Monday, January 31, 2005

The sociological impact of the remote control and related advancements such as the Walkman, the VCR, TiVo, and iPod. The author has an oddly pessimistic assessment of these devices which give individuals so much more control over the media content they consume.
The best cyber-sex occurs in games (such as MUDs, MUCKs and MMORPGs).
Things to say when you're losing a technical argument. (Via Linkfilter. Update: The original link seems to be out of commission, but Keith Myers was kind enough to alert us to the Google cache.
Satellite radio: A nice review of the Sirius and XM services.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

"Sociologists have mapped the romantic and sexual relationships of an entire high school". According to the article,
...[T]hese adolescent networks may be structured differently than researchers previously thought.

The results showed that, unlike many adult networks, there was no core group of very sexually active people at the high school. There were not many students who had many partners and who provided links to the rest of the community.

Instead, the romantic and sexual network at the school created long chains of connections that spread out through the community, with few places where students directly shared the same partners with each other. But they were indirectly linked, partner to partner to partner. One component of the network linked 288 students - more than half of those who were romantically active at the school - in one long chain.
Here's a nice graphical representation of the sexual network. (Via Boing Boing.)
"Researchers have identified self-similarity in four types of complex networks: the World Wide Web, a network of actors who have been in films together, networks of proteins with links between those that can bind to each other, and networks of other cellular molecules with links between molecules involved in the same biochemical reactions." Here's the Nature abstract.
"The Lock Busters: They've never met a padlock - or six-pin paracentric cylinder - they couldn't crack. Live, from the lock-picking championship of the world."
Good review article on the use of evolutionary algorithms in engineering design.
A man who has been blind since birth "paints houses and mountains and lakes and faces and butterflies, but he's never seen any of these things. He depicts colour, shadow and perspective, but it is not clear how he could have witnessed these things either." Apparently, he is able to integrate the information from other sensory modalities, along with what sighted friends have told him about the world.

One tidbit from the article:

He confides that for a long time he figured that if an object was red, its shadow would be red too. "But I was told it wasn't," he says. But how do you know about red? He knows that there's an important visual quality to seen objects called "colour" and that it varies from object to object. He's memorised what has what colour and even which ones clash.
Neuroscientists at Harvard and Boston University have been running a number of tests which show some fascinating differences from (and similarities to) the visual cortex of normal sighted people. Here's the article as well as one of his paintings. Here are more of his paintings. (Via Linkfilter.)
The "thiefproof" Immobilizer car key security system has been broken. From the article:
The systems reduce car theft, because vehicles will not start unless the system recognizes a tiny chip in the authorized key. They are used in millions of Fords, Toyotas and Nissans.

All that would be required to steal a car, the researchers said, is a moment next to the car owner to extract data from the key, less than an hour of computing, and a few minutes to break in, feed the key code to the car and hot-wire it.

More details available here, including the full academic paper (.pdf format).

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Ghanian fantasy coffins. Here's the slide show. (Via Joost Bonsen.)
Great Wikipedia article on heavy metal umlauts. And here's a slick Flash animation showing how this page evolved on Wikipedia. (Via Gravity Lens and Linkfilter.)

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Animal-human hybrids. Some of these proposed experiments raise mind-boggling ethical questions, such as the Stanford scientist who wants to create mice with human brains. ("Gee, Brain what do you want to do tonight?" "The same thing we do every night Pinky. Try to take over the world!")
The Secret of the Venus Fly Trap.
High-tech spacesuits.
Programming proverbs. (Via Linkfilter.)
"How to have 'Dungeons and Dragons' themed sex". (Via Fark.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Girl Scout cookies are a surprising source of office stress.
"Lexus cars may be vulnerable to viruses that infect them via mobile phones. Landcruiser 100 models LX470 and LS430 have been discovered with infected operating systems that transfer within a range of 15 feet." (Via IPList.)
World's fastest elevator.
You Might Be A High-Tech Redneck If...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

"The Firefox Explosion": Excellent behind-the-scenes history of the new browser.
Invention of the day: The Splashpad universal charging pad for portable electronic devices.
Super-cool aerial photographs. Go to the "Portfolio" page and keep clicking through. (Via BBspot.)
Your telephone calls may be monitored even when you're on hold. (Via Bruce Schneier.)

Monday, January 24, 2005

"Lunar colony to run on moon dust and robots". (Via David Jilk.)
Alcohol in the Star Trek universe. (Via Gravity Lens.)
"Scientists Create Petrified Wood in Days"
Military applications of nanotech.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Medical science shows why you shouldn't make your bed each morning. (Via Rand Simberg.)
Game theorists decide that "the co-operative and the selfish are equally successful at getting what they want". A more detailed abstract is available here and Marginal Revolution has some comments.
Mathematics of card shuffling.
"The law of unintended consequences shows us how many innocent innovations like email, anti-virus and DRM can become something far worse than the inventors had ever imagined." (Via IPList.)
"The jury pool from hell". (Via Keith Dangleis.)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews are three times more likely to jaywalk than their less-religious counterparts. According to the article,
[Lead researcher] Rosenbloom thinks that ultra-Orthodox faith might contribute to this cavalier behaviour by making people respect religious law more than state-imposed rules. It is also possible that religious people take more risks because they are more fatalistic and have less fear of death.
Klingon Karbs. (Via Gravity Lens.)
"Only 1 in 6 users of Internet search engines can tell the difference between unbiased search results and paid advertisements..."

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Amusing bug in MSN MapPoint:
1. Go to

2. In the Start section, select "Norway" from the list box and enter "Haugesund" into the "City" field

3. In the End section, select "Norway" from the list box and enter "Trondheim" into the "City" field

4. Click on "Get Directions"...
Interestingly enough, if you reverse the Start and End cities, it works fine.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

"Is Your Stockbroker a Robot?": According to the article, "for the first time in the NYSE's long history, a majority of the market moves may have been dictated by machines, not by human agents." But what does it all mean? The author summarizes:
It all sounds like a recipe for disaster. In theory, sell programs could trigger other sell programs, and cataclysm could ensue. (Program trading was partly blamed for the 1987 stock crash.) But as program trading has risen, the market counterintuitively seems to have grown less volatile. The exchanges have built in mechanisms to stop program trading from moving the market once certain limits are breached. And there's also a degree to which program trades are self-regulating. Every day, there are hundreds of different computer-driven strategies at work, and they frequently work at cross purposes. If IBM breaks through 100, it might simultaneously trigger a sell program at one hedge fund and a buy program at another.

The rise of the machines may undermine the journalists' narratives of the market. But at another level it's somewhat comforting. Program trading creates a highly unpredictable, occasionally unnerving universe in which sudden reversals can crop up out of nowhere, only to be followed by sudden outbursts of optimism. In other words, a market dominated by computerized program trades is a lot like real human life.
(Via Cosmic Log.)
"Mystery compound in beer fights cancer". I may have to go out tonight and have a few rounds of "chemotherapy" with some friends...
"The Most Antimatter": Japanese scientists have devised a new technique to generate more anti-matter than ever before.
Matt Blaze has received surprising responses to his recent paper, "Safecracking for the Computer Scientist".

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

"Mathematical Games": The entire set of Martin Gardner's excellent "Mathematical Games" column (15 books' worth!) from Scientific American is available for pre-order at Barnes & Noble for $55 (CD-ROM format). I haven't yet seen it on
Every video game from Nintendo, free.
Fan-created Lord of the Rings animated GIFs. Some of these may not be quite safe for work:

Off to Destroy the Ring
Catapult 2
What Do You Guys Want To Do Tonight?
Can You Hear Me Now?
LOTR, the short edition
Hijinx on the Road
Horn of Gondor
(Via Something Awful.)
Invention of the day: TrueMirror. (Via BBspot.)
The fastest stuff in the universe.
Whatever happened to Transmeta? Or why did it flop?
Yes, you can compare apples and oranges. (Via Linkfilter.)
Twinkie recipes. Article includes the Chicago Sun-Times version of:

Notes from duplication of Rice University experiment showing that a Twinkie will explode in 45 seconds when exposed to extreme radiation:

3:30:00 p.m. Sun-Times vending room is empty. Been waiting for this chance.

3:30:28 p.m. A single standard Twinkie is unwrapped and placed in Sun-Times vending room microwave for irradiation. Setting is 100 percent. Microwave door is closed.

3:31:00 p.m. Button is pushed.

3:31:19 p.m. Twinkie appears to grow slightly in size.

3:31:22 p.m. Halfway to theoretical point of explosion, Twinkie shows no further outward signs of change.

3:31:29 p.m. A 1-inch fissure opens in top of Twinkie. White filling pours out in slow stream onto microwave's tray.

3:31:38 p.m. Flow of filling stops.

3:31:45 p.m. Theoretical point of explosion.

3:32:00 p.m. Twinkie turns darker shade of brown. Bubbles noted.

3:32:13 p.m. Twinkie turns still darker. Gone too far to stop now.

3:32:35 p.m. Twinkie ignites.

3:32:36 p.m. Black smoke fills Sun-Times vending room. Quickly take wad of wet paper towel to pick up smoking Twinkie and place under stream of cold water. Fan wildly at smoke.

3:33:00 p.m. Uneasy wait for Sun-Times sprinkler system to go off.

3:34:00 p.m. Take wad of wet paper towel out of sink. Slowly open wad to inspect Twinkie. Break Twinkie in two. More smoke billows out. Place quickly under water again.

3:35:00 p.m. Sun-Times vending room still hazy with smoke. Somebody coming down the hall. Quickly place wet Twinkie wad in wastebasket. Walk slowly out the door, nonchalant.

3:35:40 p.m. Arrive at desk in city room. Smell of burnt sugar has spread. Several colleagues comment. Continue to appear nonchalant. Too busy working to notice.

Conclusion: Do not attempt this at home. Maybe at work. But not at home.
(Via Obscure Store.)

Monday, January 17, 2005

Paranoid invention of the day: Radiation-proof recreational vehicles. Only $1.2 to $2 million. (Via Linkfilter.)
WordCount: WordCount is a slick program that displays the relative frequency of English word use, searchable by either word or by ranking. And for those who get addicted to checking words with WordCount, there's QueryCount, which tells you which words get asked about most often. Warning: QueryCount may be not-quite-safe-for-work... (Via Keith Dangleis.)
Invention of the day: Magnetic silicon.
Ars Technica has written an excellent guide to ripping and encoding music.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

"Safecracking for the computer scientist". (Via Boing Boing.)
Has Apple hit its tipping point? (Via Linkfilter.)
Darth Tater.
Queer bomb for the straight non-com?: "The US military investigated building a 'gay bomb', which would make enemy soldiers 'sexually irresistible' to each other..." Here were some more of their other weird ideas. (Thanks to Joost Bonsen for the link and the title.)

Thursday, January 13, 2005

An ancient dog-sized mammal used to eat dinosaurs for lunch. Paleontologists have found a well-preserved fossil of this mammal with a partially digested dinosaur in its stomach.
"Will Life Be Worth Living in 2000 AD?": Given what we know now, this 1961 article is unintentionally quite funny... (Via Gravity Lens.)
"Why can't counting ballots be as precise and mundane as counting money in the bank?" (Via Tom McMahon.)
"Some Pointers on the Use of Laser Pointers": Given all the recent hype about possible terrorist uses of laser pointers, it's nice to have a little objective truth on the matter. (Via A Voyage to Arcturus.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Malcolm Gladwell's new book Blink is out, and it looks quite interesting. The subject is on the nature of intuition and first impressions, including their validity (or lack thereof). Here are a couple of reviews, one from Wired and one by Michael Shermer. Since I think that intuitions are rapid integrations of data based on past experiences, rather than some mystical phenomenon, I think Gladwell is on the right track and I look forward to reading his book.
The center of our Milky Way Galaxy is full of black holes.
Build your own Apollo Guidance Computer. (Via BBspot.)
"How To Interrogate Terrorists" (Via Linkfilter.)
"Apple Offers $29 Nano-Mac, Hardware Not Included".
In another uncharacteristic effort to woo the masses, Apple CEO Steve Jobs today announced that starting in February his company would ship a "starter version" of the iconic Macintosh computer which will sell for only $29 -- hardware not included.

The announcement follows yesterday's launch of a $499 Mac mini -- a small metal box with no monitor, keyboard, mouse, or other peripherals.

The new $29 Apple Nano-Mac promises to "reduce desktop clutter, while instilling the confidence and feelings of self-worth shared by Mac users worldwide," Mr. Jobs said.

And while critics charged that the bargain-priced Nano-Mac is "little more than a silver Apple logo sticker on an empty matchbox with no ports, plugs, peripherals or programs," Mr. Jobs was quick to point out that all of those "high-end extras can be purchased at by users who like the Mac culture and zeitgeist and want to upgrade to a more hardware-centric experience."
Heh heh...

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

"E-Mail Shorthand that Civil War Soldiers Would Likely Have Used in Letters Home Had the Technology Been Available to Them"
"Astronomers have directly observed an extrasolar planet for the first time, but are at a loss to explain what they see."
"Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sleep (But Were Too Afraid To Ask)"
"If English was written like Chinese". (Via Linkfilter.)

Monday, January 10, 2005

Invention of the day: Treating infertility with a "sperm magnet". No, seriously...
The recent Indonesian earthquake has shifted the North Pole by 2.5 cm (1 inch) and shortened the length of the day by 2.68 microseconds according to NASA scientists. (Via Cosmic Log.)
Top 11 Geek Break-up Lines.
There's been lot of recent buzz about the reliability (or lack thereof) of Wikipedia. This Wired article summarizes some of the recent back-and-forth.
"The Odds of Dying."
Rotundus, the spherical robot. (Via Linkfilter.)
Mathematics of choosing a restaurant.
Antimatter hydrogen atoms have been produced using laser control.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Invention of the day: The world's thinnest condom, the Okamoto 003, so named because it is only 0.03 mm thin. The funniest parts of the article were the various Japanese-to-English translations for the term condom, such as "wienerhosen", "love glove" and "shank tank". I have no idea if these were deliberately bad translations or not. (Via Fark.)
Museum of Foreign Groceries. (Via Virginia Postrel.)

Friday, January 07, 2005

Starbucks Drinks, Simplified (Kinda). Plus more inside information from a former Starbucks barista.