Astronomy picture of the day


Noctilucent clouds over Sweden

Explanation: Sometimes it’s night on the ground but day in the air. As the Earth rotates to eclipse the Sun, sunset rises up from the ground. Therefore, at sunset on the ground, sunlight still shines on clouds above. Under usual circumstances, a pretty sunset might be visible, but unusual noctilucent clouds float so high up they can be seen well after dark. Pictured above last month, a network of noctilucent clouds cast a colorful but eerie glow after dusk near Vallentuna, Sweden. Although noctilucent clouds are thought to be composed of small ice-coated particles, much remains unknown about them. Recent evidence indicates that at least some noctilucent clouds result from freezing water exhaust from Space Shuttles.

[tags]Astronomy picture of the day, PotD, Astronomy, Noctilucent[/tags]

Apple to rent videos online?


As Dan Gillmor notes on his blog, this is contrary to Apple’s normal method of selling content. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true though. In fact, given the reliability of Think Secret (where the original article is posted), it seems likely that this will come to be. We shall have to wait a few weeks to find out, now.

With three weeks until Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Think Secret has learned exclusively that CEO Steve Jobs will use his keynote address to announce the debut of movie rentals through the iTunes Music Store. While the announcement will undoubtedly be billed as a further extension of iTunes’ dominance in digital media downloads, it represents a coup for the movie industry, which will have succeeded in standing its ground against Apple’s pressures to offer consumers the option of owning movie downloads.

. . .

Because the movies will be rented to consumers and not sold, people familiar with the situation report downloads will be coded with a date stamp that will restrict playback. It is not known exactly how the coding system will work, but industry experts tell Think Secret that the software would likely either limit the number of playbacks or provide unlimited viewing for a period of time, after which the movie will be “turned off” and no longer available.

. . .

“The subscription business makes sense for everybody. We’ll all make money. But more importantly, it’s a different beast from music and no one—not even Steve Jobs—is blind to that,” the insider said.

So watch what Apple has to say in the coming weeks and find out if you’ll soon be renting movies from Apple to go with all the music you are already buying.

[tags]Apple,, Dan Gillmor, Downloadable video rental[/tags]

Radium – Boon or Menace?

Originally printed in the June 1932 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics, this article now reprinted on Modern Mechanix asks the important question “Radium – Boon or Menace?”

It seems like a simple question, but back then, most people knew so little about radiation.

RECENTLY the press reported the case of a wealthy man who died from the direct use of radium, in a way that made it necessary for the authorities to step in and investigate the so-called “radium cures”. The victim, Eben M. Byers, an iron manufacturer, died in a New York hospital from the effects of radium absorbed by drinking “radithor”, a radioactive water manufactured by the Bailey Radium Laboratories, East Orange, New Jersey. In this case, the radium-charged water was put up in small bottles; and it has been ascertained that Mr. Byers drank a number of bottles a day for a long time. Eventually, the active radium settled in his bones, where it set up necrosis (death of the tissues) and, in due time, the patient died; there being no known antidote once radium has been absorbed by the bones. Similar cases were reported several years ago, of a number of workers poisoned by radium-impregnated paint in a factory where luminous watch dials were made. In this case the workers had a habit of moistening the fine paint brushes with their tongues, thus carrying into the system active radium; and practically all of the workers who had thus absorbed radium died in a similar manner, that is by disintegration of the bones.

There has been so much erroneous and misleading infor-mation printed in the newspapers, and elsewhere, about radium that it becomes necessary to enlighten the public at large with the true facts of radium. This article is intended to do so, by giving actual scientific information on the subject as it is know today.

Since a popular article should be understood by everybody, I have tried to keep out of this all technicalities that would confuse the layman, and give only such information as anyone can readily understand.

The author of this article then goes on to explain a lot of the science behind radiation in very clear, non-technical terms.  The discussion then turns to the uses of Radium and other radiation.

Now, coming to things nearer home, let us discuss the effects of radium on the human body. It was found early by physicists, working in conjunction with doctors, that X-rays could be used beneficially in certain types of cancer. Cancer is a disease wherein body cells which are normally controlled by some internal secretion, become out of control, and grow so rapidly that they draw upon the rest of the body until sooner or later, unless the growth is checked, the patient dies. There are a number of different types of cancer; but even today, medical science knows very little about it and is still largely in the dark as to its cause and as to its treatment.

One thing is recognized and that is: Certain types of cancer yield to X-rasys and to the Gamma rays of radium, which are one and the same thing. If discovered in time, such cancerous tissue, when radiated properly with powerful X-rays or Radium Gamma rays, will actually be destroyed and the mischief stopped. On other types of cancer the Radium rays and X-rays have no effect whatsoever.

Read the whole article and get educated.  It is lengthy, but I think it’s one of the better works I’ve ever linked to, and one of the best reprints I’ve seen on Modern Mechanix.

[tags]Modern Mechanix, Radium, Radiation[/tags]

The Vidco Copy Cart – old school video game piracy

(via RetroThings)

I actually knew someone who had one of these Atari 2600 cartridge copying things (well, I knew someone who knew someone who had one, but I actually saw the thing in action at my friend’s house). Plug an original Atari 2600 cartridge in one end, plug the erasable and reuseable copy cartridge in the other, push a button, and you have a copy. See – videogame piracy is not new. It’s just taking more clever hackers to make it possible for all you grubby little pirates to steal games. 🙂

[tags]Atari 2600, Atari VCS, Retro-gaming piracy[/tags]

Portable music players loaded primarily with legal music

(via Ars Technica)

A recent study by the marketing research company Ipsos Insight shows that more than 70% of all music on portable music players is acquired through legal means, and that the percentage of legal music is growing. Nearly half the music on players is ripped from the users’ own collections, and roughly one-quarter is from legal pay-to-download services. So despite claims from Microsoft that most people steal music, it appears that most music is legally acquired.

A new study by global market research firm Ipsos indicates that as many as one in five Americans over the age of 12 now own portable MP3 Players and one in 20 own more than one. And interest in viewing music videos, photos, TV shows and even full-length movies from these devices is especially strong among younger consumers who have experience downloading music.

. . .

Nearly half of music downloaders own a portable MP3 player (48%), and these owners use their devices an average of 12 hours per week. Younger downloaders use their MP3 Players more often (average of over 16 hours per week among teens), but have less digital content stored on their devices. Overall, there is an average of 700 songs or files stored on a U.S. music downloader’s MP3 player.

Existing CD collections continue to be the primary source of MP3 Player content among music downloaders. Nearly half (44%) of the content stored on MP3 players is ripped from the owner’s personal CD collection, and another 6% is ripped from others’ CD collections. Fee-based downloads (25%) and files obtained from file sharing services (19%) are also common sources of content.

So things aren’t quite as bad as the recording industry would have you believe.  I’m guessing the poor sales recently have more to do with most music sucking rather than with everyone on the planet stealing.  But that’s just my cynical view of life.

[tags]Portable music players, Music downloads, Music fans aren’t pirates[/tags]

Guide to net neutrality

(via LifeHacker)
With all the buzz going on about ‘net neutrality, it might be good to actually understand what it means and why it matters.  So if you don’t already have all the necessary information on what the whole net neutrality issue is, read up on the How Stuff Works Network Neutrality Primer.

The net neutrality debate is divided into two camps: Fighting against net neutrality are the telecom companies and cable providers, who provide Internet access to consumers. Opposing them are content providers like Google, Amazon, and non-profits like and the National Religious Broadcasters. But what are they fighting about?

. . .

Defeating net neutrality would give telecom companies the ability to charge content-providers (like Google, eBay and Amazon) to use their bandwidth and, in essence, have access to their subscribers. Not only would the content providers have access to the telecom subscribers, by paying they would have preferred access — higher bandwidth and better delivery of their content. At the heart of this strategy is the telecoms’ claim that they need revenue to make necessary updates to Internet infrastructure. Emerging technologies and media require improvements, they say, and the money has to come from somewhere.

Those in favor of regulation worry that telecoms will abuse their control and punish companies that won’t pay up. Catherine Yang of “Business Week” explains that, “The network operators could block consumers from popular sites such as Google, Amazon, or Yahoo! in favor of their own. Or they could degrade delivery of Web pages whose providers don’t pay extra. Google’s home page, for instance, might load at a creep, while a search engine backed by the network company would zip along.”

. . .

Two main voices have emerged, each supporting one side of the issue. Confusingly, both organizations’ mission is to “save the Internet.”, or “Hands off the Internet,” is in favor of the telecoms. In favor of Net Neutrality is Consider each of their positions in their own words (for a more exhaustive representation of their purposes and goals, visit their Web sites).

There’s a large chunk of what the article covers, but there’s more to learn.  The primer explains what net neutrality is, why it matters, and what some well-known “experts” are saying about the issue.

[tags]Network neutrality, How Stuff Works, LifeHacker[/tags]

Man with bomb parts boards plane – all involved point fingers

(via boingboing)

Given how many people go through all the airports here in the US, I think it’s totally understandable that sometimes, some people get through screening that shouldn’t. When it does happen, though, I think figuring out what went wrong and trying to fix it beats playing the blame game. Unfortunately, in Houston, the blame-game appears to be the more notable part of the story.

Houston police and the federal Transportation Security Administration disagree over who is responsible for allowing a man with what appeared to be bomb components board an aircraft at Hobby Airport last week.

Although the FBI eventually cleared the man of wrongdoing, police officials have transferred the officer involved and are investigating the incident while insisting that the TSA, not police, has the authority to keep a suspicious person from boarding a flight.

“Our job is not to be the gatekeepers,” police Capt. Dwayne Ready said. “That burden falls squarely on the airline and TSA to make that final decision.

. . .

The report states that a man with a Middle Eastern name and a ticket for a Delta Airlines flight to Atlanta shook his head when screeners asked if he had a laptop computer in his baggage, but an X-ray machine operator detected a laptop.

A search of the man’s baggage revealed a clock with a 9-volt battery taped to it and a copy of the Quran, the report said. A screener examined the man’s shoes and determined that the “entire soles of both shoes were gutted out.”

No idea what the real story is here. Hopefully someone figures it out, works on clarifying procedures, and we don’t hear about this kind of snafu again (because it doesn’t happen, not because no one reports it next time…). I should mention that I may be picking up the wrong side of the story anyway:

The incident gained enough attention at higher levels of the TSA that the FBI was asked to investigate. The TSA issued a statement saying its screeners “acted in accordance with their training and protocols.”

FBI Special Agent Stephen Emmett in Atlanta said agents there investigated the passenger.

“It was looked at and deemed a non-event,” Emmett said, declining to give further details.

So maybe the bomb-parts thing is just an erroneous part of the report.

[tags]TSA, Air travel safety[/tags]

Ted Nugent comments on the French

(via Snopes)
If you know anything about Ted Nugent, the following bit from an interview he did with a British journalist won’t surprise you.

And yes, he did make the comment in a May 2006 interview conducted by a British journalist Robert Chalmers for The Independent on Sunday, the expanded Sunday version of the UK newspaper The Independent:

“What do these deer think when they see you coming?” I ask him. “Here comes the nice guy who puts out our dinner? Or, there’s the man that shot my brother?”

“I don’t think they’re capable of either of those thoughts, you Limey asshole. They’re only interested in three things: the best place to eat, having sex and how quickly they can run away. Much like the French.”

Internet-spread versions of this exchange have changed the interviewer’s nationality from British to French to position the rocker’s observation as an even greater slap-down.

[tags]Ted Nugent[/tags]

CNN and the war

Two US Marines are listening to the radio in Iraq.

“American soldiers,” coos a soft female voice, “Your so-called national Leaders have lied to you. You are needlessly risking your lives to wage A useless, unjust, illegal, and unwinnable war. Now is the time to return home to your loved ones, while you are still alive. If you foolishly insist on remaining where you are not wanted, the brave resistance fighters will have no choice but to kill you and add your name to the long ever-increasing casualty list of this insane war. So why risk never seeing your loved ones again for a so-called president who has repeatedly lied and deceived you at every opportunity? Why should you be sacrificed so that US corporations can enjoy fatter profits? The only wise thing to do is return home now, while you are still drawing breath, before you return zippered into a bodybag.”

“What’s this?” sneers one Marine. “An Islamo-terrorist version of Tokyo Rose?”

“No,” answers the other. “It’s just CNN!”

I’m no fan of the war, but that’s just funny.  And perhaps a bit too accurate a portrayal of CNN.

[tags]Iraqi war, CNN, Humor[/tags]