Nov 292013

No, not another post about comet ISON, but about Zippo lighters from Viet Nam

Wearing their hearts on their Zippos: The lighters engraved with the musings of lonely soldiers fighting in Vietnam

A collection of 282 engraved lighters, bought in the 1990’s from shops in Saigon (“Ho Chi Minh City,” at least for the moment), were recently auctioned of for a good chunk of cash. Some dandy ones, like:
“The only thing I get out of killing  a person is the recoil of my rifle”
“A sucking chest wound is natures way of telling you you’ve been ambushed”
“Let me win your heart and mind or I’ll burn your god damn hut down”
“If I ever look like I give a dam call a dog”
 Posted by at 10:25 am
Nov 282013


Looks like comet ISON, probably the best chance for a *good* comet in my lifetime, blew itself to evaporative bits as it rounded the sun today. There might be a spray of gravel along its orbit, but it looks like all the good stuff got expended at perihelion.


[youtube 6j6nkLnHyG0]

UPDATE: There may be some hope.

[youtube RyaZ_mDfLh0]


Comet Ison destroyed in Sun passage



 Posted by at 6:48 pm
Nov 282013

A British show I’ve been unaware of. The schtick is that they take a group of British True Believers in some wacky conspiracy theory and load ’em on a bus and take them to various locales where their ideas can be met by people who *actually* seem to know what they’re talking about. Behold!

[youtube Oju_lpqa6Ug]

[youtube 7ByWCFX4ZQs]

[youtube Tga4hXy8qws]

 Posted by at 9:49 am
Nov 272013

A few days ago the interwebs started to go aflutter with news that the African nation of Angola had banned Islam, and had plans to demolish mosques and otherwise get rid of the religion. Seemed unlikely, and today there’s this:

Angola denies it has banned Islam

It seems that there was a misunderstanding… some mosques apparently *have* been closed, but that was due to a lack of proper land titles and such bureaucratese. This seems a reasonable explanation… religious organizations often try to build facilities where such are not zoned, or ignore  building codes, etc. and get all righteous and snippy when the relevant government officials lay a legal smackdown on ’em. And as we’ve seen in the US, whenever a religious group has legal troubles, there’s always *somebody* who will start screaming about how it’s “oppression” or a “war on X, Y, Z.”  And in this case… we’re dealing with a religion whose adherents have a long history of raising imagined slights into riots. So even if the legal actions in Angola are entirely reasonable, I won’t be the slightest bit surprised if people die. After all… people have died for cartoon, people have died for fictional tales of books in toilets.


 Posted by at 1:51 pm
Nov 272013

… that have gone ’round the bend.

First, from late last month, Manchester, England:

UK Police Seize 3D-Printed Gun Parts That Are Actually 3D Printer Parts

That’s what happens when  you spend generations training the populace to be irrationally terrified of guns: even the cops can’t recognize ’em.

And then there’s Philadelphia:

Philadelphia poised to become first city to ban 3D-printed guns

Because ridiculously expensive and fragile zip guns are *such* a problem.

Additionally: the Philly law would make it illegal to 3D print *any* component of a firearm. This would include the grips. I’d love to see the arguments they’d use in court to sustain that given that it wouldn’t be illegal for someone to carve grips out of chunks or wood or plastic.

 Posted by at 4:18 am
Nov 272013

It used to be that the Huge-LQG (“Large Quasar Group”) was the largest recognizable structure. A group of 73 quasars, it’s about 4 BILLION light years across. And now, it’s been topped.

The new champ is the evocatively named  Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall. Discovered by observing and correlating gamma ray bursts, this structure is a galaxy filament, or a string of galaxies that are gravitationally connected. This new structure is 2 to 3 gigaparsecs (6.5 to 9.8 BILLION lightyears) long, and sits about 10 billion lightyears away.

The report is here:

A news article on it here:

Universe’s Largest Structure is a Cosmic Conundrum

I’ve read through the paper, and the data backing up this discovery seems a bit preliminary… the structure, if I’m reading this right, seems to be defined by only a few hundred gamma ray bursts defining points *way* out there in deep space. When I think of a structure pushing ten gigalightyears in length, I envision a truly vast* string of galaxies. Well, maybe that’s what’s out there, just too faint to be picked up by telescopes just yet.

The universe is fricken’ *awesome.*

 Posted by at 2:32 am
Nov 262013

Say hello to the “Single Individual, MAssively Destructive.” Where one person can destroy worlds.

Can one single person destroy the entire world?

Several world-ending possibilities are suggested, along with one possible way to counter someone with the sort of technology we’ll probably have within a few generations, and the sort of twisted personality we’ve had since the first primitive primate looked at another one and thought “you know, this tree would look fabulous covered in Oooks blood.” That suggested possibility? “Panoptic Smart Dust Sousveillance,” a variant of utility fog that involves an unthinkably vast number of nearly microscopic surveillance bots. Why unthinkably vast? In order to keep every square inch of the worlds surface under constant and active surveillance. Several such bots per cubic meter of air. Every human would have *many* bots watching them at all times. Complete privacy would become impossible… or, if someone achieved it, it would immediately raise flags.

The only way to manage such a system would be through a massively powerful AI system, with only a relatively trivial human involvement. The idea of such a surveillance state is of course horrifying to any self-respecting citizen… but honestly, I’m not sure I can come up with alternatives beyond a really effective human diaspora out into space. A few years ago, scientists created a viable polio virus from scratch. It will not be long before an entirely artificial, ferociously deadly virus can be created in a lab. And it will be relatively soon after that the same ability will filter down to the consumer level, just as room-sized “supercomputers” shrank down to solar powered digital watch-calculators that were sold alongside gum and candy in the checkout aisles of second-rate dollar stores.

Any way you look at it: the world a hundred years from now, perhaps much sooner, will be virtually unrecognizable to the likes of us.

 Posted by at 7:12 pm