Later On

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

Archive for August 3rd, 2011

Ex-convict trends

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I’m watching a fairly disturbing movie—Felon, with Stephen Dorff, Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard, et al.—about a guy who’s a simple citizen, owning his own construction business, through mishap is sent to prison. The prison environment is harsh, but apparently not so harsh as it actually is: see this NY Times editorial on the prevalence of extended solitary confinement, which is a form of torture.

That made me think of the incredibly high incarceration rate the US maintains, far greater than any other nation:

The graph is from the (interesting and useful) Wikipedia article on incarceration rate. A factoid from the article: “While Americans only represent about 5 percent of the world’s population, one-quarter of the entire world’s inmates are incarcerated in the United States.”

So we have enormous numbers of our citizens who have been through the prison experience or are getting that experience now—with more to come. We’re creating an ever-increasing population of men (and women) who have been through our prison system. And because of budget cuts and demands that taxes be reduced, which will lead to more budget cuts, we can foresee that things in prisons will get much worse, that private industries that now run much of the prison system will continue to work to increase head counts (and thus profits) by spending millions paying politicians—excuse me, “lobbying”—while cutting costs continually, and finally that those prisoners eventually return to society, and perhaps with a bad attitude. And locking up more and more people ultimately will not work. The US is already a prison nation—are we going to lock up more?

While none of us wants to go to prison, we are all more or less at risk of breaking secret laws (as described in the preceding post)—or, heck, just locked up with no reason provided: “detained” indefinitely. That’s what the US does these days.

A country with a growing ex-convict population. Not a good idea.

UPDATE: The War on Drugs is responsible for a lot of this. From the same Wikipedia article:

In a better time, our elected representatives would focus on actual problems and work together (remember those days?) to find a solution.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2011 at 9:04 pm

Another company due for a wrist slap

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Cargill, with its recall of 18,000 tons of contaminated ground turkey from an Arkansas plant, will no doubt have promise really seriously not to do this anymore, or if they do, to be ready to apologize again. That’s how regulation is done in the US these days.

From the NY Times report, one interesting factoid:

Federal data shows that 10 to 15 percent of ground turkey typically is contaminated with salmonella. Federal data from tests in 2009 also showed that more than three-quarters of salmonella samples found on ground turkey was resistant to at least one type of antibiotic.

Bacteria can develop resistance after exposure to antibiotics that are routinely used in raising food animals. [due to evolution – LG]

At least one person dead so far.

You might find this column by Mark Bitman, also in today’s NY Times, to be relevant as well as interesting. It begins:

Can Big Food Regulate Itself? Fat Chance

Life would be so much easier if we could only set our own guidelines. You could define the average weight as 10 pounds higher than your own and, voilà, no more obesity! You could raise the speed limit to 90 miles per hour and never worry about a ticket. You could call a cholesterol level of 250 “normal” and celebrate with a bag of fried pork rinds. (You could even claim that cutting government spending would increase employment, but that might be going too far.) You could certainly turn junk food into something “healthy.”

That’s what the food industry is doing.

Back in May I wrote about the voluntary guidelines for marketing junk food to kids developed by an interagency group headed by the Federal Trade Commission. These non-binding suggestions ask that the industry market real food to kids instead of the junk they so famously favor selling. But the industry argues that the recommendations are effectively mandatory because non-compliance would lead to retaliation and eliminate all food advertising to adolescents, as well as 74,000 jobs.

On the phone last week, Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut,  told me that even though the guidelines are “without teeth,” the pushback from the industry has been formidable: “We have seen political showmanship, misinformation about the impact of these voluntary guidelines, insistence that the industry has been successful in self-regulation and that these efforts would violate the First Amendment.”

That voluntary guidelines could curb the right to free speech is absurd, but not as wacky as letting the industry set its own standards. Yet that’s what has happened: . . .

Continue reading. And of course they will get away with it. They already own most of the politicians and the entire GOP.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2011 at 6:53 pm

US: Friend to dictators, tyrants, and torturers

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3 August 2011 at 5:12 pm

Wireless data from every light bulb

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Fascinating:

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3 August 2011 at 4:57 pm

Strange doings in the land of the free and the home of the brave

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Those phrases once described the US, but given that the country is now so fearful that it won’t even try in its own courts the terrorists it catches, “home of the brave” is almost snarky. And I wonder about “land of the free” given these items from Glenn Greenwald’s column today:

(2) In February, numerous American Muslims and groups sued the FBI, alleging — based on the confessions of a former paid FBI informant — that Muslim individuals and mosques were randomly targeted for surveillance and infiltration in violation of their First Amendment rights and rights to be free from religious discrimination.  So extreme was the FBI informant’s efforts to lure mosque members into Terrorist plots — following the FBI’stypical pattern of manufacturing its own plots and then touting it success in stopping them — that members in one of the targeted mosques actually called law enforcement authorities to report the informant for appearing dangerous and unstable.

Yesterday, the Obama DOJ responded to the lawsuit, and did so, as Josh Gerstein reports, by demanding dismissal based on the “state secrets” privilege — claiming that even if they violated these Americans’ religious freedoms and discriminated against them, “allowing the [claims] to be litigated would require the disclosure of sensitive national security information.”  The DOJ’s brief repeatedly touts the threat of “homegrown terrorism” to argue that the identity of citizens whom it surveils — and even the identity of those it does not — are such vital “state secrets” that courts must not force Executive Branch officials to even respond to these lawsuits.

So now this secrecy doctrine is used to tell victims of alleged discrimination that their claims cannot even be heard by a court because what was done to them is a “state secret” — even though courts possess numerous powers to safeguard actual secrets.  Yet again we see the radical perversion of the “state secrets” privilege pioneered by the Bush administration andcontinued in earnest by the Obama DOJ from what it began as — a document-specific evidentiary privilege — into sweeping immunity instrument which literally removes the President and his underlings from the rule of law (even if we broke the law, our actions are too secret to judicially scrutinize).

 

(3) In other news from The Most Transparent Administration Ever, the Senate Intelligence Committee — led by Dianne Feintsein — refused to compel the Obama administration to disclose its interpretation of the Patriot Act and, specifically, the domestic surveillance powers it exercises under that law.  Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall tried to compel disclosure of the administration’s interpretation of that law on the ground that it so severely departs from the public’s (and Congress’) understanding of that statute that it amounts, in Wyden’s words, to a “secret law, a secret Patriot Act.”  As Obama’s own chosen (but never confirmed) OLC Chief Dawn Johnsen repetaedly argued, “secret laws” — where the Executive Branch refuses even to disclose how it is interpreting a Congressional statute — were one of the most anti-democratic abuses of the Bush years.  Yet here it flourishes.  The Intelligence Committee also refused to compel the Obama administration to estimate how many Americans have been subjected to electronic surveillance under the 2008 FISA Amendments Act supported by then-Senator Obama.

 

(4) In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Thomas Drake (who was prosecuted for whistleblowing by the Obama DOJ) and Jesselyn Radack (who was harassed for the same sin at the hands of the Bush DOJ), have jointly written an Op-Ed documenting that — as they put it — the current  “administration’s reaction to national-security and intelligence whistle-blowers has been even harsher than the Bush administration’s was.”  Meanwhile, the U.S. Government’s former classification czar — furious that Drake was prosecuted for leaking documents marked “classified” for which there was no conceivable secrecy concerns — is trying to strike back against Obama’s war on whistleblowers by formally demanding that the NSA officials who improperly classified those documents be punished.  To say that excessive secrecy is a vastly greater problem than unauthorized leaking is to understate the case.

 

(5) In Iraq — where we have been repeatedly told the U.S. war has ended — U.S. forces joined Iraqi forces for a night raid on a village near Tikrit “that left the tribal Sheik and two others dead, and several wounded, including two young girls.”  That led to the following, from the NYT reporter who visited the village:

Surrounded by perhaps two dozen men, they took us through the village, recounting the raid and blaming the Americans. . . . “We will follow them to America and file cases there against them,” one of the villagers said. “There were more than 30 people here that saw what happened and all are ready to be witnesses.”

One tribal sheik, Youseff Ahmad, spoke about the debate about the future role of United States forces here that has dominated Iraqi public life of late. “We want them to leave, even before the end of this year,” Mr. Ahmad said. “They’ve destroyed us. They’ve only brought killing and disaster.”

Despite the truth of that last observation, the NYT reporter seems truly mystified that more anger isn’t being directed to Iraqi forces or the Iraqi court which approved the raid but, instead, the foreign army is bearing the brunt of the rage.  Meanwhile it was announced last week that the oh-so-autonomous Iraqi government has agreed to pay $400 million to compensate Americans held as “human shields” by Saddam during the Persian Gulf War — 20 years ago.  I wonder if a similar compensation package is headed toward the latest Iraqis whose lives the U.S. just helped extinguish.  This is all taking place in the context of U.S. efforts to “persuade” the Iraqis to “allow” U.S. troops to remain in Iraq beyond the 2011 withdrawal deadline Obama repeatedly promised to maintain:

Public remarks by Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric whose Sadrist movement is politically powerful, that he would reconstitute his militia if the Americans stay has in some ways masked a deeper anti-American sentiment that courses through Iraqi life, Sunni and Shiites alike. While the debate has sometimes been framed as the Sadrists being the sole voice against a continued United States troop presence, American diplomats, citing polls that aren’t public, saythe majority of Iraqis have a negative view of the American role in Iraq.

I just can’t fathom why they think that way — so ungrateful are they.  And one can never note enough times how frequently and in how many different countries the U.S. kills innocent people under the direction of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2011 at 4:55 pm

Yet another finding on the dangers of secondhand smoke

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Those who wish to smoke even when that exposes others to secondhand-smoke inhalation really, really don’t want to acknowledge the dangers of secondhand smoke, but the evidence keeps piling up. A brief note in a recent New Scientist:

Passive smoking significantly increases teenagers’ risk of hearing loss. A study of over 1500 American teens aged 12 to 19 suggests that exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke can cause infection and damage blood vessels in the ear (Archives of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, DOI: 10.1001/archoto.2011.109).

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3 August 2011 at 3:14 pm

Aha! “Age no barrier to language learning”

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Just as I was starting to suspect: Catherine de Lange reports in New Scientist:

It’s never too late to learn another language. Surprisingly, under controlled conditions adults turn out to be better than children at acquiring a new language skill.

It is widely believed that children younger than 7 are good at picking up new languages because their brains rewire themselves more easily, and because they use what is called procedural, or implicit, memory to learn – meaning they pick up a new language without giving it conscious thought. Adults are thought to rely on explicit memory, whereby they actively learn the rules of a language.

But some linguists now question whether this apparent difference in language-learning ability reflects our attitudes to young children and adults rather than differences in the brain. “If adults make a mistake we don’t correct them because we don’t want to insult them,” says Sara Ferman of Tel Aviv University, Israel.

Ferman and Avi Karni from the University of Haifa, Israel, devised an experiment in which 8-year-olds, 12-year-olds and adults were given the chance to learn a new language rule. In the made-up rule, verbs were spelled and pronounced differently depending on whether they referred to an animate or inanimate object.

Participants were not told this, but were asked to listen to a list of correct noun-verb pairs, and then voice the correct verb given further nouns. The researchers had already established that 5-year-olds performed poorly at the task, and so did not include them in the study. All participants were tested again two months later to see what they remembered. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2011 at 3:11 pm

Fracking and our drinking water

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Of course, the oil and gas industry is (thanks to Dick Cheney and the GOP Congress during Bush’s presidency) is now exempt from the various regulations (Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and others) that have protected our environment, so really: what do they care whether they destroy our drinking water? Bad PR, perhaps, but they can forestall that with sealed settlements, which they are busy doing every day. (Really, you should watch GasLand.) Remember: the companies are legally obligated to do everything possible to increase profits, and evidence has proved that they are not constrained by morals, ethics, or the law: they’re perfectly willing to break the law if the profits exceed the costs.

Ian Urbina reports on the issue in the NY Times:

For decades, oil and gas industry executives as well as regulators have maintained that a drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that is used for most natural gas wells has never contaminated underground drinking water.

The claim is based in part on a simple fact: fracking, in which water and toxic chemicals [most of which are secret: proprietary information] are injected at high pressure into the ground to break up rocks and release the gas trapped there, occurs thousands of feet below drinking-water aquifers. Because of that distance, the drilling chemicals pose no risk, industry officials have argued.

“There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one,” Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, said last year at a Congressional hearing on drilling.

It is a refrain that not only drilling proponents, but also state and federal lawmakers, even past and present Environmental Protection Agency directors, have repeated often.

But there is in fact a documented case, and the E.P.A. report that discussed it suggests there may be more. Researchers, however, were unable to investigate many suspected cases because their details were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners.

Current and former E.P.A. officials say this practice continues to prevent them from fully assessing the risks of certain types of gas drilling.

“I still don’t understand why industry should be allowed to hide problems when public safety is at stake,” said Carla Greathouse, the author of the E.P.A. report that documents a case of drinking water contamination from fracking. “If it’s so safe, let the public review all the cases.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2011 at 12:54 pm

An effective answer to poison oak, poison ivy, and the like

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Technu, in a word. Read James Fallows’s experience with it here.

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3 August 2011 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Daily life, Medical

Source for shaving supplies samples

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Just came across this link on Reddit’s Wicked_Edge: Garry’s Sample Shop.

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3 August 2011 at 11:10 am

Posted in Shaving

Some statements from atheists on why they don’t believe in God

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Interesting collection. Sample:

Susan Blackmore
Psychologist and author
What reason for belief could I possibly have? To explain suffering? He doesn’t. Unless, that is, you buy in to his giving us free will, which conflicts with all we know about human decision-making.

To give me hope of an afterlife? My 30 years of parapsychological research threw that hope out. To explain the mystical, spiritual and out-of-body experiences I have had? No: our rapidly improving knowledge of the brain is providing much better explanations than religious reasoning. To explain the existence and complexity of the wonderful world I see around me? No – and this is really the main one.

God is supposed (at least in some versions of the story) to have created us all. Yet the Creator (any creator) is simply redundant. Every living thing on this planet evolved by processes that require no designer, no plans, no guidance and no foresight. We need no God to do this work. Where would he fit in? What would he do? And why? If he did have any role in our creation, he would have to be immensely devious, finickity, deceitful and mind-bogglingly cruel, which would be a very odd kind of God to believe in. So I don’t.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2011 at 11:04 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace

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The title refers to an intriguing TV series on BBC, and this second episode, “The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts,” is especially intriguing:

More of the series can be found here.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2011 at 10:12 am

Posted in Environment, Science, Video

Michael Behe disproves idea of “Irreducible Complexity”

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Irreducible complexity is a hand-waving argument against evolution that uses the ignorance of the person making the argument as a crucial part of the argument. The template is this: “For x to evolve, more than one thing would have to change at once, and I don’t see how that could happen.” That constitutes the “proof” that evolution doesn’t happen: the fact that the person making the argument doesn’t understand how it could have happened.

Color me unconvinced. The fact that person A does not understand all the details of how some natural phenomenon works does not, in a sane world, mean that the natural phenomenon doesn’t exist.

Michael Behe shows conclusively, in his testimony during the Dover trial, that the irreducible complexity argument doesn’t even work: the odds, in his explanation, favor multiple simultaneous mutations (given the population size and time scale on which evolution works).

It’s worth reading, especially since Michael Behe in effect refutes conclusively his own position. Entertaining.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2011 at 10:02 am

Posted in Evolution, Science

Iced Green Tea Elixir with Ginger and Lemon

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This recipe sounds very tasty, though with the overnight aging (ginger syrup and then the tea elixir) it takes a couple of days before you can imbibe. The ingredients:

Iced Green Tea Elixir with Ginger & Lemon
makes 3 quarts

1/4 ounce good quality Chinese green tea leaves
1/4 cup lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1/4 cup pomegranate syrup or pomegranate molasses, without any added sweeteners
3/4 cup ginger syrup, recipe below
Mint, to garnish
Lemon slices, to garnish
Pomegranate seeds, to garnish

Full recipe here. I’ll make it with white tea, rather than green. White is just as tasty and better for you.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2011 at 9:46 am

Posted in Daily life, Drinks, Food, Recipes

Hungry Neurons = Hungry Person

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Very interesting article by Katherine Bagley in The Scientist:

Starving neurons of the hypothalamus appear to take a two-pronged approach to nutrient shortages: eat themselves in a process called autophagy as a short-term fix, and set off a cascade to make the organism crave more food, according to new research. The findings, published today (August 2) in Cell Metabolism, may explain why intense dieting can be so hard to stick with, and help scientists develop novel therapies to fight obesity, according to the study authors.

“The present study identifies the missing link [between the brain and weight control] as autophagy,” said Vojo Deretic, chair of the University of New Mexico’s department of molecular genetics and microbiology, who was not involved in the research. “It is definitely an interesting paper that may lead to bigger things in the future.”

Many people who try to diet simply can’t stick with the program, often driven by strong cravings for junk foods high in fat. Previous studies have demonstrated that increased levels of fatty acids floating extracellularly in the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that monitors nutritional status, triggers cravings. But the mechanisms that controlled the levels of these fatty molecules inside brain cells were unknown.

Molecular biologist Susmita Kaushik and her colleagues at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York, decided to investigate one variety of hypothalamic neuron, the agouti-related peptide neuron (AgRP), whose activity has been linked to increased food intake. By removing nutrients supplies from the neurons in vitro and keeping food from mice, the researchers discovered that . . .

Continue reading. As many have pointed out, the solution for overweight individual is to eat less, but to explain exactly why that is so difficult for some—that, of course, is the key. (That’s why it is so irritating when people say that the solution to obesity is easy: “Eat less.” The cure for cancer is equally easy: “Kill the cancer cells.” Nothing to it—literally.)

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3 August 2011 at 9:35 am

Nicotine as protection against Parkinson’s disease

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I have a friend with Parkinson’s and through him have learned a fair amount about the disease. Parkinson’s deserves more research support than it’s gotten because as people live longer, the incidence of Parkinson’s will increase. It results from the death of cells that produce dopamine, and those cells will eventually die if you live long enough.

So the bad way that nicotine protects against Parkinson’s is when it is administered via smoking cigarettes: this will in all likelihood result in dying before Parkinson’s appears. But this a bit drastic as “protection”. Jef Akst in The Scientist has a note on a better mode of protection:

Nicotine protects the brain against the loss of dopamine neurons, a characteristic sign of Parkinson’s disease, according to a study published this week in The FASEB Journal. By activating the alpha-7 nicotinic receptor, nicotine—which increases dopamine levels in the brain—appears to be able to rescue mouse dopaminergic neurons cultured under conditions that favor their loss. Genetically engineered mouse cells that lacked a specific nicotine receptor (the alpha-7 subtype), however, were unaffected by nicotine treatment.

The findings suggest that new Parkinson’s therapies may be developed to target nicotine receptors, FierceBiotech reports. “This study raises the hope for a possible neuroprotective treatment,” said co-author Patrick P. Michel of the Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Épinière, Hôpital de la Salpêtrière, in Paris, France, in a statement.

But this is not an endorsement for cigarettes, FASEB noted. “If you’re a smoker, don’t get too excited,” Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal, said in a statement. “Even if smoking protects you from Parkinson’s, you might not live long enough to develop the disease because smoking greatly increases the risk for deadly cancers and cardiovascular diseases.”

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2011 at 9:28 am

Posted in Health, Medical, Science

Summertime shave

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Cucumber-melon has a wonderful summertime fragrance—at least for me—and I also put the Aqua Velva in the fridge for a while before shaving. (I didn’t try the alum-bar-in-the-freezer trick, but it sounds good, too.)

I got the usual wonderful lather from the Ginger’s Garden shaving soap, which really seems to be more of a shaving cream than a shaving soap. I do like the fragrance, and my rhodium-plated late ’40’s Super Speed (center bar is notched to help load blade, unlike earlier unnotched models) with a previously used Swedish Gillette blade did a reasonably good job, but I still felt roughness after the polishing pass. So into the blade safe the old blade did go, and I brought out my vintage Merkur Slant Bar (Schick Platinum blade) and lathered for a purely polishing pass with the slant, as described in my previous shaving post.

That worked extremely well, and in the TRT (three-razor technique, pioneered by Bruce Everiss), it seems that the Slant Bar is equally useful in the initial, beard-reduction pass as it is in the final polishing pass. I think I may keep the Slant Bar handy for this.

The Aqua Velva bottle is designed for rapid cooling—wide, flat shape—and the aftershave was indeed pleasantly chilled. But to apply, I pour a small amount in the palm of one hand… game over. It warms instantly, even before I set the bottle down, clap my other palm over it and rub hands together to spread the aftershave (now at skin temperature), then apply those to my face and feel the menthol—but no direct coolness from the chilled aftershave.

OTOH, I have a couple of aftershaves, including a hydrosol aftershave tonic from Enchanté, that are applied with a sprayer. Those that go directly from bottle to cheek will probably carry the cold with them, and they’re in the fridge now, for tomorrow’s shave. And the alum is in the freezer. (I think that’ll work fine: the block will heat relatively slowly, and I rub the block directly on my face.) Tune in tomorrow for more of the summer-shave experiment.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2011 at 9:16 am

Posted in Shaving

Good movies recently watched

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I enjoyed the science-fiction film Source Code with Jake Gyllenhaal, who seems to always do a good job, and I’m liking the comedy Wild Target with Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt, available on Netflix Watch Instantly. Nighy seems always to be pitch perfect in his performances.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2011 at 7:37 am

A printed plane takes flight

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3-D printing is amazing:

News story here.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2011 at 7:30 am

Posted in Technology, Video

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