Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Male and female baboons form platonic friendships, where sex is off the menu."

Take heart, beta males. It's not just our species:

BBC Earth News: Female baboons exploit chaperones

Having a caring friend around seems to greatly benefit the females and their infants, as both are harassed less by other baboons when in the company of their male pal.

But why the males choose to be platonic friends remains a mystery.


"So we really don't know what these guys got out of the friendship, other than maybe spending time with a mum and a new baby and having other females seeing this."

The suggestion here is that by chaperoning a female in a platonic relationship, a male might advertise his parental skills to other females, who then might consider him a worthy partner. But as yet, there's no evidence for this or any other reason why males become chaperones.

However, for the females, the benefits of having a chaperone are clear.

"We found direct evidence that friendships provided a social benefit to mothers and infants," says Nguyen.

"We found that mother-infant pairs who spent a lot of time with their male friends received a lot less harassment from other females in the group, and the infants cried a lot less too, than pairs who spent less time hanging out with their male friends."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Buzz Aldrin to NASA: U.S. space policy is on the wrong track

Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the Moon, shares his vision for the future of space exploration, in an article for August's Popular Mechanics but available now online. (Story via Republibot; click there for the executive summary.)

As I approach my 80th birthday, I’m in no mood to keep my mouth shut any longer when I see NASA heading down the wrong path. And that’s exactly what I see today. The ­agency’s current Vision for Space Exploration will waste decades and hundreds of billions of dollars trying to reach the moon by 2020—a glorified rehash of what we did 40 years ago. Instead of a steppingstone to Mars, NASA’s current lunar plan is a detour. It will derail our Mars effort, siphoning off money and engineering talent for the next two decades. If we aspire to a long-term human presence on Mars—and I believe that should be our overarching goal for the foreseeable future—we must drastically change our focus.

See also: Why NASA is still playing catch-up to Star Trek and China.

I'm not feeling stimulated, Redux (Adventures in Job Hunting, Episode 3)

As a "due diligence"-type followup to my earlier post, I offer the following Star Tribune article: Jobs for teens get needed jump-start in Dakota County:

His is one of about 300 teen and young adult jobs created this summer in Dakota County with $410,802 from the federal stimulus package. That's the local share of the $17.8 million sent to the state to generate jobs for disadvantaged teens and young adults ages 15 to 24.

The infusion of youth job funding more than doubles the usual 180 jobs that the Workforce Service of Dakota County funds annually through a state program. The jobs at five public and nonprofit agencies are available to teens and young adults who meet limited-income requirements or have developmental disabilities.

And it includes the surprisingly pertinent note:

The Dakota County libraries saw 33 applications in four days when they posted the library shelving assistant jobs. They plan to hire 18 teens to put books back on the shelves this summer, two for each of the nine branch libraries, likely starting next week.

I'm still not sure how I feel about this. As the first commenter on the Strib article noted:

WOW! 300 part time jobs created at tax payer expense and only 3,000 permanent jobs lost daily in Dakota County. Now that's change you can believe in. What do these 300 jobs entail, checking tire pressure on cars at stop lights?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Adventures in Job Hunting, Episode 2

"Hudson company seeking an Entry-level, Full-time Administrative Assistant"

*eager click*

"Sorry, but the page you are looking for is no longer available. Use the Quick Search to look for similar jobs."


Or this winner:

"Administrative Assistant, Religion and Philosophy (Carleton College)"

*even more eager click*


Making it even better, the caps and double exclamation points were already there.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Why NASA is still playing catch-up to Star Trek and China

Thomas P.M. Barnett, writing for Esquire, discusses the private space industry and NASA's future under Obama.
All I can say is, thank God we never created a NASA for airplanes. Otherwise, we'd have to suspend the entire space industry's operations for months on end after every crash, lapsing into periods of official mourning each time some "national hero" was lost in airspace. Forgive me, but compared to all the inglorious ways people die here on earth, there's nothing particularly noble about dying in space — even if nobody can hear you scream.

I know, I know: Space travel is infinitely more difficult and way more expensive than air travel. But you have to admit that, if not for the Cold War and the "race to the moon" and "star wars" and so on, we'd have a far larger and more accessible private-sector space industry than the puny one we've got now. That, and we wouldn't still be dicking around with those disco-age space shuttles.

Think of where we could be now if it wasn't for Washington's bureaucracy and "failure of imagination" strangling opportunities for development of the final frontier. Clearly there's a libertarian/pro-free-enterprise argument to be made here, but I'll trust my readers' intelligence and leave it to you to connect the dots.

Suffice to say that something drastic needs to be done soon to kick-start our space program, before China gets too far ahead for the United States and Europe to catch up. Space is a resource too important to be allowed to be monopolized by any one country.

Further reading:
Andrew Liptak. "Exploration vs. Scientific Modes of Spaceflight." Worlds in a Grain of Sand, June 10, 2009.
Joe Pappalardo. "Private Space to the Government: 'Get out of the way!'" Popular Mechanics, June 4, 2009.
Virgin Galactic, Wikipedia.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I'm not feeling stimulated: Adventures in Job Hunting, Episode 1

"These positions are funded with stimulus funds and are available to youth who live in Dakota County, are between the ages of 15-24 and have a low family income, special needs or other risk factors."

Check, check, ch-- Oh.

As Philip Fry once said, "The underprivileged get all the breaks."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fox's new pilot Virtuality brings the holodeck to NASA

Via Andrew Liptak's Worlds in a Grain of Sand.

The pilot movie for Fox's potential new series, Virtuality, has been moved up to June 26, at 8 Eastern, presumably on Hulu soon thereafter. It's helmed by Ronald D. Moore, the man behind the Battlestar Galactica reboot, much of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and a decent chunk of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

This is the first I've heard of the show, but it seems the original airdate was July 4th, which even Fox realizes would be suicidal because even sci-fi nerds won't be inside in front of our TVs on July 4th. The press release:
The crew of the Phaeton is approaching the go/no-go point of their epic 10-year journey through outer space. With the fate of Earth in their hands, the pressure is intense. The best bet for helping the crew members maintain their sanity is the cutting-edge virtual reality technology installed on the ship. It's the perfect stress-reliever until they realize a glitch in the system has unleashed a virus on to the ship. Tensions mount as the crew decides how to contain the virus and complete their mission. Meanwhile, their lives are being taped for a reality show back on Earth in the World Broadcast Premiere of VIRTUALITY airing Friday, June 26 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.
I'll be honest: the description doesn’t particularly turn me on. The whole VR thing seems so ’90s now, with the element of "reality-TV in space!" added to make it topical to the 2000s, which are themselves almost over. And the ship is a clunkier Serenity with a satellite tower, but from the costumes it looks like they're going for a relatively near-future setting, so I can see why they opted for something that looks just slightly post-NASA, not a design like the Starships Enterprise (Starship Enterprises?). Essentially it's a series of holodeck episodes set on the ship from 2001.

Nevertheless I’m definitely willing to give this a try since any new (read: wholly original) space-travel sci-fi is very welcome right now, with Battlestar Galactica off the air and no Star Trek series foreseeable anytime soon. The first sentence of the release reminds me of J. Michael Straczynski’s short-lived Babylon 5 spinoff Crusade, where the mission was to search the galaxy for a cure to a nanovirus plague that would devastate the Earth within five years. (It turns out that Bill Lumbergh makes a good starship captain after all.)

io9’s script peek from May 2008 looks respectable as well, with some elements that make it sound a lot more interesting. I.e. the ship's doctor has Parkinson's Disease, which means they risk losing their doctor during the mission, but on the other hand the next mission attempt would not be for another 20 years.

It remains to be seen how many of those script elements have made it into the final series, of course. I'm just hoping this is one of those shows whose execution is better than it sounds on the label.

UPDATE (via sleepysheepie): The FutonCritic reviews the pilot, explains the various subplots, and deems the show "without a doubt worth your time."

Earth's first starship is The Phaeton. Its mission: search for extraterrestrial life around Epsilon Eridani, one of our nearest Sun-like stars. Its 10-year journey is being financed by The Consortium, a mega-corporation that hopes to make back its investment through various sponsorships, most notably a "Big Brother"-esque reality show about the ship's 12 astronauts.

True nerds will note that Babylon 5 was stationed above the third planet of the Epsilon Eridani system, although of course this star is located only 10.5 light-years away and has therefore appeared frequently in science fiction.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

This Day In History 1940: Winston Churchill

June 4, 1940: Winston Churchill delivers his famous "We shall never surrender" speech. Click here to listen to the full twelve-minute speech or download an MP3; the famous part starts at roughly ten minutes. It still gives me chills almost 70 years later:
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

According to Wikipedia (fascinating if accurate):
In the most famous passage, beginning "We shall fight on the beaches..." and ending "...we shall never surrender", the assertions consist entirely of Germanic words descending from Old English, while the only French-derived word is the thing rejected: "surrender".