Paul Murray's weblog, with news you may have missed and my $0.02 worth on a number of topics.

"You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."
- Art Buchwald

I bet you don't have a friend who's an acupuncturist

E-mail me: pmurray [at]

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Sunday, September 28, 2003
The origins of Murphy's Law.
Don't miss this article from the Annals of Improbable Research about where Murphy's Law came from. The answer may be a little less definitive than purists would like, but you will learn why you should be grateful for the efforts of Col. John Paul Stapp.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Be wary of free lunches.
I try to convince computer users to be wary of free software. There are many good free programs, but I'm speaking here of "free" software, such as those that monitor what web sites you're visiting (!) and display ads that they think are relevant (there are others that do worse things). Plus they often reduce your computer's performance; I have witnessed this firsthand on PCs used by co-workers. Here's a Business Week article that explains it well.

More on Monsanto's milk lawsuit.
Back in July, I wrote about Monsanto suing a Maine dairy to make them stop saying that they use no artificlal growth hormones. Monsanto makes one such hormone, called rBST. And I find it incredibly offensive that Monsanto wants a business to be legally prevented from telling its customers that they don't use Monsanto's product.

I'm sure that the original NYT story I linked to in that post has long since disappeared behind their pay wall. But today Wired News has a good article about the matter that talks more about rBST and its effects. The short version: it doesn't seem to bother humans (which is why the FDA approved it), but it can produce some unpleasant side effects in cows (which is why Canada didn't approve it).

Monsanto is suing on the basis of FDA guidelines that prohibit dairies from claiming that their milk produced without rBST is better. The dairy doesn't make such a claim and therefore believes it is legal; Monsanto claims that the dairy is implying that rBST is unsafe. (By the way, the FDA exmployee who wrote the guidelines back in 1994 previously worked for Monsanto's law firm, and later became a Monsanto vice president. But that's purely a coincidence, I'm sure.)

Tuesday, September 09, 2003
Back to the future?
NASA's next manned space vehicle may be ... a modified version of the Apollo capsule? Well, it depends how broadly you interpret those terms:
In the end, the report makes it clear that an “Apollo-derived” CRV or CTV will place far more of an emphasis on “derived” than on “Apollo”. Other than the generic shape of the capsule and a few minor subsystems, very little of the original Apollo design was deemed suitable for a future design. This should put the brakes on speculation that all NASA needs to do to build a new capsule is to simply dust off the old Apollo design.

(via Slashdot)

Thursday, September 04, 2003
Blackout or Photoshop?
At least two people I know e-mailed me a satellite picture that purported to show the U.S. during the recent blackout. I had already seen a photo that I knew was authentic, as it was on a government website. But the one I received in the mail appeared suspicious to me. The blackout area formed a perfect triangle, which seemed unlikely (though possible). So unlike most people, I did not forward it to people I knew. Good thing; it's a fake. (via

Monday, September 01, 2003
Homer Hickam on NASA's "shuttle cult."
Homer Hickam -- the former NASA engineer whose autobiography "Rocket Boys" was turned into the wonderful movie "October Sky" -- explains why the space shuttle design is inherently flawed, and that we need to wind it down over the next four years in favor of something better.

Another footnote to history.
John Lansdale Jr. has died. Lansdale was the head of security for the Manhattan Project (which developed the atomic bomb). In that role, Lansdale approved Robert Oppenheimer (later attacked during the red scare) and was in charge of capturing Germany's atomic bomb project before it could be captured by the Soviets in April 1945. And there was this interesting and ironic tidbit:
In 1995, Mr. Lansdale added a surprising twist to the story of the surrender of the Nazi submarine U-234 to American forces in May 1945. Bound for Tokyo, the submarine was carrying 10 containers filled with uranium oxide. For years, historians had wondered what the American military did with it.

In an interview with The New York Times in 1995, Mr. Lansdale said the material, originally intended for Japan's atomic program, instead ended up in the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"It went to the Manhattan District," he said. "It certainly went into the Manhattan District supply of uranium."