Monthly Archives: January 2005

This Is Pretty Good

It helps to be a Tolkien geek, but this is pretty darn funny: “The Elves of Valinor, creators of the popular palantíri ‘browsers’ used throughout Middle-Earth to view distant lands, announced today that the Seeing Stones contain a critical security flaw which could leave users open to attacks by malicious Dark Lords.”

Fruitful Memories

Yesterday I went to my local grocery to buy a dozen eggs. Yona Green Supermarket had two kinds of eggs, locally farmed eggs for $2.99 a dozen and eggs imported from California for $1.95 a dozen. Guess which one I bought? Well, the cashier asked me why on earth I was paying $2.99 for a dozen eggs when I could have the same thing for $1.04 less. I told her I wanted to support local farmers and I wanted fresh eggs, both true statements. But most people wouldn’t make that decision, in fact they don’t. Cheaper eggs are cheaper eggs, and that means more money to feed the family.

In the first of a three part series, the Pacific Daily News published a story today about the dwindling presense of local fruits and vegetables in Guam’s diet. It’s an interesting article that highlights Guam’s dependence on imported foods, despite fertile soils, ample rainfall and moderate climate. Local farmers cannot compete with global food conglomerates on price, availability and consistency. This is a problem for the entire planet. When it is cheaper to buy fruit shipped from Chile instead of locally grown produce, something is seriously out of whack with the world. It is unsustainable.

Intelligent Design Vs. Evolution

Last week, Salon ran an interesting feature on the march of intelligent design into a Pennsylvania school district. The decision caused the resignation of half the school board and the resulting lawsuit threatens to bankrupt the school system. Intelligent design is retooled creationism that posits not that God created man, but that some intelligent force (God, Cthulu, space aliens) was the impetus behind creation, and never mind evolution.

On Thursday, a federal judge ordered disclaimers removed from Georgia biology textbooks that stated that “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.” The judge found that this violated the separation of church and state, and ordered the stickers removed immediately.

In fact, evolution is a theory. But by singling out evolution, by positing that its status as a theory somehow invalidates or negates its value as science, creationists introduce doubt and ignorance into science classes. This doubt offers a chance for religious interpretations to be inserted into the curriculum. Writing in November 2004 National Geographic, David Quammen’s Was Darwin Wrong lambasts such unscientific thinking:

Evolution by natural selection, the central concept of the life’s work of Charles Darwin, is a theory. It’s a theory about the origin of adaptation, complexity, and diversity among Earth’s living creatures. If you are skeptical by nature, unfamiliar with the terminology of science, and unaware of the overwhelming evidence, you might even be tempted to say that it’s “just” a theory. In the same sense, relativity as described by Albert Einstein is “just” a theory. The notion that Earth orbits around the sun rather than vice versa, offered by Copernicus in 1543, is a theory. Continental drift is a theory. The existence, structure, and dynamics of atoms? Atomic theory. Even electricity is a theoretical construct, involving electrons, which are tiny units of charged mass that no one has ever seen. Each of these theories is an explanation that has been confirmed to such a degree, by observation and experiment, that knowledgeable experts accept it as fact. That’s what scientists mean when they talk about a theory: not a dreamy and unreliable speculation, but an explanatory statement that fits the evidence. They embrace such an explanation confidently but provisionally-taking it as their best available view of reality, at least until some severely conflicting data or some better explanation might come along.

Creationists are forcing this issue of invalidating evolution by framing it as an example of democracy. If justly elected school boards decide to teach intelligent design in their schools, this is an example of America’s democratic values at work. Creationists argue that it is only democratic to teach both sides of the issue. But public desires do not determine the physical facts of the world, not matter what the current administration insists. Science is not a democracy. Theories that are erroneous are laid aside, and better hypotheses are developed to explain the natural world.

Why struggle so hard against giving intelligent design a fair hearing in schools? Why? For the last 500 years science has struggled against ignorance and fear draped in the robes of religious piety. Copernicus was vilified,Galileo suffered the torture of the Inquisition before he recanted, and Bruno, who refused to recant his claim that the universe was infinite and possibly contained other inhabited worlds, was burned at the stake in 1600. These people suffered and died to break the stranglehold of ignorance the Church used to keep the faithful compliant and under control. Every step toward teaching intelligent design as science mocks everything that we have accomplished as a species in the last 500 years. The way lies forward, only fear and ignorance hold us back.

Huygens Lands On Titan

Image taken by Huygens from about 8 km above the surface of TitanWhat a thrilling day for science. After seven long years mated to the NASA’s Cassini orbiter, ESA’s Huygens lander probe successfully parachuted to the surface of Saturn’s mysterious moon Titan. The first pictures released by the European Space Agency show what appears to be river channel cutting through a hilly landscape to a dark shoreline. Speculation abounds about what the liquid is on Titan’s surface; is it liquid methane, some other hydrocarbon, or perhaps tar? It certainly isn’t water since the temperature on Titan is -178° C, or -288° F. In fact the only picture released from the surface shows large boulder of water ice strewn about a gloomy field.

It never ceases to amaze me that we are able to do such things. This probe has literally gone where no man has gone before. It boggles my mind to think of the calculations involved in placing this thing on Titan, billions of miles away – calculations that were made over seven years ago involving myriad loops around Venus, Earth and Jupiter to reach the moving target of Saturn, only to engage in another series of looping orbits and course corrections. My mind is spinning just thinking about it.

Guam On Storm Watch

The latest bulletin is out from the National Weather Service Office. Guam remains in a tropical storm watch. The governor placed Guam in Condition 3 at 11:00 am on Friday. Here’s the bullet points associated with Condition 3:

  • Damaging winds may arrive within 48 hours
  • Review, update your family disaster plan
  • Buy & replenish supplies for your disaster supply kit
  • Fill up car(s) with gas
  • Secure outdoor objects
  • Prepare household for long term power & water loss (laundry, outdoor cooking, etc.)
  • Tune into radio and / or television

The latest storm track projection from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center shows the Tropical Storm 01W passing withing 29 nautical miles of the island of Guam on Monday morning. What really worries me is their prediction that it will reach typhoon strength (winds of 74 mph or greater) at that time. That would really suck.

WTPQ31 PGUM 150058 TCPPQ1
BULLETIN
TROPICAL STORM 01W INTERMEDIATE ADVISORY NUMBER 5A
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TIYAN GU
11 AM GUAM LST SAT JAN 15 2005

TROPICAL STORM 01W INTENSIFYING WEST OF CHUUK

A TROPICAL STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR SATAWAL AND FARAULEP OF YAP STATE...AND ULUL OF CHUUK STATE.

A TROPICAL STORM WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR PULUWAT OF CHUUK STATE...WOLEAI OF YAP STATE...AND GUAM..ROTA..TINIAN AND SAIPAN OF THE MARIANAS.

A TROPICAL STORM WARNING MEANS THAT TROPICAL STORM CONDITIONS... INCLUDING TROPICAL STORM FORCE WINDS OF 39 MPH OR MORE...ARE EXPECTED WITHIN THE NEXT 24 HOURS. A TROPICAL STORM WATCH MEANS THAT TROPICAL STORM CONDITIONS ARE POSSIBLE WITHIN THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

AT 10 AM GUAM LST..0000Z..THE CENTER OF TROPICAL STORM 01W WAS LOCATED NEAR LATITUDE 7.5 DEGREES NORTH AND LONGITUDE 146.3 DEGREES EAST. THIS IS ABOUT...
55 MILES WEST OF SATAWAL
190 MILES WEST OF PULUWAT
240 MILES WEST-SOUTHWEST OF ULUL
140 MILES EAST-SOUTHEAST OF FARAULEP
165 MILES EAST OF WOLEAI
425 MILES SOUTH-SOUTHEAST OF GUAM
460 MILES SOUTH OF ROTA
520 MILES SOUTH OF TINIAN
525 MILES SOUTH OF SAIPAN.

TROPICAL STORM 01W IS MOVING WEST-NORTHWEST AT 12 MPH. MORE NORTHWARD TRACK IS EXPECTED WITH A SLIGHT INCREASE IN FORWARD SPEED OVER THE NEXT 24 HOURS.

MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS ARE 40 MPH. TROPICAL STORM 01W IS FORECAST TO INTENSIFY OVER THE NEXT 24 HOURS.

DAMAGING WINDS EXTEND OUTWARD UP TO 115 MILES FROM THE CENTER.

REPEATING THE 10 AM POSITION...7.5 DEGREES NORTH AND 146.3 DEGREES EAST MOVING WEST-NORTHWEST AT 12 MPH WITH MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS OF 40 MPH.

FOR STORM INFORMATION SPECIFIC TO YOUR LOCAL AREA...REFER TO TROPICAL STORM 01W LOCAL STATEMENT /WTPQ81 PGUM/ AND PRODUCTS FROM YOUR LOCAL WEATHER OFFICE.

THE NEXT SCHEDULED ADVISORY WILL BE ISSUED BY THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE AT 2 PM GUAM LST FOLLOWED BY AN INTERMEDIATE ADVISORY AT 5 PM GUAM LST.

AHN

So I guess I better head out into the yard to collect furniture and plants. Another weekend spent getting ready for a typhoon, I don’t know how many times this has happened.

Storm On Tap For Marianas

Just in time for the three day weekend: Tropical Storm Watch issued for Guam.

Yes, there’s a storm coming our way. Tropical Depression 01W is currently 150 miles southeast of Puluwat, and heading our way at a leisurely 7 MPH. It is expected to intensify into a tropical storm in the next 24 hours. Current forecasts indicate it will make closest approach to Guam early Sunday morning. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center predicts sustained winds of 63 mph, with gusts to 80 mph.

Just lovely. I was planning on camping for a night or two this weekend, get away from it all. Guess I’ll bunker up inside my house and clean instead.

All Broadband Is Not Created Equal

I was talking with a coworker today about how Kuentos has ramped up their cable internet service. Another of the IT guys switched from DSL to cable and he loves it. At the same time, our marketing guy has EC Comm’s DSL and he thinks it’s the bee’s knees. He said he’s clocking over 900 Kbps on his DSL, and sometimes in excess of 1 Mbps. I was flabbergasted. My DSL out here in the sticks is much slower. Here’s my results for broadband down here in Yona:

  • Kuentos/MCV Cable High Speed: 1204.6 Kbps This is coming off Dianne’s Airport, which is plugged into her cable modem. For the longest time, Kuentos/MCV’s internet service was downright pokey. Guess it ain’t anymore. That’s scorching fast!
  • EC Comm/GTA aDSL: 333.2 Kbps This is straight from my Linksys router, plugged into my Nortel DSL modem. What I’m getting is a far cry from the 1.28 Mbps advertised on EC Comm’s website. Now I am well within the 15,000 foot limit for the Talofofo RSC according to the DSL map EC Comm provides. I think I need to make a couple phone calls and see what’s what.

I used CNET’s Bandwidth Meter Speed Test for this evaluation not five minutes ago. Those results are pretty dramatic.

I guess this means I should go with cable, but there is always the typhoon factor. The phone lines are safely underground while the cable dangles on the power poles. After every typhoon the cable fiber network is demolished. Since I live in the sparsely populated south, it takes Marianas Cablevision almost six months to get down to my neighborhood and fix the cable tv. That’s a long time to go without broadband.

Traffic Chaos

Well, the traffic lights in Tamuning were out tonight. Apparently they were out all afternoon. The power wasn’t down, so I guess it was some sort of computer glitch at Public Works. The cops were out at the intersections, but somebody should really issue them reflective gear and flashlights for these situations. Dark blue uniforms and black jackets are not exactly easy to spot at night. As I approached the Marine Drive/Camp Watkins Road intersection (the Pizza Hut in Tamuning), I could hear the cop’s whistle, but I’ll be damned if I could see him. I stopped just in case and good thing I did, cross traffic started coming out from Camp Watkins Road.

Don’t get me wrong, I was plenty happy to see a cop at the intersection. Usually once the lights go off it is utter mayhem at traffic lights on Guam.

Odds ‘N Ends

A couple things I think bear mentioning:

  • The Stone Wall, a delightful little flash story at Locus Novus. A synthesis of art, text, images, music – I guess this is the new frontier of hypertext.
  • Ursula Le Guin offers her apologies for the recent Earthsea miniseries that ran on the Sci Fi Channel. I regret that I missed it, I was traveling at the time. I really wanted to catch the television adaptation of one of my favorite stories. Looks like I didn’t miss much. Le Guin absolutely loathed it. I still might try and watch it, though it won’t air again until March 1, 2005. I’ll keep an eye out for it, just so I can see how bad it truly is.
  • Something I’ve always regretted is abandoning piano lessons after only 5 months. Well, maybe it’s time I looked into learning to play the piano as an adult. I remember something called the “Miracle Piano” about a decade ago; it was a MIDI keyboard that plugged into the computer along with interactive lessons and games to get people playing the piano. I wonder if there’s still anything like that out there?
  • Looking at the Timeline for the Age of Spiritual Machines from Raymond Kurzweil, it looks like he expects us all to become digital constructs by the end of this century. I’ll pass.

Anatahan Erupts Again

Last Tuesday the island of Anatahan erupted in volcanic fury once again. The island, located 60 miles north of Saipan, first erupted in May of 2003. The volcano had been quiescent since an eruption in April 2004.

The current eruption is of a smaller scale than that first eruption, with ash and rocks being spewed to about 5,000 feet. The island is off limits to the public and the ash is currently not a threat to populated areas. Commercial aviation is being asked to avoid flying over the island and ash plume.