Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 14th, 2008

The bouncing universe

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Interesting article in New Scientist begins:

Abhay Ashtekar remembers his reaction the first time he saw the universe bounce. “I was taken aback,” he says. He was watching a simulation of the universe rewind towards the big bang. Mostly the universe behaved as expected, becoming smaller and denser as the galaxies converged. But then, instead of reaching the big bang “singularity”, the universe bounced and started expanding again. What on earth was happening?

Ashtekar wanted to be sure of what he was seeing, so he asked his colleagues to sit on the result for six months before publishing it in 2006. And no wonder. The theory that the recycled universe was based on, called loop quantum cosmology (LQC), had managed to illuminate the very birth of the universe – something even Einstein’s general theory of relativity fails to do.

LQC has been tantalising physicists since 2003 with the idea that our universe could conceivably have emerged from the collapse of a previous universe. Now the theory is poised to make predictions we can actually test. If they are verified, the big bang will give way to a big bounce and we will finally know the quantum structure of space-time. Instead of a universe that emerged from a point of infinite density, we will have one that recycles, possibly through an eternal series of expansions and contractions, with no beginning and no end.

LQC is in fact the first tangible application of another theory called …

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Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 1:20 pm

Posted in Science

Archimedes and the 2000-year-old computer

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Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Archimedes and the 2000-year-old comp…“, posted with vodpod

Read the full article on the ancient computer and an editorial about it.

Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 1:14 pm

Pasta with Turkish-Style Lamb, Eggplant and Yogurt Sauce

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As soon as I clean up the kitchen, I’m making this recipe:

1 large eggplant, about 1 pound, in 1/2 -inch cubes
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, more to taste
3 fat garlic cloves, minced
1 large shallot, minced
1 pound ground lamb
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, preferably Turkish or Aleppo (see note), more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or dill, more to taste
1/2 pound bowtie or orecchiette pasta
2 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, to taste
2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt.

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Bring a pot of water to boil for pasta.

2. Toss eggplant with 4 tablespoons oil and a large pinch of salt. Spread on a baking sheet, making sure there is room between pieces, and roast until crisp and brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

3. In a large skillet, heat remaining tablespoon oil. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and the shallot and sauté until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add lamb, 1/2 teaspoon salt, red pepper flakes and black pepper to taste. Sauté until lamb is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in mint or dill and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir eggplant into lamb. Taste and adjust seasonings.

4. Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt butter: the amount is to your taste. Let cook until it turns golden brown and smells nutty, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, stir together yogurt, remaining garlic and a pinch of salt.

5. Drain pasta and spread on a serving platter. Top with lamb-eggplant mixture, then with yogurt sauce. Pour melted butter over top. Sprinkle on additional red pepper and more mint or dill. Serve immediately.

Yield: 2 to 3 servings.

Note: Turkish or Aleppo (Syrian) red pepper flakes are sold at specialty markets and at You may also substitute ground chili powder. Do not use crushed red pepper flakes; they will be too hot for this dish.

UPDATE: Mighty tasty and not so much work as it seemed. I just stirred the pasta and eggplant into the lamb in the sauté pan, and then put the yogurt sauce and butter on top of that, saving one serving dish.

Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 12:20 pm

Best site for good deals?

leave a comment » asked their readers for the best deal sites and came up with a list of five. The best of the five seems to be is a comprehensive deal-finding web site with an active user community dedicated to scouring the web for great deals. Slickdeals posts deals in a blog-like format, providing a uncategorized and steady stream of deals on their home page covering the gamut from tech to toys and clothing to appliances. Avid users emphasize that while you should certainly come to Slickdeals for the front page deals, you should stick around for the thriving and thrift-conscious forums.

An example from the Slickdeals site:

Office Depot has 20 500-sheet reams of 92 brightness HP office paper for $37 with free shipping. Thanks xlnc

  1. Click here
  2. Add 2 cases to cart
  3. Apply coupon 43443877 for $21.90 off in cart
  4. Apply coupon 67427790 for 20% off
  5. Checkout, your total will be $37 with free shipping

Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 10:20 am

Posted in Daily life

New US incarceration record

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Jacob Sullum:

According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report (PDF) released yesterday, 2.3 million Americans were behind bars in 2007, 1.5 percent more than in 2006 and a new record. The number includes about 780,000 people in local jails, 1.4 million in state prisons, and 200,000 in federal prison. Roughly one in five state prisoners and more than half of federal prisoners were serving time for drug offenses. Assuming the percentage of drug offenders in jails is similar to the percentage in state prisons, the total is more than half a million. “That is ten times the total in 1980,” notes the Drug Policy Alliance, “and more than all of western Europe (with a much larger population) incarcerates for all offenses.”

showed how the U.S. incarceration rate compares to those of other countries in the June issue of reason.

This graph is from the link in the article:


Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 10:05 am

Most-viewed National Geographic photo galleries

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Some very nice photos among the 10 galleries..

Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 10:03 am

Posted in Daily life

A tool to reduce fuel use

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A business owner with a fleet of 10 heavy-duty diesel trucks wants to cut diesel use by 10 percent. Would using a biodiesel blend or investing in onboard power sources that reduce engine idling achieve the biggest drop in petroleum use?

An average driver, using 600 gallons of gas a year in a typical sedan, wants to reduce gas consumption by 20 percent. Would using fuel economy techniques such as buying new low rolling-resistance tires reduce gas use the most or would taking the bus to work once a week produce better results?

Fleet operators, business owners, and every-day drivers wanting to reduce their petroleum consumption can pinpoint such calculations with the newest tool at the Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center.

The Petroleum Reduction Planning (PREP) tool computes the drop in petroleum consumption by employing eight different methods – or a combination of those methods. For every-day drivers, they can calculate their reductions by using fuel economy techniques, hybrid electric vehicles, biodiesel blends and other alternative fuels, or by reducing the number of miles driven through such measures as using mass transit or telecommuting. For fleet operators and business owners, additional methods of truck stop electrification, idling time reduction and onboard idle reduction technologies are provided for calculating reductions. PREP can help every kind of driver create a strategy for cutting conventional fuel use.

“The PREP tool benefits fleets of all sizes – from large private industrial or government fleets to single family fleets – by providing a path to improve their abilities to make fuel-efficient and cost effective decisions,” said Linda Bluestein, Co-Director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities initiative.  “This tool builds on earlier work to help regulated fleets by providing a method that allows all vehicle owners – not just regulated fleets – to maximize their reduction in conventional fuel use.”  …

Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 10:01 am

Interactive WWII collection online

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World War II collection features Interactive USS Arizona Memorial, WWII Hero Pages, WWII Photos, Documents and more and the National Archives and Records Administration announced today the release of the first ever interactive World War II collection, which includes an interactive version of the USS Arizona Memorial, WWII Hero Pages, and WWII photos and documents previously unavailable on the internet.

“We can’t afford to forget this period in our history,” says James Hastings, Director of Access Programs at the National Archives. “Our ongoing partnership with helps ensure that the stories contained in these photos and documents are accessible to everyone, particularly those who cannot travel to our facilities to study the original records. This partnership complements our mission of making National Archives holdings as widely available as possible.”

Included in the WWII collection is the first-ever interactive version of the USS Arizona Memorial. Similar to the Vietnam War Memorial project that released last March, the USS Arizona Memorial is a fully searchable digital image of the national monument.

The USS Arizona Memorial allows users to search for people they know by simply typing in a name. The image viewer will zoom in to the specific area of the wall where that name appears. By placing the cursor over the name, users can access an interactive box featuring additional information about the sailors including a place to contribute photos and stories about that individual.

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Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 9:37 am

Qualms about Obama’s pick for EPA

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I think this one is troublesome. Firedoglake’s Kirk Murphy:

Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility report that Lisa Jackson, President-elect Obama’s reported pick for EPA chief, used her power as head of New Jersey’s environmental agency (DEP) to undermine New Jersey’s environmental protection in service of industry.

PEER describes how Jackson followed the classic Bushie tactic of hiring a former industry lobbyist to “ovesee” the very same regulations the industry had for years paid her to defeat. PEER also describes how Jackson followed the Bushie/Rethug playbook when she used her power as head of DEP to appoint “task forces” she filled with industry moles who — predictably — colluded on behalf of their industry empoyers to prevent DEP from protecting New Jersey’s citizens.

In 2006 DEP head Lisa Jackson chose to appoint Nancy Wittenberg, a long-time lobbyist for the NJ Builders’ Association, as the Assistant Commissioner for Environmental Regulation for the state Department of Environmental Protection. Gee…what a coincidence: Wittenberg spent the several years before Jackson brought her into DEP fighting the same rules Jackson put her in charge of enforcing at EPA. More from PEER: …

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Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 9:26 am

NBC: Shameless

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The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has issued a statement strongly criticizing the National Broadcasting Corporation for its continued use of retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey as an on-air military analyst, while failing to disclose McCaffrey’s multiple conflicts of interest that were recently detailed in the New York Times. “When the retired general offers his insight on the air for NBC, CNBC and MSNBC, viewers are left with the impression he is an ‘objective’ observer, a former military man speaking from the depths of his experience,” it states. “What the networks have failed to tell viewers is that McCaffrey has a financial interest in the war.” According to Andy Schotz, the chairman of SPJ’s Ethics Committee, “these networks — which are owned by General Electric, a leading defense contractor — are giving the public powerful reasons to be skeptical about their neutrality and credibility. … These are raging conflicts of interest embedded into reporting on crucial news.” Writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, Charles Kaiser asks if there is “any limit to the shamelessness of NBC News,” which “has never once disclosed any of McCaffrey’s multiple conflicts of interest on the air. … McCaffrey is the living embodiment of all the worst aspects of entrenched Washington corruption — a man who shares with scores of other retired officers a huge financial interest in having America conduct its wars for as long as possible.”

Source: Society of Professional Journalists, December 4, 2008

Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 9:23 am

Posted in Daily life

The domestic spying whistleblower

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Good article by Michael Isikoff in Newsweek. It begins:

Thomas M. Tamm was entrusted with some of the government’s most important secrets. He had a Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance, a level above Top Secret. Government agents had probed Tamm’s background, his friends and associates, and determined him trustworthy.

It’s easy to see why: he comes from a family of high-ranking FBI officials. During his childhood, he played under the desk of J. Edgar Hoover, and as an adult, he enjoyed a long and successful career as a prosecutor. Now gray-haired, 56 and fighting a paunch, Tamm prides himself on his personal rectitude. He has what his 23-year-old son, Terry, calls a “passion for justice.” For that reason, there was one secret he says he felt duty-bound to reveal.

In the spring of 2004, Tamm had just finished a yearlong stint at a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies—a unit so sensitive that employees are required to put their hands through a biometric scanner to check their fingerprints upon entering. While there, Tamm stumbled upon the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency program that seemed to be eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. The unit had special rules that appeared to be hiding the NSA activities from a panel of federal judges who are required to approve such surveillance. When Tamm started asking questions, his supervisors told him to drop the subject. He says one volunteered that “the program” (as it was commonly called within the office) was “probably illegal.”

Tamm agonized over what to do. He tried to raise the issue with a former colleague working for the Senate Judiciary Committee. But the friend, wary of discussing what sounded like government secrets, shut down their conversation. For weeks, Tamm couldn’t sleep. The idea of lawlessness at the Justice Department angered him. Finally, one day during his lunch hour, Tamm ducked into a subway station near the U.S. District Courthouse on Pennsylvania Avenue. He headed for a pair of adjoining pay phones partially concealed by large, illuminated Metro maps. Tamm had been eyeing the phone booths on his way to work in the morning. Now, as he slipped through the parade of midday subway riders, his heart was pounding, his body trembling. Tamm felt like a spy. After looking around to make sure nobody was watching, he picked up a phone and called The New York Times.

That one call began …

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Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 9:03 am

Bailout supervision

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Interesting videos on the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP).

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14 December 2008 at 8:27 am

The rejected logos

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Here you can see the logo designs that didn’t make the cut for the Obama campaign.

Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 8:23 am

Posted in Daily life

The psychology of nostalgia

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In the 17th and 18th centuries, nostalgia was viewed as a medical disease, complete with symptoms including weeping, irregular heartbeat and anorexia. By the 20th century, nostalgia was regarded as a psychiatric disorder, with symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety and depression and was confined to a few groups (e.g. first year boarding students and immigrants). Only recently have psychologists begun focusing on the positive and potentially therapeutic aspects of nostalgia, report University of Southampton psychologist Constantine Sedikides and his colleagues in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Recent studies examining nostalgia have shown that it occurs in all cultures and among all age groups. Despite this wide range, there are some features that are common to the majority of nostalgic experiences. For example, nostalgic thoughts will usually feature a person we are close to, a significant event or a place important to us. In addition, we play a starring role in our nostalgic scenes, although we are generally surrounded by family and friends.

Research suggests that nostalgia can promote psychological health. Inducing nostalgia in a group of study volunteers resulted in overall positive feelings in this group, including higher self-esteem and an increase in the feeling of being loved and protected by others. Recent work has also shown that nostalgia counteracts effects of loneliness, by increasing perceptions of social support. In addition, that same study found that loneliness can trigger nostalgia.

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Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 8:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Pancake mix

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Marisia McClellan writes in Slashfood about the pancake mix recipe her parents give each year as Christmas presents: a one-gallon ziplock bag of mix along with instructions. Here’s the mix:

Marisa’s version of Mo’s Famous Pancakes

2 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups honey toasted wheat germ (regular toasted wheat germ can be substituted if you can’t find the honey stuff)
1 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup cane sugar
2 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons baking powder

Mix it all together and store in an airtight jar or container. To use, whisk together three eggs, 1 cup of milk and 2 tablespoons oil or melted butter. Fold in two cups of mix*. If it seems to thick, add a bit more milk. Heat a griddle to medium heat (you don’t want it to be too hot, or the pancakes will be burnt on the outside and uncooked on the inside) and oil it lightly. Cook pancakes until they bubbles pop and stay open and then flip. Cook just another minute or two on the other side. Serve with maple syrup (real only, please), jam and yogurt or honey.

*It’s at this point that I add about 1/3 a cup of toasted millet. Toasting it is easy, just spread it on a small baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes at 350 degrees. Let it cool a little and then fold it into the batter. It adds a wonderful, nutty crunch.

Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 7:30 am

Who’s getting the money? They won’t say.

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Bloomberg News:

The Federal Reserve refused a request by Bloomberg News to disclose the recipients of more than $2 trillion of emergency loans from U.S. taxpayers and the assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

Bloomberg filed suit Nov. 7 under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act requesting details about the terms of 11 Fed lending programs, most created during the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

The Fed responded Dec. 8, saying it’s allowed to withhold internal memos as well as information about trade secrets and commercial information. The institution confirmed that a records search found 231 pages of documents pertaining to some of the requests.

“If they told us what they held, we would know the potential losses that the government may take and that’s what they don’t want us to know,” said Carlos Mendez, a senior managing director at New York-based ICP Capital LLC, which oversees $22 billion in assets.

The Fed stepped into a rescue role that was the original purpose of the Treasury’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. The central bank loans don’t have the oversight safeguards that Congress imposed upon the TARP.

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Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 7:19 am

Roasted broccoli

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I made this recipe last night, and man! it was good! It has tasty ingredients: olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese, in addition to the broccoli. I used kosher salt, which I like on roasted things. One hint: after you empty the roasting pan, use a piece of bread to wipe up the delicious juices.

UPDATE: Here’s another approach, somewhat more work.

Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 7:16 am

Michael Lewis looks at the meltdown

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Michael Lewis is the author of the highly enjoyable book Liar’s Poker, which tells of his experience on Wall Street. He’s now written an article about the meltdown, titled “The End”. It begins:

To this day, the willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grownups remains a mystery to me. I was 24 years old, with no experience of, or particular interest in, guessing which stocks and bonds would rise and which would fall. The essential function of Wall Street is to allocate capital—to decide who should get it and who should not. Believe me when I tell you that I hadn’t the first clue.

I’d never taken an accounting course, never run a business, never even had savings of my own to manage. I stumbled into a job at Salomon Brothers in 1985 and stumbled out much richer three years later, and even though I wrote a book about the experience, the whole thing still strikes me as preposterous—which is one of the reasons the money was so easy to walk away from. I figured the situation was unsustainable. Sooner rather than later, someone was going to identify me, along with a lot of people more or less like me, as a fraud. Sooner rather than later, there would come a Great Reckoning when Wall Street would wake up and hundreds if not thousands of young people like me, who had no business making huge bets with other people’s money, would be expelled from finance.

When I sat down to write my account of the experience in 1989—Liar’s Poker, it was called—it was in the spirit of a young man who thought he was getting out while the getting was good. I was merely scribbling down a message on my way out and stuffing it into a bottle for those who would pass through these parts in the far distant future.

Unless some insider got all of this down on paper, I figured, no future human would believe that it happened.

I thought I was writing a period piece about the 1980s in America. Not for a moment did I suspect that the financial 1980s would last two full decades longer or that the difference in degree between Wall Street and ordinary life would swell into a difference in kind. I expected readers of the future to be outraged that back in 1986, the C.E.O. of Salomon Brothers, John Gutfreund, was paid $3.1 million; I expected them to gape in horror when I reported that one of our traders, Howie Rubin, had moved to Merrill Lynch, where he lost $250 million; I assumed they’d be shocked to learn that a Wall Street C.E.O. had only the vaguest idea of the risks his traders were running. What I didn’t expect was that any future reader would look on my experience and say, “How quaint.”  …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2008 at 7:07 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

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