Yeninko of the Umlaut

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Two Heros

There exist moments in time that transpire outside of the world. When everything should matter, but doesn’t. When only the moment matters. Athletes and fighter pilots speak of in The Zone, where time dilates, disappears and there is only the object, the goal. The correctness of thought and action. I think that these moments can happen upon us. That while we are sometimes willing participants we can create this moments, they arrive like a tornado. We can move to Oklahoma or Kansas and increase our odds and preparation for events out of time but ultimately they choose us. And then we choose. What to do, what to do.

A man stood still one day. He stood for what he believed, for a voice for himself and for those around him. And there was another man, a man who was chosen to crush that spirit, to pave the way for the way the world was, not to allow for a world as it could be. And they meet in a street. And the first man stood in the path of the second man and did not move. And the second attempt to pass not having the spirit to destroy the first man, knowng that despite their belief, they were both just men. He attempted to pass the first man, but the first man would not have it. As the man attempt to pass the second man stepped back into his path. Refusing to move, forcing the choice, the decision. The second man again attempted to go around, knowing that he could not do this thing, crush this man who was nobody. And still the first man moved into his path and would not let him go. He was nothing this man but he would not back down. Like a feral cat holding off a pack of gods this man stood, fearless I like to think.

And if it was only a metaphor what would it mean?

Monday, September 27, 2004

From The 9/11 Commission Report

One clear lesson of September 11 is that individual civilians need to take responsibility for maximizing the probability that they will survive should disaster strike. Clearly, many building occupants in the World Trade Center did not take preparedness seriously. Individuals should know the exact location of every stairwell in their workplace. In addition, they should have access at all times to flashlights, which were deemed invaluable by some civilians who managed to evacuate the WTC on September 11th.

Friday, September 17, 2004

The Mightly Bic Pen

Apparently seven-pin axial tumbler locks used in bycycle U-Locks as well as vending machines, etc. are not secure and can be defeated by using a Bic pen. Yeah a pic pen. The article, the video and the forum for you, my ceaseless readers.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Future Watch #2 or Clinical Immortality and You

Cloning has a plethora of problems currently: increased size of those cloned, premature death and significant genetic deformations. I heard somewhere that for every one normal embryo twenty are discarded due to developmental problems. However, there is one particular problem that, when solved will change the face of this, our human endeavor.

A human cell can divided about 70 times before it dies. Each time it divides the protective tips of the chromosomes, called telomeres, are slightly whittled down. After the 70 divisions it can no longer divided successfully and dies off. No great sorrow, these are only cells after all.

However, when scientists take cells from a seven year old cow and produce a calf, the calf is born seven years old, genetically. The telomeres have seven years worth of wear already on them. Their life spans are appropriately seven years shorter. A solution to this particular issue requires ‘fixing’ the telomeres so that the worn down portions can be protected or built up. This is one of the hurdles that must be solved in order to make at least human cloning viable.

Interesting, but what is the point of all this blather? Just this, aging, in the traditional sense also involves telomeres being worn down due to a lifetime of cells dividing. After many iterations of cellular division, cells begin to make more frequent errors when dividing, causing among many things, tumors and cellular breakdown. This occurs in young people but due to our robust (and youthful) immune systems such infrequent deformed cells are simply destroyed. As we get older, and more of these cellular mishaps occur and our body is less able to handle the load.

But if you fix the cloning issue with telomeres, you have fixed the aging issue. It means not only eternal life (barring accidents and such) but it also eternal youth.

In fairness the relationship between cloning and telomeres lose isn’t clearly understood (certainly not by me) and current cloning studies have managed to produced clones mice that are not prematurely aged (and having undamaged telomeres) but it isn’t understood what that is the result of.

So what is the moral of this story? As ridiculous as it may sound, if people in our lifetime don’t achieve clinical mortality, I believe our children will. Of course this sounds all too fairy tale-ish but remember there was a day when you believed you’d never get laid and now look at you.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


I have this going gag that the words ironic, irony, and ironically are perhaps the most difficult words in the English language to use correctly (okay they’re are a few others that are harder then that but still its difficult). In any case I found usage note helpful:
The words ironic, irony, and ironically are sometimes used of events and circumstances that might better be described as simply “coincidental” or “improbable,” in that they suggest no particular lessons about human vanity or folly. Thus 78 percent of the Usage Panel rejects the use of ironically in the sentence In 1969 Susie moved from Ithaca to California where she met her husband-to-be, who, ironically, also came from upstate New York. Some Panelists noted that this particular usage might be acceptable if Susie had in fact moved to California in order to find a husband, in which case the story could be taken as exemplifying the folly of supposing that we can know what fate has in store for us. By contrast, 73 percent accepted the sentence Ironically, even as the government was fulminating against American policy, American jeans and videocassettes were the hottest items in the stalls of the market, where the incongruity can be seen as an example of human inconsistency.

Damn you Alanis Morissette!!!

Public Service Announcement

This Public Service Announcement is brought to you by Fire, the deadly element that wants to kill you. Yeah I said element, Earth, Wind, Water and Fire, didn’t you guys play AD&D?

So here is the deal. When there is a fire, leave. When you hear fire alarms, leave. When you smell smoke, leave. Every time the fire alarm goes off in the seven story building where I am employed I hear the same refrain as I grab my phone and walk out the door, "Should we leave? Is this a test?” As if it being a test would mean we should all stay. You'll be failing the test, how do you expect to react if it was real? How would you know it was real?

I think of the fire at the Station Nightclub in Warwick, Rhode Island that killed 100 people during a Great White concert and how nearly everyone died at the doors they came in through. Employees who were aware of other exits survived. Human nature is to enter and exit a building the same way. That day I found every exit from my office to the outside of the building, every single route of egress. Took about 15 minutes.

There are countless instances where people have refused to leave buildings because they were too busy. I recall in the Boston area a few years ago a fire that killed a dozen people in a small office building. Plenty of fire exits, plenty of time to leave, but they stayed because they were too busy working. They literally pulled bodies from cubicles. Apparently people succumbed to the smoke while on the phone even while the alarms blared.

Now take the opposite example, Morgan Stanley put in place a plan for the evacuation of their offices in the World Trade Center. After the first plane hit the opposite tower the plan was immediately put in effect. No time was wasted on “What was that?” and “Should we leave?” Everyone entered the stairwells and proceeded to walk 22 blocks to the designated back up site. 2500 employees survived, six died.

It is so easy to survive one of these emergencies. Just leave. If you are at work, take a break, you deserve it. If you are with friends at bar, crack a joke, "I need a smoke break". Just leave. Forget the ipod, forget how silly you'll look, forget the value of the plate glass window you are about to throw a chair through. Exit the building. And then you live. And you get to tell a story. Either about the time you totally overreacted to a situation, or to how you survived a fire.
That is all.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


So I’m reading The 9/11 Commussion Report which Richard Clark and several other serious politicos recommended that every American read also mentioning that is was priced at an affordable level ($10). I was skeptical about picking up some government commissions report just because when I think of a government report I think very dry. But I kept seeing it at all these books stores and so while wandering through the aisles one day I picked it up and stared reading the first few pages. I’m at page 93 at this point and fascinated. But more importantly it is excellently written about interesting subjects. It talks about the actual events on the planes. It then events on the ground. Then it asks who is al-Qaida and provides a comprehensive background on Arab militants, their aims, goals and tactics. There is a healthy discussion of why the US was targeted primarily by Bin Laden et al. Superbly written, non-political (this is a good thing) and me.

Which leads me to wonder who, of my friends and acquaintances, do I know who would read this book. The list of people who would read it based even on my recommendation is slim, after all I suspect it’s not a subject that interests most people. In fact I can think of only one person who I think might pick it up of their own accord simple for their own edification. Now all of this is not a judgment on people and their priorities. We all have dogs to walk, babies to bounce and lovers to seduce. Rather this is an indication of my odd interests in topics.

For example I really want to read Security Planning and Design : A Guide for Architects and Building Design which is a architecture textbook (at $61 used it ain’t happening. Did I mention I’m a cheapskate frugal?). Why you might ask? I once heard an architecture expert on NPR talking about building security (The three rules of building security? Distance, distance, distance). And here I am.

My next book is going to be A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

Todays quote is from: The Once and Future King, by T.H. White.
"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in our anatomies, you may lie awake at listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know our honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then, to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the MIND can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you. Look at what a lot of things there are to learn -- pure science, the only purity there is. You can learn astronomy in a lifetime, natural history in three, literature in six. And then, after you have exhausted a milliard lifetimes in biology and medicine and theocriticism and geography and history and economics -- why, then you can start to make a cartwheel out of the appropriate wood, or spend fifty years learning to begin to learn to beat your adversary at fencing. After that, you can start again on mathematics, until it is time to learn to plough."