Monday, September 28, 2009

Bio Hacking, Anyone?


While driving around town Sunday on duty, during a shift that refused to die, I happened to catch a bit of a BBC news report on Bio Hacking on the radio. Pretty interesting - yet worrying all at the same time.

Basically, Biohackers are people with an interest in genetics and biology who do genetic engineering and gene manipulation as a "hobby". They may or may not have advanced degrees, or funding, or high tech equipment. About the only constant is an interest in the field and a desire to experiment. Most of the time, these fun lovers are just working out of their own home labs.


There are even competitions among those in the hobby every year, to see who can produce the most interesting Genetically Engineered Machine (GEM). Companies have sprung up to provide "kits", including standardized chunks of DNA - called biobricks. It all sounds cool and exciting... until you stop to think about the incredible potential for danger involved.



Here's a quote I found interesting, from an article in the
Economist:

If groups such as DIYbio are successful, the basic tools of biohacking will be both cheap to buy and easy to construct at home. Many DNA sequences, including those for harmful diseases, are already widely published, and can hardly be retracted. The falling cost of DNA synthesis suggests that there will be automated “printers” for the molecule before long.

There are some substances that can be controlled, like the reagents used to modify DNA. But a strict government policy regulating the chemical components of biohacking might have much the same effect as laws banning gun ownership—ordinary citizens will be discouraged, while criminals will still find what they want on black markets.

Great... So, now we not only have to worry about someone making a bomb or cooking meth in the house next door. We also have to wonder if they are making the next super bug that will make H1N1 and West Nile look like a sniffly nose.

And don't even get me started about the potential for someone to jack around with the rabies virus.... Zombieland here we come....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's a Zoo out there...

Literally.

One of my Wife's favorite places to go is the Zoo. A trip to the Dallas Zoo was our second date - many, many years ago. Dallas has a pretty good zoo, but our favorite local zoo is the one over in Ft. Worth.



fwz gorilla



The day was sunny, the temperature wasn't too bad in the early morning, and the crowds were pretty light for a Saturday. Guess a lot of the folks who wanted to get outside that day opted for a trip to the opening day of the Texas State Fair, instead.


fwz lion 3



They've done a great job with the habitats for most of the animals, with improvements being made all the time. Its a really pleasant way to spend a morning, or an afternoon. I can't wait until our Granddaughter gets old enough to enjoy the sights at the zoo. Right now at 9 months, it wouldn't be that different from walking around our backyard at home :)

Soon, though....


fwz mandrin



The lion decided to strike an unusual pose for us while we were watching him:


fwz lion poo

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fork in the Road

Note: Usually all the modern photographs I post are taken by me or my Mrs. In this instance, though, none of the pictures in this post are ours.

All morning, I've had a reoccurring thought going through my head. I keep wondering how different today would look to me- if recent events would have played out another way.

I'm talking about the FBI sting that netted a potential terrorist plotting to blow up an office building in Downtown Dallas.


Here was the target:




That's "Fountain Place", which is a 60 story office building near Downtown Dallas.

Here's the subject of the sting:




That's Hosam Maher Husein Smadi .

He's a 19 year old kid who was born in Jordan. Until recently, he lived in one of these odd looking apartments, in the small community of Italy, Texas:




There's a company in the a area near Italy that makes dome structures like this, so you see several of them scattered around the countryside. This is an small development that's sort of like an apartment complex. Not much rental property available in Italy. Not much of ANYTHING available in Italy, for that matter. I've passed through that area many times, on our weekend outings.


Smadi worked full time at a BBQ joint on the Interstate, partied with friends and neighbors where he lived, and even baby sat for folks in his community. By many accounts, he was liked and well thought of by his neighbors and others in the small community.

An FBI agent found him through the internet on an Extremist Islamic Website spouting hatred and calling for jihad against America, 6 months ago. They made contact with him and through the course of their investigation they determined that he was looking for opportunities to kill Americans in the name of his extremist views. All he needed was the right person to supply him with the tools and information necessary to do the job.

In his words: "I want to destroy ... targets ... everything that helps America on its war on Arabs will be targeted," he told undercover agents in May.


The FBI posed as Terrorists and supplied him with an ass-load of Dummy Explosives. The kid loaded them into a vehicle and drove the car bomb to Fountain Place, where he tried to detonate them.


Had he been successful in hooking up with ACTUAL Al-Qaeda operatives, the devastation would have been immense. Hundreds, if not thousands, of peoples lives would have been lost - and my home town would have been thrust into panic and confusion.


Instead... this morning I walked outside and marveled at the beauty of the sunshine, blue sky, and cool autumn temperature. My drive to the grocery store was uneventful, beyond the usual morning traffic of Moms and Dads taking their kids to school. When I sign off the computer after posting this I'll go mow the yard, then I'll putter in my workshop a bit before driving to my Granddaughter's daycare to pick her up for her 9 month Dr. checkup and shots.


Then I'll spend the afternoon playing with the baby... until my Daughter gets off work and picks her up on the way home.


How different life can be, if we go down one path vs. another.

How many other "Smadi's" are there out there, right this moment, just looking for someone to put a detonator in their hand? Lots to think about.

I think I'll hug the baby a little bit closer today.

Hell... I think I'll hug everybody a little bit closer today.


Girl Friday - 09/25/2009 - Linda Darnell

Today's Girl Friday is:

Linda Darnell



linda darnell



Linda Darnell was another Texas Gal who went off to Hollywood to find fame and fortune at a young age. She had a contract with a movie studio by the time she was 15 years old, and made her first film appearance in 1939.



linda darnell darling clementine





linda darnell 6



I've always thought that, if eyebrows could be used as a weapon - Linda Darnell would have been one dangerous person to deal with:



linda darnell 3





linda darnell 4



Ms. Darnell passed away in the 1960's, from injuries she received in a house fire. It is commonly believed that she was badly burned, while searching her burning home for the daughter for a friend that was staying with her. The girl in question, unknown to Ms. Darnell, was already outside the house and safe.



linda darnell p38




linda darnell 5

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How did they see me picking my nose?

H/T: Borepatch


Day of Oddities

What a long week... being on call always keeps me on edge. I don't have to actually work 24/7, but I have to be available and ready around the clock during my on call weeks. Calls can, and do, come in at any moment during the day or night. It feels like I'm working a 96 hour long day. You'd think I'd get used to it after 15 years in this biz... but it's just erratic enough to keep you off balance.

Anywho - Yesterday was an odd day, as far as field service calls go. I got the following call off our voicemail, pretty much first thing in the morning:




Hmm... That teacher didn't sound like someone I'd want to be in charge of my kid in any kind of ACTUAL emergency - would you? If I found something dead in my truck, I'd probably just put it in a bag and throw it away. You wouldn't think someone would have to call the City to do it, and you certainly wouldn't think the situation would cause them to be so unsettled that they could barely leave a voicemail message.

Another call today involved this:




bird on car




A lady had parked behind her place of business, only to have an exotic bird land on the hood of her car. The lady had her two dogs with her inside the car. The dogs and the bird became fascinated with looking at each other through the windshield. We hadn't received any calls from anyone looking for a lost bird - so there's no clue as to where it came from. Here he is, a little more clearly, inside a cage at the Animal Shelter:




bird at shelter




I also picked up 7 puppies from one of the residents of a bad neighborhood in the town where I work.




puppies drinking




We normally don't pick up "Owner Release" animals from people trying to get rid of unwanted animals. Usually, we make them drive the animals to the shelter themselves. This serves two purposes:

1. It makes them have to see the consequences of their actions. If I go to their house and pick up their unwanted pet, it makes it too easy and painless for them to get rid of them. It should involve some effort on the part of the pet owner, regardless of the circumstances causing the release of the pet. Otherwise it makes it too easy for people to dump one animal on the system for whatever reason, and then go out and get another pet a week/month/year later. That cycle can repeat with the same people over, and over again.

2. Our shelter is about 1 1/2 hours round trip from the town I service - if you figure the time for a round trip with time to unload what ever I've had to take up there. If I'm up there unloading, I'm not available for rapid response to actual emergencies in the town I service. I can't do anything about trips to the shelter to unload animals that I've picked up stray - but I can limit the trips for animals surrendered by owners.

After saying that - I decided that discretion was the better part of valor, in this case. I could have told the owner that he had to take the puppies to the shelter - but he probably wouldn't have bothered. He would have taken them home, planning to do it another day. These dogs were almost completely unsocialized at this point. In another month or two, they would have been running wild through the trailer park - making it necessary for me and my co-workers to have a much harder time getting them off the streets.

At least this way, they have a chance at finding a responsible home.




blonde puppy




I did take the opportunity to rake the owner over the coals for having an un-spayed dog cranking out puppies in the trailer park, though. He couldn't leave until I had finished accepting the puppies from him - so I had a captive audience for as long as I wanted.

I'm thinking about renting myself out for terrorist interrogations. I think I could wear them down faster than a Waterboarder :)





Monday, September 21, 2009

Road Trip 9/19/2009 - Part 2

After leaving the Tractor Show near Sulphur, Oklahoma on Saturday, we took our time heading back home. That's often my favorite part of our weekend road trips.... just exploring and seeing what we can find that catches our eyes.



pastoral scene



One of our destinations on the way back was a restaurant in Gainesville, Texas. We used to frequent Gainesville pretty regularly, back several years ago. It was one of our favorite Antique Hunting areas. Around the old downtown area, they had no less than 6 Antique malls/shops within walking distance of each other!

Ebay has taken its toll these days, however. There was ONE solitary Antique mall on the square today. That's the main reason we stopped driving up to Gainesville.... there's not much there to make it worth the trip for us any more.

After looking around the single Antique spot, we wanted to try a new place to eat called the Main Street Grill. Really cool looking place, really nice wait staff, really bad food. If you are familiar at all with Chicken Fried Steak, you'll understand my dismay at how you can take a piece of meat and mechanically tenderize it (ie. beat it to death with a spiked hammer) and STILL end up with a piece of gristly meat that you can't chew. What the hell?....

Ah, well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The next stop on the way home was the small town of Whitesboro. The Mrs. has a passion for scrapbooking as a hobby, since the arrival of the Grandbaby, and Whitesboro has a Scrapbooking store in the old downtown area that is apparently the bee's knees. While she entertained herself there, I went to check out an old friend:


abandoned church





church steeple



This is an abandoned church that we found a couple of years ago when passing through Whitesboro. When we initially found the church, a portion of the front plywood had blown in and you could see part of the remaining stained glass inside with the sun shining through it. Really hard to get a decent picture of it from outside, though, and on this trip the front plywood was all closed up again.



abandoned church stained glass



I'm DYING to get a chance to poke around inside this old girl. I noticed this time there was a sign for a Real Estate company out front, so I think I'll make a call and see if I can get someone to let me in for long enough to snap a couple of pics. That's one spooking looking old church, and I bet the inside is really interesting looking.

I've commented before about being attracted to old wrecks like this. My Wife and I had a conversation when we were in Gainesville about that very thing. After the let down at the Main Street Grill, we drove a block or two off the square to look at a house that I check on whenever we are in the area.

It's my dream house, so to speak.


gainesville3



There she is.... in all her beautiful, worn out glory. The above pic is from several years ago, but she looks the same now. Part of the front porch railing is falling completely off now, though, as she speeds up her sad decay.

This is the only shot I took of her this trip, looking up at the boarded up tower that is rotting away:



haunted tower



There are people who live in the house. I've never seen them outside, but there are signs of definite habitation. Cars in the driveway, stained curtains in the windows, stuff in the yard.... but nobody ever does anything to save the old girl from a slide into complete decay.


gainesville2


I've always thought that if I ever won the lottery, one of the first things I would do is buy this old house and kick the residents out ASAP. I told the Mrs. on this trip that I would be torn, though, as to whether to fix her up like new - or just do what was necessary to stop future damage and preserve her as is....

For the Mrs., there is no debate. She would dive headfirst into making her bright and shiny just like she was when new back 100+ years ago. I'll admit, that would be a wondrously beautiful thing to see. She's a Grand Old Gal, and it would warm my heart to see her as the Belle she was intended to be.

Part of me, though, would miss her worn and weathered face.



gainesvillesep1





Sunday, September 20, 2009

Road Trip - 09/19/2009 Part 1

FINALLY!!!.. A weekend where it wasn't hotter than hell, and/or Raining enough to drown a fish.

The Mrs. and I had a lot of choices for what to do this weekend.

There was Octoberfest, down in Addison. If you aren't familiar with Addison, it is a suburb in North Dallas that consists mainly of office buildings and restaurants. Addison generally isn't where people live... it's where they work. Octoberfest in September - to beat out the competition - has always rubbed me the wrong way for some reason. Add to that, the fact that Addison as ZERO German roots or heritage - and what you end up with is an opportunity for lots of yuppies to get together and get obnoxiously drunk.

Not my thing.

There was also the Plano Balloon Festival, in another Dallas Suburb. I've been to that before and it's not too bad. Traffic is pretty hideous though, and how many big hot-air balloons can you look at before you get bored?

No... this weekend definitely called for a more remote and long distance road adventure. We jumped in my truck Saturday morning and headed up north of Sulphur, Oklahoma for the Murray County Antique Tractor and Implement Show.



murray county tractor show



This thing is really big, for a tractor type show. Lots and lots of antique iron, including some steam engines.



steam engine



One of the most interesting things to watch was the blacksmith demos. I've done a bit of smithing, in my time. I haven't had a shop set up in several years. I've just about made up my mind to start a new shop out at my Folk's place, if I could just get time to work on it. Seeing the smith's out at the tractor show got my itch fired up again.



anvil sepia



These are some animals heads forged out of iron by the blacksmiths:



blacksmith animal heads



And these are some knives, many of which were forged from old railroad spikes.



blacksmith spike knives



We drank home brewed root beer, had fresh churned ice cream, and ogled lots of cool old stuff before heading home.



rusty limiter



john deere generations

antique chevy hauler




antique chevy hauler copilot


The trip back was pretty interesting too. I'll cover it in Part 2 tomorrow.




Saturday, September 19, 2009

Paladin's Random Crap - Part 5

This installment of Paladin't Random Crap involves kind of an eclectic mix of items in the same broad general category - woodworking.

You've seen some of my clocks, in a previous post. I also make some furniture, and tinker with some wood carving. Most of my carving takes the form of decorating gunstocks and making walking sticks and canes.

Here's a shadow box display case I made, that was inspired by a picture of old saloon doors that I saw in a movie. It has Old West stuff in it:



westernshadow


This is a couch table display case, built like a trestle table.


couchtable 1

And here's a view of the top:



couchtable 2


My walking stick:

mesquite plain cane


My Wife's stick:

basketweave cane

Here's a "Paladin" image that I carved into Elk Antler for a cane:

antler carving done



A shotgun stock that I carved:


pistolgripcarve



An old .410 bolt action shotgun that I bought for my Dad for Christmas one year. I duracoated it, and carved the stock. The Monogram is his initials:


Butt stock carving




Forearm carving

Friday, September 18, 2009

Girl Friday 09/18/2009 - Rita Hayworth

After taking a break in observance of Patriot Day, the Girl Friday Returns this week to bring you:

Rita Hayworth.


rita hayworth



My first impression when ever I see Rita Hayworth in a film or a photograph, is how unassuming she seems. It's hard to describe, but she always seems so natural and unaffected.


Rita stripped shirt



Ms. Hayworth was a wildly popular actress during the 1940's and into the 1950's, where she garnered most of her professional success. She was a popular pinup during WWII, and appeared opposite the biggest leading men of the day.


rita wwII




rita hayworth 2




rita hayworth 6



Like many Hollywood Actresses, her success in her public and professional life didn't necessarily translate to success in her personal life. What is it with beautiful women and their bad choices in men? Can someone explain that to me? Even Rita herself noticed the tendancy for bad personal relationship choices. Her words:

"Basically, I am a good, gentle person but I am attracted to mean personalities."

She was married a total of 5 times - none of the marriages ended well, and none lasted more than a few years each.

Here she is with her second husband, Orson Wells -


rita orson wells



Later, she married Prince Aly Khan.


rita marriage



Now you tell me... look at the picture above , or at virtually ANY of the pictures you can easily find of Hayworth and Khan online...

Does that look like a marriage made in heaven? - Yeah, I didn't thing so either. This break up resulted in a massive public custody battle between Hayworth and Khan over their daughter that lasted several years.

Ms. Hayworth passed away in 1987, of one of the most horrible diseases in my opinion - Alzheimer's.


Rita black dress