Catching up on interesting links from the past week.

Balkanized North America Map (thumbnail)Balkanized North America: what if every region that started independent had stayed that way, and every region that threatened to secede from the US or Canada had succeeded? (via ***Dave)

Enter Sandman: Who wrote “Footprints”? You’ve probably read the poem, or heard it, in which the narrator dreams of walking along a beach with God, and looking back and noting how many sets of footprints there are at different points in their life. It turns out at least four people claim authorship. (via Neil Gaiman)

Lunar UnicycleRetro-Future: To the Stars! Science-fiction illustrations from 1930–1970, many of them from Soviet/Eastern Bloc countries. (via Slashdot, though I noticed it popped up again today on The Beat)

My Son’s Food Allergies: Danger Every Day: An essay on a family dealing with their toddler’s serious (i.e. life-threatening) food allergies. I am so glad I didn’t have things this bad when I was younger. Fortunately for me, mine didn’t get really dangerous until I was around 17 or 18—just in time to go off to college and get exposed to all kinds of strange food! (Found on CNN)

Citizens Against Ugly Street Spam (CAUSS): volunteer group that tears down unsightly (and illegal) signs stapled to telephone poles and such. I saw their site a few years ago, but had no idea that they were not only still around, but had expanded to multiple cities. (again, via ***Dave)

I’ve been frequenting a couple of nearby smoothie shops this summer, including Jamba Juice. Lately they’ve got an interesting contest:

Live to be 100 Sweepstakes

OK, it’s a sweepstakes promoting a book on “Hundreds of ways to live to be 100,” but the way the promo is phrased makes me think of a different kind of contest entirely. I mean, it seems pretty clear who wins: anyone who enters, then lives to be 100, wins.

So what do you give the lucky 100-year-olds as prizes? A lifetime supply of smoothies?

Time to add an “outrage” category. This is just insane: A church panel has invalidated a girl’s communion because she can’t eat wheat (original article here).

The girl has celiac disease, which means any amount of wheat can cause her serious health problems. A local priest was willing to let her use a rice-based wafer, but higher-ups declared it was invalid — that if there wasn’t wheat, it didn’t count. She can either take the communion with a wheat-based wafer, or not take it at all.

For all intents and purposes they’ve excommunicated this girl because of a medical condition.

Good thing I’m not Catholic and the sacrament doesn’t involve peanuts.

I wonder if the church would be willing to pay for emergency room visits (or funerals) resulting from this kind of situation?

I’m beginning to think I should recommend convention-going as a good form of exercise. At this size convention, anyway. Not only do you get winded just traveling between panels (which comes standard at just about every con I’ve been to, since they all go overtime and the next one you want is always at the opposite end of the place), but there’s the opportunity for climbing multiple flights of stairs, the walk to and from your car is a great hike, and the food at the convention center is expensive enough to keep your caloric intake down. Also, the dealers’ room is sort of like an Olympic-sized crowd-weaving practice ground. Fun if you’re me, not so fun if you’re trying to follow me.

The other thing about cons that makes me want to exercise is seeing how the medians of the demographics play out. You have the younger contingent, who are mostly good-looking and relatively thin. You have the really old people, who are using hand-carved canes and usually there because they’re connected with actually producing something, and who are generally moving pretty well. Then you have two basic groups of middle-aged fans: the ones who are really skinny and nerdy-looking still, and the ones who put the “middle” in “middle-aged.” It’s wonderful motivation to lose weight when you see a forty-year-old Arwen on a Lark. (Please understand that I’m not trying for a cheap shot. I consider myself lucky that I’m able to lose weight when I want to, and I wish everybody were that fortunate. It’s just kind of heartbreaking in a weird empathetic way.)

So I’ve been on a real veggie kick the last couple of days, and I only just figured out what was up with that this afternoon at Subway. (Found out they’ll give you spinach on your sandwich if you ask nicely. Score!) And all things considered, it could be worse. I could be on a steak kick in the middle of India.

So there’s finally a plan to start up smallpox vaccinations. The bad news is, it’s likely to become necessary. Worse news is, I may be at risk for some of the nasty side effects. As Katie pointed out, it worked so well the first time that no one made any effort to improve it. The good news is, they hope to have a safer vaccine by the time it’s made available to the public in 2004.

We’ll see.

In other news, while looking for a reference to the NPR story, I found this story about London’s Killer Fog of ’52 and the history of smog going back to twelfth-century London. So smog not only predated the Industrial Revolution, it predated Shakespeare.

And finally, the other story I heard on the way in, about military-funded butterfly research. Apparently the Air Force is very interested in building insect-sized robotic flying cameras, and at that scale it makes sense to use insects as a model. They could be sent down into caves to locate enemy troops, or sent into buildings to check on hostage situations. (The paranoid in me is also saying they could spy on ordinary people, but it’s a lot cheaper to just search the place when they’re not home.) So if someone’s studying insect flight, the military is quite happy to fund it.