Saturday, June 30, 2012

Save The Date(line)

This has got to be at least the fourth time we've used Australia's SBS around here. We may have to look further into their news team's roster. Dateline (found through Journeyman Pictures) scores another appearance at Random Human Neural Firings, with David O'Shea traveling to Cambodia to investigate the shooting death in April of an environmental activist named Chut Wutty.

The video lasts 18:46. Pictures of Wutty's body do appear in the report, so take note of that.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Set Your Clocks Very Slightly Backward

At 8 PM Eastern tomorrow night- or, more to the point, 7:59:59 PM Eastern, Earth is going to experience a leap second. One Earth day is thought of as 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour and 60 seconds in a minute- or, 86,400 seconds in a day to turn it all around or throw it all away. However, it's not entirely that simple. Nature has a way of not always adhering to nice, clean, convenient-to-simple-human-math numbers all the time.

Way back when, the time was determined simply by Earth's rotation around the sun, with the definition of hours and minutes and seconds and days and years being 'however long it took to do this much of a rotation'. Back in 2010, it was mentioned here that the modern definition of a second is "the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom." That's been the official definition since 1967, and has been used to measure time with atomic clocks that use caesium atoms for this purpose. Caesium atoms, of course, have nothing to do with the Earth's rotation.

Since then, scientists noticed the Earth's rotation slowing a tad. 2 milliseconds per day, to be exact, mainly due to the tides sloshing around. When Earth's pace gets too far away from the time on the atomic clocks, the solution is to add a leap second; they don't want the difference getting any more stark than 0.9 seconds. That decision's made about six months in advance, usually when the difference is at about 0.6 seconds, and the leap second is always scheduled for June 30 or December 31. This is going to be the 25th leap second overall; the first came in 1972. (There are provisions to take a second back if that should have to happen, but so far it hasn't.)

They're considered somewhat annoying in the scientific community, so much so that some would prefer they be abolished in favor of leap hours: wait several hundred years until the clocks and Earth are disagreeing by the better part of an hour and leave our great-great-great-great-etc. grandchildren to do it all in one go. That debate is still hammering itself out.

For now, though, tomorrow you have one extra second to do whatever you want with. What will you do with it after you make your alarm clock tick all the way around and make it read one second earlier? Which should only take you like a minute or so.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sort-Of-Alphabetical Africa

Every so often, someone challenges themselves to write a book using some sort of constrained writing- forcing themselves to write in a particular way or avoid writing in a particular way. Probably the two most famous are Green Eggs and Ham, which was written using only 50 words, and Gadsby (not The Great Gatsby; that's a totally different book), in which the letter E is avoided throughout.

That's hard enough as it is. But Walter Abish attempted a much more difficult task in his 1974 book, Alphabetical Africa.

In Chapter 1, only words beginning with A are allowed.

Here's the Google Books preview so you can see what that looks like. The first sentence of the book is:

"Ages ago, Alex, Allen and Alva arrived at Antibes, and Alva allowing all, allowing anyone, against Alex's admonition, against Allen's angry assertion: another African amusement... anyhow, as all argued, an awesome African army assembled and arduously advanced against an African anthill, assiduously annihilating ant after ant, and afterward, Alex astonishingly accuses Albert as also accepting Africa's antipodal ant annexation."

In Chapter 2, the rules are the same, except now B-words are allowed along with the A-words. In Chapter 3, C-words become usable; D-words are allowed in Chapter 4, and so on, until finally, in Chapter 26, the entire English language becomes open for business.

Until Chapter 28, when Z-words are again disallowed after two glorious chapters of being acknowledged. Chapter 29 sees Y-words removed from play, X-words in Chapter 30, until in the final chapter, Chapter 52, we're back to A-words only, like an alphabetical Flowers for Algernon.

Abish didn't entirely pull it off. People have noticed places where he used disqualified words. In fact, quite a few places. Stephen Saperstein Frug has compiled some 50 screwups, most commonly early O's (usually 'of' or 'or') and late W's (coming in the couple chapters after W's are supposed to come off the table). One screwup comes on page 2, an early I in the form of the word 'in'. It really could have used some extra time at the editor's desk to catch some of these errors; reportedly, Abish was shocked when told that he hadn't entirely pulled it off. That said, Abish did do enough to show that such a book was possible. Not exactly War and Peace, but a valid book.

Not that I wager anyone out there is keen to try and beat his mark themselves.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Time Is Now One HellllllOOOOOOOOO' Clock

Something you might have heard if you've ever visited London- or are sufficiently up on your useless trivia- is that the phrase 'Big Ben', commonly used when referring to the tower, actually only refers to the bell inside the tower. The tower is just called the Clock Tower.

Well, was, anyway. In commemoration of Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, the tower is getting renamed Elizabeth Tower. Whether you want to keep calling it Big Ben is up to you, but overall, it's likely going to end up being decided by haphazard, disjointed public vote, much like the one currently underway with, depending on who you ask, either the Sears Tower or Willis Tower.

Please update your useless-trivia memory banks to reflect this.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dead Letter Office

Quick. What do you have listed as your e-mail address in your Facebook contact info?

...ha ha, yeah. Not anymore you don't. Go into your profile and change it back.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Chung Chung

This is the week when the Supreme Court is to rule on Obamacare. There's.... just a wee bit of coverage on it. Just a little. So we'll leave that aside.

There are, however, cases in the legal pipeline that we can cover. Since the Supreme Court is getting the attention, other cases, Jerry Sandusky excluded, pretty much aren't.

So here are three of them:

*The Justice Department has filed suit against the cities of Hilldale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona, citing religious discrimination to the point of denying water and electrical services to people that are not members of the local Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Hilldale and Colorado City, you may recall, were- and in fact continue to be- run by Warren Jeffs, head of the sect, who is serving life in a Texas prison for bigamy and underage sex. Jeffs continues to issue edicts to the towns from his prison cell. Jeffs recently issued one edict ordering all children in town to be fathered solely by a group of 15 men; all others are to abstain from sex. That caused about 200 men to get up and walk out of service- which tells you that, yes, they are listening to those edicts.

*A New Jersey woman has sued a 13-year-old Little Leaguer who was 11 at the time of the incident cited. What happened was that she was sitting at a picnic table near the bullpen, when the kid, a catcher, was warming up a pitcher. A throw back to the pitcher got away from him, went over the fence, and hit her in the face. She claims the throw was intentional and is suing for $150,000 in medical costs plus an undefined amount for 'pain and suffering'.

Sometimes it helps to just get these ridiculous suits out in the open to embarrass the filer into dropping it.

*Supporters of Ron Paul have filed suit against the Republican National Committee, alleging that the Romney campaign essentially bullied caucusgoers into lining up behind Romney. Paul himself is not taking part in the suit. The suit asks for clarification as to whether the convention delegates are bound to a particular candidate or not, which right here and now I can tell you many of them (though not all) are. The Romney campaign calls it frivolous, but they're going to take it seriously anyway.

The real question here isn't really the suit itself. No matter what, Romney is going to be the nominee. It's how much the Paul supporters end up resenting Romney at the end of the day, and how many opt against supporting him in November.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Butterfly In The Sky, Escaped From The Catalog

You remember Reading Rainbow? The children's book show that doubled as the only halfway decent book show on TV before its cancellation, forcing those who wanted a book show on TV to make do with Booknotes on C-SPAN 2 or possibly 3? You'd think Oprah would have converted her book club to an OWN show. There's a huge, gaping hole just waiting for someone to stroll on through now.

Someone like Reading Rainbow.

No, it's not back on TV. But it is back... on iPad, with classic episodes plus a smattering of new material. The thinking goes that there are a lot more stimuli for kids, and in order to get them reading, you need to go where they are. And they're on iPad these days, so make an app (which launched this past Tuesday) and get the kids- or the parents- to download it.

Which still leaves that gaping hole for a TV book show. Oprah, still waiting on y-- oh, wait. That's online now too.

Anyone. Decent book show. TV. Hundreds of networks out there. Don't care which one of you tries one. Just someone do one.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Great American Taboo

The partisan acrimony inherent in current American politics leaves little unsaid between the two sides. Just about any charge, regardless of the level or even existence of evidence, is likely to be levied by either side on their opposite, up to and including the willful, deliberate sabotage of American society. This says nothing about whether those charges are true; we'll set that aside. This is not about that, at least not here, today.

There is, however, one thing that does largely remain unsaid. This is not to say that it does not seem to drive emotions, or that it's not hinted at, or that it's even all that unknown. Deep down, it appears that a lot of people think it, on some level, but very few are willing to come out and say it, at least, not on the level it's meant.

We'll get to that later.

There's a more socially-acceptable version of saying it: a generational conflict; a dividing line between the Baby Boomers and Generation X. The Baby Boomers' general reputation among Gen X and Gen Y is essentially one of lifelong entitlement: the Greatest Generation did all the hard work in setting up modern society, making sure the Baby Boomers didn't have to have it as hard as they did. They didn't want their kids suffering through a Great Depression of their own. They did deny their kids things, but hardships inflicted were largely borne out of wanting them to know how to handle a depression if and when it did come. The Baby Boomers, as observation tells, got overused to the relative prosperity, and took away the lesson that they needed to accumulate as much as they could, which over the years corrupted into a sense that not only did they need as much money and stuff as possible, but as the world their parents built flourished and was subsequently handed to them, they started thinking that they, not their parents, were the cause, and they didn't just need a lot of stuff, but they in fact deserved it for the great job they did.

Gen X and Gen Y, meanwhile, as the Baby Boomers appear to see it, are punk kids who haven't earned their keep and should wait their turn to run the world. When the younger generations grow up, they'll understand. Or at least, that's the more benign antagonism towards Gen X and Gen Y.

The Tea Party is a faction that, in addition to being Republican is disproportionally old, white and male- as of this survey in April 2010, it was 59% male (49% in the general population), 89% white (77% in the general population), and 75% age 45 and above, with 29% age 65 and above (50% and 16% in the general population). This Harris Poll from 11 months later concurred with the profile. It sits squarely in Baby Boomer territory.

A fairly common rallying cry among Tea Party supporters is 'If not us, who? If not now, when?' Reconcile that with the demographic profile. While you're at it, reconcile it with the iconic cry of their 2010 campaign, 'Take Our Country Back'. Times change. Generations float in and then out of influence, with the older generations seeing a way of life that they had spent their entire existence working towards changed away from their vision by the next generations in line. It's a pretty tough thing to take. The world's becoming less recognizable to you- less good- and your window of time to hold back the tide becomes smaller and smaller and more difficult to keep open, before it inevitably closes. And when it does, the world becomes a progressively more alien place to someone set in their ways, and they begin lamenting 'the way things used to be', through rose-colored glasses that filter out all the bad parts and/or inconvenient facts about the way things used to be- such as the uglier parts of the culture of the time, or the part where their parents paid for things and they got an allowance every week for doing next to squat- and this process becomes more and more acute for the rest of their lives. The world moves further and further away from them, and will continue to do so, inexorably, forever.

The Tea Party's primary demographic currently sits in this uneasy generational twilight. Some people, when in this position, accept this and try to adapt along with the times. Others hang on to their old ways, but try to steer the younger generation to a decent compromise and, using their past experience, try to instruct them as to how to avoid past mistakes. Others rage against the dying light and dig in their heels, forcing change to happen over their dead body. Still others go further, and fight tooth and nail to force the world to conform- or reconform- to their old ways, not only within their lifetime but long after it's over.

The generational conflict at hand is happening in those last two categories. The Tea Party- the old, white males of the Tea Party- grew up in the 50's and 60's, an age sepia-toned as a Leave-It-To-Beaveresque landscape of suburbs, milkmen, pies on the windowsill, the brand-spanking-new Interstate System, and nuclear families with two-point-something-or-other children, and conveniently forgetting McCarthyism, the Korean and Vietnam Wars (and accompanying draft protests), pre-Women's Liberation sentiments, assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement, complete with the Ku Klux Klan, George Wallace, and Orval Faubus, known best for his quote "Segregation now, segregation forever". That uglier half was also how the Baby Boomers grew up; the part that they or any generation tends to grow up liking to prefer never happened and certainly didn't affect their worldview any but clearly did.

Some of the people that took part in the Civil Rights Movement are still around, most notably Representative John Lewis of Georgia. What is often forgotten is that some of the people that fought on the other side of the Civil Rights Movement are also still around. Don't think that they've just melted into the shadows. They, and the typical Tea Partier proper, have been campaigned to on pet issues for years- let's use abortion as a key example; ever since the Roe v. Wade decision, Republicans have run on getting it overturned- but time after time, they've seen no action on many of these issues. Decades passed, until finally, in the 2010 elections, the hand was forced. They couldn't wait around any longer. They were getting old, they were starting to see their peers show up in the obituaries, and they had to move on these things, now. If not now, when. And while they're at it, they had to keep the country that they remember growing up with from changing away from them.

A change that was made as stark as it could possibly appear in 2008, when Barack Obama became President. On one side of things, you had former civil rights leaders who mad marched and were sometimes beaten way back in the 1960's crying with joy into each other's arms as they had busted the racial glass ceiling in the most dramatic way possible, by putting one of their own into the White House. But elsewhere, the people who had beaten those people were watching their comfortable worldview vanishing right before their eyes. They'd never say it now, not in public, not openly, and if someone accused them of it they'd deny it, but deep down, they felt that the Soviets might as well be taking over. A black man in the White House just plain did not fit.

They wouldn't claim it as a racial thing. Racism is bad, after all. But after a childhood of Orval Faubus and George Wallace, deep down it was ingrained as such. They just wouldn't register it in those words. (Well, sometimes they would, given an  ABC News poll from a little after the 2008 election we mentioned here a long time back.) They'd register it as 'their way of life', internally and externally.

And this Obama guy was threatening their way of life. It's not that they were racist. They just hated everything he liked, everything he was, didn't think he was actually American, couldn't believe that people might actually like him of their own free will, started 'accidentally' using racist epithets, caused the Secret Service to investigate assassination threats at a fourfold rate, and adopted a policy of making him a one-term President by any means necessary before everyone had even gotten around to pulling up their lawn signs, to the point where they would start changing their own views on issues solely because they found out Obama was going to use them himself.

But they're not racist. They just want to take their country back. In the CBS/New York Times survey from 2010 cited earlier, when asked "Regardless of your overall opinion, what do you like least about Barack Obama?", 24 different specific reasons were cited in the results (three of which- "Trying to be too bipartisan", "Education policy" and "Plans for Guantanamo Bay"- were cited by the general population but not the Tea Party), along with 'everything', 'nothing' and 'other'. None of those 24 reasons were explicitly racial. However, 19% of the respondents answered "Don't like him (general)", which was, in fact, the most popular response. Which is separate from "Don't like his policies (general)", answered by 5%. ("Everything" got 1%, as did "He's Muslim".) They just... don't like him. Something just ain't right about him. Don't ask what. Just... something. Something that by some strange coincidence they can't quite put their finger on despite it driving them to take any measure possible to defeat him.

Deep down, the reasons are there. They just don't want to say them, because the world's shifted to the point where they can no longer verbalize those things. It has shifted to the point where they now feel they have to fight with every fiber of their being to not only prevent any further changes, but revert the nation to how, in their minds, things used to be. There can be no compromise. After all, they have to get everything they want, right now, because they might not be around the next time the issue comes up, and even if they are, they know they'll get steamrolled because the demographics will have changed too much. Partially due to changing ethnic and racial makeup, but mainly because they'll have died off and in so doing left the voting pool.

And they've seen what happens after people die too many times to like what they know: things they don't want done get done, quickly, over their dead body. Everyone's seen houses get torn down the second their owner dies. That's not an attractive thing to think about. They don't want that happening to them. So while they're moving to put things back to The Good Old Days, the Baby Boomer Tea Partiers move to make things stay in The Good Old Days for as long as possible after they're gone.

Meanwhile, Gens X and Y look at this and see something far different. They see cultural advancements that they were born into being taken away. They see their chance to move the world forward being delayed or denied outright. They see the prospect of having to spend most if not all of the rest of their lives trying to undo what is being done. And this comes right at the point where they figure they ought to be asserting generational control. They don't want to go through the same cultural hardships as their parents, especially not when they've identified cultural hardships of their own to confront, such as gay rights and global warming. They thought the last generation's cultural issues had been mostly settled already and they were just coming in to clean up. They want the Baby Boomers to step aside so they can get to work. And they definitely don't need another Depression on their hands while they do it.

And therein lies the taboo: for the Baby Boomers to step aside, they more or less have to start dying off. There's just no nice way to say that. It's really rather ghoulish to bring up openly, and if you say it too bluntly, it sounds like you're advocating something. And besides, the Baby Boomers are the parents of Gen X and Gen Y, and, well... they're your parents. You don't wish that on your own parents. You love your parents. At least I hope you do. But at the same time, you really can't get away from it. The ticking clock is a factor. In fact, it's not just a factor. It's the entire game mechanic. Every day that passes sees a few more older voters die and leave the voting pool, and every day also sees a few more younger people become eligible to vote, and sees a few more people register to vote. Every day, things move a little more in the direction of Gen X and Y, and a little further away from the Baby Boomers.

The Supreme Court runs on this. Once on the Court, justices don't get kicked off. There's a procedure, but really, they don't get kicked off. There are only two ways a justice leaves. They can retire, but that typically only happens when the justice knows the President in office will replace them with someone believed to be similar. If you want a real shift in the Court, that generally requires the only other way to get someone off the bench: they have to die.

It's not as if the specter of projecting someone's death is totally undone. It's brought up all the time when Presidential running mates are selected. If one side thinks the opposing running mate is particularly subpar, they will mention that said running mate would be 'a heartbeat away'. Which is a nicer way of saying 'well, if the President were to die for some reason...' It also happens when someone is entrenched in a given office and isn't moving for anything despite having become a living anachronism. Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond and Ted Stevens have in the last couple decades found themselves in that position. It's just not a thing that a lot of people want to talk about in the open, or admit that they're talking about. It's not cool to openly root for someone's death.

But below the surface, that's exactly what's happening.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Homo Superior

I think it's TED talk day. Don't you think it's TED talk day? Because I think it's TED talk day.

Say hello to Juan Enriquez, speaking about modern human evolution, and how humans may very well branch off into more than one species in the future. In the process, he touches on material we covered earlier this month.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Magic Numbers Aren't Always Round Numbers

Ichiro Suzuki got his 2,500th hit last night. It should be about two or three more seasons before he reaches 3,000, and unless his body completely and catastrophically breaks down between now and then- he is 38, but there's nothing to suggest right now that it'll break down quite that badly- the only other question is how far beyond 3,000 he'll get. And once he reaches 3,000, of course, that's the magic number to guarantee a trip to Cooperstown, as if he wasn't Cooperstown-bound already.

That's one of the three generally-accepted milestones: 500 home runs, 300 wins and 3,000 hits. But really, only 3,000 hits seems at all valid anymore. Nor does it really get talked about as to whether those numbers are the threshold... or whether it's actually somewhere else and we just don't mention it because it's not a nice round number. Perhaps it's time we re-examined some numbers and determined where exactly the Cooperstown threshold is.

What I present are 11 major statistics, the active leader, the five highest-placing Hall of Fame-eligible players in each who are not yet in (translation: nobody that is active, banned or has not faced a ballot), and the Hall of Famer that sits immediately above the highest-placed non-Hall of Famer, according to Baseball Reference.

Hits (active leader: Derek Jeter, 3,178)
Threshold HOFer: Lou Brock (3,023)
3,020- Rafael Palmeiro
2,866- Harold Baines
2,757- Vada Pinson
2,743- Al Oliver
2,716- Rusty Staub

Home runs (active leader: Alex Rodriguez, 640)
Threshold HOF'er: Frank Robinson (586)
583- Mark McGwire
569- Rafael Palmeiro
493- Fred McGriff
462- Jose Canseco
442- Dave Kingman

RBI's (active leader: Alex Rodriguez, 1,925)
Threshold HOF'er: Ted Williams (1,839)
1,835- Rafael Palmeiro
1,628- Harold Baines
1,550- Fred McGriff
1,493- Dave Parker
1,466- Rusty Staub

OPS (on-base plus slugging, minimum 3,000 PA) (active leader: Albert Pujols, 1.0257)
Threshold HOF'er: Rogers Hornsby (1.0103)
.9823- Mark McGwire
.9740- Frank Thomas
.9674- Larry Walker
.9451- Lefty O'Doul
.9333- Albert Belle, Edgar Martinez

Stolen bases (active leader: Juan Pierre, 568)
Threshold HOF'er: Ty Cobb (897)
808- Tim Raines
752- Vince Coleman
742- Arlie Latham
668- Willie Wilson
657- Tom Brown

Position-player WAR (Wins Above Replacement) (active leader: Alex Rodriguez, 110.6)
Threshold HOF'er: Johnny Bench (72.3)
71.4- Lou Whitaker
70.9- Bill Dahlen
69.7- Frank Thomas
69.7- Larry Walker
67.3- Bobby Grich

Wins (active leader: Jamie Moyer, 269)
Threshold HOF'ers: Lefty Grove and Early Wynn (300 each)
297- Bobby Mathews
288- Tommy John
284- Tony Mullane
283- Jim Kaat
265- Jim McCormick

Strikeouts (active leader: Jamie Moyer, 2,441)
Threshold HOF'er: Jim Bunning (2,855)
2,832- Mickey Lolich
2,773- Frank Tanana
2,668- David Cone
2,610- Chuck Finley
2,556- Jerry Koosman

Complete game shutouts (active leader: Roy Halladay, 20)
Threshold HOF'ers: Rube Waddell and Vic Willis (50)
49- Luis Tiant
46- Tommy John
46- Jack Powell
45- Doc White
44- Babe Adams

WHIP (Walks/Hits per Inning Pitched, minimum 1,000 IP) (active leader: Mariano Rivera. 0.9978)
Threshold HOF'er: Mordecai Brown (1.0658)
1.0673- Charlie Sweeney
1.0800- Reb Russell
1.0868- Jim Devlin
1.0869- Smoky Joe Wood
1.0887- Jack Pfeister

Pitching WAR (active leader: Roy Halladay, 63.0)
Threshold HOF'er: Robin Roberts (77.3)
72.2- Jim McCormick
65.6- Bobby Mathews
64.6- Rick Reuschel
64.5- Kevin Brown
61.8- Luis Tiant

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Choose Your Own Intelligence Level

It has come to my attention that people of varying levels of intelligence are on the Internet. Amazingly, it turns out that some people are smarter than others. It has also come to my attention that you can't go too far over someone's head when discussing things, or else they're not going to be able to follow along.

Therefore, today we offer two news items for people of two different levels of intelligence. Choose which one applies to you.

For one segment of our clientele, buzz is circulating that the Higgs boson- the particle that gives mass to all other particles- may have been found by the people at CERN. The key word is 'may'. There's a lot of data to analyze, and the threshold for confirmation in this field is high enough that when Higgs-favorable results came up back in December, to the point that it was judged there was only a 0.13% chance of it being a lucky shot, it was not called a discovery, but merely 'evidence'. Something of that level of certainty is called a 3-sigma signal. They want a 5-sigma signal- which gives only a 0.000028% chance of a lucky result- before they call it. (To compare, those are the same odds of picking 5 correct numbers in the Powerball drawing.)

What's happened is that two separate locations have given 4-sigma results, which taken separately would not be enough, but taken together, they might, according to speculation, be able to be considered a 5-sigma. Think something like a combined no-hitter. The thing is, though, while the scientific community wants to make sure they're correct on calling the Higgs, they really, really, really want to call the Higgs. They might be inclined to make a premature call, and are definitely inclined to pass along anything that looks like it's leading to a Higgs call. So, grain of salt. Buzz is still just buzz.

For the other segment of our clientele, the segment that needs not one, not two, but seven distinct reasons why picking a fight with a bouncer isn't the brightest of ideas, here they are. Please stop fighting bouncers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Random News Generator- Cambodia

It may soon be time to update your maps of Southeast Asia, or at least, have Google Earth update its maps. In 1983, Vietnam and Cambodia made an agreement to work out the exact border between them, as their border had never been clearly defined. They had made on-and-off attempts to talk during the 1960's and 70's, but the Vietnam War got in the way. They've been talking ever since, using a neutral border made in 1954 as an interim solution.

It's been pretty slow going. As the above linked article notes, as of 2005, 22 years later, only 200 km out of 1,137 had been sorted out as of the time of a ratification of a supplementary treaty. Last year, the two resolved to pick up the pace.

But pace can go out the window when nations are talking about getting or giving up land. One politician in Cambodia, Sam Rainsy, had to go into exile in France in 2009 after convincing residents living on the border to pull up border markers placed by Vietnam in protest. Rainsy is the leader of the main opposition party in Cambodia, the Sam Rainsy Party, and is dissatisfied with the supplementary treaty.

That supplementary treaty is why Cambodia finds itself negotiating to try to hang on to the villages of Thlok Trach and Anlung Chrey in the province of Kampong Cham. Reportedly, they would have to give up two other villages to keep them, though it's not specified which two and they may not have been decided upon yet. Anlung Chrey is of particular importance, because it happens to be the hometown of Heng Samrin, the leader of the National Assembly, Cambodia's lower house of parliament.

You've heard of politicians trying not to get drawn into an unfavorable constituency before, but it's a little different when they're trying not to get drawn out of the country entirely.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Tinkle-Down Theory

When conducting an old-school filibuster, the biggest concern of the person conducting it is that, sooner or later, they will have to go to the bathroom. To keep a filibuster going, you have to be on the floor at all times. Leave to go to the bathroom, and the filibuster is over; the opposition can swoop in and pass whatever bill you're trying to stop while you're in the bathroom.

Everybody, sooner or later, has to pee, and everybody, sooner or later, has to poop. Normally, this would limit how long a filibuster can truly go. But as at least one case showed, you can overcome this, at the low, low price of all your dignity.

In 2001, Missouri was in the process of redistricting, as per the 2000 census. One Irene Smith, a Democratic alderwoman in St. Louis, was upset with the proposed map, for the standard reason that her seat would have been put in danger. So on July 17, she filibustered. And she filibustered. And eventually her bladder started staging its own filibuster. After holding out as long as she could, and being informed that her filibuster would end if she left to go to the bathroom, she pretty much had to do something about it.

So her aides brought out a trash can, a tablecloth, a sheet and a quilt. Tablecloth, sheet and quilt surrounded Smith and trash can. No prizes for guessing what happened next. Although she denied it at the time, saying "What I did behind that tablecloth is my business." (Though she has since admitted to "alleviating" herself.)

For those who can't quite picture it, here's video of what an alderwoman peeing behind a tablecloth in the middle of July looks like:

On one hand, she won the day; the board of aldermen adjourned without a vote, and she was just kicking off a four-year term in her seat anyway (a seat she would leave in 2005 to launch the first of two unsuccessful campaigns for mayor). On the other hand, a month later, she was charged with public urination. The charge didn't stick, mainly because there was a tablecloth there and nobody could actually prove anything. (Apparently, nobody had the stomach to check the trash can.) And, of course, it's left a giant stain on Smith's political career that she still can't wipe away a decade later and she really wishes people would stop bringing it up.

Good luck with that, Irene.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

This Took Literally Ten Seconds To Factcheck

Something just showed up on my Facebook feed where someone is spreading the word that if you are at an ATM machine, and someone comes up to you and puts a gun to your head, you can call the cops by punching in your PIN number backwards. You get your money, everything proceeds as normal until the cops show up.

I was immediately pretty skeptical and was about to go have a look and make sure that my hunch was right, maybe get an article out of it. But the chance at a substantial article was pretty quickly scuttled when, by the time I had typed in 'pin n' on Google, it AutoCompleted on the first try as 'pin number backwards'.

And this Snopes article teeing off on the claim was the very first result.

Let me rephrase that: factchecking this claim on my end required one trip to Google, four typed letters, one use of the space bar, and two clicks of the mouse. The mouse wheel was not required. Come on, people. The slightest bit of skepticism could have prevented this from showing up on my feed. The slightest little bit. The tiniest little bit of desire to get confirmation beyond 'hey guys did you hear'. A child could have done that factcheck. My three-year-old nephew can type his own name by now and that's five whole entire letters. He could have done this.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Recount! Glorious Ratings-Boosting Recount!

Van Wanggaard, the Republican Wisconsin state senator from Racine that has- for now- lost his recall election in the 21st district (most of Racine County) and in so doing flipped control to the Democrats in that chamber- for now- has called for a recount to contest that result. The tally, pre-recount, shows Wanggaard with 35,517 votes, and challenger John Lehman, also from Racine, with 36,351 votes, a difference of 834.

The percentages have Lehman up 50.6-49.4 on Wanggaard, a margin of 1.2%. That puts things in a bit of middle ground covered by state recount laws in which the number of votes cast exceeds 1,000. If the margin was 0.5% or less, Wanggaard would be entitled to a free recount. If the margin was 2% or more, he would have to pay the entire cost of the recount. He falls between those two points, however, and in that case, he will have to pay something, but not very much, just $5 per ward. That works out to $685 for the 137 wards in play.

Really, the rest of the analysis on this boils down to the same thing that always happens in a recount: the prospective winner says the prospective loser is just delaying the inevitable; the prospective loser says he just wants to make sure and/or has claimed some sort of irregularity. All you can do is sit tight.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Make It Rain, But Don't Set Fire To It

So let's say that you've had a little incident with your money. Oh, say, you've thrown it in an industrial shredder. Not your fault, as you keep telling everyone. It was that damned Godzilla again. Yeah, that's it. Godzilla. However it happened, now you've got a bunch of shredded money. You're screwed, right?

Not necessarily. You still have the pieces of money, right? If you can piece them back together enough, they might still be usable as currency. Let's put it this way: you obviously wouldn't accept money if a guy came up to you and offered you a little tiny scrap of corner, but you might if someone offered you the entire bill minus the tiny scrap of corner. The question is basically, at what point does a bill stop being legal tender.

In the linked article, it notes that Taiwan's threshold is 75%: if you have 75% of the bill lashed together somehow, it can be used. We compile here today the requirements in various other countries.

Australia: 80% gets you full value. Less than 20% gets you nothing. Anything in between gets you an amount of money proportional to the amount of bill you have. So if you cut a $20 bill in half, you now effectively have two $10 bills. If you cut it into one three-quarter piece and one quarter piece, you have a $15 bill and a $5 bill.
Canada: Same rules as Australia.
China: The exact threshold couldn't be found, I do know they will at least replace a whole note, and if you bring in a pile that looks like this, they're likely not going to be able to help you. My best guess is they require the whole bill.
Eurozone: 51%, though you can present less provided you can prove the missing majority of the bill has been destroyed. If the portion was intentionally destroyed, though, you're SOL.
India: Seems to be at least half, with provisions for paying half-value on notes of 10 rupees or above.
Indonesia: I don't know about now, but back in 1950 bill-ripping was used as a method of redenomination... that made everybody poorer. On March 19, 1950, the Indonesian people were asked to tear their bills above 5 rupiah in half- the left side was valid at half-value and could be exchanged for new currency a month later, the right side was to be exchanged for bonds worth way less than half.
Kenya: 51%, with at least one complete serial number.
Mexico: No provisions. If it's torn, you're screwed. Merchants won't even take it as a tip.
New Zealand: In theory, 51%. In practice, each of the four denomination values on the bill is worth a quarter of the bill's value.
Nigeria: Good luck. Not only are banks rejecting torn notes outright, some are rejecting dirty notes too. Though they'll be happy to give you the dirty and torn notes that they won't take. Bank customers are needless to say rather displeased with this arrangement.
Peru: 51%, and at least one of the two serial numbers.
Philippines: 60%.
Singapore: Banks aren't obligated to give anything for any damage. They can if they want, but anyone that does is just being nice to you.
Taiwan: 75%.
Turkey: Over half the note in usable condition will get you the whole amount back. About half the note will get you half the amount back. Less than half gets you squat.
United Kingdom: 51%, or the parts with important things such as the serial numbers.
United States: 51%, though key parts of the bill need to be present and you are going to have to explain what in blazes happened to it. Also, present it as-is.

One thing that's true across the board is that pretty much nobody on the planet is going to accept any foreign bill that has even the slightest tear in it, and banks the world over love to pawn their torn bills on stupid foreigners who don't know any better. If you get torn money, you'll have to raise a big stink about it until they give you money people are more likely to take.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Know Your Ass From A Huron The Ground

Here's a pretty esoteric X-in-Y-minutes quiz for you today: name the nations in the videogame Europa Universalis II, in 20 minutes. Sounds pointless and stupid, right?

First off, note that Europa Universalis is, in the vein of Civilization, a game where you take a real-world nation and lead them against others over a certain time period. So these are all real nations. Second, the time period in Europa Universalis II is 1419-1820, a time period when city-states and smaller tribes were rapidly congealing into larger nation-states, nation-states that still did not necessarily look like the ones you see on your map today. Third, the game takes a global scope, not just a European one. And fourth, you have 287 countries to name in your 20 minutes. So this is going to be quite the workout.

I got only 72. I'll start you off with Huron, as noted in the post title. It's the nation that starts off encompassing my home region, but I missed it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Then What Happened?

A lot of long-running news stories cut off coverage at some point prior to the story's actual completion. That could happen for any number of reasons: the story doesn't wrap up for years after the initial blitz of coverage, the media got bored and moved on, the story got supplanted by a bigger story and the media never got around to wrapping up the first one, or maybe the ending didn't fit the presented narrative in the slightest and, life being the Hollywood movie it is, all stories have to have nice, clean, definitive endings that make sense. It was only one week into this blog's life when we covered one such story that people didn't follow to its conclusion, the Dred Scott case. It makes for a nice, clean ending to say that Dred Scott was told by the Supreme Court that he was a piece of property. It doesn't make for a nice, clean ending to say that at the time the ruling was handed down, he was the property of a woman who was married to an abolitionist Congressman from Massachusetts who didn't find out about his wife owning Dred until it was too late to save him or his political career, and that he promptly set out to have Dred freed a few months later.

Douglas A. McDonnell, writing for Cracked, has compiled six other such stories of considerably more recent vintage. For example, that Toyota Prius recall stemming from stuck accelerators a year or two ago was checked out and revealed to be "pedal misapplication", also known as idiot drivers stepping on the gas instead of the brake.

For a story that is currently going on now, here's an update on the Jerry Sandusky trial at Penn State, one day old. To recap Day 1, Sandusky is awful, his attorney, Joe Amendola, continues to be the worst lawyer since Lionel Hutz, and the key witness of the day, known as Victim #4 (currently 28 years old), hammered him like a tent peg. A running blog of the trial is here, and let's just say that when the phrase "sometimes he would 'sneakily' put his penis in my mouth while we were showering and wrestling" is typed, something somewhere has gone terribly wrong.

How bad at his job is Amendola? Let us examine the jury selected for the case, and zero in on juror #3:

A middle-aged woman who has held Penn State football season tickets for 24 years. Her husband is a physician at the same medical group as John McQueary, whose son Mike McQueary is a key witness for the prosecution. She said she is a "casual" acquaintance of the elder McQueary. Sandusky's attorney, Joe Amendola, initially tried to strike her from the jury pool. However, Sandusky convinced his attorney otherwise, saying "I think she can be fair."
A casual acquaintance of the dad of a key prosecution witness, in a child-molestation case mind you, and Amendola allowed Sandusky to talk him into letting her onto the jury. You do not need to have ever had any law experience beyond watching Law and Order to know how bad an idea that is.

Day 2 is underway as of this writing. 'Victim #1', now 18 years old, is the big witness so far today, and it has not gone any better for Sandusky. During testimony, he broke down in tears. During Amendola's cross-examination, he broke down again.

I'm pretty sure the trial is going to be followed to its conclusion.

Monday, June 11, 2012

No Shooting Romantic Comedies In The Pool

If you've ever been to Rome, the odds are pretty good that you've been to the Trevi Fountain. It's one of those places that, even if you don't particularly want to see it, you pretty much have to in order to fend off the people back home who will otherwise go 'How could you visit [city] and not see [really famous thing]?' It's the reason I have four blurry pictures of a tiny Hollywood sign on my camera.

That said, it always sucks when those attractions fall into disrepair. That's why the Hollywood sign isn't the Hollywoodland sign. That's why so much time and energy was spent in New Hampshire to prop up a crumbling natural rock formation. (A rock formation which collapsed anyway.) That's why you've always got a couple scattered cranks saying that we "have to" tear down Wrigley Field. And that's why the Trevi Fountain is looking at a restoration project: it has pieces falling off of it. It's been 20 years since the last restoration, and it's clearly due for another now.

The crumbling has been notably acute this year. What's thought to have happened is that the harsh winter Europe just had, particularly a snowstorm that hit Italy in February, caused snowmelt to seep into the pores of the fountain, weakening the structure. ('Winter', America. It's called 'winter'. That thing we didn't have this year.) It seems a bit odd, blaming a fountain's structural-integrity problems on what amounts to unforeseen water damage, but not all parts of all fountains are meant to have water rushing over them at all times, and besides, melted snow can easily refreeze- and expand as ice- inside the pores.

Hopefully they can get it repaired with minimal fuss.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

And In Rather More Bumming Science News...

...the experiments from CERN noted here back in November that found particles to be able to go faster than the speed of light have been refuted. With a result like that, the scientific community was always going to leap all over it to make sure every single I was dotted and T crossed, and it turns out there was a missing dot and/or cross. Namely, CERN's instrumentation was faulty. When the  independently, the speed of light remained at approximately the speed of light.

Oh well. At least we still have at least one aspect of society where people own up to mistakes.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Stem Cell Block

Do you remember the fight over stem cell research in the US back during the Bush 43 administration? It was a fight where on one side you had people speculating about what kind of research might be done with embryonic stem cells, and on the other you had people claiming it was immoral to use them because the stem cells might become babies at some point. (Which by the time the stem cells arrive in the lab is no longer a possibility, but that was the argument.)

Well, that aside, we now have something really spiffy to point at on the what-can-stem-cells-do side of the ledger: make an artificial human liver. A team of scientists at Japan's Yokohama City University took some pluripotent (or iPS) stem cells- which you can get from adults as well as embryos- grew them a bit, and then injected them into a mouse's head. That's where the liver grew, according to the report.

Please ignore the implications of growing a liver inside your head.

Obviously, there's more research that's going to need to be done on that. If it works out, though, and it turns out you can reliably make livers from stem cells, that makes things a whole lot easier on doctors who have long faced chronic shortages in organ donation.

But let's say you're on the anti-stem-cell side of the argument. Fine. You don't have a problem with skin cells, do you? You're just shedding those all over the place all the time. You're doing it right now.

Well, stop it, because you might be shedding future brain cells.

That's what a team at the Gladstone Institute at UC-San Francisco managed to accomplish: they injected a single cell, Sox2, into mouse and human skin cells. With the addition of the Sox2 cell, the skin cells gradually turned into brain cells known as neural stem cells (there's that phrase again), and enough of those brain cells strung together were able to create neural networks. This came as a shock to the UCSF team, which was actually trying to put a tumor in the mouse's brain with the neural stem cells.

The implications here, if they can work out the kinks: potentially, an eventual treatment for Alzheimer's disease, which currently has no treatment.

Aside from the possibilities shown just by these two discoveries, we can infer a couple things: first, it may or may not toss a new wrench into the stem-cell debate (remember, the debate revolved around embryonic cells and the types used here don't necessarily have to be); second, mice have the strangest healthcare system.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Always The One You Least Expect

CNN- well, CNN International, anyway; CNN US is too focused on politics- has a really nice ongoing thing called the Freedom Project. The Freedom Project is an effort to expose modern-day slavery, wherever on the planet they happen to find it. As they reported about a week ago, the International Labour Organization estimates that 20.9 million people worldwide are living in slavery, 4.5 million of which are sex slaves. That's just an estimate, though; this isn't the antebellum South. Nobody is going around these days bragging about how many slaves they have, save for possibly pimps. (Yes, that counts.) It could be up towards 30 million.

In any case, slavemasters aren't exactly forthcoming. Neither are many of the slaves themselves, who are often in a position where coming forward means they would be arrested and prosecuted themselves for whatever it is their master made them do. So what tends to happen is every time slaves get unearthed in the Western world, it comes as a surprise to people- 'wait, we still have slaves here? The Civil War ended, right?'

If slavery is found in Mauritania or China or Afghanistan, on some level that falls in line with people's expectations. A general lack of freedoms means people might expect to see slavery result. But they don't expect to see slaves in, oh, say, Sweden.

Hope you're sitting down, because the ILO thinks it may have found slavery in Sweden, in the form of berry pickers. Specifically, workers brought in from eastern Europe and Asia, from whom their employers suddenly withhold payment and disappear.

I'll let the article, at ScienceBlog, go into detail on it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Democrats Win 2648 Election, You Heard It Here First

Let's dispense with all the hoopla. I've found over the years that when you don't watch election coverage, and just get told who won and have that be the end of it, you come away with a much clearer head about the next step than if you put yourself on an emotional roller-coaster over every set of newly-announced votes.

So let's just rip the band-aid off if you haven't heard already: Scott Walker survived his recall attempt.

He isn't totally out of the woods yet, though; the Democrats gained a seat (pending a possible recount; it was pretty close) and in so doing took control of the Wisconsin State Senate, which throws a roadblock in front of any further legislative efforts by Walker. He also still has that John Doe corruption investigation to worry about. Any reporting you hear that tries to paint this as the definitive end to the story and predicting that Wisconsinites are going to now bury the hatchet and come together all puppies and rainbows is dead wrong.

Actually, no, let's have a little bit of hoopla. I want to point out this article where the Democrat in question, John Lehman, won the race that shifted control of the State Senate (again, pending potential recount). Take it away, Nameless Article Writer Person:

Galloway's resignation left the chamber evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, 16-16, going into Tuesday's elections. Democrats needed to win just one race to seize the majority. Republicans needed to take all four.

And the GOP came up big, lodging three convincing wins:

That's right. They needed to win four, and they came up big with a convincing three. Also known as less than four. Someone was paid money to write that.

That said, there is one part of the coverage that got me mad anyway: according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, NBC was the first to call the race for Walker, at 9 PM. Which is one thing; the polls were scheduled to close at 8.

The problem: they weren't actually closed yet. There were still people in line to vote at 9:30 PM.

This is a gigantic screw-up on the part of NBC, and one that I'm already seeing is helping to fuel the now-perpetual political anger further. You do not call a race while people are still in line to vote. It does not matter what the margin is. It doesn't matter if it's a 40-point blowout. If you call a race while people are still voting, and they hear the race called, what's going to happen is at least a couple of those people are going to get out of line and go home. After all, the people on the news just told them not to bother anymore, because they've already declared the winner. This literally causes people to not vote that otherwise would have, which undoes all the hard work done to get America's notoriously apathetic voting populace to the polls in the first place. In the process, not only is the race in question losing voters, but so are races downballot that, you never know, may end up swinging because of those lost voters.

I'm not accusing NBC of having a particular interest in who wins. Maybe they do. Maybe they don't. That's not the issue at hand as far as I'm concerned. The issue at hand is calling a race while there are people in line who haven't voted yet. News networks on election night seem concerned primarily with being the first to call the race, sometimes even sacrificing accuracy for speed. You all remember Florida in 2000, right? Networks call Florida for Gore, retract call, call it again for Bush, retract it again, and then a month of hanging chads and butterfly ballots and accidental Pat Buchanan ensues. What exactly is the reward for being first? Does the first network to call a race get a food pellet? A new car? The antidote?

Effectively, all that happens when you're first is that you get to run ads afterward on your network complimenting yourself for being the first to call a race. That's it. Seriously, nobody outside the networks cares who's first. I have never once heard someone say 'I get my news from [network] because they were the first to call the race on election night!'

I have, however, heard plenty of people say 'What the hell is [network] doing calling the race so early? They haven't even counted any votes yet! Why are you calling a race on exit polls? Did you learn NOTHING from 2000?!' Calling a race is like calling balls and strikes: if people are noticing you doing it, you've screwed up.

In 2007, Canada's Supreme Court ruled on the case R v. Bryan. The court upheld, by a 5-4 ruling, section 329 of the Canada Elections Act, which states that election results cannot be published in areas that have not finished voting yet- with TV and the Internet, this basically means nobody announces results anywhere until everyone is done voting, so that nobody has any sort of an information advantage on anyone else. In 2000, a guy named Paul Charles Bryan published results from the Maritime provinces while polls out west were still open, and was brought up on charges in British Columbia, ultimately fined $1,000. According to CBC News' senior executive producer Mark Bulgutch, "We're disappointed, there's no doubt about it... We can't expand on what we do… the potential is not realized. It prevents us from engaging people in the story. We thought we could make election night a bigger event that it already is."

Believe me, Mark, you're better off with the blackout. Far better to sit there twiddling your thumbs for a couple hours and sacrifice the horserace coverage than to see people come out of line thinking their vote doesn't matter anymore where it did an hour ago. We could actually use something like that here, to keep things like what happened last night from happening again. If that means Squatter's Notch and Squirrel's Asshole, New Hampshire can't have their first-towns-in-America-to-announce-election-results 15 minutes of fame every four years, too bad. They can still vote first if they want; they just have to sit on the results until the last voter in Hawaii goes home.

Election night is always a big night. You don't need the media to make it a big night. The media just has to not ruin that night.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Wisconsin Recall Election Day

It's today. Go vote, Wisconsinites. Now. Put the keyboard down and go vote.

Monday, June 4, 2012

I'm Feeling Lucky

That, as you know, is the name of the button on Google's homepage you use when you want the first result for whatever it is you're searching for. You normally just think of it as something for the regular searches.

A couple of artists and designers from London, Ben West and Felix Heyes, have applied the concept to Google Image Search. Not only that, they've opted to make a dictionary out of it. What they've done is take 21,000 words out of the dictionary, and run a Google Image Search for each of them. They then took the first result of each word, alphabetized those images by keyword, and bound and printed the result, which they have naturally called 'Google'. It runs 1,240 pages.

They're looking to get a publishing run going- they bound and printed the book themselves- but if you'd like a copy, note that SafeSearch was clearly off, as according to West, "I would estimate about half of the book is revolting medical photos, porn, racism or bad cartoons."Or, if you don't want to buy it, you can try and speed-read it through an animated GIF West made.

You may also get a free preview by typing random words into Google Image Search.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Really? We Have To Clear This Up?

Fine. Apparently we have to.

Kids, are you eating Tide Pods detergent? Because apparently some of you are. THAT IS NOT CANDY. DETERGENT IS NOT CANDY. STOP EATING DETERGENT.

Cripes. Really?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Wisconsinites Even Dumber Than Scott Walker

First off, reminder that the recall election is on Tuesday, Wisconsinites. Get out there and vote if you haven't already voted early.

I say this not only because of the proximity to Tuesday, but because that's how today's dumb criminal story began. Back in May, an employee of Bill Feehan, a Republican Wisconsin state Senate candidate in the fall elections, named Chris Rochester, saw that Scott Walker was making an appearance in his hometown of La Crosse. Being a Republican and the employee of a Republican candidate, Rochester went, and in fact filmed the event.

Then he got home and saw a whole bunch of videos he didn't remember taking.That's because someone had stolen the camcorder and later returned it.

Now, let's have a powwow for all the budding camcorder thieves out there:

1. Don't steal a camcorder.
2. If you must steal a camcorder, do not film anything incriminating with it.
3. If you must film something incriminating with the stolen camcorder, and you later feel the urge to return it, make sure to delete the incriminating footage, and in fact all footage that you shot, before the victim sees it.
4. Under no circumstances is it a good idea to produce any part of the following video:

The only reason this did not lead to arrest of the thief, Houaka Yang, is that by the time Rochester posted the video to YouTube, Yang was already in custody.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Oh, What A World, What A World

Let's just leap right into this one. Take some styrofoam. Take some acetone- nail polish remover, perhaps, though the video about to be shown uses some more industrial stuff from Ace Hardware. Apply acetone to styrofoam.

Voila, you now have melted styrofoam.

As you can see, you can melt a lot of styrofoam like that. Anne Marie Helmenstine, writing for, estimates that one cup of acetone is enough to melt a bean bag's worth of styrofoam peanuts- remember, styrofoam has 'foam' right there in the name, and all the air in the foam is released when it's melted down.

It doesn't stay melted, though. Styrofoam is a brand name for polystyrene, a hard styrene-based polymer. What the acetone is doing is loosening up the polymer chains, allowing them to move around more freely. When they move more freely, the styrofoam softens, releases the air, and melts. When the acetone goes away, though, the chains re-establish rigidity, un-melting the styrofoam. With the air pockets now gone, you end up with a piece of hard plastic.

Household Hacker, whom I've come to understand have had their videos busted by the Mythbusters on two separate occasions- the online-only 'iOnion' and 'Homemade Surround Sound', has a video of the hardening... right after the ad for Carbonite and before the monologue for Carbonite, plus the actual hardened product barely gets any screentime.

So you get this much-lower-production-quality-but-more-informative video instead. (I will say, though, that Household Hacker suggests letting the melted styrofoam sit for 8-10 hours, which is plenty more than this guy has let it sit.)