Music of the sphere

A mysterious low-frequency hum emanating from the Earth is likely caused by ocean storms. First discovered by Japanese seismologists in 1998, the vibrations have a frequency between two and seven millihertz, inaudible to humans. UC Berkeley scientists propose in the journal Nature that the hum is produced by interactions between the atmosphere, ocean, and seafloor. From a BBC News report:
The daily release of energy required to generate the hum is equivalent to a magnitude 5.75 to six earthquake, say Junkee Rhie and Barbara Romanowicz of the University of California, Berkeley.
Link Read the rest

Xeni on NPR: report from SpaceShipOne launch at Mojave

On today's edition of the NPR program "Day to Day" , I report from the Mojave airport spaceport on yesterday's launch of SpaceShipOne. The craft was funded by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen and designed by Burt Rutan's team at Scaled Composites.

"SS-1" is the top contender in the race for the Ansari X-prize, a global competition to build the first viable commercial spaceship. The winning team will receive a $10 million award. For SpaceShipOne, that amounts to only half of the $20 million or so Allen invested -- clearly, the competition is about more than a cash prize.

Jason DeFillippo joined me and Day to Day producer Nihar Patel for the trip to Mojave -- Jason took some absolutely terrific photos of the launch, flight, landing, and the surreal scene around the airstrip. Link. In this photo, I'm one of a number of silly-looking reporters all squinting intently at the sky and holding their hands against the sun. We were trying to catch a glimpse of a distant SpaceShipOne during its ascent. Vetern tech and space journalist John Schwartz from the New York Times is there in the blue shirt (here's his story: Link). Right about then, Nihar yells out, "HELIOS, THOU ART MY LORD" really loud, which made everyone crack up because we really did look goofy. Like we were participating in an ancient sun-cult ritual, or at least a Planet of The Apes episode. Link to archived radio segment: NPR Day to Day "First X-Prize Flight a Success for SpaceShipOne", with some of Jason's photos. Read the rest

WSJ reporter confirms authenticity of her letter to friends about horrific conditions in Iraq

Farnaz Fassihi, a Wall Street Journal correspondent in Iraq, confirmed that a widely-redistributed letter she emailed to friends about the nightmarish situation in Iraq was indeed written by her. Too bad the WSJ doesn't allow this reporter to write these kinds of stories for the paper.
Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for insecurity," Fassihi wrote (among much else) in the letter. "Guess what? They say they'd take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler." And: "Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

...Making clear what can only, at best, appear between lines in her published dispatches, Fassihi concluded, "One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it's hard to imagine what if any thing could salvage it from its violent downward spiral. The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can't be put back into a bottle."


(Note: there's an advertisement for the University of Phoenix on the right column of the page featuring a scary looking unshaven man with a blinking problem who starts TALKING VERY LOUDLY after the Flash file loads, so you might want to mute your computer's speaker before clicking on the link) Read the rest

P2P usage stats you can rely on

Cachelogic has posted a very good, in-depth study of network traffic using data gathered from a variety of large ISPs. They conclude that P2P use has not dwindled; that P2P systems are the main use of bandwidth today ("the killer app for broadband")l that P2P is used to move lots of kinds of files, including ones that are noninfringing (strong market-demand for symmetrical connectivity); and that P2P's impact on ISP bandwidth charges are largely the result of anti-detection design choices that make it hard for P2P systems to efficiently use bandwidth. So much for the salutory effect of extreme copyright laws, lawsuits and "eduction" campaigns. Link (via Waxy) Read the rest

Half the men on small island charged with rape

Pitcairn Island is a tiny, remote island off the coast of New Zealand (thanks to everyone who pointed out that Pitcairn isn't close to NZ at all) with only 46 people living on it. Seven of the men there -- more than half the adult male population, including the mayor -- have been charged with over about 100 counts of sexual assault, including the rape of a five year old. The charges arose after a British policewoman visited the island and met some of the girls, who told her what had been going on. This blog entry has links to articles from various news-sites on the trial.
The residents of the island are descendants of the mutineers from the HMS Bounty and the local Polynesian population in 1790.
Link (Thanks, Cyrus!) Read the rest

Industrial nations to WIPO: less IP, more global well-being

Thiru Balasubramaniam from the Consumer Project on Technology is taking notes at the General Assembly of the UN's World Intellectual Property Organisation. Yesterday was the opening, and it kicked off with a bang, with a group of nations (comprising the 15 original European Community states, Japan, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and some others) excoriating the Organisation for pursuing IP Rights over the other goals of WIPO such as fostering creativity and transfering technology to the world's poorest nations.
...believe WIPO's work should help support the multilateral development of intellectual property, not as an end in itself, but as a means to help achieve the economic, social and cultural well-being of individuals and societies across the planet. In that light, we are pleased to see paragraph 6 of the Secretariat's Performance Report emphasize that "WIPO's strategic goals should also be viewed in the larger context of the UN Millenium Declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2000, placing the eight Millenium Development Goals at the heard of the global agenda."
Link (Thanks, Thiru!) Read the rest

Voter Information Guide by Kottke and co

Kottke and his blog-readers have been assembling a Voter Information Guide, which they've been turning into one-page handouts and outher interesting and useful forms that explain how to register and vote in the upcoming election.
- 1-page PDF version by Trevor Filter - HTML version suitable for printing by Ryan Brill - text-only version by Chuck Welch - an audio version by Ben Yates
Link Read the rest

Google Answers: Is Google on fire?

Danny's wife, Quinn, drove past Google HQ yesterday and noted smoke rising from the building. She rang Danny, who leapt into motion, going to Google Answers and posing this question:
Is Google HQ on fire right now? My wife drove your campus and saw smoke. Are you guys okay? I can probably get a ladder if you need it.
The question remains unanswered. Silly Danny -- Google Answers staffers work offsite! Link (via Oblomovka) Read the rest

ASCII movies of the Bush SotU addresses

ASCII Bush has ASCII-mation videos of both Bush I and Bush II's State of the Union addresses as Quicktime files. Filthyape sez, "The basic goal of this project is to make art from the debris of our culture by recycling these dreadful and painfully long presidential oration. The speeches are not edited--just digitally filtered. And like I said, they are very lengthy. ASCII BUSH is definitely boring enough to be interesting!!!" Link (Thanks, filthyape!) Read the rest

SpaceShipOne / Xprize snapshots, part 3

SpaceShipOne pilot Mike Melvill gives the universal sign for a successful flight after today's touchdown. Link to full-size. Link to another snapshot of Mr. Melvill standing on top of the craft, speaking to reporters.

The X-Prize webcast of today's flight includes some incredibly beautiful footage from an on-ship camera -- this must be what Melvill saw, gazing out of that little round window. A giant blue dome below, and a black sky with bright stars above. I'd sure like to see the snapshots he said he took up there. Anyway, go ahead and skip through the hoo-ha and just stream the good stuff -- but there is definitely some good stuff: Link Read the rest

SpaceShipOne / Xprize snapshots, part 2

The whole thing felt a little like Burning Man with more money and fewer naked hippies. Squint through the dust (which at times almost blew as hard as it does on the playa), and those big sponsor signs could almost pass for theme camp tents. Instead of bad trance music blaring in all directions, we heard bombastic symphonic overtures on the PA system every time SS-1 was about to do something important, like lift off or move from climb mode to glide mode.

The craft is fueled by nitrous oxide and rubber. I suppose this proves what many Hollywood clubbers have known for years -- that with a little latex and laughing gas, you can get to heaven.

Here, Scaled Composites' Burt Rutan and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen sit in the back of a pickup truck towing SpaceShipOne along the runway, after pilot Mike Melvill's successful flight. Mr. Melvill is still inside the craft. This sight made me laugh. I mean -- come on. A pickup truck towing a spaceship. Garage geekery, grand goals. Link to full-size image. Link to a snapshot moments later, in which Melvill addresses the crowd on the ground, while Rutan and Allen grin widely. Read the rest

SpaceShipOne / Xprize snapshots, part 1

Just got back to LA from the Mojave Airport -- er, spaceport -- where Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne completed the first of two flights that may result in its developers winning the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

Today's successful flight included a dramatic series of unplanned rolls during ascent. Developer Burt Rutan attributed them to known engineering problems that caused excessive dihedral effect (the way an aircraft reacts when wind hits it from the side). That corkscrew-spiral flight pattern on the way up looked terrifying from where I stood-- as if SS-1 were about to suddenly spin out of control to disaster at any moment. Judging from the gasps I heard in the media corral, others agreed.

Regardless of how risky that portion of the flight may have appeared, or indeed was, pilot Mike Melvill later said the rolls "felt cool" from where he was seated some 337,500 feet above the earth. He said he could see stars above, once he departed Earth's atmosphere. There was enough of a pause at the top for him to take a break from piloting, peek out the windows, and take some snapshots with a little camera he'd stowed on board.

I've been up since 230am today, and there's still work to do on tomorrow morning's NPR "Day to Day" report about today's flight. So for now, just a series of quick snapshots I took at the event. Here, SpaceShipOne at dawn: Link. Here, SpaceShipOne taxis out pre-flight, attached to White Knight: Link. Read the rest

Nigerian spam used as Quicktime soliloquy

Dylan sez: "A movie clip of someone doing a Nigerian email scam monologue - complete with mispellings and bad grammar. It's a hoot." Link (via Good Experience) Read the rest

Gallery of drug paraphernalia from 1970s men's magazine

Here are some scans of neat-looking drug paraphernalia from a 1970s issue of Oui magazine. Link (via PCL Linkdump) Read the rest

CBS News: Bush's top ten flip flops

Personally, I think flip-flopping is a sign of intelligence and shows a willingness to learn. But since the Republicans think flip-flopping is worse than torturing people or invading countries that don't pose a threat, here are President Bush's top ten flip flops.
President Bush: "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories."(May 29, 2003)

President Bush: "I recognize we didn't find the stockpiles [of weapons] we all thought were there." (Sept. 9, 2004)

Link Read the rest

Penn Jillette's "Sock" references collected

Penn Jillette, half of the magnificent magic/comedy duo Penn and Teller, has recently published a first novel called Sock, told from the PoV of a sock-monkey. The book is chock-a-block with pop culture references, especially song lyrics, and David has undertaken to catalogue them on this site. Link (Thanks, David!) Read the rest

Asimov's magazine on ebooks

My pal and teacher James Patrick Kelly is a Hugo-award-winning sf writer who does a column about the Internet for Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine -- this month's, about ebooks, is very good indeed (especially given the generally dismal approach of the sf field to electronic text).
should say here that I have long been one of those saurians who disliked reading for pleasure from a computer screen. But a couple of months ago, for reasons too boring to mention, I popped for a personal digital assistant (PDA) , mostly to keep track of appointments and addresses when I was away from my desk. As it happened, shortly after I made the buy, I went to Florida to attend the International Conference on the Fantastic and to soak up some rays. On a whim, I loaded some ebooks into my new gadget. By the time I got off the plane in Fort Lauderdale I’d fallen in love with my PDA as a reading device. Yes, the screen is smallish but I can change the font at will. Maybe it isn’t exactly ideal for the beach because direct light washes out the backlit screen, but my days of sunbathing are over and this thing is made in the shade. Often as not it’s my book of choice for bedtime reading. And if my wife wants to turn in, we can douse all the lights and I can read from that cheerily lit screen.
Link Read the rest

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