Saturday, August 27, 2005

Holler If You Need Anything

Brian

A town in Ohio is terrified by a "mystery scream":
Liberty, Ohio, is a quiet little community, except for one thing -- the scream. Jamie Young told Hamrick she heard it while she and her husband were walking one evening.“It scared me. I didn’t want to finish my walk,” Young said. But instead of running into her house, she said she recorded the noise and sent a tape to the local newspaper. With a sensitive microphone and some special ghost-hunting goggles, [News 5's Brian] Hamrick went hunting for the haunting sounds, traipsing boldly into the most likely spots -- from a graveyard to an old church where flea market dealer Walt Wilson sells some truly frightening things. But he’s not worried. “I don’t think it’s going to wind up grabbing any of us and running off with us,” Wilson said.

Link. Just one idea: the screams could be coming from Canton, where something in the water is making dozens of teenage girls discover that they are pregnant.

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Friday, August 26, 2005

Elephant

Brian

I always see people running around my neighborhood on these things. Apparently they are called ATLVs, or All-Terrain Litter Vacuums, but personally whenever I see one I think to myself, "It's an elephant!" That is, I don't really believe that it is a live pachyderm, but you have to admit it does possess certain qualities of resemblance to an elephant. These people wheel around on these things, which are the size of a small tractor or large riding lawnmower, and use the hose, attached to an ergonomic handle, to suck up litter in the streets, on sidewalks, or throughout the parks.

I spoke with Joe, who drives an ATLV for University City District, and he told me that they are actually pretty crummy. Apparently they get clogged and fail to pick up things they should be picking up. So ATLVs look cool as an elephantine mode of transportation, but their vacuums leave something to be desired. Joe reminded me a bit of that Dyson guy in the vacuum commercials: "I just think things should work properly."

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Beating out Johnny Mathis?

Brian
This Reader's Digest guide to "America's 100 Best" (I'm so waiting for a noun right now) is fun to poke around with, until you look at California and discover that Green Day is considered "Best Hip New Music." It's as if 1993-2004 didn't actually happen.

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A What Hair Away?

Brian

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that the freaky dancing Six Flags man, Mr. Six, looks an awful lot like Uncle Junior from The Sopranos? And are we supposed to believe it's a coincidence that the most visited Six Flags park, Great Adventure, is in Northern Jersey?

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Stealth Prof

Brian
There's a book coming out by an anonymous college professor who enrolled as an undergraduate to do undercover research on students' social lives, studying habits, and gossipiness:
The book [My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned] has been all the rage of the ivory tower set and is into its third printing despite not even being released yet. But it's also drawing criticism on ethical grounds, because the author's name was changed and it was printed by an institution of higher learning.

According to a draft copy of the book, obtained by the Sun, [the author] wrote that she used the pseudonym to protect the privacy of the students she interviewed.

In a posting to the Inside Higher Ed online magazine, she wrote:

"The purpose of this approach is not exposé; it's understanding and compassion."

[The author], after 15 years of teaching, wrote in her book that she had become increasingly confused by the conduct of students in her classroom, many of whom ate, slept, took no notes and refused offers of assistance.

Now the author has been outed as Northern Arizona University anthropology professor Cathy Small. Link. What she found comes as no surprise to this particular recent college student:
• Nearly two-thirds of what students learn comes outside the classroom in work, relationships and living situations.


• Students tend to make close friends in groups of five in relationships normally formed early in their freshmen years. But people don't necessarily bond for a larger purpose, such as supporting the Lumberjacks football or basketball teams.


• Although universities have preached diversity for decades, members of the same race almost exclusively hang out together, especially the Anglo students.


• Students exchange vast amounts of information on professors, and one of the keys in finding an instructor, in addition to easy grades, is finding someone who won't bore them in class.


• There's an abiding lack of curiosity among today's college students.

Link. I think what might have given the NAU prof's identity away was her incognito school's nickname: AnyU.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Greatest Adventure of All Time

Brian
If you're like me, and you are, you went through a period as a kid when all you read were Choose Your Own Adventure books. These books were the literary equivalent to the old computer game Zork. You are the second-person protagonist of a story, and after you read the first page, you are given a list of a few options: if you wish to slay the dragon, turn to page 256; if you choose to flee, turn to page 48.

If the computer gave birth to such novels, then things have come full circle: now there is an online version of a choose-your-own-adventure story called The Greatest Adventure of All Time. Rather than typing your command and seeing how the computer responds, like the old text-based game, this effort works more like the storybook, with a series of prewritten options for you to choose from. There is, however, a twist: this is an unending collaborative effort. If you don't like the options you are given, or if your path deadends, you can write your own option, and you can write your own description of what happens when you get there. Since a lot of the people working on this are high on the freedom to create your own story, many of the paths lead to debauchery, crude references, and other objectionable material. If you can overlook that (or embrace it), you'll appreciate the surreal beauty of the work:
There are Fourteen Forts guarding this city. The flag is simply a photo of you with a big 'X' over your face. As you approach, you hear someone yell "There he is! Get him!"
What do you do?
1. Marry the Governor's daughter
2. Sneak into town
3. Purchase a Letter of Marque
4. Pretend to be Guybrush Threepwood
» Write a new option for this page.

It's only been going on for a short while, but the adventure will continue forever. If you look long enough, you might just stumble onto a path I've written, too.

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Brian
We can all breathe a little easier now that the Susquehanna County Courthouse can be secured with Homeland Security dollars.

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Property Essay Question

Brian
If you create, earn, trade for, or buy a virtual possession in an online role-playing game, does it belong to the real you? Can you sell it on eBay? If you virtually beat up another character in a game and take such possessions, are you a real-life thief? A Chinese student arrested in Japan might have an answer:

Players were attacked in the game, Lineage II, and their items were then sold for cash on auction sites.

The attacks were carried out using automated bots, which are difficult for human game players to defeat.

The student, who was abroad on an exchange program, was arrested in the Kagawa prefecture of southern Japan.

In Japan, as in England, there are no specific laws to govern trade in virtual possessions.


Link. There have been thorny questions about issues of property in these virtual worlds for at least a few years. F. Gregory Lastowka and Dan Hunter wrote a year and a half ago about the legal issues that arise when an entrepreneurial company "outsources" the menial levelling that is required to get to the meaty part of a game, then sells the upgraded avatars:
Virtual economies have created real--world opportunities to cash in. Some denizens of virtual worlds buy virtual property at low rates from those who have no idea what the item is worth, then resell it on eBay for real--world profit. Some make a six--figure U.S. dollar income this way, and one or two individuals may make even more. Moreover, the possibility of arbitrage creates incentives for indirect employment. If the effective hourly wage is greater in Norrath [the game EverQuest's fictional world] than in the real world, then surely it should be possible to extract this differential? Of course, it is. A fly-by-night operation called Blacksnow Interactive set up a "point-and-click sweatshop" in Tijuana, where the hourly wage is considerably less than $3.42 [the real-world value of an hour spent in-game building up one's avatar's virtual skills, money, and chattels]. The company paid unskilled Mexican laborers to play Dark Age of Camelot around the clock, then sold the virtual assets they created. When Mythic Interactive, the owners of Dark Age, cracked down on this practice, claiming intellectual property infringements, Blacksnow sued on the basis that Mythic was engaging in unfair business practices. Blacksnow's lawyer threw down the gauntlet:

What it comes down to is, does a . . . player have rights to his time, or does Mythic own that player's time? It is unfair of Mythic to stop those who wish to sell their items, currency or even their own accounts, which were created with their own
time.


Though the plaintiff dropped the case when its other legal problems forced a hasty retreat, the issues it raised remain. Virtual "property" has real-world value. Does that mean it is really property? The remainder of this section is devoted to a consideration of ways that virtual property might be descriptively different from real-world property. The two most obvious differences [are] that virtual property is intangible and that virtual property is evanescent.

F. Gregory Lastowka and Dan Hunter, The Laws of the Virtual Worlds, 92 CALIF. L. REV. 1, 39-40 (2004). Still, that's property law, the kind of thing that would end up an issue in a civil trial. This--and maybe I should consider changing the title of the post--is criminal law. Is someone who breaks the equivalent of real-world laws in a virtual world a criminal? Alternately, is taking someone's virtual property--property that can be sold for real money--against the actual law? There remains the question of whether what was taken is actual property. But now there is a new complication: is the taking of it actually wrongful taking? This has profound implications for cheaters everywhere.

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Friday, August 19, 2005

Cowboys and Elephants

Brian

Somebody's been letting Guns, Germs, and Steel go to his head:
Scientists are proposing reintroducing large mammals such as elephants, lions, cheetahs and wild horses to North America to replace populations lost 13,000 years ago.

The scientists say that not only could large tracts of North America act as breeding sanctuaries for species of large wild animals under threat in Africa and Asia, but that such ecological history parks could be major tourist attractions.
. . . .
[The team, writing in the journal Nature,] said large mammals were common across all continents until the Late Pleistocene wipeout that hit North America hardest and handed the world to smaller species. The largest mammals in the United States today are bison.


Link (via Fortean Times). The Economist covers the arguments against the proposal, in case you hadn't already thought up one for yourself:

Many mainstream conservationists are naturally (in more than one sense of that word) suspicious. Chris Haney, a conservation biologist at Defenders of Wildlife, a voluntary conservation group, fears the effort might detract from what he describes as “more realistic” goals, such as the reintroduction of wolves, bison, grizzly bears and North American elk (not to be confused with the European sort, known to Americans as moose). These reintroductions have faced bitter opposition from some ranchers, farmers and politicians. In Yellowstone National Park, a wolf-reintroduction programme begun in 1995 was ultimately successful, but not before a number of lawsuits were heard, thousands of dollars paid to ranchers for lost livestock, and two of the wolves illegally shot. If programmes like this were seen not merely in isolation, but as the first steps in a grand plan to reintroduce lions and cheetahs, they would be even harder to implement.

Eric Dinerstein, chief scientist at the World Wildlife Fund US, another conservation charity, has a related objection. He suggests Mr Donlan's idea might be damaging not only to efforts to conserve North American species, but also to the very Old World species it is intended to save. He thinks Mr Donlan is too pessimistic about the chances of preserving endangered animals in their African and Asian homes. Rather than spending money to establish those species in North America, Dr Dinerstein would prefer to see it spent conserving them where they live now.


Link. But then there's C. Josh Donlan making the "for" case again, this time in Slate:

Lions would be the ultimate in rewilding for North America. The predators likely once played an important ecological role here, as they do in the Serengeti. American lion populations would augment the endangered groups in Asia and Africa. And the tourism possibilities are evident to any safari lover. Rewilding could yield national ecological history parks, covering the parts of the Great Plains where the human population is shrinking and jobs are few. As in Africa, perimeter fencing would limit the movements of the big mammals, ensuring that they won't eat anyone's sheep or cows. Surrounding towns would benefit from the increased tourism, much as the towns surrounding parks like Yellowstone do. One day, a system of reserves across the continents of Africa, Eurasia, and the Americas could use the fossil record as a guide to restoration and offer the best hope for long-term survival of the large mammals by allowing them to adapt, in evolutionary terms, to climate change, emerging infectious diseases, and human impact.

Sure, the costs and risks of bringing back the megafauna are significant—they include angry ranchers, scared passersby, and unanticipated effects on other plants and animals. But without rewilding, we settle forever for an American wilderness that is diminished compared with just 100 centuries ago. And in the event of global climate change that affects Africa in particular, or economic and political strife there, we risk the extinction of the world's remaining bolson tortoises, camels, elephants, cheetahs, and lions. Safari trip to Texas, anyone?


Link. As cool as it would be to have, say, giraffes and zebra running around Montana, I'm a bit dismayed by Mr. Handey's proposal of introducing elephants with sharks on their backs. And lions? Just what I need: more large cats springing out at me from the dark.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

TheGoodReverend's Tour of Philly

Brian


Right as you get off the Schuylkill Expressway at the University Ave exit in West Philly, there's this big, metal . . . structure there, dominating the overpasses and underpasses and passes around it. It doesn't seem to make any sense. You can see through it, at least in parts, and from the side you can make out towers up on top that look like smallish nuclear cooling towers that appear to have some sort of mist filtering down from them; in fact, from the side, the whole thing looks like one big ocean liner run aground off the Schuylkill River. When you get up close, as I did, sneaking past the grounds crew, who didn't really care about me, and into the baseball park behind the structure to get a good look, it confirms that what you're looking at is something industrial, but it still doesn't answer a lot of questions.

But there is an answer. Apparently this beached ship has the very creative name Module 7, and the University of Pennsylvania built it in 2000 to serve as a chilled water plant. I'm not really sure what a chilled water plant is or what it does--chill water, maybe?--but lots of universities have them, and some even teach courses on them (because if you've got one, why not teach a course on it?). It wasn't enough, however, for Penn to have a run-of-the-mill chilled water plant. Oh no, theirs had to be stylistically, uh, weird:
The screen wall around the chiller plant celebrates the industrial nature of the structure while giving it a distinct identity. The corrugated perforated stainless steel screen is a shimmering, silvery object by day, revealing the rooftop cooling towers above. By night the building becomes a translucent glowing object, partially revealing the equipment within. As a gateway to the campus, this major element of infrastructure is a memorable, elegant form, set in a vibrant green landscape.

Link. Leers Weinzapfel, the architects of this enigma, also designed the adjacent baseball field.

Previously on TheGoodReverend's Tour of Philly . . .

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Random Movie Quote Thursday

Brian
The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hands.
It's a good non-specific symptom.
A lot of people will tell you
that a phony fever is a dead lock,
but if you get a nervous mother,
you could land in the doctor's office.
That's worse than school.
What you do is,
you fake a stomach cramp,
and when you're bent over,
moaning and wailing,
you lick your palms.
It's a little childish and stupid,
but then, so is high school.
I did have a test today.
It's on European socialism.
I mean, really, what's the point?
I'm not European,
I don't plan on being European,
so who gives a crap if they're socialist?
They could be fascist anarchists -
that still wouldn't change the fact that I don't own a car.
Not that I condone fascism,
or any -ism for that matter.
Isms in my opinion are not good.
A person should not believe in an -ism -
he should believe in himself.
I quote John Lennon:
"I don't believe in Beatles - I just believe in me."
A good point there.
Of course, he was the Walrus.
I could be the Walrus -
I'd still have to bum rides off of people.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Wild Horses

Brian

We, a motley assortment of by-marriage family members, spent Sunday at Assateague, a long barrier island off the coast of Maryland. When we arrived just after sunrise, the waters were already choppy from Irene. As the day wore on, the waves grew higher and stronger. For lunch we ate hotdogs and drank beer. The rest of the time we boogie boarded, swam, and took in the sun.

Assateague is home to a band of two hundred and fifty wild ponies, the descendants of either seventeenth century open-range grazers imported from Europe or the survivors of a the wreck of a Spanish galleon. It’s as thrilling as it is surreal to see these feral beasts trot along the sand while going about your beachly activities.

Thirteen months ago, Mrs. Good Reverend and I rode ponies along a Bahamian beach, one of the highlights of our honeymoon. They were small, well-behaved, domesticated horses that obediently sauntered out into the surf and back again, stopping only to relieve their bowels or bladders, and only occasionally breaking into a trot. I beamed because the ride brought out the kid in me—the kid who had never before had the opportunity to ride a real live horse.

The Assateague ponies aren’t that much different in physical appearance than those well-trained escorts, but the way they act, the way they interact, gives off a sense that they are an entirely different creature altogether, closer to zebra than to the domesticated horses we all know and love. When they march down to the water, ignoring the fishers, surfers, and sunbathers, you get the sense that Assateague doesn’t belong to the beachgoers or to the National Park Service. It belongs to the horses.

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Monday, August 15, 2005

Philadelphia: The Trendy New . . . Brooklyn

Brian

Jessica Pressler of every-city-has-one arts-and-politics rag Philadelphia Weekly wrote an article for Sunday's New York Times entitled "Philadelphia Story: The Next Borough":

Philadelphians occasionally refer to their city - somewhat deprecatingly - as the "sixth borough" of New York, and with almost 8,000 commuters making the 75-minute train ride between the cities each weekday, the label seems not far off the mark. But Mr. Kreslins and Ms. Gaeta are a new breed of Philadelphia-bound commuters, those who come from New York by train or the popular Chinatown bus for a weekend and then come back, with a U-Haul, to stay.

They are the first wave of what could be called Philadelphia's Brooklynization.

Hard numbers assessing exactly how many new residents are from New York are not available, but real estate brokers are noting an influx of prospective buyers and renters from the city; club owners and restaurant employees have spotted newcomers, on both sides of the bar; and "everyone knows someone who's moved here from New York," said Paul Levy, the executive director of the Center City District, a business improvement group, and himself a former Brooklyn resident.

Attracted by a thriving arts and music scene here and a cost of living that is 37 percent lower than New York's, according to city figures, a significant number of youngish artists, musicians, restaurateurs and designers are leaving New York City and heading down the turnpike for the same reasons they once moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan.

"We got priced out of Manhattan, and we moved to Brooklyn," said John Schmersal, 32, of the three-member band Enon; two of them migrated here in January. "Then we got priced out of Brooklyn. Now we're in Philadelphia."

I don't think I like the idea of Philly building a reputation as suitable for those who just can hack it in Brooklyn, but I like Philly, and I like it getting the right kind of attention. I like young, creative, hip, ambitious people--at times I fancy myself one--and I can relate to their attraction to Philly. Charming places to live are both abundant and affordable. The music scene, from what I've seen of it, is as exciting as it is relaxed, from the Symphony playing in the outdoor Mann Center in the summer to Sleater-Kinney headlining a show at the Trocadero to interesting new concert-cafe-restaurant-radio station that opened last year in my neighborhood. Philly is big city enough to have anything you could want, and small town enough for you to feel comfortable. You might say that I have love for Philadelphia. You know, like a brother.

Not everybody sees the Pressler article as a good thing. The Rittenhouse Review says New Yorkers can keep their New York. Eschaton similarly argues that loose lips sink ships.

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Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Brian
What is a borough supposed to do with a part-time municipal police officer who isn't even trained in the Visual Average Speed Calculator And Recorder?

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Q: Are We Not Men?

Brian

Wacky Swarthmore Biology kid Colin Purrington has come up with a service he calls "Evolution Outreach Projects," featuring, among other programs designed to promote the dissemination of information on the theory of evolution, textbook sticker plates that "teach the controversy." Link (via Sivacracy).

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Gargling with Salt Water

Brian


gar.goyle \'gär-,gόil\ n [ME gargule, gargoyl, fr. OF gargoule throat] (13c)
1 a : a spout in the form of a grotesque human or animal figure projecting from a roof gutter to throw rainwater clear of a building b : a grotesquely carved figure 2 : a person with an ugly face — gar-goyled \-,gόild\ adj

I have commenced a great and important task: photographing and cataloguing the gargoyles that adorn the Quadrangle at my current school, The University of Pennsylvania. So far I am pleased to report that I am about halfway through the first side of the exterior.

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Batteries Included

Brian
I've always heard that you're not supposed to just throw dead batteries in the trash because it's bad for the environment. But what, exactly, are you supposed to do with them instead?

Last night this came in the mail. It's a battery recharger that recharges nonrechargeable batteries. This is going to revolutionize the environment-consciousness and productivity of SuedO Apmuza.

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Random Movie Quote Thursday

Brian
Remember that night in the Garden?
You came down to my dressing room
and you said 'kid,
this ain't your night.
We're going for the price on Wilson.' . . .
You was my brother, Charlie.
You shoulda looked out for me a little bit
so I wouldn't have to take them dives
for the short-end money.
I coulda had class.
I coulda been a contender.
I coulda been somebody,
instead of a bum.
Which is what I am.
Let's face it.

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Did You Know . . .

Brian
. . . when Madchen Amick played Shelly, the chick with the abusive boyfriend, in Twin Peaks, she was hot?

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Monday, August 08, 2005

Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Brian
Thank God the 26th annual Blueberry Festival, featuring Montrose and greater Susquehanna County's best and brightest, went off without a hitch!

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Hairy Ball

Brian
"[O]ne cannot comb the hair on a ball in a smooth manner".

Glad to see mathematicians have finally come up with some ideas about real world problems.

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Secret 'Stache

Brian
Sometimes life makes me anxious, and since I gave up meditation and couldn't keep up with yoga I didn't really have a way of dealing with it. That is, of course, until I discovered that all I have to do is take a deep breath and look at the following picture:



What really gets me is that the joy in their expressions corresponds directly to the size of their trophies and indirectly to the ridiculousness of their costumes.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Pretty Soon They'll Have a Pink Tag Labeling Me as I Walk out the Door

Brian
You knew that Google had maps. You knew that they even had satellite images. But perhaps you didn't know that now they've combined the two into what they call "Hybrid," but what I affectionately refer to as Mapellite. Here's what it's like--a satellite image of Philadelphia with names of streets and places mapped on top of it.

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Asses to Asses

Brian

Robert Norton of Pekin, Illinois, loved, above all else, being naked. He upset his neighbors by walking around his yard in the nude. He fought for years for his right to abstain from dress. But in death, Norton has finally lost his battle against the Man. Against his wishes, he will be buried fully clothed:
The 82-year-old said he wanted to be buried in his birthday suit - but his family are having none of it. His brothers have decided to lay him to rest in grey trousers and a shirt. One of them, Jack, is a minister. "He's not going to be buried in the nude," he said.
. . . .
His family said they hoped his burial would lay years of controversy to rest.

Link. First of all, I think that "lay the controversy to rest" joke a bit of poor taste. Secondly, if it's what he wanted, and it's not against the law, aren't they bound to honor it? I smell injustice.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Count Dooku's First Name Is Sue

Brian
How did I become addicted to this Sudoku phenomenon?

More importantly, when will I get my life back?

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Monday, August 01, 2005

Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Brian
The Susquehanna County Council of Republican Women held their annual picnic, and Mike Narcavage was there.

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