blivet; speaking of 10 pounds in a 5 pound sack

[Reuters] Outer space gases brought to Earth on buckyballs

     WASHINGTON, March 21 - Weird gases from 
     outer space arrived on Earth during a 
     dinosaur-killing asteroid strike 65 million years 
     ago, and survive in molecular cages called 
     buckyballs, researchers reported on Tuesday. 
     Buckyballs, lacy-looking molecules made up of carbon 
     atoms, are also known as fullerenes and are named in 
     honor of Buckminster Fuller because they are shaped 
     like the geodesic dome he invented.
     "They're enriched helium 3," Bunch said. "We know by 
     the helium signature that it was formed probably 
     outside the solar system … they've trapped them 
     inside (the buckyballs) at the site of formation." 
     This weird helium shows, as no other evidence has, 
     that buckyballs can transport extraterrestrial gases 
     without letting them escape on the way. Future 
     research may focus on other gases that might have 
     come to Earth in this fashion. 
     This research also supports the theory that gases 
     that make up Earth's atmosphere and organic 
     compounds came to Earth's surface during the 
     so-called age of bombardment, some 3.8 billion to 
     4.5 billion years ago, when "asteroids were running 
     wild in their orbits," as Bunch put it. 
     "Most of the carbon in our bodies came from outside 
     the solar system," Bunch said. "We're all aliens."

Pretty cool stuff, kinda feeds the ‘where did life originate’ meme.

[Wired] In the new issue that came Saturday there is an article in which Bill Joy (über-geek, Sun Computer, wrote the vi text editor) talks about the future of nanotechnology and ‘intelligent machines’ and expresses his views on the necessity of the human race in the near future. Great article, I highly recommend it. A version of this story had surfaced on the 12th as ‘Bill Joy on the Extinction of Humans‘ at The Washington Post.


From Space Science News but I got the original pointer from slashdot.

February 18, 2000 — Yesterday, a medium-sized solar flare erupted from a sunspot group near the middle of the solar disk. It was accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME) that appears to be headed directly for our planet. There’s no cause for alarm — CMEs aren’t dangerous to people — but this one could trigger beautiful aurorae and other geomagnetic activity when it passes by our planet around February 20.

I’ve never seen the Aurora, as I imagine it, it’s completely awe-inspiring.

More on Kennewick: before we get into the Reuter’s story and my comments I need to mention that NOVA broadcast Mystery of the First Americans on February 15, 2000. This was an excellent show on Kennewick and the issues surrounding the skeleton and its interpretation. Though it has been criticized by certain members of the professional community for not coming to a resolution, I think it accurately represents the professional community’s lack of concensus on this issue.

from Reuters Some Native Americans Had Neanderthal Roots. Loring Brace, a specialist in bone measurements at the University of Michigan in discussing the "European-ness" or "Ainu-ness" of the Kennewick skeleton (and other human skeletal material on this continent that are over 7,000 years old) says that it is easily explainable through the common Neanderthal ancestry of both the European and Ainu population groups. (continuing from the Reuters story):

It is a controversial theory because most scientists believe that Neanderthals were an evolutionary dead-end, people who lived side-by-side with the Cro-Magnons who were the earliest Homo sapiens but who did not interbreed with them. “To produce a modern European out of a Neanderthal, all you have to do is reduce the robustness,” Brace said. Scale down the heavy teeth, jaws and brow of the Neanderthal and you have a European, he said.

<begin blivet commentary wherein we probably place foot in mouth and chew> First, let me issue a disclaimer of bias and tell you where I stand, both intellectually and <deity or construct of choice> forbid, somewhat emotionally (you may pick up your rocks and rotten produce now). I think that the human fossil record represents a continuum, and that Neanders are an ancestral, relic population of Homo sapiens adapted to Pleistocene glacial environments. They are representative of the range in the plasticity of the human phenotype. Having said that, back to Brace’s comments. I think this (his comments) begins to position the debate where it should be, refocused on the issues of human ancestry that have been swirling in Anthropology for decades, away from who "owns" these human remains and the heavily politicized repatriation litigation.

The debate is rooted in hoary nineteenth-century science, and from my perspective seems to distill down to the continuing debate of concerning human evolution of multi-regional development v. Out of Africa. Which is to say that the Reuters statement of "most scientists agree" is simplistic news reductionism. If someone were to stand at the podium of the upcoming AAA (American Association of Anthropologists) meeting and proclaim that "Neanderthals were an evolutionary dead-end and did not interbreed with modern humans" you could witness "most scientists agree[ing]" in the ensuing shouting match. (Actually, it might be fun to watch from a distance.)

We’ve having problems talking about the populations of the New World ten thousand years ago because we can’t lucidly speak of the skeletal populations of Asia, Africa, or Europe ten thousand years ago. The sample size for all of these populations is amazingly small and there is far from any consensus regarding the phenotype of these groups. We have a larger number of complete T. rex skeletons than Paleoindian skeletons for crying out loud. We are feeling our way in the half-light of partial knowledge, but typically speaking as though the "facts" are known. Simply put, we need to make the statement that infuriates non-scientists: more work needs to be done. I would put forth for further investigation that there were multiple groups that came to the New World (a la Turner) over several thousand years, all representative of the eastern Asian populations of the time, and that those populations, through time and genetic drift, became progressively more "Asiatic" in phenotype. We need more study of the skeletal populations of Asia. The earliest Paleoindian groups resemble the present-day Ainu who, because of the Ainu’s reproductive isolation – they still resemble (skeletally) that earlier population. The fact that we can even speak of the Ainu as a distinct group in eastern Asia is testament to ongoing changes in the human phenotype and the value of studying populations that have isolated themselves, either through cultural or geographic means, and retain phenotypes distinct from the larger population.

This will continue to confound those that do not realize that science is a process, a way of doing things, not a belief system or an intellectual destination. Science done in the open is too much like the old adage concerning sausage making. If you see everything that goes into it, you might think there is something wrong with it. In science we occasionally pursue things that don’t work, we abandon positions we’ve passionately held for years, we may cling to positions knowing that there is contrary evidence. But if you present someone who claims to be a scientist with evidence that refutes their position, they must revise or change their position, or they’re not a scientist. The problem is, the farther away from Math, Chemistry, and Physics you get, the scarcer those irrefutable facts get. Out here in Anthropology-land, they’re pretty scarce. Still, it is science, it can be well reasoned, and it does approach the ‘facts,’ as we understand them. Just remember they are always subject to revision.

Granted, this does not address other burning issues such as the arrival of lithic blade technology in the New World, or ‘whose’ ancestor are we speaking of. Personally, I’m not sure anyone "owns" the skeletal material. These issues of power and control seems to only perpetuate the reification of the past, making me, as an Anglo New World archaeologist, forever relegated to perform "the Archaeology of the Other", unless I’m doing certain types of Historic investigations. In the Zen sense, this is classic dualistic thinking, aggravated and perpetuated by the allegiance to a certain German philosopher whose last name begins with "H". We’re all connected, we’re all one, a single group of humans on this pale blue dot. To perpetuate anything else is delusional. It just may be bad science as well.


Quote from MacCentral: "Jobs announced a new iBook, a new 500 MHz PowerBook — the fastest Portable ever — and a new line-up of Power Mac G4’s with faster processors running at 400-, 450-, and 500-MHz.". There is bound to be continuing news at MacWeek, MacInTouch, MacAddict, and of course from the Mothership. Now a 500 MHz G4 running LinuxPPC 2000 would be something!

The German Remote Sensing Data Center has a website for the current Shuttle mission. They’re posting current photos here. Its a bit of a slow connection, at least from where I am, even over a cable modem. Its well worth it though. I saw this at slashdot.

American Beauty was nominated for eight Oscars, more than any other film. The categories included best picture, best actor for Kevin Spacey, best actress for Annette Bening and best director for Sam Mendes. CNN, Reuters. I really enjoyed American Beauty when I saw it in the theater after I got over my inital pedophileophobic reaction. No, that word is not in the lexicon. I have yet to see Sixth Sense, so I can’t really say which way my opinion would go for best picture. The South Park movie was a best song nominee.

Eazel. If names like Andy Hertzfeld ring a bell perhaps you should have a look. Thanks to Dave and Wes. I agree with Wes, Hertzfeld working on GNOME is very interesting.

Still more Shuttle news: At the midpoint of the mission NASA will be able to determine if there is enough fuel for the remainder of the mission. CNN, Reuters.

The Jargon File is up to version 4.2.0 and is available at Thanks to slashdot for the info.

Intel’s Willamette chip demoed at 1.5 GHz. Demos are one thing because of course it hasn’t shipped yet and it will be a while before the price is reasonable, but hey, at least they’re showing it. Motorola, wherefore art the 1+ gig G4s? CNET, Wired, Reuters.

Microsoft will introduce the Mac version of Internet Explorer 5 at Macworld Tokyo tomorrow (Wednesday). It will reportedly be available in mid-March. From MacNN.


Apple now has its own Web page describing Linux, the distributions available for PowerPC Macs, and links to them. from MacNN

Clone yourself for $200K? A UFO cult apparently is creating a company to clone people. They believe that humans are alien clones. Have a look for yourself at Is this science, humor or web-based performance art? seen on slashdot.

Geek Chicks: Second thoughts – an editorial from Skud at freshmeat. There needs to be more geek women, women in science, women in technical fields. There are probably more than I think, I suspect that I don’t tend to see them because they’re better adjusted.


I don’t know what is is about Las Vegas traffic. Every time I return home relatively unscathed I’m reminded of the story (probably an urban legend) that Paul Erlich got his inspiration for The Population Bomb (1968) after being a taxi without air-conditioning stuck in a noontime Calcutta traffic jam in July. For those of you who don’t remember, the book was a dystopian view of an overpopulated world with diminishing resources and imminent disaster. Sort of like ‘Neuromancer’ without the plot or style. Las Vegas traffic elicits those sorts of images of the social fabric on the brink of some sort of Malthusian-induced collapse. People gesturing, yelling, shooting each other. Wait, that has already happened – some time ago in fact. OK, maybe congested traffic is not the harbinger of the decline of civilization. Thats already happened too. Driving in Las Vegas is just a pain. With all the people in town to witness The End of the World as We Know It© and get their drinks comped it just aggravates a bad situation. We need to finish those much delayed infrastructure improvements to I-15 and US-95, and build the Beltway. It would be nice to have a County Commission that planned as though people lived here, raised families here, and did something besides go to casinos instead of lining their pockets with developer dollars. did I say that last part out loud?

Early this morning George Harrison was stabbed at his home. Apparently he was not injured seriously. “From what we know, George was stabbed in the chest several times and [Harrison’s wife] Olivia was hit over the head,” said Police spokesman Geoff Baker. Will people please stop this nonsense! Please?

We put Mom on the plane back to her home about 6PM yesterday. I’ll have more on this ongoing rumination later, it needs some zafu* time.

There is some interesting stuff out there I missed yesterday, being away from the computer. Like that is a bad thing or something. slashdot has an interesting discussion on Geeks, Geek Issues and Voting “For Americans: it’s high time we thought about who we want to run the country for the next 4 years. What kind of laws we would want passed…or repealed. Who would be the ideal “Geek Ticket” and why?” Wired has a story about the Ig Nobel committee’s list of the 20 most spectacular failures of the last century.

*p.s. a zafu is a firm, round cushion associated with sitting meditation (zazen).


blivet /bliv’*t/ n.

(from the Jargon File)

[allegedly from a World War II military term meaning “ten pounds of manure in a five-pound bag”] 1. An intractable problem. 2. A crucial piece of hardware that can’t be fixed or replaced if it breaks. 3. A tool that has been hacked over by so many incompetent programmers that it has become an unmaintainable tissue of hacks. 4. An out-of-control but unkillable development effort. 5. An embarrassing bug that pops up during a customer demo. 6. In the subjargon of computer security specialists, a denial-of-service attack performed by hogging limited resources that have no access controls (for example, shared spool space on a multi-user system).

This term has other meanings in other technical cultures; among experimental physicists and hardware engineers of various kinds it seems to mean any random object of unknown purpose (similar to hackish use of frob). It has also been used to describe an amusing trick-the-eye drawing resembling a three-pronged fork that appears to depict a three-dimensional object until one realizes that the parts fit together in an impossible way.

discuss! This is a blivet. When you see this on any other page here, it is a link to the current topic in the discussion group.

My intent is for this to be an eclectic mix of science (I’m a professional archaeologist [MA, 2001, UNLV] and general science geek), topical observations (I read a lot – broadly and omnivorously), and Zen Buddhism (I’m an ordained Southern School Ch’an [Zen] Buddhist priest). If you’re really that curious about me, you can have a look at my university home page.

In the ever expanding attempt to reduce unsolicited commercial email I have removed the ‘mailto:’ urls. Kindly send email to gmail [dot] com using halrager. Not that I really think that this will result in less UCE, but kindly humor me in my delusion. Thanks.

"Zen is a path to nirvana, a magical mystery tour in which we turn our attention away from the chaotic opposites of right or wrong, good or evil, and meritoich we turn our attention away from the chaotic opposites of right or wrong, good or evil, and meritorious or unmeritorious action. By visualization, by sound, or perhaps by picking up a sutra’s line and tracing it back into its source… we go deeper into ourselves, into the magic and the mystery. We follow the inward path that leads into the Buddha’s Refuge; and, there, our back to the temporal opposites, couchant, in the tranquil Sanctuary, we repose in the Eternal One." Ming Zhen Shakya, ZBOHY

In true reflexive fashion this will probably resemble how things affect me (because it appears as though we’re separate), but my aim is to touch how things affect us (because we’re connected).

I’ve dabbled with Frontier through version 4.2.3 for several years, but never allowed myself to get very deep. I always figured I would get distracted from other things, like graduate school.

To Dave, everyone at UserLand, and the amazing user community ˜ thanks for Frontier, Manila, and Radio UserLand!

Occasionally you may see what appears to be comments in italics after some things. Like this! Dave Winer (who ultimately is responsible for all this Frontier and Manila stuff) refers to this as his “evil twin”. I’ve borrowed this (with love) for these pages. People who know me in the flesh know I carry on a running commentary with myself once in awhile. For myself, similar to Dave, this seems like a logical extension for the web. I’m finding it especially useful as I struggle to find my voice here. So that is what those italics represent, one of the voices of my ‘committee’. You know, those folks inside your head, in the back of the bus, that make comments and heckle the driver? don’t look at me that way, it’s normal I tell you! Sometimes they’re your friends, sometimes, well, not. Anyway, that’s who, and what, the italics are supposed to be for. Sort of a Herman’s Head thing (if you remember that TV show).