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Yesterday’s Washington Post, surprising me rather, gave deluxe
front-page house room to the news that a group of scientists, led by
Stanford University astrophysicist Peter Sturrock, has issued a plea for
serious scientific attention to be paid to the question of UFOs.
Naturally, I was compelled to investigate. The panel’s full press
release and its report on the subject are now available online
under the auspices of the Web site
maintained by the Society for Scientific Exploration; Professor Sturrock himself can be reached at
sturrock@flare.stanford.edu.

The SSE’s professed goal is “to provide a professional forum for
presentations, criticism, and debate concerning topics which are for
various reasons ignored or studied inadequately within mainstream
science.”
Its
Journal
publishes
articles on such topics as Roswell, dowsing, psychokinetics, and, I kid
you not, the Loch Ness monster; abstracts available online include
“Topographic Brain Mapping of UFO Experiences” and “A Psychological
Comparison Between Ordinary Children and Those Who Claim Previous-Life
Memories” (this last study conducted on Sri Lankan children by a
University of Iceland social scientist). Dr Bernhard Haisch, the
Journal’s editor-in-chief, is a staff astrophysicist for Lockheed Martin
(!) His email address is haisch@starspot.com.

The B.S. quotient around here looks to be about as high as you would
expect. Still, the SSE and JSE claim some impressive academic
credentials among their officers, members, and contributors, and their
enterprise of searching for truth while avoiding the biases imposed by
received wisdom and sociological constraint, so long as it is properly
guided by scientific method, is a highly laudable one. A lot of
crackpots will have their day here, but their audience won’t be the
pushover you might suppose — real debate and peer review do take place
in the Journal’s pages. And if there is anything to any of the
“anomalous” (apparently the SSE’s acceptable or quasi-PC term for
“paranormal” or “crackpot”) claims herein represented, then the Galileo
of our time is as likely to first flourish in these pages as not.

Choose Your Best Friend Wisely

Trust me on this one: selecting the wrong breed of dog is a recipe
for many years of mutual unhappiness. (If you doubt it, just ask my
mother about the highly regrettable West Highland terrier my family
kept, for our sins, when I was growing up.) Purina’s Web site, which is definitely one of the best corporate
sites I’ve seen, offers the information you need — and believe me, you
DO need this information — regarding the different breeds and
categories that dogs come in, with all their salient characteristics
usefully catalogued.

The site’s crowning glory so far as I am concerned is its profiling
system
, which will
walk you through a series of short questions ascertaining your
lifestyle, likes, dislikes, and requirements, steering you in the end to
a customized list of dogs ranked by breed according to how well they
match your individual needs. Whether or not you wind up following the
system’s advice, it’s a beneficial exercise in that it effectively
focuses your thinking about pet ownership. My own profile came out with
“whippet” (I’ve never met one, but apparently it’s a sort of half-sized
quasi-greyhound) placing spang at the top of the list — 100%
compatibility. I’m thinking about it.

No cat-type-matching equivalent is available, rather to my
disappointment, and I have a pet theory (I know; sorry) as to why not. I
suspect Purina feels that if you’re planning to acquire a cat, you
already have a clue that you stand to reap a certain amount of trouble,
specific breed be darned: cat-fanciers, by and large, pretty much know
what they’re getting into. Whereas, by contrast, there is no innocence
more lamblike and vulnerable than the innocence of an ignorant
about-to-be-dog-owner. Still, the cat arm of the Purina site
does catalog various feline
breeds, while offering a decent assortment of other helpful resources
that’s more or less comparable to what’s available for dog owners. On
the whole, if you’re the current or prospective owner of a dog or cat,
you’ll likely benefit from a gander at Purina’s offerings.

I should point out that I am not advocating that anyone actually feed
their animal(s) the stuff Purina manufactures, just giving the excellent
and useful Web site its due. Those interested in the very best advice on
pet nutrition will do well to investigate veterinarian Richard
Pitcairn’s book, Dr Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs
and Cats, currently 20% off at Amazon.com.

Window Shopping

In other useful/amusing corporate Web sites: Ray-Ban has created a
Virtual Preview feature — ” a
new, advanced technology that makes trying on sunglasses from your home
a virtual reality!” — which allows you to upload your own photograph to
their site and superimpose a wide variety of styles in Ray-Ban
sunglasses over the image of your very own face. If you can’t scan in
your own photograph, you can mail it to Ray-Ban and they’ll scan it in
and upload it for a small fee. Shockwave and AlphaMania are required
(and offered for on-the-spot downloading). You need not fear making a
foolish impulse purchase of those great-looking shades you find, either;
weirdly, Ray-Bans can’t be ordered online, so it’s “window shopping”
only. Marketing: D. Risk-free, friendly corporate surfing experience: A-
(points off for those complex plug-in requirements).

Phonespell

PhoneSpell lets you enter a 7- or
10-digit phone number to get back a corresponding word or phrase that
you can use as a mnemonic for that number — e.g., 767-2676 spells
POPCORN. Moving? You can also enter just the three first digits, as
dictated by your phone company, and PhoneSpell will suggest four
appropriate last digits that you can request in order to make your new
phone number a convenient seven-letter word. Cute.

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