman art galleries are open late; the city trolley runs between Campus Corner and the galleries. The Firehouse, where the kids took art classes this summer, hosted a showing of some of the work their students had done.

This pink elephant, in clay, was S1's. Most of the other kids in his class had done cardinals and other winged creatures.
These masks were created by another class:
Yet another class did work in mixed media:
Norman being a small town, we saw like 5 groups of people we knew in the 20 minutes we were there. Among them, my sometime bridge partner and her husband. Here they are, outside the gallery, wating for the trolley. The big white plaster sculpture is by a local artist, modeled after his daughter. I'm not sure about the scrap metal thingy.
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Tupelo: not just a tornado

We name the machines in one of our labs after famous tornadoes. So, we have Moore ('99), Red Rock ('91) and Greensburg ('07). Driving back from Florida a couple of weeks ago, we saw a sign:
So that's where Tupelo ('36) is!
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Fear of Islamists

Can you imagine a book about the Mona Lisa that does not contain a photograph of the painting? Yale Press is publishing a book ("The Cartoons that shook the world") about the 12 Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Muslim extremists protested the implication in some of the cartoons that theirs was not a peaceful religion and ... 200 people died in the resulting riots. So, the book about the controversy will not contain the actual pictures.

Apparently, they asked about 25 different authorities and the recommendation was unanimous. No picture. The first time I've heard of 25 people giving an unanimous opinion.

Do academic presses always run scared? Would they be similarly scared to carry a book saying that parts of the Hebrew Bible imply that the Israelite God had a wife? How about an academic book that claims that Sita sexually taunted her brother-in-law? Both these are startling claims that drive at organizing principles of Judeo-Christianity and Hinduism respectively. Yet, no publisher will be afraid to publish academic books on the topic -- the faithful will protest, but they will protest peacefully.

Tibet is all about water

When most people think of Tibet, what comes to mind are Buddhist monasteries, the Dalai Lama and Chinese control. For me, the most telling point about Chinese colonization of Tibet is that mainland Chinese living in Tibet can not live there at certain stages of their lives -- pregnancy and old age -- when their bodies are unable to adjust to the lower oxygen. So, why does China insist on controlling and colonizing a high-altitude plateau?

Water. As Brahma Challaney notes:
The Tibetan plateau’s vast glaciers, huge underground springs and high altitude make Tibet the world’s largest freshwater repository after the polar icecaps. Indeed, all of Asia’s major rivers, except the Ganges, originate in the Tibetan plateau. Even the Ganges’ two main tributaries flow in from Tibet.
With industrialization and population growth, China and India are very water-stressed, to be point that per-capita, Chinese will soon have only as much as water as Saudi Arabia. And so, China has been damming Tibetan waters and plans are to reroute them northward, into China:
China has been damming most international rivers flowing out of Tibet, whose fragile ecosystem is already threatened by global warming. The only rivers on which no hydro-engineering works have been undertaken so far are the Indus, whose basin falls mostly in India and Pakistan, and the Salween, which flows into Burma and Thailand ... The issue now is not whether China will reroute the Brahmaputra, but when. Once authorities complete their feasibility studies and the diversion scheme begins, the project will be presented as a fait accompli . China already has identified the bend where the Brahmaputra forms the world’s longest and deepest canyon – just before entering India – as the diversion point.
At which point, northern India will become a desert. Nuclear-armed India.

Because India is water-stressed, many of the inter-state water disputes that play out in the American West also play out in India. When I was in college in India, we'd taken a trip to Karnataka, a neighboring state , when some bureaucrat changed some interpretation of some long-standing water agreement between the Tamil Nadu (the state I was living in) and Karnataka (the one I was visiting). Karnataka erupted in riots and it was dangerous to be a Tamil in Karnataka at that time. We moved a few of our Kannada-speaking classmates to the front of the bus to talk to any one who stopped us and quickly made our way back home. And that was just between states in one, pretty unified, country. Water is very, very personal.

What is frightening is that even if the cause of desertification of northern India is global warming, and not China, Chinese actions will serve as a nice repository of blame. It's hard to wage war on global warming, but war on China will be quite easy to imagine. And politicians, you can be sure, will take the bait.

Stephen Hawking does have a chance in the UK

The Investor's Business Daily, ranting against end-of-life counseling and rationing of health care, warns:

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

Umm ... Stephen Hawking is British. He teaches at Cambridge. His health is managed by the oh-so-scary NHS. I'm pretty sure that, after he showed elements of Lou Gehrig's disease (starting in his university years), he wasn't exposed to the elements on some mountaintop.

P.S. the health care bill before Congress does NOT mandate any euthanasia counseling either. But why let the facts get in the way of nice, fat, juicy paranoia?

Infectious pride

One of the nicest things about living in a town like Norman is that there are a lot of people who are very happy doing what they do. They love their work; they like the people they work with and that quiet, satisfied, pride is very infectious.

Case in point: a friend who teaches music at OU is in Austria for a Haydn music festival and is totally enthralled by the whole experience. Years ago, when I visiting Vienna, I went to an outdoor opera in the city center. The atmosphere was warm and the music was wonderful. It's been interesting to relive that except that Mark's experience is from the other side.

Burma makes its own yellowcake

Burma (Burma! the country that massacres its Buddhist monks. That Burma) is refining its own yellowcake:
Burma has at least two uranium refining and processing plants in operation for crushing, grinding, cleaning and milling (refining) the uranium ore into ''yellowcake'' (U308), a concentrate of uranium oxides in powder form. Yellow cake is later converted to uranium hexafluoride (UF6) for enrichment to provide fuel for reactors or fissle material for nuclear weapons.
Who's helping them? North Korea.
Cooperation between North Korea and the Burmese regime on nuclear matters began in earnest in September 2000 when a MOU was signed by Burma's Lieutenant General Thein Hla and North Korea's Major General Kim Chan Su. Four more detailed contracts were signed in 2001-02. ... The "official" agreements between the two countries covered nuclear related activities at two sites and involved North Korea's assistance to help with installing, maintaining, training and supplying equipment at the uranium refining and enrichment plant at Thabike Kyin. At the second reactor site at Naung Laing the North Koreans agreed to help with the construction of an underground facility and a nuclear reactor.

After the Bush administration lied to the world about Saddam Hussein buying yellowcake from Nigeria, this Burmese news is a tough sell. Hillary Clinton tried a few days ago, but the Boston arrest of Gates and Obama's subsequent comment ran off with the headlines. Now, of course, Bill Clinton is in North Korea.

It's a scary world out there. But we are preoccupied with the equivalent of a summer of shark attacks.

NASA needs a better visitors center

If you read my previous post, you know that my ultimate impression of NASA was to be awed by the challenges they face and meet everyday.

But my impressions were not all good. The security theater was quite annoying.
We got just a glimpse of the shuttle landing: as a distant white speck. We did hear the two sonic booms, though. That was nice.
And this post illustrating how pork is spread around leaves a bad taste. They build the shuttle pieces in Utah and transport it by road to Florida where it is assembled. Wonder which genius thought of that ...
And of course, for all the impressive work that NASA does, their visitor center is too simplistic and backward-looking.
Of the four, NASA can't help the security and political environment they work under. They probably can't make shuttle landings more dramatic either. But surely, they can improve their visitors center!
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NASA not stuck in the 70s

If your impression of NASA were to be formed solely by their backward-looking visitors' exhibits in Houston and in Florida, you would think that NASA was stuck in the 70s, living their past glories. But that's not really the case. Unfortunately, you need a behind-the-scenes tour to know that.

I was at a "total lightning" conference in Florida last week. (The "total" refers to a new type of sensor that detects intercloud lightning and not just cloud-to-ground strikes.) NASA had put in a new type of lightning rod to protect their launch site for the next generation of Ares shuttles and so we got a special tour of Kennedy Space Center.

This was the lightning rod they wanted to show us. Note the wires that lead from the rod. They connect a set of three rods to the ground:
It was quite underwhelming: lightning rods are not exactly rocket science.

We got to peek in through glass doors at the monitors. And we saw weather imagery! Enough to get the bunch of weather geeks humming. Also, it was good to see that NASA does have LCD monitors; if you go solely by their visitors centers, one would think they hang on to CRTs.
This is the vehicle assembly building. 518 feet in height. The third largest building in the world by volume. They need the building in order to assemble the shuttle vertically.
We saw parts of the first Ares test shuttle too. It took the vehicle assembly building and parts of upcoming shuttles to really drive home the scope of NASA's ambitions. Pity that not all visitors get to see this.
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The GM Diet: still a hoax

Few of my posts have drawn as much ire as my post on the General Motors Diet. I claimed that it was a hoax and that it was probably dangerous long-term.

Turns out that it is a hoax. GM has never heard of it.

Nothing on whether it's dangerous if carried out for more than a few days.