Short Nerd Chief

Archive for February, 2008

Space makes Scoble cry (me, too)

Posted by Fred on February 29, 2008

WWT We now know what will make Robert Scoble cry – the immensity of the universe and our tiny little place in it, as visualized by Microsoft Research’s Worldwide Telescope. MS describes WWT as “a rich visualization environment that functions as a virtual telescope, bringing together imagery from the best ground- and space telescopes to enable seamless, guided explorations of the universe.”  That is, perhaps, the world’s most boring description of a service that is incredibly amazing.  Even an astrophysicist gets a little giddy talking about it:

“The WorldWide Telescope takes the best images from the greatest telescopes on Earth … and in space … and assembles them into a seamless, holistic view of the universe. This new resource will change the way we do astronomy … the way we teach astronomy … and, most importantly, I think it’s going to change the way we see ourselves in the universe,” said Dr. Roy Gould of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics. “The creators of the WorldWide Telescope have now given us a way to have a dialogue with our universe.”

It’s a pretty one-way dialogue, but the images released so far for the as-yet-unavailable service do pack quite a wallop.  Here are three, stolen shamelessly from the TEDBlog:





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Florida (finally) adds evolution to curriculum, catches up with the 19th century

Posted by Fred on February 22, 2008

Edaphosaurus_BW Beware the Law of Unintended Consequences.  Florida, which has consistently been ranked among the worst states for science education since its current standards were introduced in 1996 (in large part because the standards were driven by rural Floridians for whom certain topics conflict with their Young Earth Creationist worldview), recently joined the 19th century and officially added evolution to its state science curriculum (although students won’t be tested on it until at least 2012).  Religious fundamentalists couldn’t leave well enough alone, of course, and pulled out the old canard about evolution being “only a theory”:

The divided vote came as board members argued over an eleventh-hour amendment that requires the standards to refer to the “scientific theory of evolution” instead of “evolution.”

The amendment, which supporters refer to as the “academic freedom proposal,” was unveiled late Friday. Education Commissioner Eric Smith recommended the amendment, which won praise from religious groups and conservative lawmakers….

The changes were hailed as a victory by a group of parents, educators and lawmakers who insisted that evolution was far from an iron-clad fact and deserved critical analyses in the classroom.

“There are many unanswered questions about the origin of life,” said state Rep. Marti Coley, a Marianna Republican who said last week she would push a bill that would require evolution be taught as a “theory.”

People whose primary science education comes from Genesis instead of Gould often think of “theory” as meaning “just this side of made-up” and probably view this as a victory.  However, the curriculum refers to the scientific theory of evolution, and will require students to learn what scientists consider a theory to be. And to scientists, theory does not mean conjecture; the same area of inquiry can be both “theory” and “fact.”  Here’s how the National Academy of Sciences describes it:

Is Evolution a Theory or a Fact?

It is both. But that answer requires looking more deeply at the meanings of the words “theory” and “fact.”

In everyday usage, “theory” often refers to a hunch or a speculation. When people say, “I have a theory about why that happened,” they are often drawing a conclusion based on fragmentary or inconclusive evidence.

The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.

Many scientific theories are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the Sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics). Like these other foundational scientific theories, the theory of evolution is supported by so many observations and confirming experiments that scientists are confident that the basic components of the theory will not be overturned by new evidence. However, like all scientific theories, the theory of evolution is subject to continuing refinement as new areas of science emerge or as new technologies enable observations and experiments that were not possible previously.

Thus the law of unintended consequences.  By insisting that evolution be called a scientific theory, these 21st century luddites will reinforce the massive scientific record buttressing the theory of evolution (as always, go to if you need more information, lots and lots of information).

So we all win. Florida students win because they can now learn actual science.  Truth wins, as it does any time backward-thinkers are hoist on their own petard.  Speaking of winners, here’s the winner of the Christian Who Actually Gets It Award, one Rev. Copeland:

“Children should learn science in science class, not religion disguised as science,” said Brant Copeland, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee.

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500 million Firefox downloads – go test your lexicon, donate some rice

Posted by Fred on February 22, 2008

TMlogo_750x750.thumbnailOn or about February 20, someone became the 500 millionth download of Mozilla Firefox. The evangelists at Spread Firefox suggest celebrating by playing the test-your-vocabulary-and-donate-food game at Free Rice:

In honor of the 500 million download mark we’re celebrating by raising 500,000,000 grains of rice in one day to help feed the world’s poor. Since we have reached the milestone, it is time to flock to and attempt to push the days total over 1/2 billion. This is just a foreshadow to where one day Firefox will be. Food for thought, uh, better yet, Food for Lives; if we reach 500 million grains of rice, that’s a direct contribution in feeding 25,000 people for one day! Donate now,


freeRiceLogoFree Rice describes itself as a sister site of the world poverty site,, with two goals — to provide English vocabulary to everyone for free and to help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free. The rice comes from advertisers who buy space on the game page. For every vocabulary word you get right, the site donates 20 grains of rice. Each question is a new page view, which means a payment from an advertiser which can be used to buy rice. More words = more ads = more money for rice.


I was going gangbusters for a while and then got hung up on formicary, which means “anthill”.  There are 55 possible levels in the game; I hit 50 before declining a bit.  1500 grains of rice won’t go far (it’s only 15% of the amount needed to feed one person for one day, assuming a 2,000 calorie diet), but at least now I know what formicary means.

[via AppScout]

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Not everyone picks the Tigers in 2008 – will it be Tribe Time?

Posted by Fred on February 21, 2008


Three new posts over at the now-out-of-beta Bleacher Report suggest that some people are more bullish on the 2008 Tribe than I’m allowing myself to be.  In his AL Central Preview, Bryan Thiel likes the Indians:

With a starting staff consisting of C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, Paul Byrd, and Jake Westbrook, the Indians went a combined 59-32 when any of those four were credited with the games outcome. What’s further, against divisional opponents and playoff teams, those four starters went 30-19, with Jake Westbrook (2-8) having the only sub-.500 record against those teams—meaning that the Indians had three pitchers go 28-11 in their division and against playoff-bound teams. Aside from who rounds out the final spot of the rotation (it could be Aaron Laffey), and praying that Fausto Carmona doesn’t suffer the same fate that Liriano did his sophomore year, the Indians starting staff appears ready to dominate the competition.

Nothing to argue with there, although Thiel should have included Kobayashi in his discussion of the back end of the bullpen (more on that later).  he acknowledges the obvious (the Tigers got a lot better), but still thinks the kitties are a second place team:

Will the Tigers offense struggle this season? Well after reading the names above, they certainly won’t.

Along with Granderson and Cabrera, you’ve already got the average champs (Polanco and Ordonez, as listed above), Gary Sheffield (who has always hit more than 25 HR each year he’s had more than 450 at-bats—except for 1990), Marcus Thames (who could threaten the 30HR barrier with a full, healthy season), and Jacque Jones—who has proven that he can put up some solid power numbers in the AL Central.

Again, the Tigers offense will not be the weak spot. They’re a team that can score eight runs any given day. The big question is if their pitchers can give up fewer than eight on those days.

Thiel is a Canadian with no particular reason to favor Lake Erie over Lake St. Clair.  Moving on to the less objective assessments, the fan base seems rarin’ to go.  Doctor Poove’ says to look for games at The Jake Progressive Field come late October:

The Cleveland Indians are going to win the 2008 MLB World Series.

Why? They are going to want it more. No one gave them a shot last year and they won 96 games, tied for the most in baseball. They made it within one game of the World Series. And those last three painful losses in the ALCS could be seen in the eyes of Victor Martinez, Paul Byrd, Jake Westbrook and a whole lot of other Indians as well. To come so close and yet be so far will have a lasting impression on this team.

They still have better starting pitching than the Yankees and Tigers and if there is anything that Cleveland has learned from the Tribe teams of the 1990’s, it’s that pitching, not hitting, makes you a serious contender first and foremost. C.C. and Fausto may have a little bit of a fall off from 2007, but I still expect them to be in the upper echelon of AL pitchers. Jake the Snake and the Byrdman will be solid and whoever doesn’t take the fifth spot out of Cliff Lee, Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey will be ready and waiting if and when injury occurs. The Angles and Red Sox may be a bit better, but the Tribe rotation is right up there.

The Doctor says he doesn’t “know who this Japanese guy is.”  He’s referring to Masahide Kobayashi.  Michael Taylor says Kobayashi may be this year’s version of Hideki Okajima:

The Indians are hoping Kobayashi can follow the successes of other imports such as Hideki Okajima of the Red Sox, whom he is often compared to because of similar deceptive deliveries.

This is very plausible as Okajima had a higher ERA (3.36 to 2.73), higher Walk/9 innings (4.13 to 2.6) and similar Hits/9 innings (7.69 to 7.87) in their careers in Japan. Also, Okajima had only 41 saves in Japan, though was never a full-time closer.

If Kobayashi can pitch to his talent level and make a smooth adjustment into life in the majors, the Indians bullpen is looking as strong as any in the league. Especially if Borowski does well enough to hold onto the closers job.

Kobayashi’s numbers do look good.  Here’s Masa and Okajima’s stats from Japan (1999-2007 for Masa and 1998-2006 for Okajima to include the same number of seasons):

Kobayashi 445 3 580.1 36-34 227 7.18 2.79 1.17
Okajima 408 0 515 29-23 41 9.82 3.43 1.29


I want to be optimistic, I really do.  But the Tigers got a lot better on paper, and the Indians only marginally so.  I think Pronk and Grady will have better 2008s than they did 2007s, but Asdrubal and Carmona are likely to regress, if only a little.  96 wins is unlikely; 90-92 is more probable.  Will it be enough?

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AFA condemns P&G, Verizon for sponsoring TV shows that people like to watch

Posted by Fred on February 21, 2008

The Stoning of Saint Stephen by Rembrandt (1635)

The American “Family” Association is continuing its Sisyphean struggle to drag society to a place where gay people aren’t allowed to buy stuff and corporations aren’t allowed to sell them stuff (assuming, of course, that they don’t convince us to kill, deport or convert the homosexuals first).  Today, it’s a list of the top “pro-homosexual” advertisers, led by Proctor & Gamble, Verizon and Target.  What, precisely, makes these companies so suspect?  They advertised on one or more of the following programs:

What’s a red-blooded, America-loving, gay-hating troglodyte to do?  Apparently, watch game shows and reality TV.

Every time I see one of these AFA releases, I simply say “Wow”. How dare gay people have clean teeth, talk on cell phones or buy semi-fashionable yet affordable products?  Then again, there’s little risk to your average AFA member in boycotting toothpaste, 21st century technology or Michael Graves home furnishings.

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W&M Board member resigns in protest, says Board to dismantle Nichol’s policies

Posted by Fred on February 20, 2008

The carefully-constructed narrative spun by social conservative critics of ousted William & Mary President Gene Nichol is beginning to fall apart.  Nichol’s opponents argue that the decision was performance-based, not ideological, the unanimous decision of a Board of Visitors comprised almost wholly of Democrats with no intention of dismantling the controversial decisions of the former President.  It now appears that very little of that story is true.  Board of Visitors member Robert Blair has announced his resignation from the Board, and says that the decision was not unanimous and that the Board will not keep Nichol’s policies in place.

After much soul searching, and input from my family and from alumni I respect, I will tender my resignation tomorrow from the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary to the Honorable Timothy M. Kaine, Governor of Virginia.

I was one of several members of the Board who argued forcefully for the renewal of Gene Nichol’s contract as President of the College. Although no vote was taken, one was not required if the contract was not to be renewed. Those for renewal were given ample opportunity to argue their points. We ultimately found ourselves in the minority.

I was confident at the time that most of those speaking for non-renewal based their positions on non-ideological grounds and without animus towards Mr. Nichol.

Given that no vote was to be taken, the decision cannot be said to have been unanimous in any sense of the word.  Once it became clear that a majority of the Board wanted to get rid of the President, Nichols’ supporters gave up, comforted by the belief that the Board would keep Nichol’s policies in place.  Nichol would suffer, to be sure, but perhaps the students of the College would not.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be true either.

Suffice it to say that dozens of our incredibly talented students (and others) called me both before and after the Board’s decision, pouring out their hearts with love and admiration for President Nichol and the College. After President Nichol’s resignation, I was initially reassured by public statements of Board Rector Michael Powell and other members of the Board of Visitors that the Board would not change the policies put in place by Mr. Nichol, including that dealing with the Wren Chapel Cross. Based in good measure on such statements, I tried to calm the fears of President Nichol’s ardent supporters and assure them that while they mourn his loss, the important policies he put in place would remain. I strongly encouraged their continued commitment to the College.

Why then am I resigning from the Board at this juncture? Because there has been an incipient effort by some members of the Board of Visitors to pick apart President Nichol’s accomplishments. To what end? They gained their stated objective. I have also seen mean-spirited communications that are not worthy of the professional deliberations of any managing board, but most especially not the Board of Visitors of William and Mary. Such communications call into question the real motivation for the initial decision not to renew the President’s contract.

I know the reasoned reactions, as well as the emotional ones, of Board members are in response to the President’s message of February 12th to the William and Mary Community. Would I have refrained from some of what Mr. Nichol said? Certainly, but then I knew more than he. Several of us Board members are actually baffled by the surprise of other Board members regarding the content of the President’s message. President Nichol is a proud, intelligent and charismatic leader and visionary who demonstrated his love for the College in many ways while being under relentless, vicious attack since the Wren Cross decision. That he held his tongue for so long is remarkable.

That members of the Board would already be dismantling the policies of the former President, less than two weeks after he was ousted and before the ink on the Rector’s press release naming an interim president was even dry, demonstrates clearly the real motivation here.  This was not, as is claimed, a practical decision by a unanimous and impartial governing body to replace an ineffective administrator.  This was a decision by a faction of the Board acting under the duress imposed by members being called before a General Assembly grand inquisition, a capitulation to conservative critics who disagree with Nichol and Blair that “William and Mary is not a private, religious school. It is a public university that must be open to all who qualify for admissions based upon academic achievement and other accomplishments.”

Blair closes with a message to the remaining members of the Board, a statement more judicious than Nichol’s February 12 e-mail but no less forceful:

My conscience now tells me it is time to move on. And I am. I hope my leaving will give Rector Powell and the Board pause, and cause them to follow Thomas Jefferson’s advice contained his letter to John Tyler in 1804: to open the doors of truth and test their necessary deliberations by reason. I hope the Board will conduct those deliberations in a professional and civil manner worthy of our venerable institution and will defend their decision (as they are being asked to do by the faculty and students for whom the College and the Board exist) in a similar fashion.

One hopes they take this message to heart, but one despairs at the unlikelihood that they will do so.

Posted in education, Politics, religion | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Michelle Obama puts foot in mouth, Hillary wishes Bill more like Cindy McCain

Posted by Fred on February 20, 2008

Now that Michelle Obama has been quoted as saying that, for the first time in her adult life, the 44 year old is proud of her country, how much do you think Hillary wishes Bill hadn’t called Obama’s anti-war record a fairy tale, or that Obama would likely win in South Carolina because of his race, or that President Hillary would send Bill and George H.W. Bush on a mission to clean up George W. Bush’s mess?  You just know Hillary would love to have her surrogates come out hard (the way Cindy McCain did), but she doesn’t have much credibility on that front.

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Google accused of collaborating with … Republicans ?!?

Posted by Fred on February 19, 2008

Clarification: Doc Searls says I misunderstood his point, and I agree that I was less than clear. See more below.

On Friday, the GOP named Google its Official Innovation Provider, in a press release clearly written for the sole purpose of attracting the attention that all press releases mentioning Google get.  Says the GOP:

Embracing technology that will propel the 2008 Republican National Convention to the forefront of the digital age, the GOP today announced that Google Inc. will serve as the Republican National Convention’s Official Innovation Provider. Convention President and Chief Executive Officer Maria Cino made the announcement in a unique video posted to the convention’s new YouTube channel ( The video is also showcased on the convention’s website (, and highlights Google’s cutting-edge, computer-generated SketchUp graphics of the Xcel Energy Center, where the convention will be held.

That’s notable mostly for stating the obvious (convention stuff is on a YouTube channel) and for creating yet another meaningless title (Official Innovation Provider) which bears no resemblance to reality (Google is innovative, sure, but there’s no sign they’re doing any actual innovating between now and September 1st).  Nevertheless, the announcement drove some people insane.  Literally insane.  Marc Cantor proposes boycotting Google for “helping” Republicans (he also gets McCain’s actual record almost 100% wrong, but that’s another story).  Doc Searls compares the Republicans to the Chinese government, implying that selling services to the GOP is doing evil.  What the hell?  Disagree with Republican policies all you want, but to suggest that an American technology company should refuse to do business with an American political party is really just insane. There is an argument that Google should refuse to do business in China (it’s not a particularly persuasive argument, but it’s a legitimate argument).  Refusing to do business with the GOP would simply be crazy, and Google’s not particularly likely to seek out retribution from American politicians.  What is it about the Republicans that drives people so crazy?

In the comments, Doc says he wasn’t saying that it was evil for Google to do business with the GOP, but that “[w]hether one likes or dislikes Google’s engagement with China, or the GOP, at least it’s engaged. For some things it may be in a better position to make a positive difference than if it were not engaged.”  This is a good point regarding China, and closely tracks my own view.  What struck me about Doc’s post was that he appears to be suggesting that doing business with the Republicans has more in common with doing business with the Chinese government than with, say, Walking Tree Travel (which uses Google Apps Team Edition) or Clemson University (Google Apps Education Edition) or Holiday Home Rental (Google Custom Search Business Edition) or Proctor & Gamble (Google Apps Premier Edition). That Doc thinks it notable that Google is providing services to the Republican Party, that the GOP is an organization with which Google should be “engaged” in order to “make a positive difference” is telling.  Doc does say he’d say the same thing if it were the Democrats.  In my view, it’s no more notable that Google has a contract with the GOP than it is that they have one with P&G (and I’m not a registered Republican either).

Posted in Politics, Technology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Elmo Live is cool but scares me just a little

Posted by Fred on February 19, 2008


I believe that Elmo Live is the first step that will lead inexorably to SkyNet. Seriously, the little red dude is freaky.

Posted in Technology, Toys, TV | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Recipe: Low-Fat Black Bean and Sausage Stew

Posted by Fred on February 19, 2008

Nutrition Facts
Recipe Serves 6 people

Amount per Serving

Calories 310 Calories from Fat 81

% Daily Value *
Total Fat 9g 14%
Saturated Fat 2g 10%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 55mg 18%
Sodium 560mg 23%
Total Carbohydrate 36g 12%
Dietary Fiber 13g 52%
Sugars 2g
Protein 28g 56%

Est. Percent of Calories from:
Fat 26.1% Carbs 46.5%
Protein 71.0%

We picked up a new Crock-Pot at Target over the weekend – if you’ve been following along, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of the slow cooker, which is convenient and allows cooking with far less fat.  The new Hamilton Beach has a programmable timer, which is nice (basketball practice night often results in overcooked food, even in the slow cooker), and a temperature probe, which I doubt will ever be used (except, perhaps, by one of the kids upon the other).  Here’s the inaugural meal cooked in the new pot, from Phyllis Pellman’s Fix It & Forget It Lightly, a tasty black bean soup with smoked turkey sausage.  Be sure to use a hot sausage, bump up the cayenne or add some hot sauce (I used Day of the Dead Habanero).  Add salad and some fresh bread and you’re in for less than 500 calories, with leftovers for the next day.

Black Bean and Sausage Stew

3 15-oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
14 1/2-oz. can fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup celery, sliced
2 4-oz cans diced green chilies
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
3/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
1 lb. smoked turkey sausage, thinly sliced

1. Combine all ingredients in slow cooker except sausage.
2. Cover. Cook on low 5-7 hours.
3. Remove 1 1/2 cups of the bean mixture and puree in blender. Return to slow cooker.
4. Add sliced sausage.
5. Cover. Cook on low 30 minutes.



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