Archive for December 2, 2010

Dumb Move of the Day

December 2, 2010 Leave a comment

On Sunday I described some of our Thanksgiving Eve woes, one being the difficulties we were having setting up Gail’s new iMac. Ultimately, we had to do so from scratch, without transferring data from her old iMac. The worst indignity was that iTunes wouldn’t recognize the new computer as hers, which means she couldn’t recover all the items she has bought — songs, TV shows, iPhone and iPad apps. As we learned, one must write to the appropriate iTunes rep (calling isn’t an option) and beg for forgiveness. The friendly but patronizing iTuner assured her that he understood how frustrating it is to lose one’s data. He would make an exception to policy and allow her to download her purchases from iTunes again. They were put in the appropriate place on iTunes’ end and she was able to see them in her downloads folder at the iTunes store. This afternoon, almost 48 hours later, the download to the new iMac was complete.

But that’s her story. This is about me. I mentioned near the end of the Thanksgiving Eve post that I ordered my own new iMac last Friday. It came this afternoon. I didn’t want to set it up right away, because doing so would involve transferring data from my ancient MacMini, which I suspected might take hours, during which time I wouldn’t be able to use either of them. Around 5:00 PM, with Joel’s assistance, I connected the two and began the transfer. We then went out to do some errands and have a quick dinner. On our return, the transfer was going well, with an estimated time remaining of 3 1/2 hours.

What to do? Maybe this was a good time to disconnect my computer’s external speakers, which I would no longer need thanks to the built-in iMac speakers. Of course, the external speakers are better than the iMac speakers, but they also take up space. I figured I would try life without them. To my surprise, Gail offered to take them, which meant the speaker clutter wouldn’t disappear. It would simply move from one corner of our extended built-in desk to the other. I wasn’t sure that was progress, but that was the plan.

To implement the plan, I started to slide the new iMac out of the way so I could get to the speakers. It was right in front of them, and in front of my about-to-be-retired MacMini, to which it was yoked as it sucked up the MacMini’s data. If you have the picture, perhaps you can guess what happened next. I’ll pause a moment.


When I slid the new iMac away from the MacMini and its peripherals, out came the iMac’s power cord. The iMac shut down, the MacMini kept pumping out the data, but it was just spilling all over the desk. Well, okay, maybe not. I don’t know what the data was doing. All I know is, it wasn’t going into the iMac, and I had just wasted two hours.

That’s your dumb move of the day.

I plugged the iMac back in, started the process again, left the speakers alone, and realized I could work on Gail’s new iMac. That’s where I am now. The data dump will surely be continuing when I go to sleep. I’m eager to see what dumb thing I do tomorrow.

Categories: Life, Stupidity

Arsenic-Based Life

December 2, 2010 Leave a comment

I can’t remember the last time I had a science post, but there was a pretty cool announcement today in the realm of astrobiology, and I can’t resist mentioning it.

One might describe astrobiology as the inter-disciplinary study of how life begins, or could begin, on Earth or elsewhere in the universe. One challenge to studying this is that we haven’t found life anywhere else in the universe. That makes it a little difficult to study life elsewhere. But what we can do instead is study life in harsh conditions on Earth, such as at deep sea hydrothermal vents. Faculty at my university study such things. I even know some of these faculty. And a few years back, my administrative duties included overseeing our Astrobiology Program, not that that made me especially knowledgeable about the field. But I did come to develop some appreciation for it. I always remember the remark of a visiting astrobiologist that this field is really going to explode when life is found elsewhere in the universe.

Meantime, we have to settle for life here. That’s the context for the news announced today. The NYT’s Dennis Overbye explains in his story in tomorrow’s paper:

Scientists said Thursday that they had trained a bacterium to eat and grow on a diet of arsenic, in place of phosphorus — one of six elements considered essential for life — opening up the possibility that organisms could exist elsewhere in the universe or even here on Earth using biochemical powers we have not yet dared to dream about.*

The bacterium, scraped from the bottom of Mono Lake in California and grown for months in a lab mixture containing arsenic, gradually swapped out atoms of phosphorus in its little body for atoms of arsenic.

Scientists said the results, if confirmed, would expand the notion of what life could be and where it could be. “There is basic mystery, when you look at life,” said Dimitar Sasselov, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and director of an institute on the origins of life there, who was not involved in the work. “Nature only uses a restrictive set of molecules and chemical reactions out of many thousands available. This is our first glimmer that maybe there are other options.”

Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA astrobiology fellow at the United States Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., who led the experiment, said, “This is a microbe that has solved the problem of how to live in a different way.”

This story is not about Mono Lake or arsenic, she said, but about “cracking open the door and finding that what we think are fixed constants of life are not.”

Dr. Wolfe-Simon and her colleagues publish their findings Friday in Science.

I find this pretty exciting.

*Responding to the notion of powers we have not yet dared to dream about, the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson asked, “Is this where we have to choose between X-ray vision and flying?”

Categories: Life, Science

FIFA Travesty

December 2, 2010 Leave a comment

FIFA's Sepp Blatter announcing the 2022 World Cup host

[Shaun Botterill/Getty Images]

FIFA announced the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 soccer World Cup today. It had already been established that the 2018 World Cup would be in Europe, and Russia had been considered a front runner, so it was no great surprise when they were selected. For 2022, the US and Qatar were perhaps widely considered the two favorites, so it was perhaps no surprise either when Qatar was chosen. But as unsurprising as the result may have been, it served only to lend credence to the belief that the entire process is corrupt, as are many FIFA officials.

Let’s start with the obvious. Why would anyone schedule a sporting event in Qatar in the summer? Why in particular schedule the most widely watched sporting event? Would the answer have something to do with money? It’s hard to think of any other explanation.

The US did have the disadvantage of having been a World Cup host just sixteen years ago. Fellow finalists Japan and South Korea served as joint hosts just eight years ago. Yet if the priority were to award the honor to a country new to hosting, the remaining finalist, Australia, would have been an excellent choice.

There probably isn’t much point in being shocked by the behavior of FIFA. Just frustrated. Let me turn to Sports Illustrated’s soccer expert, Grant Wahl, for more.

Choosing Qatar and Russia is the biggest indictment possible that FIFA is not a clean organization. The message here is that petrodollars talk. For an outfit that likes to thump its chest and claim that it is not corrupt (Trust us, says FIFA president Sepp Blatter), having two oil-wealthy winners is the clearest message possible that FIFA needs a complete overhaul in its leadership and organization. Russia had a pretty good case for being chosen, but Qatar (which was funded heavily by its government and bought the support of celebrity endorsers) didn’t make a lot of sense in the first place. Get ready for searing summer heat in the Middle East!

The pity is, a World Cup here in 12 years would have been extraordinary. Not only is the quality of play in the US better and better, not only are more US players having an impact in the top European leagues, but US fans are increasingly sophisticated about soccer worldwide. I get to observe this daily in my own house. Joel, and he is surely typical of many in his generation, follows all the major European leagues and knows all the top players in the world. I learn a lot from him. The next World Cup in the US, whenever it occurs, and I hope I get to see it, will be something special.

Categories: Politics, Sports