20040630

Clash of the Naming Conventions

Some of Saturn's moons in orbit order, with mythological origin and possible role of that mythological creature in its pantheon:

Mimas - a Titan that Hercules slayed. This already bodes trouble for the naming conventions, if there's already a "titan" involved in the mythology and now there's a Titan: Specific and Titan: General. Should I be complaining to the IAU already?

Enceladus - one of the Gigantes. Who were the Gigantes? That's right, they were the Titans, but clearly someone else translated that part. Standards, people.

Tethys - Tethys was NOT the goddess played by Dame Maggie Smith, whose likeness came alive after the princess's mother hubristically declared her daughter's beauty to be greater than the goddess's. And she did it, like, IN the temple itself. Bitch deserved what she got if you ask me. This is in "Clash of the Titans," of course. And that was Thetis. But this is Tethys, who was a Titaness (!) who was both sister and wife of Oceanus. Hmmmm.

Rhea - Married to Dannie DeVito in real life, Rhea was a foul-mouthed, trash-talking barmaid character in the popular 1980's NBC Thursday night sitcom, "Titans."

Titan - Um.

Hyperion - this is the name of Ford's new hybrid SUV, whose atmospheric effects will reduce the chances of our own Clear Skies looking like Titan's.

Phoebe - Remember the one where Phoebe was all "I'll kick your British ass all the way to, um.. West.. Gloucestershire!" Wow, I miss that show. No really, this moon was named after the daughter of a popular Las Vegas lounge singer-cum-Seattle drag queen, Dina Martina.

Janus - this now an investment firm, and I believe this was the "two-faced" god. Need we more reason to distrust a firm that names itself so blatantly...?

Epimetheus - Named for the largest organ in the body - except it's not IN the body. It's ON the body, whoa! Wait...

OK, I'm bored already. Don't even ask me about Ymir, Paaliaq, Tarvos, Ijiraq, Suttung, Kiviuq, Mundilfari, Albiorix, Skadi, Erriapo, Siarnaq, or Thrym. Thrym? What, is Anne McCaffrey on the naming commission now?

20040628

Fireworks technology: getting greener

No updates lately, because nothing interesting in science has happened in the past few weeks. Nothing titanic, anyway.

Wait, here's something. Compressed air is being used to lift fireworks into the air this year, reducing noise and smoke-producing black powder. The technology used to produce this reportedly still-amazing show has been developed by a huge entertainment juggernaut and its patents are being donated to a nonprofit so that they can be licensed by other fireworks artisans. Who's doing the dev and donation? None other than your favorite childhood-tainting corporation, Disney.

20040610

Newsflash, dogs can understand people

Study: dogs understand spoken human words. Let's inspect the article using complete sentences, because we can.

At the beginning of the article:
Now, for the doubters, there is scientific proof [dogs] understand much of what they hear. [emph. mine]
At the end of the article:
[Doubter] calls for further experiments to answer several questions: Can Rico learn a word for something other than a small object to be fetched? Can he display knowledge of a word in some way other than fetching? Can he follow an instruction not to fetch something?

What are we to make of yet another annoying Times science piece that both overstates the obvious and underexplores the questions it brings up? (Corollary: why is it that when you read an article on astrophysics in the NYT, they take up column inches backgrounding you on theory you've read before, but when they cover social phenoms, they fill it with fucking opinions? See money quote.) A quick recap of the evolution and linguistics you all know will help us:

OBVIOUS
Dogs evolved in packs where social status defined survival opportunities (as did we), so clearly the stage would be set for them to understand statements with a social dimension (emotive or pragmatic), elements of tone notwithstanding. You could growl and a dog would understand the meaning.

QUESTIONS
Dogs would not understand what you meant if you said "and then he was all growling and shit at me!" Neither would your grandparents, but they would grok that you were talking about some noun all verbing up on some other-noun. Dogs can't take the Lego brick of one word, plug it in somewhere else, and change a sentence's meaning; they can't substitute one growl to mean something else. They only understand whole meanings, not the grammar chunks that make them up.

QUESTIONS AMENDED
Can Rico learn a word for something other than a small object to be fetched? Ten to one he knows "vet." Can he display knowledge of a word in some way other than [its pragmatic intent]? "Could you at least wait until I'm awake to have to go?" will likely pass over his head. Can he follow an instruction not to fetch something? (Ooh! a negative. watch out, curveball.) Nice try but a loud "NO" will usually stop Butch in his tracks.

Fucking fluffpieces. Where's the remote?

MONEY QUOTE
"People who talk to their dogs are cutting-edge communicators, not just a bunch of eccentrics," says American Kennel Club board member and owner of Poopsie, Floopsie and Mr. Piddles-on-expensive-shoes. What's that quote about great minds talking about ideas, medium (tall? venti?) minds talking about things, and small minds talking to their dogs about other people?... I wouldn't call them eccentric and I wouldn't call them stupid. I'd just call them people with nothing better to do.

OK, OK I take it back: DOGS ARE CUTE. I HEART DOGS.

20040608

When I was a kid my mother told me never to look directly into the sun

"...so once when I was six, I did." If you've lived in Seattle in January, you've done this: there'll be one cloudbreak that happens at 2:30pm for six minutes and you rush out of your office building to see it. you just blink into it, and you can feel the melatonin blip away like a full row of Tetris molecules with each moment you let the magnesium-colored blindness sear in.

That's right, tetris molecules. Honestly, I've never done drugs.

Pinholes. Everybody keeps talkin' about observin' this girdle of Venus, but I thought they would have had those things way before Edmund Halley found one in 1769, or thought one up in 1716. Triangulation? I could have told you a triangle was involved, heh. (those Kiwis must be proud that their british predecessors were really thinking of the island of Punani.)