Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Oh Make Me Over


I learned a few interesting facts at the Clinique counter last night:

1. Oily skin is a sign of dehydration.

Apparently, water neutralizes oil and leaves skin healthy and blemish-free!

2. When applying concealer below your eyes, use your ring finger.

The ring finger applies the least pressure to the skin, so there's less risk of popping blood vessels.

3. Wiggling mascara onto lashes creates a natural curl.

"And will avoid that boxy shape you get from eyelash curlers," says the makeup artist. WTF is an eyelash curler?

4. The Clinique staff is psychic.

"Did you get a new job?"

Am I that predictable?

5. You don't tip the makeup artist.

Though you are expected to tip on top of a $180 haircut, or a $140 massage, you apparently do not tip the woman who spends one hour applying makeup to half your face, another 30 minutes watching you try to do what she's done to the other half, and another 15 minutes correcting your failures.

Friday, January 25, 2008

By Faith, not by Reason: Cabazon Dinosaurs

If you've ever driven to Palm Springs during daylight hours, chances are you've seen the World's Biggest Dinosaurs at a little truck stop called Cabazon.

But have you been recently? You know, since it was appropriated in 2005 by the Institute for Creation Research and turned into an intelligent design propoganda farm?

[Reggie in the mouth of a creationist T Rex]

It sneaks up on you. First, there's a suspicious sign outside asking "is evolution true?" Then, you walk into the gift shop, and notice the Jesus books among the dino lit. Then, you realize all the children's t-shirts bear the motto "By Design, Not by Chance." *Shudder*

Further investigation reveals that the gift shop is constructed around the following ideological framework:

1. Dinosaurs are simply too fucking awesome to have been generated by some chance event like natural selection; thus, they must have been designed by God

2. This one fossil of a so-called "early human" was made up; thus, all fossils of so-called "early humans" might also be made up

3. The ever-popular "God said he created every living thing in the Bible, duh, and the Bible is true because God wrote it."

Yes, and you can read it all on their website. I present, for your consideration, a passage from their online reading materials:

"The story we have all heard from movies, television, newspapers, and most magazines and textbooks is that dinosaurs “ruled the Earth” for 140 million years, died out 65 million years ago, and therefore weren’t around when Noah and company set sail on the Ark around 4,300 years ago.

However, the Bible gives a completely different view of Earth (and therefore, dinosaur) history. As God’s written Word to us, we can trust it to tell the truth about the past. (For more information about the reliability of Scripture, see Q&A: Bible.)

The Bible records the genealogies from Adam to Christ. From the ages given in these lists (and accepting that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to Earth around 2,000 years ago), we can conclude that the universe is only a few thousand years old (perhaps just 6,000), and not millions of years old (see also The earth: how old does it look? especially under Jesus and the age of the world). Thus, dinosaurs lived within the past few thousand years."

Good God in Heaven!

If only the processes of natural selection hadn't been documented. (Finches, anyone? Antibiotic-resistant bacteria?)

To conclude: The mailing address listed on the website is a P.O. Box. Creepy.

Elves in Iceland: A GBD Special Report

I am in love with Anthony Bourdain.

Too bad he's married.

During last night's No Reservations fix, Tony mentioned a peculiar fact that I'd heard before, but never believed:

That 80% of Iceland's population believes in gnomes, elves and fairies.

A Google search procured plenty of evidence to support this assertion:

Icelandic Folklore

Anecdotal Evidence

Popular Literature


Authoritative Travel Guides

Newspaper Reports

[insert Bjork joke here]


Monday, January 21, 2008

When Ostriches Attack


During a road trip through Texas in 2005, my traveling companion and I stopped at Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, a drive-through safari just north of San Antonio, seven miles west of I-35. For the price of $15.50, visitors receive a bag of feed and the go-ahead to drive through a few hundred acres of wild animals with the car windows rolled down.

It was here that I learned an invaluable rule; a rule I am socially obligated to pass on to my fellow Americans in the event they find themselves on an "African Safari - Texas Style:"

Never let an ostrich approach your car while the windows are open and your passenger has a bag of feed sitting on his lap.

Because that ostrich will stick its ugly head right through that open window and nip at that bag, wherever it may lie.

Luckily, we escaped unscathed, thanks to the swift acceleration of my Ford Focus. Perhaps I would have been more cautious if I had read this Wiki first -- How to Survive an Encounter with an Ostrich.

Read. Take note.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Source of Antimatter Discovered!

What happens when the gravitational force of a nearby black hole or neutron star tears an ordinary star apart?

Antimatter is born.

[According to a research team working with data from the European Space Agency's International Gamma Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL).]

Read all about it.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

UFO Sighting: Can a Few Dozen Texans Be Wrong?

A few dozen people claim to have spotted a UFO in Stephenville, Texas.

Residents say a giant, low-flying object zoomed silently across their night sky on several different occasions in the past few weeks.

The object was reported to be a mile long and a half mile wide. Some say it was followed by fighter jets.

Can a few dozen people be wrong? Or could it just be a case of (God-fearing) mass hysteria?


Bringing Bubonic Back

The plague is back and moving to Africa.


The World Health Organization reports that between 1,000 and 3,000 people are infected with the plague each year in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda.

There are only 10 to 20 cases reported in the US each year.

The plague comes in three flavors: bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic. All are caused by the bacteria Yersinia Pestis and spread to humans by fleas in the following horrific manner:

"Bubonic plague is mainly a disease in rodents and fleas. Infection in a human occurs when a person is bitten by a flea that has been infected by biting a rodent that itself has been infected by the bite of a flea carrying the disease. The bacteria multiply inside the flea, sticking together to form a plug that blocks its stomach and causes it to begin to starve. The flea then voraciously bites a host and continues to feed, even though it cannot quell its hunger, and consequently the flea vomits blood tainted with the bacteria back into the bite wound. The bubonic plague bacterium then infects a new victim, and the flea eventually dies from starvation. Serious outbreaks of plague are usually started by other disease outbreaks in rodents, or a rise in the rodent population."

If you're bitten by a plague-vomiting flea, the bacteria will enter your tissue, and then probably travel through your lymphatic system and settle in your lymph nodes, which enlargen. Thus, bubonic plague ("bubo" means swelling of the lymph nodes in Greek).

Or, the bacteria will enter the bloodstream (septicemic plague) or the lungs (pneumonic plague). Septicemic plague and pneumonic plague have a much higher mortality rate than bubonic plague: 90% of those infected with septicemic or pneumonic plague die, compared to 60% of those infected with bubonic plague. Pneumonic plague is especially problematic because it can be spread by coughing or sneezing.

The plague killed 25 million people in Europe in the 14th century - one third of the continent's population.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Happy New Leap Year

The Earth has completed one revolution of its 93.2 million mile, 365.25 day-long orbit around the sun.

Since there are only 365 days in a calendar year, the quarter of a day we lopped off in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 will be made up on Friday, February 29, 2008.

So the heavens are giving you one more day to fulfill those resolutions, people. No excuses.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Yosemite National Park v2.0

As promised.

Since my birthday coincided with the adoption of a stray dog, I looked for a pet-friendly place to celebrate and settled on Yosemite National Park. After all, what dog doesn't love the great outdoors?

This one.

Thousands of trees to pee on and what does he go for? Trash cans, cable boxes, pavement.

More surprising, though, was the discovery that Yosemite is a rather dog un-friendly park. A NO PETS sign greeted us at the trialhead of Mariposa Grove, an enclave of Giant Sequoias.

But we took him anyway.

Here's what we saw:

The Grizzly Giant

Yes, those are people down below.

According to the Mariposa Grove trail guide, the Grizzly Giant is about 2,700 years old -- one of the oldest living sequoias in the world.

The Clothespin Tree


Numerous forest fires carved this hole in the Clothespin Tree.

The California Tunnel Tree


A hole was cut through this tree in 1895 for stagecoaches to pass through.

(Because going around the tree was too complicated, apparently)

The Faithful Couple


These two trees grew so close together they fused at the base.

The Fallen Monarch


As you can see, the roots of the giant sequoia are wide and shallow; their shape maximizes the amount of surface water accessible to the tree and stabilizes the tree's large trunk.

Big Dude in an even Bigger Tree


Holy shit.

This cross-section of a fallen sequoia puts the age of these trees into perspective -- the third green marker from the top indicates the size of the tree during the Civil War:


The giant sequoia, or sequoiadendron giganteum, is one of the three species of redwoods; the others are the Dawn Redwood (China) and the Coast Redwood (coastal California). Giant Sequoias are the largest living things in terms of volume (Coast Redwoods are the tallest; Bristlecone Pine is the oldest).

Forest fires are necessary for the survival of giant sequoias - they clear away brush and smaller trees that compete with the sequoias for water and sunlight. Also, fire plays a key role in the reproduction of the giant sequoias by drying out their cones and releasing seeds, which then fall to the ground.

After the Mariposa Grove, we drove into Yosemite Valley to see the park's famous rock formations:

Tunnel View

(El Capitan on the left, Half Dome on the right)

El Capitan


Half Dome


Sentinel Rock


These formations were created by glaciers, which crept through Yosemite Valley one million years ago and eroded the granite rock along its joints.

We didn't get to see Yosemite's famous waterfalls, because they're dry in the Fall.

Yosemite Falls (Dry) - the highest waterfall in America.

April and May are the best time to see them -- right after the winter snow melts.

And now, a pleasant surprise:

Should you perish on your journey through Yosemite's wildnerness, rest assured that your remains will be safe from scavengers -- Yosemite has its own cemetery!


Filled with fellow travelers who have met certain doom, such as . . .

A boy

Believed to be John Morgan Bennett. He drowned attempting to cross the Merced River by mule in 1870.

A Frenchman

May have been Etienne Manet, a "slightly demented" orchard owner who was found dead in his cabin.

Some dude from Boston

Er, George Ezra Boston, a native of Virginia, who died in 1875 in an arson fire believed to have been set by a "notorious Indian scoundrel" named Piute George.

...and a whole bunch of others, as documented in the Guide to the Yosemite Cemetery by Hank Johnston and Martha Lee, available for $3.50 from the Yosemite Bookstore, or on loan from the nearby Visitor's Center.

The cemetery was established in 1870 on the same ground used for centuries by the Miwok people to bury their dead.

Death and history kept me occupied until dusk, so we returned to the park the next day and drove to Glacier Point for a magnificent view:


We then started walking the four mile trail that leads from Glacier Point down to the Valley, but the dog started wheezing so we turned back. It was a phenomenal hike, though -- the view couldn't be captured on my measly digital camera, but I gave it a shot anyhow:


Glacier Point is 7,200 feet above sea level, and 3,200 feet above Yosemite Valley. If you're thinking about visiting, please note that the road to Glacier Point is closed in the winter (November-May).

After Glacier Point, we drove back into the valley and stayed until sunset. I'll leave you now with a random shot of Yosemite at dusk:


Nice way to end the day.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

More Meteors!

Attention East Coast:

Stay up late tonight to check out the Quadrantids, which are expected to peak at 1:40 a.m. on Friday, January 4th.

The West Coast will be out of luck; the radiant (the part of the sky from which the meteors spew forth) will be too low on the northern horizon to see.