It’s a small world! Geo-tagging in Flickr

Posted in at 15:21 by RjZ

3-2-1 Flatirons

Every photo has a place. In most cases, the place in which the photo was taken adds context to the story that it tells.

Check out how flickr is incorporating geo-tagging with pictures. Look on the right under “additional information” and now, where ever I’ve entered the information, you can see where the picture was taken and even see a map or satellite of where each of my (so far updated) pictures have been taken. Just click on the “Taken in…” link.

Now, if I can just find some of these places on the map!

(1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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Give me $50 that Shamans make people better by bringing their souls back to their bodies

Posted in Reviews at 11:52 by RjZ

Edgar…picked up a funny-looking device rather like a bar-code reader.

‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘It’s a Geiger counter. Notice how the needle doesn’t move. How would you explain that?’

‘There’s no radiation in here?’

‘There are no batteries in it.’

Books are piling up on me but Scepticism Inc. jumped the queue and I finished it in two days. (Not fast for some of you, but pretty quick for me.) It’s an easy book with loads of white space, so I shouldn’t be impressed with my new found speed-reading skills, but I don’t think that’s what made it such a quick read. I zipped through this book because it was easy.

Bo Fowler created a crazy and funny book which imagines the next century world narrated by an artifically intelligent shopping cart whose programming forces it to believe in God. The shopping cart tells about his best friend Edgar Malroy, the main character, who is the founder of Scepticism Inc., a company which takes metaphysical bets. His shops will take your money on anything you can bet on but can’t prove, such as the existence of God and since he never has to pay up he becomes the richest man in the world as religious leaders and followers alike put their money where their beliefs are and demonstrate their faith.

What makes the book so easy, though, isn’t the humorous, whimsical and entertaining writing, it’s that there’s nothing new here for me. Fowler is singing to my chior. How many times do I get to have a gratified laugh where his characters say things I would say or do things I would do before it actually becomes a bit boring? This book offers me no challenge to think new things or question my ideals. No effort other that complete mind-candy was expected of me. Alas, I think this would be true of nearly all of his readers, too. The satire is so in-your-face that it is unlikely that anyone who doesn’t share Fowler’s views will get very far in the novel and the rest of us don’t really need to read it unless we’re bored with time to kill.

There’s nothing wrong with killing time, of course. I like TV and romantic comedies (whoops, did I just say that out loud?) It’s just that I felt so empty when I was done. What had I gotten out of this? What new insight, even if only a humorous one, had I acquired? Is it worth it? There’s something compelling about being told what we already know. It strokes our ego when authors repeat back to us what we already think, but how useful is it? Is it maybe a bit dangerous to read things that make us feel smart by saying what we want to hear? Isn’t that what, for example, some presidents are famous for? Look where that’s gotten us.

It’s definitely entertaining though….

(1 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5)
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Wild mushrooms: an edible extreme sport

Posted in Travel at 16:47 by RjZ

At dinner the night before, one of the guests said that he enjoyed hunting for mushrooms and knew several edible varieties here in the forests around Kitzbuhel, Austria. That’s all I needed to know! I really can’t explain it, but I love the idea of harvesting delicacies from the forest. I don’t want much, the deer and squirrels have to eat as well, but I love having a berry or two off of a wild raspberry bush, or better, actually knowing which of those crazy mushrooms one can actually eat.

Mushrooms, near Brainard Lake, Colorado
We didn’t eat these, they’d probably kill you or something.

I jumped all over the suggestion and demanded that we go into the forest the next morning. Perhaps I imagined myself as some forest druid at one with the forest, or a bearded woodsman living off the fruit of the land. I tried to think of more metaphors here for just why hunting for wild berries and mushrooms is so attractive to me, but I couldn’t think of any because I don’t know why get so excited about it! I do know why I never really got into the hobby though.

We woke up early for our forest adventure, complete with wicker baskets and rain gear. We walked to the trails and forest not far from our host’s chalet and it wasn’t long before we started spotting the delicious fungi. Except they weren’t delicious. Our guide pointed to a specimen and explained how that one would likely kill you from a severe neurotoxin. “Unfortunately it looks almost identical to an edible variety,” he exclaimed. Another ‘puff ball’ would supposedly knock you over if you so much as touched it and caused it to puff its noxious spores in your face. Still another wouldn’t kill you, but would definitely have a long arguing disagreement with your stomach and digestive track, probably including glasses being thrown and doors being slammed.

Finally we discover a Steinpilze (lit. rock mushroom: or king bolete, aka porcini.) These are delicious and large! The one we found was mushy and still wet from the rain the night before. Real mushroom hunters would leave this poor wasted thing in the forest, but, eying my prize like Indian Jones, I carefully plucked the soggy treasure and placed it in my basket. We kept wandering around learning about how this one isn’t edible and that one makes you sick. How they all look the same and it seems impossible to actually know which are tasty.

I really wanted Pfifferlinge (chanterelles). These are gilled yellow mushrooms, that look like alien trees and they’re only found in the wild. I’d never had the pleasure of tasting them until I made it to Germany. That’s too bad for most people in the states, because they are absolutely delicious. We searched every where and found a few more edible mushrooms, which were described with comments like: “you can eat that one. It isn’t any good but you can eat it.” I greedily snatched them up for my basket. The other hikers’ baskets were strangely still empty, and occasionally, when I looked up from the forest floor for a moment, I’d wonder if I was the only one so excited to find these tasty tidbits. That’s just crazy, I thought, and went back to looking under trees. I think I found one chanterelle.

We returned in the evening and, like a kid on Halloween, I sorted my soggy booty of barely edible mushrooms wondering what I would do with them. We didn’t have enough to really have a nice meal and so I declared that I would scramble them with eggs. Only a few people even wanted my gourmet breakfast, but I relished it.

Colorado, too, has mushrooms. Many of the same varieties and all of the same problems. My guide here was looking for the very same King Bolete, and was able to recognize quite a few others with nearly all the same comments as my original German guide. That one might be good but it looks very similar to an inedible variety. This one is probably very tasty but is reported in Colorado to sometimes cause “severe gastro-intestinal distress, including hospitalization, indicating there may be a poisonous variety.” Mmmm, gastro-intestinal distress. Sign me up.

We gathered, returned, cleaned and sauteed our haul and sat down to the dinner table with steaming plate of delicate mushrooms on homemade mashed potatoes, I looked at my mushroom hunting guide and declared, before having the first bite, “well, it’s been a pleasure knowing you.” Then I dug in and hoped for the best.

They were delicious. All the more tasty because we had cut them ourselves. There’s even something exciting about eating wild mushrooms, perhaps akin to eating the poisonous japanese fugu, but I think I’ll leave the identifying and picking to the experts. That way I’ll have someone to blame while I am suffering from gastro-intestinal distress.

Mmmm, mushrooms. Mmmm, gastro-intestinal distress.

(1 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5)
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Travel Tips, part 5, or buy that cheesy souvenir!

Posted in Travel at 17:20 by RjZ

After checking out the pyramids and Egyptology museum of Cairo, I walked through the amazing markets. I remember the colorful, conical piles of spices, the pita breads piled high on carts, the silks and tapestries in classic arabic prints and colors. I remember the smoke from cigarettes and mopeds.

Buddha from Thailand,
scarf from Cambodia
and a little Indian basmati rice.

I remember merchants trying to sell me rugs and clothes and sunglasses and post cards. Merely making the slightest eye contact was enough to be trapped into a haggle for the price of a teapot or finger chimes, whether I’d expressed any real interest or not. Eventually I decided (read: I was worn down) I ought to bring something back for family and friends. Nearly every souvenir stall had decorative camels in sizes from three inches to three feet tall. The ridiculous looking camels seemed to have rigor mortis; their legs stuck out, rod straight, from the body. Their faces were penned on with various expressions made by the hasty hand of a souvenir maker and they had little felt saddles with sparkles glued on them and tassels hanging from thin ribbon around their muzzles. They looked all the more silly lined up in rows from tiny to tall at nearly every stand. Rows of them were pushed out nearly to the aisles so that tourists would almost trip over the little ones which, in turn, launched merchants after them calling “you want camel? Large or small? I have larger here! Maybe a pillow? You want pillow?”

After a long haggle of my own, I concluded that the even the not-so-tiny ones would be nice enough (alright, cheap enough) to give to friends back home. Not so small that they would think they weren’t valued friends, but not so large that they’d have to display them in a prominent place and have other people wonder when they travelled to Cairo and why they didn’t get a nice gift too. I bought a dozen of them.

I distributed them to my appreciative friends, although, I didn’t bother to keep one for myself. After all, I’d just seen about 10,000 of them. Honestly, I thought they we’re kinda cheesy, but everyone said that they were very cute so I figured I’d done a nice job!

Indeed, most of my friends displayed them on shelves in their homes with other knick-knacks and I would see them from time to time for years. That’s when it dawned on me. Why didn’t I have one of these damn camels? They’re cool. Years after I had been to Cairo and I’d never seen any of these except the ones I bought for my friends. But did I have one of my own to remind me of my trip? Did I have much of anything from that journey?

I went to Cairo and I didn’t even get myself this dumb t-shirt.

It’s easy to see the cheap junk offered during travels as just, well, junk. What do I need another shot glass for? Since then, I’ve learned my lesson. It turns out that when you bring home that crummy camel, or little metal model of the Eiffel Tower, it actually ends up looking pretty cool on your shelf next to the same scale model of Prambanan temple in Indonesia. At home, where they don’t have silver letter openers from Malta in every gift store, your cheap souvenir takes on a more treasured quality.

Once more, if you can collect enough kitschy souvenirs it actually starts to look pretty interesting, like you’ve been to a lot of exciting places…or at least that’s what I keep telling people when they see how my house is “decorated.” That’s not kitsch, I tell them, that’s a treasure from a foreign land.

(1 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5)
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Where have all the embryos gone?

Posted in Society at 16:26 by RjZ

According to IVF.net, a site dedicated to information on in vitro fertilization (IVF), more than 3 million babies have been born thanks to IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies since Louise Brown in 1978. Louise is the first test-tube baby.

According to that site, we’re up to 200,000 babies per year with nearly 600,000 IVF cycles per year. The Christian Medical and Dental Association tells us that modern methods are up to 20% effective. In other words, something like 1 million embryos are created for those 200,000 babies per year.

In 2000, there were just under 100,000 assisted reproductive procedures in the the U.S. alone. Also from that site:

Although limited variation existed by age, the majority of ART procedures involved transfer of >1 embryo. Among women aged <35 years, 96% of procedures involved transfer of >2 embryos, and 63% involved transfer of >3 embryos. For women aged >42 years, 86% involved transfer of >2 embryos, and 68% involved transfer of >3 embryos. Use of a gestational carrier or surrogate was <1% for all age groups.

That’s a load of unused embryos, each of which, according to George Bush “is a unique human life with inherent dignity and matchless value.”

It turns out that most Christian ethicists are troubled, but very few seem to be able to come up with a clear statement. The Christian Medical & Dental Associations couldn’t say more than the Ethics Advisory Board of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare: “Clinical IVF and embryo transfer is justified morally only within the context of the marital bond, using “gametes obtained from lawfully married couples”

The Conservative Voice, a right-wing blog likes Senator Oran Hatch’s solution that life begins only in the womb and not in the petri-dish.

The Evangelical Outpost can’t help making disparaging remarks about people they are shocked to agree with, but essentially they maintain that IVF is destroying human life. Catholics agree with them. Lifeissues.net makes an impassioned plea for adoption and discourages IVF. It’s nice to see them being consistent on this issue, but what of their flock?

I could not find any data on the demographics of those 100,000 U. S. women who chose IVF to have children. It’s not normally appropriate to ask women what their political affiliation is during such a procedure, but it would be interesting to know how many women and couples are firmly opposed to having an abortion but were still somehow alright with a procedure that dooms embryos to a nearly certain death. At least one IVF blogger is also a born-again Christian, but doesn’t seem to address this issue. Michael Kinsley at Slate forcefully makes the point that pro-lifers are missing the point if they continue to support IVF.

Meanwhile, I will repeat Kinsley’s observation. Regardless of your views of where life begins and what to do with those embryos, it’s absolutely inconsistent for the individuals who are ‘pro-life’ to support in vitro fertilization if any embryos are not used. But then, rejecting another scientific advancement for the sake of a metaphysical idea (in this case, when and where life begins) would seem par for the course.

(1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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