Monday, December 29, 2008

an awesomely bad 2009

For each of the last few years I've tried to find a silly wall calendar for my office. Two years ago it was Extraordinary Chickens. This year my calendar featured a cat named Yoshi who dressed up like 12 famous women in history (proceeds went to animal advocacy groups). But this year, I'm looking for something...well, badder. So far I've had little luck in finding the perfectly bad calendar. I want something cheesy but also cool. Here are a few ideas; let me know what you think! Also feel free to send in others if you have any.

Who can resist yoga dogs? Yoga dogs' fecal matter photographed in pleasant settings? Equally enticing.

Gnomes hold a special place in my heart. So do grown men dressed like them.

I'm not sure what a "tactical girl" is, but on the off chance that the fatigue-covered boobs and machine guns get boring, you can always try out Bobcat drill machines.

Not just any Elvis calendar; it's the TV Guide Elvis calendar, fool! Or, you could have goats. Your choice.

I'm posting this with a program on the history and science of lust in the background, so I figured I'd throw these hunky calendars in there. The boys down under and, um, some very large dudes are at your service.

Crazy nuns!!! Cheesy cubicle design ideas!!! Woo!!!

Last but not least, I bring you...rodents! In one corner, we have silly costumed ferrets pretending they're movie stars. In the other corner, we have...the scourge of...oh, fine, they're cute. (Although I couldn't help but squirm looking at April: One of the rats is hanging out on a loaf of bread in someone's kitchen. Ew.)

Update: And the winner is...a very cute calendar of donkeys! I am trying to ignore the title, because it is crude and mean. Poor donkeys.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

ring in the new year with cava!

There was a neat article in The New York Times this weekend that touched on the increased consumption of sparkling wine in many countries over the past five years. For whatever reason, champagne has become the it-word for sparkling wine (in the same way that you might suggest that your friend 'google' something, although she may actually use any number of Internet search engines). Champagne is simply the sparkling wine that was originally created in the region of Champagne, France (of course, other countries have tried to steal champagne's thunder by producing it elsewhere, much to France's chagrin). But champagne is hardly alone in the world of fact, France itself has not one but several types!

Italy's most successful version, called prosecco, is equally sparkly and, to my taste buds, equally yummy. Prosecco isn't the name of an Italian area, though—it's the name of a variety of grape originally from the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region of Italy. Like champagne, prosecco is being produced outside of its original region more and more, and it is a very economical and tasty alternative. (The aforementioned Times article actually focuses on prosecco, so if you're interested in finding out more, here's the full text.)

Which leads me to cava, my sparkling wine of choice! Cava is native to the region of Catalonia in Spain, and it is delish. It is also cheap! The last time I was in Barcelona, I bought a bottle of pink cava (it also comes in the more traditional white variety) for a whopping 2 euros. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the name "cava" means "cave" and refers to the fact that back in the day, caves were used in the wine's creation.

As I have some Catalan roots (and I like to save a buck on booze whenever I can), I try to go with cava as often as possible here in the States. I'm no oenophile, but I find cava on par taste-wise with both prosecco and champagne; in fact, I would challenge anyone to differentiate between a $10 bottle of cava, a $20 bottle of prosecco, and a $30 bottle of champagne! The French can keep their hoity-toity champagne. I'll drink cava—and so should you!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

no dying in baseball

I'm a pretty big sports fan, but a story I read the other day just about left me speechless. A company called Eternal Image, based in Farmington Hills, Michigan, is now offering burial accessories—
caskets and cremation urns and the like—sporting your favorite Major League Baseball team's logo and colors! Brings new meaning to the term "die-hard fan," doesn't it? (Nota bene: The company also does death accessories with Star Trek and Vatican themes...) Seriously, though, this seems a wee bit over-the-top. But I suppose if one bleeds a certain team's colors, his insides may as well match his death chamber when the time comes!

the future of nasa

Over the past month, there has been much speculation about the future direction of America's space program. During the Bush administration, it seemed as though internal squabbles at NASA were a dime a dozen and that mismanagement was more rule than exception. For evidence of that, look no further than the op-ed pages of The New York Times, where former science administrator Alan Stern recently wrote a scathing article about the agency after resigning from his post. (You can check out some responses here.)

To outsiders, it has often seemed like NASA has mostly been treading water these past eight years. Despite several well-publicized spacecraft missions (often, it should be noted, planned well before Bush took office), the shuttle program suffered some major setbacks—especially after the Columbia breakup disaster in 2003. And the question of overall vision for what we should (or shouldn't) be doing next for human spaceflight has essentially remained unanswered.

Sadly, the issue got relatively little play during the presidential campaigning this year. And so far, evidence suggests that the Obama team hasn't exactly formulated a coherent plan that's much better than the current one. But one thing that seems pretty clear is that Obama is going to kill the Constellation project—Bush's plan to send humans back to the moon in preparation for eventually going to Mars—at least in the near term. It's hard to blame him; there have been many critics of the Constellation program from both outside and within NASA.

Instead, it is seeming more and more likely that Obama's vision for NASA will involve more funding for science projects—and science education—rather than human spaceflight. To me, this would be a welcome change. For one thing, in order to get ourselves to a place like Mars or Europa, we need to know everything there is to know about those bodies before we go there. And since we can do quite a lot with robots (a.k.a. unmanned spacecraft and probes), we might as well send as many of them as possible to scout these places out before we invest the billions of dollars it will cost to get humans there. But also, people often forget that science research done by NASA helps us in a big way back home as well—for instance, with national security and studies on the environment. Plus, if we don't have kids getting interested in science again, we're going to fall even farther behind on space exploration.

One of the first orders of business, of course, is choosing leadership. It seems pretty obvious that the current administrator, Michael Griffin, will be out. But who will fill his shoes? And how much of a leash will this new person be on? All of this remains to be seen. I do have confidence that Obama will make space science more of a priority than his predecessor over the long term, but I can see NASA taking a serious hit of funding in the near term. Which is too bad, considering just how little NASA actually gets compared to the total U.S. budget. (This year's $700 billion bailout would have funded all of NASA 39 times over...) Still, I'm hopeful that things will change for the better over the next four years. &infin

Monday, December 22, 2008

ode to joy (meep remix)

So I used to be deathly afraid of the Muppet Beaker when I was a little kid. Whenever that segment of The Muppet Show came on (and I seem to remember it was pretty often!) I would start crying and have to be taken out of the room until my parents said it was safe to return. I'm not really sure what scared me about Beaker...the hair? The meeps? The fact that he was always blowing up? Today, as someone who is very into science but not so much wack-o scientists, it strikes me as odd that I would have been scared of the poor lab assistant instead of the crazy
Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, who was clearly the one with a screw loose.

Fortunately, a few years ago my brother helped me reconcile with Beaker by buying me a little Beaker doll, and we've been friends ever since. So with that, I give you the inimitable lab assistant, who wishes you a very happy and healthy (and safe!) holiday season.