Saturday, December 31, 2005

Time-waster of the day: The Falling Sand Game. Information on how to play the game here. (Via Clicked.)

Friday, December 30, 2005

"The man with the perfect memory -- just don't ask him to remember what's in it: Digital technology records scientist's every step". Interesting article on some of the pros and cons of a "surrogate memory". I expect we'll see more of this as technology continues to advance. (Via IPList.)
What happens when a prisoner is placed on suicide watch?
Unexpected problems with ordering 250 pounds of Silly Putty to give away to friends. In particular:
The problem was that once together, Silly Putty doesn't like to come apart, and none of us had any idea of how to deal with this effect. We tried everything: very strong people (didn't work), scissors (stabbing worked, slicing didn't), 28-gauge steel wire (broke), 22-gauge steel wire (broke), 16-gauge steel wire (too thick), and twisting and breaking (worked well for "smaller" pieces -- under five pounds, that is.)
(Via Boing Boing.)
Photo gallery of impossible things. (Via Linkfilter.)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Anti-terrorism tool of the day: Trained, bomb-sniffing wasps. No, really. (Via Bruce Schneier.)
President Bush waxes poetical about the First iPod Shuffle. Excerpt from his interview with Brit Hume:
Bush : Beach Boys, Beatles, let's see, Alan Jackson, Alan Jackson, Alejandro, Alison Krauss, the Angels, the Archies, Aretha Franklin, the Beatles, Dan McLean. Remember him?

Hume: Don McLean.

Bush: I mean, Don McLean.

Hume: Does "American Pie," right?

Bush: Great song.

Hume: Yes, yes, great song.

Unidentified male: ...which ones do you play?

Bush: All of these. I put it on shuffle. Dwight Yoakam. I've got the Shuffle, the, what is it called? The little.

Hume: Shuffle.

Bush: It looks like.

Hume: The Shuffle. That is the name of one of the models.

Bush: Yes, the Shuffle.

Hume: Called the Shuffle.

Bush: Lightweight, and crank it on, and you shuffle the Shuffle.

Hume: So you -- it plays...

Bush: Put it in my pocket, got the ear things on.

Hume: So it plays them in a random order.

Bush: Yes.

Hume: So you don't know what you're going to going to get.

Bush: No.

Hume: But you know --

Bush: And if you don't like it, you have got your little advance button. It's pretty high-tech stuff.

Hume: ...be good to have one of those at home, wouldn't it?

Bush: Oh?

Hume: Yes, hit the button and whatever it is that's in your head -- gone.

Bush: ...it's a bad day, just say, get out of here.

Hume: Well, that probably is pretty...

Bush: That works, too. ( Laughter )

Hume: Yes, right.
"Scientists Find Cache of Dodo Bird Bones"
The Great Wall of MIT.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Carnival of Tomorrow #16 is now up!
"Adult Brain Cells Do Keep Growing"
"Who's Snooping On Your E-mail?": Richard Smith explains one way to find out
Here's a quick and easy method to see if one's email messages are being read by someone else.

The steps are:

1. Set up a Hotmail account.

2. Set up a second email account with a
non-U.S. provider. (eg. Rediffmail.com)

3. Send messages between the two accounts
which might be interesting to the NSA.

4. In each message, include a unique URL
to a Web server that you have access to its
server logs. This URL should only
be known by you and not linked to from
any other Web page. The text of the
message should encourage an NSA monitor
to visit the URL.

5. If the server log file ever shows this
URL being accessed, then you know that
you are being snooped on. The IP address
of the access can also provide clues
about who is doing the snooping.

Besides monitoring the NSA, this same technique can be used if you suspect your email account password has been stolen or if a family member or coworker is reading your email on your computer of the sly.
Useful "How To's" for Windows XP. (Via Linkfilter.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Elegant physical models of mathematical curiosities.
The mathematics of Sudoku. (Via ALDaily.)
Nice introduction to motherboards.
"Inside the Air Force's laser lab."

Monday, December 26, 2005

"Why the Japanese want their robots to act more like humans"

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Rand Simberg has won the contest held by "The Space Show" for the first message to space. The message could have a maximum length of one page, taking no more than 5 minute to read. His winning entry:
"We taste terrible."
Update: It was Sam Dinkin (Rand Simberg's co-blogger), who won the contest. My apologies, Sam!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Festivus!
Stretchable silicon for electronics. (Via Linkfilter.)
The British Medical Journal tackles the "Case of the Disappearing Teaspoons".
"The flimsiest clock in the world"
"Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked". (Via MeFi.)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Update on fake "space tourist" reality show: The British contestants in the fake reality show who thought they were going into outer space (but were really staying on Earth in a warehouse in Suffolk), have been told the truth. Some handled it better than others:
"When I thought we were coming back to Earth I was planning my speech. I was going to say it had been my childhood dream. Now I'm a little bit heartbroken..."

"My mum and dad are gonna love this."

"Aw man. We're not astronauts. We're just asses."
As consolation prizes, they were each awarded 25,000 GB pounds ($44,300). (Via Boing Boing.)
"A German art expert was fooled into believing a painting done by a chimpanzee was the work of a master." (Via Michael Williams.)
More people are using Google as their "peripheral brain". (Via Linkfilter.)
New use for tobacco: "One acre of genetically engineered tobacco plants can produce enough anthrax vaccine to inoculate the entire U.S. population safely and inexpensively..."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

True Story from the US Dept of Defense, White Sands Missile Range: "It sounds like something you might pitch to a Hollywood studio. A high-security US radiation lab is thrown into turmoil when a cylinder spewing out deadly radiation gets trapped in its network of delivery tubes. A robot is sent to try and free the canister before the radiation eats away at its circuits. After a string of failures, the intrepid machine saves the day."
"A child porn offender in Germany turned himself in to police after mistaking an email he received from a computer worm for an official warning that he was under investigation..."
The uses and abuses of the "diplomatic pouch". The historical tidbits include the following:
Any container can be a diplomatic bag -- there are no limitations on size or shape. The Soviet Union tested the limits of this rule in 1984 when it claimed that a nine-ton tractor trailer was a diplomatic bag. As Chuck Ashman and Pamela Trescott tell the story in their book, Diplomatic Crime: "The white Mercedes truck bearing the blue Cyrillic letters reading Sovtransavto across its side tried to cross into Switzerland... The three Soviets driving the truck put off a request for inspection." The Swiss were not amused. "Though the Vienna Convention does not specify any size limitation for the bag, Swiss officials said they considered 450 pounds to be the maximum allowable size." The truck wound up in West Germany where Soviet officials permitted West German authorities to inspect the truck's contents: 207 crates, which themselves constituted diplomatic bags and weren't inspected.

The bag has been abused from time to time. For instance, in the 1984 Dikko incident, a former Nigerian minister was kidnapped in London and placed in a crate to be flown to Nigeria. With him in the crate was another man who was conscious and equipped with drugs and syringes. The kidnappers were hiding in another crate.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has been editing his own biography on the website. This is apparently discouraged (but not forbidden), and some have questioned his motives (especially with respect to his editing of the passages regarding Larry Sanger, as well as to the nature of one of his earlier web ventures Bomis.com). The article also includes Jimmy's explanations of his reasons.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Carnival of Tomorrow 15.0 is now up!
"Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger is to launch an alternative to the utopian, all-comers, anything-goes web site, and has raised $10m to hire experts to help edit it."

(The article correctly notes that one big question is how Larry's new venture will avoid the problems of the prior Nupedia, which generated very few articles, arguable due to the cumbersome editorial review process. Some additional background on the philosophical split between Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales about Wikipedia can be found here.)
Send e-mail to your future self. Here's the website.
Do the US courts consider Wikipedia reliable? According to lawyer-blogger Evan Brown,
...[I]t is interesting to note that in the past year or so several courts, including more than one federal circuit court, have cited to it to fill in background facts relevant to cases before them.

[... examples snipped...]

At least one court, however, has noted the risk of error in relying on an open source project, and refused to consider what Wikipedia had to say. The Tennessee Court of Appeals noted:
Given the fact that this source is open to virtually anonymous editing by the general public, the expertise of its editors is always in question, and its reliability is indeterminable. Accordingly, we do not find that it constitutes persuasive authority. [English Mountain Spring Water Co. v. Chumley, 2005 WL 2756072 (Tenn.Ct.App., October 25, 2005).]

The English Mountain court apparently took this whole notion of reliability pretty seriously. It wouldn't even take Wikipedia's word for it that "bottled water" is a "beverage."
"Scientists are predicting a 'cure' for arthritis within the next decade after they successfully grew human cartilage from a patient's own stem cells for the first time." (Via Howard Roerig.)

Monday, December 19, 2005

"The Biology Of King Kong." (Via Cosmic Log.)
"'Secret Santa' Exchanges Made Easier Online"
Using ski wax can cause a paradoxical slowdown of downhill skiiers.
Invention of the day: Bomb-proof bubble wrap.
It looks like Bubble Wrap, but BlastWrap isn't for cushioning eBay shipments. A BlastWrap-lined garbage can will dissipate a backpack-size-bomb blast in less than one thousandth of a second. The wrap's 2.75-inch compartments are stuffed with heat-treated perlite (the foamy pellets found in potting soil), a volcanic glass. The beads have a strong internal structure of sealed, air-filled cells. When a blast occurs, the cells are crushed one by one, minimizing damage to the surrounding area, while fire extinguishants snuff the fireball. Trash cans in Washington, D.C.'s Metro stations are now equipped with BlastWrap.
(Via Clicked.)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Best latte art of 2005.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

"Wikipedia hit by surge in spoof articles". The article describes,
...[A] surge in the number of spoof articles and vandal attacks which have followed the furore over a biographical Wikipedia article linking John Seigenthaler, a respected retired journalist, with the assassinations of both John F and Robert Kennedy.

In one such fake article, it was suggested today that Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's creator, was shot dead at his home by Siegenthaler's wife...

A search for the term 'Wikipedia' revealed the one-line entry: "An encyclopedia full of crap."

Subsequent searches revealed: "Although it may seem factual, Wikipedia is largely a web of lies and falsehoods, and it is not to be trusted by any means. Do not use wikipedia as a source for anything; it is worthless."

The army of 600 volunteer editors were rapidly updating and amending the falsified entries, but the continued assault highlighted flaws in one of the best-loved and most successful websites.
"You've got mail, and maybe gonorrhea"

Friday, December 16, 2005

"Neural network sorts the blockbusters from the flops"
Wikipedia vs. Encyclopedia Brittanica: According to this Nature article, "the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three".

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Top searches of 2005.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Admin note: Posting may be sparse (or non-existent) for the next few days. GeekPress will return to a normal schedule Monday Dec 19!
Invention of the day: The "slugbot" robotic snail.
"Mice Created With Human Brain Cells"
Map of the Earth with countries sized relative to population. (Via Boing Boing.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Can you tell the difference between a genuine stock price curve and a random walk? Find out with this online test, created by two doctoral students in Switzerland. For what it's worth, I sucked at it -- so much for any future career in technical analysis... (Via Marginal Revolution.)
"Top 10 System Administrator Truths". And the companion "Top 8 End-User Troubleshooting Tips". (Via BBspot.)
Zero-G and microgravity space sports.
"The Science of Sea Monsters"

Monday, December 12, 2005

What's the most efficient way to get passengers on an airplane - boarding from back-to-front or a "free for all"? The answer may surprise you. (Here's the full paper in PDF format.)
What's the best strategy for finding a good parking spot quickly? Should one choose "park and walk" or "cruise the lot"? Here's the answer.
"Why does so much ancient Greek art feature males with small genitalia?"
Invention of the day: Paper-thin, rapid recharge batteries.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Merriam-Webster Open Dictionary: "Have you spotted a new word or a new sense for an old word that hasn't made it into the dictionary yet? Well, here's your chance to add your discovery (and its definition) to Merriam-Webster's Open Dictionary". Some examples:
Snotcicle (verb) : a pendent mass of ice formed by the freezing of dripping snot

phonecrastinate (verb) : to put off answering the phone until caller ID displays the incoming name and number

scrax (noun) : the waxy coating that must be scratched off an instant lottery ticket

photostroller (noun) : Person who walks with camera ready to take photos.

e-nail (verb) : to expose yourself unwittingly, or to be exposed by another, by the forwarding of an e-mail containing personal comments to the person referred to in the message. One e-nails oneself most often by adding cc recipients to a long exchange, forgetting that the person added is referred to earlier in the exchange.
"Max e-nailed me when he cc'ed Sally on my message about her screw-up."
(Via CarTalk radio show.)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The importance of sensory feedback: "Copulating deaf couple unaware of own volume". From the article:
Monday night, a record number of noise complaints were received by Residential Security Officers in Roger Revelle College. Officers responding to the calls found the sexual activity of a deaf couple to be the source of the noises, which were described as "cacophonous" by witnesses.

The first officer on the scene, Frank Zipelli, reported, "I could hear those two all the way from the parking lot." According to Zipelli, "It sounded as if they were bludgeoning a cow. There would be a low moan, like a 'moo,' and then a 'bang' and a higher-pitched 'moo.' It was like 'MOO...BANG...MOOO!'"

Upon entering the room, the officials found John Miller and girlfriend Katherine Chavez, transfer students from the Sacramento Academy for the Deaf, interlocked in a "deafening tangle of sheets and frantically signing hands." After yelling a short while, RSO's had to physically stop the couple from their activity.

What Miller and Chavez had not accounted for when moving to public school was their sound level when having intercourse. "We had attended an institute for the deaf," signed Chavez. "We didn't have any idea that we were louder than anyone else. I just get so excited sometimes."

"This can't go on every night," Zipelli told the couple. "I like eavesdropping on hot loud sex as much as any other RSO, but if these noise complaints keep coming in, I'm going to have to cite you."
(Via Linkfilter.)

Friday, December 09, 2005

New information on the mechanism of cancer metastasis. Article includes a great (albeit creepy) picture of a cancer cell crawling towards a pore.
Robots with square wheels. (Via DefenseTech.)
What are the chances of an astronomical apocalypse?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"What's Behind Rape Fantasies?" (Via Linkfilter.)
Quantum computer researchers have transfered quantum data from atoms to photons then back to atoms again.
"Members of the Napster generation, who blissfully piled up free tunes while they could, are realizing that the quality of low-bitrate MP3s sucks."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"University of Chicago physicists have created a novel state of matter using nothing more than a container of loosely packed sand and a falling marble. They have found that the impacting marble produces a jet of sand grains that briefly behaves like a special type of dense fluid." Here's a related story. (Via Cosmic Log.)
Hole crystal.
Craigslist may be destroying the SF Bay Area print newspapers. Of course in a free market, that's not necessarily a bad thing. (Via MeFi.)
Everything you wanted to know about mazes, including classification, algorithms for generating them, and algorithms for solving them. (Via memepool.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Home-schooled teenager wins top prize in 2005 Siemens Westinghouse Math, Science, and Technology Competition. According to the Siemens Foundation, Michael Viscardi of San Diego, CA won the top individual award for his project "On the Solution of the Dirichlet Problem with Rational Boundary Data":
Michael Viscardi's math project focused on finding the solution to the Dirichlet problem, originally formulated by the 19th century mathematician Lejeune Dirichlet. He especially liked the problem because it uses complex analysis, one of his favorite subjects. Mr. Viscardi studied the Dirichlet problem with rational data on the boundary of any 2-dimensional domain. In his research, Mr. Viscardi was able to obtain and prove several new results. Potential applications of his work include modeling magnetic fields which generate solar prominences, heat conduction through plates, and 2-dimensional electrostatic fields. Mr. Viscardi's mentor for this project was Prof. Peter Ebenfelt, Department of Mathematics, University of California, San Diego.

Mr. Viscardi, a senior, has participated in the USA Mathematical Olympiad for the past three years and was the National MATHCOUNTS Champion Team Member in 2003. He has played the piano for ten years and the violin for six, and is concertmaster of the San Diego Youth Symphony and San Diego Youth Symphony Philharmonia, as well as first violinist of the San Diego Youth Symphony String Quartet. He has won numerous awards for his musical performances, including first place in the Senior Piano Division of the 2005 H.B. Goodlin Scholarship Competition. He also composes music. Mr. Viscardi plans to study mathematics and music in college. His dream job is to be a math professor and concert pianist/violinist/composer.
According to the judges,
"He is a super-duper mathematics student," said lead judge Constance Atwell, a consultant and former research director at the National Institutes of Health. "It was almost impossible for our judges to figure out the limits of his understanding during our questioning. And he's only 16 years old," she said.
"Nissan has invented a transparent vehicle body paint that repairs scratches on its own." Here's the official press release. (Via We Make Money Not Art.)
The future of the couch potato?
People with red-green color blindness are better at distinguishing between subtle differences in shades of khaki than people with normal color vision. Whether this has (or had) some selective advantage many years ago is still an open question.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Functional MRI brain scans show the effects coffee has on the brain.
A nice overview from Wired on the future of reproductive technologies
Invisible diet.
Make your own light bulb. (Via Cosmic Log.)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Now this is a Christmas light display. (Via GMSV.)

Friday, December 02, 2005

CalTech scientists have finally solved the mystery of how honeybees can fly. Here's a related story and video.
"Security researchers have discovered a way to trick some wiretap systems used in the US into switching themselves off, while leaving phones still usable. University of Pennsylvania researchers have also discovered it might be possible to falsify a record of numbers dialed recorded by older spy devices."

Here's the full paper (PDF format).
Can you tell if someone is lying from their eye movements?
Serenity done with hand puppets. And plenty more movies where that came from. (Via Dave.)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Climatologists who have been warning us about global warming are now also warning us about a possible upcoming "mini ice age". I must confess to being a little bit skeptical about both claims...
18 tricks to teach your body.
Surgeons have performed the first face transplant.
"The Beauty of Simplicity"

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Invention of the day: d30 sports padding, designed to be soft and flexible when subjected to slow stresses, but stiffens and absorbs impact when subjected to sudden sharp forces. Here's the official website. (Via SciTech Daily.)
"This is how a government-filtered internet looks". (Via Clicked.)
"The 46 Best-Ever Freeware Utilities". (Via MeFi.)
Nanotech development of the day: The atom hauler.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Virtual Air Guitar:
Aspiring rock gods can at last create their own guitar solos - without ever having to pick up a real instrument, thanks to a group of Finnish computer science students.

The Virtual Air Guitar project, developed at the Helsinki University of Technology, adds genuine electric guitar sounds to the passionately played air guitar.

Using a computer to monitor the hand movements of a "player", the system adds riffs and licks to match frantic mid-air finger work. By responding instantly to a wide variety of gestures it promises to turn even the least musically gifted air guitarist to a virtual fret board virtuoso.
Here's the official website.
"Virtual autopsies reveal clues that forensic pathologists might miss."
Pythagorean theorem used by the prosection in a drug case.
One of Saturn's rings is actually a spiral. Here's an artist's rendition.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Has someone patented the warp drive?
US Patent No. 6,960,975 (issued 11/1/2005): "Space vehicle propelled by the pressure of inflationary vacuum state"

A space vehicle propelled by the pressure of inflationary vacuum state is provided comprising a hollow superconductive shield, an inner shield, a power source, a support structure, upper and lower means for generating an electromagnetic field, and a flux modulation controller. A cooled hollow superconductive shield is energized by an electromagnetic field resulting in the quantized vortices of lattice ions projecting a gravitomagnetic field that forms a spacetime curvature anomaly outside the space vehicle. The spacetime curvature imbalance, the spacetime curvature being the same as gravity, provides for the space vehicle's propulsion. The space vehicle, surrounded by the spacetime anomaly, may move at a speed approaching the light-speed characteristic for the modified locale.
In particular there is the very interesting claim that,
...the highest pressure of inflationary vacuum state is pushing said space vehicle forward in modified spacetime at a speed possibly approaching a local light-speed, the local light-speed which may be substantially higher than the light-speed in the ambient space.
(Via rdv live from Tokyo and Forward Biased.)
"Physicists suspect they have created the first molecules from atoms that meld matter with antimatter."
"How difficult is it to shoot a lock off?"
"Why we cannot rely on firearm forensics: A New Scientist investigation reveals that finding gunshot residues on a suspect does not mean they fired a gun."

One interesting passage from the article:
Even worse, it is possible to pick up a so-called "unique" particle from an entirely different source. Industrial tools and fireworks are both capable of producing particles with a similar composition to GSR. And several studies have suggested that car mechanics are particularly at risk of being falsely accused, because some brake linings contain heavy metals and can form GSR-like particles at the temperatures reached during braking.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

More on the science behind "deja vu". (Via Linkfilter.)

Friday, November 25, 2005

"Cracking safes with thermal imaging." (Via Mitch Berkson.)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Food story of the day: "Oatmeal From the 1970's Still Tastes OK." Happy Thanksgiving! (Link via BBspot.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Quantum telephone. (Via IPList.)
CIA Interrogation Techniques: Of the methods described in the article, I thought #6 sounded the most interesting. The description doesn't sound that bad, but it must really exploit one's involuntary reflexes.
The CIA sources described a list of six "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" instituted in mid-March 2002 and used, they said, on a dozen top al Qaeda targets incarcerated in isolation at secret locations on military bases in regions from Asia to Eastern Europe. According to the sources, only a handful of CIA interrogators are trained and authorized to use the techniques:

1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.

2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.

3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.

4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.

5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.
(Via Volokh Conspiracy.)
Bizarre Japanese Invention of the Day: The robotic masturbator (aka "The Japanese Hand Job Machine"). No, really...
"Cuba, Iran and African governments lashed out at the U.S. government this week, charging that the Internet permits too much free speech and that the way it is managed must be reformed immediately."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Best "reality TV" show idea ever: As the article notes, this is the "mother of all practical jokes".
Space Cadets, which hits British television screens next month, is the latest ambitious experiment in 'reality TV'. The show's organizers have rigged a Hollywood space-shuttle set with all the sights, sounds and shakes of a genuine space flight. But, unbeknownst to the participants, the craft will never leave the ground.

In attempting this mother of all practical jokes, the production team has equipped its 'spacecraft' with surround-sound speakers that play a soundtrack of whooshing and humming engine noises, and a hydraulic platform providing realistic jolts and shudders.

The craft's interior, modified from the set used by Clint Eastwood in Space Cowboys, will feature windows that give super-high-resolution images of Earth, including a simulated hurricane over Mexico. (Hopefully none of the adventurers will remember that the Atlantic hurricane season usually ends in November.)

...If all goes to plan, the producers may tell the crew that they are going on a space walk, before throwing open the shuttle door to reveal the volunteers' waiting families. "We want to make sure that everybody who goes is mentally and physically strong enough to do it, and to cope with the aftermath," Jones says.
"White Flight" from schools dominated by Asians: White parents are pulling their kids out of some Silicon Valley high schools because the academic competition from children of Asian immigrants is apparently too intense for them:
Whites aren't quitting the schools because the schools are failing academically. Quite the contrary: Many white parents say they're leaving because the schools are too academically driven and too narrowly invested in subjects such as math and science at the expense of liberal arts and extracurriculars like sports and other personal interests.

The two schools, put another way that parents rarely articulate so bluntly, are too Asian...

At Cupertino's top schools, administrators, parents and students say white students end up in the stereotyped role often applied to other minority groups: the underachievers...

On the second floor, in advanced-placement chemistry, only a couple of the 32 students are white and the rest are Asian. Some white parents, and even some students, say they suspect teachers don't take white kids as seriously as Asians.

"Many of my Asian friends were convinced that if you were Asian, you had to confirm you were smart. If you were white, you had to prove it," says Arar Han, a Monta Vista graduate who recently co-edited "Asian American X," a book of coming-of-age essays by young Asian-Americans.

Ms. Gatley, the Monta Vista PTA president, is more blunt: "White kids are thought of as the dumb kids," she says.
At these high schools, if you have a B-average, you're in the bottom third of the class. (Via Joanne Jacobs.)
Some Americans are incredibly abusive towards Indian call center tech support workers doing outsourced work.
"The 11-Year Quest to Create Disappearing Colored Bubbles"

Monday, November 21, 2005

Our faces are shrinking. (Via Rand Simberg.)
Cool time-lapse figure drawing, from the skeleton out.
"Butterfly wings work like LED's". (Via Joost Bonsen.)
Spot the Logical Fallacy: This is the top reader-submitted "True Tales of Induhviduals" from this month's Dilbert Newsletter:
One of my co-workers (who is originally from Arkansas, just FYI) told me one day that he knew for a fact that sex feels better for women than it does for men. I asked, "How do you figure that?" His reply was (and I am not making this up!), "Because when you put your finger in your ear and wiggle it around, it feels better to your ear than it does to your finger."

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Minesweeper on a torus. (Via Mitch Berkson.)

Friday, November 18, 2005

The story behind Apple's famous 1984 commercial. (Via Digg.)
Academic paper of the day: To commemorate today's opening of the new Harry Potter movie, here is a forthcoming paper from the Michigan Law Review entitled, "Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy". From the abstract:
This Essay examines what the Harry Potter series (and particularly the most recent book, The Half-Blood Prince) tells us about government and bureaucracy. There are two short answers. The first is that Rowling presents a government (The Ministry of Magic) that is 100% bureaucracy. There is no discernable executive or legislative branch, and no elections. There is a modified judicial function, but it appears to be completely dominated by the bureaucracy, and certainly does not serve as an independent check on governmental excess.

Second, government is controlled by and for the benefit of the self-interested bureaucrat. The most cold-blooded public choice theorist could not present a bleaker portrait of a government captured by special interests and motivated solely by a desire to increase bureaucratic power and influence. Consider this partial list of government activities: a) torturing children for lying; b) utilizing a prison designed and staffed specifically to suck all life and hope out of the inmates; c) placing citizens in that prison without a hearing; d) allows the death penalty without a trial; e) allowing the powerful, rich or famous to control policy and practice; f) selective prosecution (the powerful go unpunished and the unpopular face trumped-up charges); g) conducting criminal trials without independent defense counsel; h) using truth serum to force confessions; i) maintaining constant surveillance over all citizens; j) allowing no elections whatsoever and no democratic lawmaking process; k) controlling the press.

This partial list of activities brings home just how bleak Rowling's portrait of government is. The critique is even more devastating because the governmental actors and actions in the book look and feel so authentic and familiar...
(Via GMSV.)
Invention of the day: The Ergodex arbitrarily-configurable keyboard. (Via Mitch Berkson.)
Chemical "barcodes".

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Newly Discovered Lemur Species Named After John Cleese. (Via Gravity Lens.)
A breakfast drink for Homer Simpson: Liquid Cereal.
"Ten Aphrodisiacs That Really Work". The list includes:
* Barry White tunes
* A few stiff drinks
* A dozen oysters
* Promises, promises
* A little skin
* Manolo Blahniks
* Backrubs
* Perfume
* Money
* A diamond engagement ring
(Via Fark.)
Medical analysis of sword swallowing.
Sword swallowing is not an illusion but, unlike in normal swallowing (when the tongue pushes the bolus up against the palate with the neck in a neutral position), the back of the tongue is pushed forwards and the neck hyperextended. Repeated practice enables suppression of the gag reflex. The pharynx is thrust forward and the cricopharyngeus relaxed. The sword may be passed after deep inspiration with the pharynx filled with air -- one practitioner describes "sucking in" rather than swallowing the sword. Once past the pharynx, the lubricated sword is swiftly passed, straightening the distensible and elastic oesophagus. Gravity helps, for the performer is always upright.

The sword passes within millimetres of the heart, aorta, and other vitals but, surprisingly, few deaths related to sword swallowing have been described.
Here are some related x-ray images. (Via Boing Boing.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"Is it time to decouple time from the Earth's spin?": More on the big "leap second" debate. (Via Cosmic Log.)
Invention of the day: The "light field" camera, which is in finely-tuned focus at all depths. (Via Perry Beeson.)
"A gamer who spent GBP 13,700 ($26,500) on an island that exists only in a computer game has recouped his investment":
He made money by selling land to build virtual homes as well as taxing other gamers to hunt or mine on the island.
And it took him less than a year.
Your Google searches can be used against you in a criminal trial. Related story here. (Via Techdirt.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"Graphite Found to Exhibit Surprising Quantum Effects"
Military invention of the day: Teeth-cleaning chewing gum.
The US Government is already trying to decide what sorts of regulations to impose on quantum computers (which haven't yet been built).
AI Robot Lawyers. (Via Engadget.)

Monday, November 14, 2005

"On the Effectiveness of Aluminium Foil Helmets: An Empirical Study"
Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government's invasive abilities. We speculate that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.
What will those MIT guys think of next? (Via IPList.)
She'll Be Back: "Fox has ordered a pilot for The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a sci-fi drama that will follow the character played in 1984's The Terminator and its 1991 sequel by Linda Hamilton as she struggles to raise her young son, John, and train him to lead humanity in the coming war with the machines. Chronicles will be set during the time between 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which supposedly shut the door on the possibility of a computer takeover, and 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which opened that sucker right back up." (Via Linkfilter.)
The first e-mail. (Via Cynical-C.)
Can people communicate without agreeing on the meaning of the terms? The answer may surprise you.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

"Responses in an Interview for a Nanny Position That Will Almost Certainly Sink Your Chances of Getting the Job"

Friday, November 11, 2005

Military applications of Silly String:
I'm a former Marine I in Afghanistan. Silly string has served me well in Combat especially in looking for I.A.Ds., simply put, booby traps. When you spray the silly sting in dark areas, especially when you doing house to house fighting. On many occasions the silly string has saved me and my men's lives...

When you spray the string it just spreads everywhere and when it sets it lays right on the wire. Even in a dark room the string stands out revealing the trip wire.
(Via Boing Boing.)
"Eight-year-old physics genius enters university". (Via Clicked.)
"Federal court permits service of process on Australian defendants by e-mail."
A recent case from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia addresses the novel question of when a plaintiff can obtain service of process over a defendant in another country by e-mail.
The 10 Worst Jobs In Science

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Update on coffee chemistry: Loyal reader Jeannette Cook would like to correct some factual errors in today's earlier article on coffee. (Thanks, Jeannette!)
"Two engineering professors at the University of California, Riverside are developing devices 100,000 times thinner than a human hair, that can listen to cancerous cells, deliver chemotherapy to them and leave surrounding healthy tissue intact." (Via Near Near Future.)
Carnival of Tomorrow 13 is now up.
The chemistry of great coffee.
"Cookie Monsters": What you need to know about browser cookies.
Diverting killer asteroids with a "gravity tractor".

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Cow Tipping Update: Reader Douglas Sundseth notes:
The Times story about cow tipping showed a quaint understanding about physics. If cows were rigid, it would have been convincing. But unless you are trying to tip a dead cow with rigor mortis, that's not what obtains.

Cows lock their legs when sleeping, but not their hips and shoulders. Unbalancing a cow does not require that you rotate the entire beast around a pivot point at its hoofs, but rather only requires that you start the torso moving at a speed from which the cow cannot recover. I assure you it is entirely possible to tip a cow.

Important safety tip: Don't try to tip a bull. They are not as tolerant as cows and they run faster than people.
The crew of the luxury cruise liner Seabourn Spirit successfully deployed a military-grade sonic weapon against pirates who had attacked their ship with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons off the coast of Somalia. Here's a related story. Here are some additional details:
The 10,000-ton Seabourn Spirit came under fire at about 5:30am. The pirates approached in 25 ft speedboats and shot at the ship with the grenade launcher and machine guns. Terrified passengers watched as the pirates tried to get aboard -- only to be repelled by crew members who set off what one described as a "loud bang"...

The liner used a sonic blaster to foil the pirates. Developed by American forces to deter small boats from attacking warships, the non-lethal weapon sends out high-powered air vibrations that blow assailants off their feet. The equipment, about the size of a satellite dish, is rigged to the side of the ship...

Rogers, the Canadian passenger, said at the end of the eventful day: "We're always looking for adventure, but this is probably a little more than we would normally look for."
The physics of cow tipping. (Via Linkfilter.)
History's Worst Software Bugs.
Physicists still don't know why glass breaks.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Update on nanotech cancer therapies. And here's a related article on nanotubule "bombs" for cancer treatment.
Military invention of the day: "The US government has unveiled a 'non-lethal' laser rifle designed to dazzle enemy personnel without causing them permanent harm. But the device will require close scrutiny to ensure compliance with a United Nations protocol on blinding laser weapons." The new weapon is called, appropriately enough, the "Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response" or "PHASR rifle". Of course there's a picture.
"Do Space Aliens Have Souls?": Catholic theologians are trying to work out the religious implications of any first contact with intelligent aliens. (Via Linkfilter.)
Information theorists have developed robust error-correcting codes that are within a few percent of the theoretically perfect Shannon limit.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Communicating with future generations: Sandia National Laboratories has asked a team of outside experts to devise a marking system for nuclear waste disposal sites that can last for 10,000 years. The system has to be robust, so that even if future generations lose knowledge of the English language or advanced industrial technology, they can still understand the importance of avoiding this area. It should also be designed in such a way as to discourage vandalism or other attempts to destroy or remove the markers. Hence, the markers must somehow convey the following:
* This place is a message... and part of a system of messages... pay attention to it!
* Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.
* This place is not a place of honor... no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here... nothing valued is here.
* What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.
* The danger is in a particular location... it increases toward a center... the center of danger is here... of a particular size and shape, and below us.
* The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours.
* The danger is to the body, and it can kill.
* The form of the danger is an emanation of energy.
* The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically. This place is best shunned and left uninhabited.
This is a fascinating and non-trivial problem, and some of their proposed solutions are very interesting, such as:
* Landscape of Thorns
* Spike Field
* Spikes Bursting Through Grid
* Leaning Stone Spikes
* Menacing Earthworks
* Forbidding Blocks
It's worth reading the whole thing. (Via Linkfilter.)
How to avoid jet lag by resetting your own body clock. This simple at-home treament method requires only "a single light box and the over-the-counter drug melatonin". (Via SciTech Daily.)
"A water-walking insect can propel itself up steep, slippery slopes without moving its legs."
Update on drug-resistant "super bacteria". The article notes, "It is a war -- between man and a bacterium -- and the outcome is by no means certain."

Friday, November 04, 2005

A 15-year old boy was able to trace his anonymous sperm donor biological father over the internet.
2005 Yo-Yo Champion: Takayasu Tanaka. Astounding video. (Via GMSV.)
1.5 million Chinese men are descendants of this guy. (Via Gravity Lens.)
"Which parts of an astronaut are most sensitive to solar flares?" It's not necessarily what you might think.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Invention of the day: "A silicon chip that can carry light and even slow it down has been unveiled by IBM researchers in the US."
"Ten questions you never knew you wanted answered". Some examples include:
Does beheading hurt?
How fat would you need to be to be bulletproof?
How many species live on or in the human body?
(Via Linkfilter.)
Modern day "ghostbusters" are trying to use all sorts of technology to commune with the spirits. Of course, that doesn't necessarily make it more scientific:
But ghost hunters tend to disagree on how to properly use the equipment and what it is good for.

"What ends up happening is nobody reads the instructions," said Auerbach, who holds a graduate degree in parapsychology from Pleasant Hill's John F. Kennedy University, a program that was terminated in the 1980s. "I'm seeing people use (electromagnetic-field meters) all over the place, and they get all excited when they get a high reading. It turns out they're next to a microwave oven."
Everything you wanted to know about diplomatic immunity.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

How to buy online anonymity.
"Are there inbred families in the Ozarks/Appalachians like in Deliverance?"
"The Physics of Bras: Overcoming Newton's second law with better bra technology". (Via Linkfilter.)
Responsible Spam.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

"Defend yourself against the coming robot rebellion". Although it's mostly a humor book (written by a real roboticist), some of the tips are real:
A robot trying to find you will use thermal imaging based on the roughly 91-degree temperature of human skin, so smearing yourself in cool mud will confuse them. If being chased by an unmanned robot vehicle, flee to a rustic, unmapped area with lots of obstacles. If your robot "smart" house -- one wired with video surveillance and computer gear -- tries to trap you, chop your way out with an ax and don't take your cell phone, because the house will track you with it.
(Via Cosmic Log.)
"Technology that provides live translation of speech from one language to another has been revealed by scientists from the US and Europe."
Should the US military be able to control the weather?
"Was It Something I Ate?: What to do if you think a restaurant meal has made you sick." (Via Linkfilter.)

Monday, October 31, 2005

If it's Halloween, it's time for Extreme Pumpkins.
New species of the day: "Zombie worms" (aka "bone-eating snot flowers").
Bone marrow transplants can cause false positive matches with criminal DNA testing. For example, there was
...an Alaska case in which a man was linked to an attack, based on DNA obtained with blood tests, but had been in jail at the time.

It transpired the sex attack had been carried out by his brother, who had donated bone marrow to his sibling in a transplant some years earlier.
More details here. (Via SciTech Daily.)
Annoying depictions of computers in movies. (Via Metafilter.)
I would love to take a stroll on this proposed Grand Canyon Skywalk. (Scheduled to open Jan 1 2006.)

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Invention of the day: Electronic halitosis meter, which gives the user a precise reading of the methyl mercaptan of his or her breath.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Nanotech "Venetian Blinds".
Can physicists create sound waves that travel faster than light? More information here. Of course, this all has to do with the group velocity of the waves, so no faster-than-light information or energy transfer is involved. (Via Cosmic Log.)
"A new clinical trial in the United States allows couples to pick the sex of their unborn children in an effort to determine the social effects."
Dolphins don't need 6 degrees of separation: A recent study of the dolphin community off the coast of Scotland shows that "it takes an average of just 3.9 steps to link any two dolphins by the shortest possible route through mutual friends."
Optical Illusion of the Day: "Mr. Angry and Mrs. Calm". The image shows two faces. Up close, the face on the left looks angry while the face on the right looks calm. But if you stand about 10 feet away, they switch places! Here's the technical paper (PDF format) on how it works. (Via Clicked.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Why some dictionaries deliberately include fake words in their listings. (Via BBspot.)
Property rights on the Moon. (Via Rand Simberg.)
Carnival of Tomorrow 12.0 is now up.
Mathematical analysis of wobbly tables.
Do you always get the wobbly table at restaurants and cafes? Don't despair. A physicist has proved that, within reasonable limits, it is always possible to rotate the table to a position where all four legs stand solidly on the ground.

Andre Martin was moved to study the problem because he was fed up with the wobbly tables at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, where he works on abstruse problems in high-energy physics.
Here's the full proof for the mathematically inclined (PDF format).
"Einstein Managed His Inbox Just Like You". Here's a related article.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Scientists have invented a scanner that can look inside concrete. It expected to be useful both for checking for hairline cracks, as well as looking for murder victims.
Radar as a death ray?
"White House Orders Satirical Paper 'The Onion' to Stop Using Presidential Seal". Apparently this is real. I'm no lawyer, but I would think that The Onion's use of the seal would fall clearly within the bounds of parody/satire. More information at this NY Times article. (Via MeFi.)
Invention of the day: "Naughty" digital camera lens. According to the article,
A camera lens that allows one to see through clothes and other hard surfaces has been introduced by a US Company.

The lens that could well result in it being banned because of its perve potential is called the "Infrared See-Through Filter PF". The PF is a special optical device that helps to visually penetrate an object's surface in order to view whatever lies below. The PF makes it possible for you to see images that are normally invisible to the human eye. It sounds like science-fiction but it isn't, this new product has been developed using newly developed advanced optical technology.
Of course, there are some demonstration images. (Via Madville.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Buckypaper is a carbon nanotubule-based material that is "10 times lighter than steel - but 250 times stronger". (Via SciTech Daily.)
World's Greatest Art Thefts. (Via Madville.)
"Farmers have teamed up with scientists to create a farm where the cows choose when they want to be milked using automated booths." More info here.
"Qubit rings" may bring us one step closer to practical quantum computers. (Via Linkfilter.)

Monday, October 24, 2005

"Top 10 things likely to be overheard from a Klingon Programmer"
"Could a human swing through the jungle on vines?"
How will long-term deep space missions be affected by sexual relations amongst the crew members?
How much is your blog worth?
More professors are podcasting their lectures to the benefit of both students and faculty. (Via Techdirt.)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Agony of "BlackBerry Thumb". Marketing tip of the day -- It's never good to have a repetitive stress injury named after your main product.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

MIT neuroscientists explain why old habits die hard. (Via Alexa Brett.)

Friday, October 21, 2005

"Seven Questions Employees Should Ask Before Joining a Startup"
Fractal food. (Via Clicked.)
The single molecule car. (Via Cosmic Log.)
Edible moon buggies.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

"What's at the center of the Earth?"
The four most common passwords (besides "password") are "God", "love", "money", and "sex". (Via Neoflux.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Invention of the day: Armor made from transparent aluminum. (Via /.)
Made-up words from The Simpsons.
"How new words become part of a language"
Wetness-defying water.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

"20 percent of human genes have been patented in the United States, primarily by private firms and universities."
A dwarf galaxy has punched a hole in the Andromeda galaxy.
Serenity In 2000 Words Or Less. (Warning: Contains lots of spoilers; do not click through unless you've already seen the movie.)
"A tiny black hole could briefly appear in a particle accelerator and then vanish into its own separate universe." (The same thing seems to happen all the time to my socks...)

Monday, October 17, 2005

Update on drugs that enhance our intelligence.
Scientific analysis of the "6 degrees of separation" networking problem. (Via IPList.)
Trading in influenza futures (aka "flutures") to predict outbreaks.
The "impact factor" score for grading scientific journals is having huge unintended consequences in hiring, tenure, and grant funding decisions. (Via ALDaily.)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sears Tower made from Jenga blocks. (Via BBspot.)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Carnival of Tomorrow 11.0 is now up!
Advertising idea of the day: Beach'n Billboard. (Via Mitch Berkson.)
Turing Machine made from Legos. (Via Linkfilter.)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

"How much of all Internet traffic is pornography?"
"What Art Is Hiding On Your Microchip?" Examples include Waldo, Thor, and Marvin The Martian. (Via Linkfilter.)

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Admin note: GeekPress will be taking a brief hiatus for most of next week. We'll be back Monday 10/17 (or maybe a couple of days beforehand).
A new process for making cheap artificial diamonds may have all sorts of high-tech applications. (Via Brock Cusick.)

Friday, October 07, 2005

"Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2005" (Via Linkfilter.)
Artificial tornadoes as an energy source.
Nausea-inducing optical illusion of the day: "Waves".
"What's up with the 'Acme Company'?"

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Onion on the "Intelligent Design" trial.
Malcolm Gladwell has written an excellent essay on secret quirks of Ivy League admissions policies. Some of the Harvard and Yale anti-Jewish policies in the mid-20th century were especially eye-opening. The section on admissions standards for student-athletes was also quite interesting. (Via ALDaily.)
Carbon nanotubule memory chips.
Do you really hate someone? Then torture them with the Mind Molester! Simple, yet effective. (Via Boing Boing.)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

How to get fired for blogging.
"Six Drinks That Changed History" (Via Cosmic Log.)
Invention of the day: A special tap designed to pour the perfect beer at twice the speed of regular taps. (Via SciTechDaily.)
iRobot (the makers of the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner) are developing an anti-sniper robot. According to the article,
When REDOWL's microphones detect a gunshot, the device calculates the source of the sound, swivels the camera, illuminates the target with either visible or infrared light, and uses a laser to calculate the range...

"You'll actually see the sniper before the smoke disappears from the shot," said Joe Dyer, iRobot's executive vice president and general manager.
The system is not configured to fire back automatically -- this still requires positive human intervention. (Via /.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

"'UnGoogleables' Hide From Search"
Who poses the bigger threat to science - the Right or the Left? In this excellent essay, "Criminalizing Science", Virginia Postrel argues that it's not who you might think. (Via Instapundit.)
"The Road to a Science PhD": Part 1 and Part 2.
"Is it dangerous to jump start a dead battery? (Especially the way most guys do it?)"

Monday, October 03, 2005

Anesthesiologists are the music geeks of the medical world.
"Scientists have developed miniature robots that can self-assemble using parts that float randomly in their environments. The robots also know when something is amiss and can correct their own mistakes."
Dolphins have learned to sing the theme song to "Batman". No, really. (Via Rand Simberg.)
Fake trailer for "The Shining" as if it were a romantic comedy. And the NY Times story about the creator.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Onion story of the day: "Congress Abandons WikiConstitution"

Friday, September 30, 2005

University faculty and administrators are now getting worried about the popularity of the website RateMyProfessors.com, a site which allows students to review their good (or bad) teachers.

I personally don't see it as a problem. Although it is possible for reviews of professors to be biased, thoughtful consumers are able to handle similar biases when reading product reviews on Amazon or IMDB. Plus the expression of opinions is fully protected by the 1st Amendment, provided that it doesn't cross the line into libel/slander. I wish something like this had been available when I was in college.
"The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity". (Via Linkfilter.)
Foreign words with no English equivalent. For example:
Bakku-shan -- a girl who appears pretty from behind but not from the front (Japanese)

Kummerspeck -- excess weight gained from emotion-related overeating (German)

Aviador -- a government employee who only shows up on payday (Spanish)
Update: Here's a more extensive list.
Invention of the day: The $100 laptop.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bryan Caplan analyzes insurance markets and the "Idiot's Stigma".
In part, people buy insurance so they don't "look stupid" when something bad happens to them.

If you get in an auto accident and you don't have insurance, then most middle-class Americans will consider you an idiot. But for some reason, they don't consider you an idiot if you fail to buy long-term care insurance and suddenly need it -- even though it could be argued that long-term care is a smarter buy than a lot of auto insurance.

The result is multiple equilibria. If most people buy insurance and you don't and something bad happens to you, you get a double whammy -- the direct loss plus the idiot's stigma. If most people don't buy insurance and you don't and something bad happens to you, you are only out the money. If most people buy it, you want it too; if most people don't, you probably don't want it either.

By way of analogy, consider these two scenarios:

1. You lose $1000 in some unforeseen way.

2. You lose $1000 in a way your spouse specifically warned you might happen.

It seems to me that #2 is MUCH worse for most people than #1. $1000 is no big deal; but $1000 plus the scorn of your spouse is a very big deal. Now think how much worse it would be if everyone took your spouse's side against you. Ouch.
(Via Marginal Revolution.)
The science of quicksand and how to escape if you fall in. Here's a related article.
Weather story of the day: A tropical storm named "Typhoon Longwang" is apparently forming in the Pacific Ocean. No, really. Rand Simberg comments:
It could pound Asia pretty hard. It may penetrate deep into the continent. Let's hope it doesn't result in another premature evacuation.

OK, so it's a little juvenile.
He also notes this wry observation by "Psychobunny":
If this thing makes landfall in Puntang, the Weather Channel's going to have to go Pay Per View.
More on MRI machines as lie detectors.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Go See Serenity: Last night, Diana and I had the pleasure of watching a bloggers' preview of the upcoming Serenity movie, due to open this Friday. We had previously seen a very rough version of the movie back in May, and the final version is better, and nicely done. In particular, the soundtrack and the visual effects are polished now.

The story line is the same as before, following the characters from the cult hit television show "Firefly" in their next adventure. And although the movie is sure to appeal to fans of "Firefly", the writers also do a good job of setting the background and establishing the characters in the first few minutes of the movie so that audience members who aren't already familiar with the TV show will also be able enjoy the movie as a stand-alone story. What I especially liked was the fact that the movie felt like a real *movie* (as opposed to some of the Star Trek: Next Generation movies that often felt like bad 2-hour episodes.)

The storyline was exciting, the visuals were engaging, and the characterization was crisp. In particular, the external dramatic action scenes nicely mirrors the internal conflict faced by Mal Reynolds, captain of the smuggler ship Serenity.

Unfortunately, I have to be deliberately vague here since I don't want to give away any plot spoilers. But I want to give it my full recommendation to any science fiction fans out there who somehow haven't already heard of this fine movie.

(I also think that the movie studio has adopted an interesting marketing strategy by asking bloggers to review the film in return for being able to attend advanced screenings. If this works out for them, then we should expect to see a lot more of this in the future. BTW, here's Diana's review.)
New office slang. Some examples:
Beepilepsy -- The brief seizure people sometimes suffer when their beepers go off, especially in vibrator mode. Characterized by physical spasms, goofy facial expressions, and stopping speech in mid-sentence.

Plug-and-Play -- A new hire who doesn't require training. "That new guy is totally plug-and-play."

Salmon Day -- The experience of spending an entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed in the end. "God, today was a total salmon day!"
(Via Clicked.)
"Search engines for the forgetful: New firms zero in on tracking items that get mislaid".
Update on non-lethal weapons. The technology sounds quite interesting, although the article also points out some counter-intuitive legal issues:
As valuable as these weapons might be to American troops, they may violate U.S. obligations under treaties forbidding the development of biological and chemical weapons. The antitraction gel, for instance, could conceivably be forbidden under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which put restrictions on chemicals that "can cause death, temporary incapacitation, or permanent harm to humans or animals"...

It wouldn't be the first time that those treaties prevented U.S. troops from using NLWs. The Chemical Weapons Convention, for instance, prohibits the use of riot-control agents "which can produce rapidly in humans sensory irritation or disabling physical effects which disappear within a short time following termination of exposure." This means that weapons like tear gas -- which domestic law enforcement personnel can use -- are forbidden to our troops. This has led to situations, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has noted, in which "our forces are allowed to shoot somebody and kill them, but they're not allowed to use a non-lethal riot-control agent."
(Via SciTechDaily.)
Carnival of Tomorrow #10 is up.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

What to do if you are wrongly included on the TSA "No Fly" List.
Some people want to abolish the leap second.
"Nine Fads To Ignore". (Link via Rand Simberg, but I should note that he disagrees with some of them.)
Left-handed women apparently have twice as great a risk of developing a certain type of breast cancer than right-handed women.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Supreme Court may soon have to deal with issues that were formerly only science -fiction.
If you need to get off the phone, you'll be able to get help with these audiofiles at SorryGottaGo.com. They include audiofiles like "There's the doorbell", "I can't hear you (jet noise)", and for desperate circumstances "The ambulance is here". Something for every occasion! (Via Linkfilter.)
"Death To Folders!": Will tagging replace folders?
"More Colleges Offering Video Game Courses"

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Serenity is coming: This Friday, the much anticipated Serenity movie hits the big screen. Diana and I have been big fans of the original TV series "Firefly" ever since some friends of ours hosted a party in which a bunch of us watched all 14 original episodes in one sitting (interspersed with meals, popcorn, and beer). It's unusual that a cancelled TV series gets turned into a feature film, but given the quality of the show and the intensely loyal fan base, I'm glad that it did.

For interested viewers, the Sci-Fi Channel will be running a 10-hour marathon of the "Firefly" series, plus a preview of the "Serenity" movie, starting this Tuesday 9/27 at noon. Or you can buy the full set of "Firefly" DVD's from Amazon for just $30.

The official studio blurb on the movie goes as follows:
Joss Whedon, the Oscar - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity.

The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family - squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.

When Mal takes on two new passengers - a young doctor and his unstable, telepathic sister - he gets much more than he bargained for. The pair are fugitives from the coalition dominating the universe, who will stop at nothing to reclaim the girl. The crew that was once used to skimming the outskirts of the galaxy unnoticed find themselves caught between the unstoppable military force of the Universal Alliance and the horrific, cannibalistic fury of the Reavers, savages who roam the very edge of space. Hunted by vastly different enemies, they begin to discover that the greatest danger to them may be on board Serenity herself.
What I enjoyed the most about the TV series were the clever plotlines, mixing drama and humor. The characters were also well-drawn, with the usual witty Whedonesque dialogue. If you're already a fan of "Firefly", then I'm sure you're also looking forward to the movie. If you're not yet a fan, then you need to check it out!