Friday, December 26, 2008

Science For The Home

While looking in at Yahoo! this morning ['bout 12:30 am, EST, to be accurate], I found the following: "Hobbyists experimenting with genetic engineering at home". Now students, for five extra points on your next pop quiz, can anyone tell me what might be wrong with this scenario? Anybody? What the Hell is wrong with you people? If this isn't a recipe for disaster, I'd like to know what is!

Granted, several marvelous things have come out of so-called "hobbyist" experiments, as the article points out [To their list I'd add the invention of disposable razor blades, vulcanized rubber, and the beginnings of the chewing gum industry. Those last two have more in common than you'd like to know, especially fans of Juicy Fruit. But I digress...]. But stacked up against those triumphs is the dismal record of other science dilettantes, at least in fiction. Consider Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the actual namesake of Mary Shelley's book [his constructed man, it should be pointed out, is referred to as "the Creature" throughout the story]. Now, the not-so-good doctor was actually experimenting in neurology [any competent plumber of the era could have worked out how to re-connect the blood and digestive systems, but even today, with exponentially greater knowledge of the human body, nerve repair is at best in the primitive stages], but the results of his labors do not bode well for the budding Home Scientist Movement.

Those of you out there who mis-spent part [or most] of your youth in reading comic books [no, NOT "Archie" ; by the way, did you know Arch, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, even Reggie, all have their own blogs at the company's web site? Almost makes me wish I'd taken up another form of expression] have certainly seen the dangerous effects of Home Science. How many villains, monsters, etc have been created by a scientific exploration gone awry? More than we can count, I fear. For those unable to read, consider programs like Dexter's Laboratory, or Johnny Test. Even the socio-political experiments of The Brain, in Pinky and The Brain, fail to give us much hope for the results.

Another potential puzzler; what if some of these scientific experiments pan out? Consider the case of Tom Dempsey, the first of only two players to kick a 63-yard field goal in a National Football League game. Careful perusers of the clip linked to above will note that Dempsey's kicking shoe is unusually shaped [a clearer look at his shoe is here. He was born without toes on his kicking foot, and so adopted a shoe with a broader striking surface. The debate over whether the odd shoe gave him an advantage over other kickers led to a rule change that forced future "toeless" kickers to wear traditional-shaped shoes on their kicking feet. The change came into effect just before Dempsey became a member of my beloved Buffalo Bills, and likely led to a drop-off in his kicking distance, and, probably not coincidentally, an end to his career. The Bills have no luck whatever...] If chance could give a kicker an [at least perceived] unfair advantage, what if some clever boyo throws some DNA in his or her handy Cuisinart, and creates an individual with giant arms? Great for passers, or receivers. How about humongous legs? Imagine running backs with pegs three or four times the size of a regular human. Better yet, imagine the lawsuits that will ensue if one of these genetically-altered behemoths demands the right to play. Great for lawyers; for the sport, not so good.

A final thought: I truly believe we need more, and better, teaching of science-related subjects [English, too, please] in our schools, but any parents who bought their children science lab kits for the holidays based on the positive image of scientists on TV in recent years are Just Asking For Trouble.

-Mike Riley

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


As I post this, it's very early on the morning of December 24th. Outside my studio window at work, a mix of rain and snow falls, reflecting the street lights, and turning the sky a mellow gold [the sleet/ice mix is going to make getting home after work a SPECIAL joy]. To paraphrase that James Stewart movie, it's a pretty decent existence, concidering.

As promised, here are a few holiday videos for your entertainment pleasure. I wanterd to hook up with the "Video Yule Log" people, but they wanted MONEY, and regular readers of this space know I am waaaaay cheap.

First up, U2's take on the Emerson, Lake and Palmer classic, "I Believe In Father Christmas":

Next up, from our Office Of People With Entirely Too Much Time On Their Hands, a rather spectacular Christmas lights display. The music, in case you're wondering, is from the Trans Siberian Orchestra:

You may have wondered how Santa and the reindeers fill in the time between Christmas visits. Well, I have it on very good authority that karaoke is somehow involved:

There are many great Christmas TV specials, but I've always enjoyed "A Charliec Brown Christmas":

And no Christmas is complete without Bing:

To those who stop by periodically, and even those few who are regular readers, on behalf of TheWomanILove, the Boys, and of course, myself, wishes for the merriest of Christmases, and the Happiest of New Years!

-Mike Riley

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Human Drama Of Athletic Competition...

Sometimes, I find a piece of video that has no relationship with anything I plan to write, but that I just want to include. Case in point:

In case I don't get back here before YOUR seasonal celebration of choice, please have the best of the holiday season! Unless something moves me to write, I don't plan to be back before December 26th. But check in periodically; I do have a few "Video of The Week" specials to include. Look for 'em...

-Mike Riley

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Eating Like A Genius

With all the parties, dinners, and what-not that go on this time of year, you, as was I, may be surprised to learn that December is only the sixth-busiest month of the year for eating out [according to the National Restaurant Association, which reports August is the busiest month. I guess people really don't like working in a hot kitchen].

I would guess that what time of year is the busiest for restaurants varies from place to place. In Scandinavia, for instance, December is probably near the top for diners, what with the two Nobel Prize banquets [the main one held in Stockholm, Sweden, with a satellite meal served in Oslo, Norway for the Peace laureate]. The Stockholm affair [which might have been the name of an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.] serves some thirteen hundred guests, in a cavernous room inside Stockholm's City Hall [This room, although called the "blue" room, is actually a brick red. The ways of ancient cultures far surpass the understanding of younger nations, like the US] .

I wish I could tell you what was served[the 2008 dinner was presented Wednesday night, December 10th, the anniversary of Nobel's death. Seems like a bummer to me, commemorating a man's death with a banquet. Why can't they have it in June, when, I'm led to believe, Stockholm is resplendent in Spring colors? ], but that information is guarded as closely as the Launch codes for America's I.C.B.M.'s [Left-23, Right- one full turn past 23 to 19, Left - 6, in case you were wondering]. Thanks to an informative article in the current issue of The Scientist, I can report that the first course served to the 2007 Laureates featured lobster bits inside a circle of aspic, a disc of dill-baked halibut covered in a dome of fish roe, and apple salad, served with a "Nobel roll" [if this isn't a marketing deal waiting to happen for the Nobel Foundation, I don't know what is! Then again, it seems like the Nobel Foundation isn't suffering any "cash flow" issues. Although its finances are not public knowledge, it's believed the Foundation is sitting on a fund worth billions of US dollars. They probably aren't sweating the current recession...].

But the Foundation's solid resources do mean that the dinners served each year are, in a word, spectacular. Tastes change, of course: in the 1920's, turtle soup was frequently on the bill of fare, an item which might raise a few eyebrows today [are we far off from an all-vegetarian Nobel banquet? I think if Pamela Anderson would agree to attend, a deal could be worked out.]. But [another surprise], for about 200 US dollars per person, a restaurant located just below the "blue" room [see above] will recreate any Nobel banquet menu. A spokesman for the service says that people frequently enjoy meals served to their countrymen the year they were awarded the Nobel prize [Actually, as such gimmicks go, kind of charming, and probably more healthy than re-creating the pre-game meal before a typical Super Bowl game].

I've always been a bit curious about the Nobel Prizes; how do they decide who is honored, for instance. Is it like the Oscars, where blue-ribbon panels select a short list of nominees, then open their results to a vote? Or is it based on the Emmy [US television awards] model: anyone can nominate a candidate, then expert judges decide the winner? I'm pretty sure it's not set up like the "People's Choice Awards"; if it were, the person who invented the "Ov Glove" would have a Nobel prize on his or her mantelpiece.
Actually, the whole Nobel Prize arrangement is fascinating. Legend has it that a premature rumor about Alfred Nobel's death led to the publication of his obituary. In it, the write called Nobel "the merchant of death", owing to his invention of dynamite, and criticized dynamite for allowing more people to be killed more quickly than any previous invention. Nobel, so the story goes, was so disturbed by the whole thing that he immediately re-wrote his will to set up the Nobel Prizes [that will, by the bye, was so convoluted that it took a few years to set up the Foundation and its awards. There is still some debate over specific awards, disputing that Nobel's wishes have been truly honored.].
A tradition at the Masters golf tournament decrees that the previous year's winner selects the menu for the Winner's Banquet the next year. If I'm ever presented with a Nobel Prize [hey, sooner or later a blogger WILL win the literature award], and they ask my opinion, I'm recommending wither a Chinese food buffet, or take-out from KFC...
-Mike Riley

Monday, December 1, 2008

World Aids Day: Twenty Years On [A Bloggers Unite event]

There are all kinds of anniversaries: some commemorate happy events, like weddings or other achievements. Then there are the other kind. Today is the twentieth commemoration of "World Aids Day". Over the last score of years, many treatments have been discovered, extending the life of HIV/AIDS sufferers. But a few facts, culled from UNAIDS statistics, show how far we still need to go:
-33.2 million people, including two and one-half million children, have the HIV virus, which causes AIDS,
-last year, a new 2.5 million people became infected with HIV,
-about half of those who have HIV are infected before the age of 25, and are dead of AIDS by the age of 35,
-95% of AIDS cases are in the developing world, most notably in Africa. But no continent, save Antarctica, is free of AIDS victims.
I have heard that many, if not most, bloggers are under the age of 25. You're too young to remember the waves of prejudice and revulsion that followed the first cases of AIDS, in the late-70's/early 80's. Since the majority of sufferers in those days were gay, or intravenous drug users, there was a frequently stated opinion from some religious leaders, and their followers, that AIDS was nothing more or less than "God's vengeance" on those who chose to live outside the norms of society [conveniently forgetting that Christ made it a point to live with, and cure, those who lived outside the norms of His society].
As the 80's continued, two groups of AIDS victims emerged. One group were those who had been contaminated by untested blood transfusions infected with the HIV virus [a famous member of this group was tennis star Arthur Ashe]; the others came from the pool of gay males/intravenous drug users who were the first victims. A majorly unexpected member of this group was Rock Hudson. He had built a career in the movies on his "manly" reputation, but had been living a secret gay sex life for most of his Hollywood career. The announcement of his infection led to action from [former movie star and] then-President Ronald Reagan, who belatedly realized that the AIDS crisis might reach into the world of his friends and former co-stars. He came to the table late, but he at least opened up the discussion in Washington.
Then the circumstances changed. AIDS crossed into the heterosexual community. Basketball star Magic Johnson admitted that a groupie-filled lifestyle had led to his infection. A growing number of women found themselves carriers of the HIV virus. Under-developed nations discovered they, too, were victims. A growing chorus of protests and complaints led to research, and discovery, of drugs that helped many HIV/AIDS sufferers to lead longer, more healthy lives. But the goal of all disease research, a cure, remained elusive, and is still undiscovered today.
So, twenty years on from the first "World AIDS Day", where are we? Relief for the rich, suffering for the poor, is what it looks like to me. Understand, HIV/AIDS is only one of many illnesses that needs more research [I have a rooting interest in one or two diseases that should be better supported]. Let's fund more research for all the diseases that plague mankind. But let's not stop research on HIV/AIDS!
In conclusion, then; if you use intravenous drugs, don't share needles. If you're sexually active, with multiple partners, wear a condom, or make sure your partner is wearing one. Putting the question of unwanted pregnancy aside, condom use by the sexually-active has been shown to be an effective means of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as other STD's. Your Older Bro somehow danced through the 80's and 90's unscathed. I'm sure that, on an occasion or two, I was playing Russian Roulette with my life. Somehow, I got lucky. It's not a risk I would care to take again. It's not a risk YOU should take. The younger you are, the more "bullet-proof" you believe yourself to be. No matter how good the sex may be, it's not worth risking your life over it. Sorry to come off like your parents, for God's sake, but I really have your best interests at heart, I promise...
-Mike Riley