Wednesday, August 31, 2005

"Being always plugged in changes the way we work"
Invention of the day: Carbon nanomaterial that is harder than diamonds.
Pixar tells the story behind "Toy Story", and how it almost flopped.
High-tech door better than Star Trek.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Cats In Sinks.
"The remains of billion-year-old bacteria and algae have been found sealed in a 'time capsule' of oil trapped inside quartz crystals in northern Australia..." (Via SciTechDaily.)
MIT invention of the day: Carbonated ice cream.
Picture of the day: Lenticular cloud over Hawaii.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Overclocking yourself.
"Droplets of liquid have been moved uphill by molecular motors designed to manipulate Brownian motion."
If you bend dry spaghetti, it does not break in half but rather into 3 or more pieces. Here's a little bit of the science. Or a lot more science. Or you can just relax and watch all the movies. (Via Memepool.)
French fries under attack: The state of California has sued McDonald's and Wendy's for failing to put warning labels on french fries telling consumers that they contain chemicals (which in very large doses) might cause cancer or other health problems. Also included in the lawsuit are various makers of potato chips.

According to the article,
The lawsuit alleges that companies have violated a state law passed in 1986 requiring companies to provide warnings before exposing people to known carcinogens or reproductive toxins.

In 2002, scientists found potatoes and other starchy foods cooked at high temperatures contained low levels of acrylamide. Other studies have discounted the potential toxicity of acrylamide to humans...

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is studying the impact of acrylamide levels in food. In a March press release, the FDA said "acrylamide can cause cancer in laboratory animals at high doses, although it is not clear whether it causes cancer in humans at the much lower levels found in food."
(Emphasis mine.)

What's next - lawsuits against Mom and apple pie?!?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

If the US builds a moon base, how will it affect current "private owners" of lunar plots?
Invention of the day: "Daniel Fletcher has found a way to transform dark meat chicken into white, a scientific advance some purists say has gone too far."
Will "Bots" ruin online poker? Interestingly enough, both bot writers and online casinos have an interest in underplaying the perception that bots could consistently win against humans. Neither party wants to scare away human customers who provide the source of their incomes.

Reader Mitch Berkson also points out,
...[I]t creates a large financial incentive to create a machine that can pass whatever tests online casinos devise to see whether there is a human on the other end - a big financial incentive to create a machine that can pass the Turing test."
Getting closer to the self-driving car.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Amusing video of the day: Inside the Iraqi Resistance.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

"A device that allows people to scale tall buildings in if not a single, then at least two bounds, has been developed for the U.S. military."
BS Job Title Generator. (Via Linkfilter.)
Awesome picture of solar coronal loops.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

2005 Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2009.
Most students entering college this fall were born in 1987.
1. Andy Warhol, Liberace, Jackie Gleason, and Lee Marvin have always been dead.
2. They don't remember when "cut and paste" involved scissors.
3. Heart-lung transplants have always been possible.
4. Wayne Gretzky never played for Edmonton.
5. Boston has been working on the "The Big Dig" all their lives.
6. With little need to practice, most of them do not know how to tie a tie.
7. Pay-Per-View television has always been an option.
8. They never had the fun of being thrown into the back of a station wagon with six others.
9. Iran and Iraq have never been at war with each other.
10. They are more familiar with Greg Gumbel than with Bryant Gumbel.
11. Philip Morris has always owned Kraft Foods.
12. Al-Qaida has always existed with Osama bin Laden at its head.
13. They learned to count with Lotus 1-2-3.
14. Car stereos have always rivaled home component systems.
15. Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker have never preached on television.
16. Voice mail has always been available.
17. "Whatever" is not part of a question but an expression of sullen rebuke.
18. The federal budget has always been more than a trillion dollars.
19. Condoms have always been advertised on television.
20. They may have fallen asleep playing with their Gameboys in the crib.
21. They have always had the right to burn the flag.
22. For daily caffeine emergencies, Starbucks has always been around the corner.
23. Ferdinand Marcos has never been in charge of the Philippines.
24. Money put in their savings account the year they were born earned almost 7% interest.
25. Bill Gates has always been worth at least a billion dollars.
26. Dirty dancing has always been acceptable.
27. Southern fried chicken, prepared with a blend of 11 herbs and spices, has always been available in China.
28. Michael Jackson has always been bad, and greed has always been good.
29. The Starship Enterprise has always looked dated.
30. Pixar has always existed.
31. There has never been a "fairness doctrine" at the FCC.
32. Judicial appointments routinely have been "Borked."
33. Aretha Franklin has always been in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
34. There have always been zebra mussels in the Great Lakes.
35. Police have always been able to search garbage without a search warrant.
36. It has always been possible to walk from England to mainland Europe on dry land.
37. They have grown up in a single superpower world.
38. They missed the oat bran diet craze.
39. American Motors has never existed.
40. Scientists have always been able to see supernovas.
41. Les Miserables has always been on stage.
42. Halogen lights have always been available at home, with a warning.
43. "Baby M" may be a classmate, and contracts with surrogate mothers have always been legal.
44. RU486, the "morning after pill," has always been on the market.
45. There has always been a pyramid in front of the Louvre in Paris.
46. British Airways has always been privately owned.
47. Irradiated food has always been available but controversial.
48. Snowboarding has always been a popular winter pastime.
49. Libraries have always been the best centers for computer technology and access to good software.
50. Biosphere 2 has always been trying to create a revolution in the life sciences.
51. The Hubble Telescope has always been focused on new frontiers.
52. Researchers have always been looking for stem cells.
53. They do not remember "a kinder and gentler nation."
54. They never saw the shuttle Challenger fly.
55. The TV networks have always had cable partners.
56. Airports have always had upscale shops and restaurants.
57. Black Americans have always been known as African-Americans.
58. They never saw Pat Sajak or Arsenio Hall host a late night television show.
59. Matt Groening has always had a Life in Hell.
60. Salman Rushdie has always been watching over his shoulder.
61. Digital cameras have always existed.
62. Tom Landry never coached the Cowboys.
63. Time Life and Warner Communications have always been joined.
64. CNBC has always been on the air.
65. The Field of Dreams has always been drawing people to Iowa.
66. They never saw a Howard Johnson's with 28 ice cream flavors.
67. Reindeer at Christmas have always distinguished between secular and religious decorations.
68. Entertainment Weekly has always been on the newsstand.
69. Lyme Disease has always been a ticking concern in the woods.
70. Jimmy Carter has always been an elder statesman.
71. Miss Piggy and Kermit have always dwelt in Disneyland.
72. America's Funniest Home Videos has always been on television.
73. Their nervous new parents heard C. Everett Koop proclaim nicotine as addictive as heroin.
74. Lever has always been looking for 2000 parts to clean.
75. They have always been challenged to distinguish between news and entertainment on cable TV.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

One step closer to using stem cells to grow replacement body parts.
The neurochemical basis of the placebo effect.
Klingon Fairy Tales. My favorites:
"Goldilocks Dies With Honor at the Hands of the Three Bears"

"The Hare Foolishly Lowers His Guard and Is Devastated by the Tortoise, Whose Prowess in Battle Attracts Many Desirable Mates"
The Law of Piracy (as in "Avast ye mateys!", not illicit filesharing), and how it might apply to international terrorists. (Via ALDaily.)

Monday, August 22, 2005

The next must-have geek toy will be the Star Trek communicator-theme phone.
Gadgets 1985. (Via BBspot.)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

"How does spending prolonged time in microgravity affect the bodies of astronauts?"
"What Makes People Gay?" Update on the latest science. (Via ALDaily.)
Cloning for profit.
"Death by Caffeine: How much of your favorite caffeinated drink would it take to kill you? Take this quick test and find out." (Via BBspot.)
Random North Korean News Agency Insult Generator. From the Database of North Korean Propaganda. Never feel "ronery" again! (Via GMSV.)

Friday, August 19, 2005

Joke of the day:
One day, a mechanic was working late under a car and some brake fluid dripped into his mouth. The next day, he told his buddy about tasting the brake fluid. "Not bad," he said. "Think I'll have a little more today." His friend got a little concerned, but didn't say anything.

The next day, he told his friend about drinking a cup full of the brake fluid. "Great stuff! I think I'll have some more today," he said. A few days later, he was up to a bottle a day.

His friend was really worried. "You know that brake fluid is poison and really bad for you. You better stop drinking that," his friend pleaded. "Hey, no problem," said the mechanic, "I can stop any time."
(Via Tom McMahon.)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Invention of the day: Cheap nanotubule fabric.
Baughman's team can churn out up to ten metres of nanoribbon every minute, as easily as pulling a strip of sticky tape from a reel. This ribbon can be up to five centimetres wide, and after a simple wash in ethanol compacts to just 50 nanometres thick, making it 2,000 times thinner than a piece of paper.

The ribbons are transparent, flexible, and conduct electricity. Weight for weight, they are stronger than steel sheets, yet a square kilometre of the material would weigh only 30 kilograms. "This is basically a new material," says Baughman.
Of course there's a video.
Internet laser surgery: Scientists in Australia have performed laser microsurgery over the internet on single cells in a laboratory in California.
In addition, the scientists were able to grab onto -- or "optically trap" -- swimming sperm in the California lab by operating optical-laser tweezers remotely from Australia. This was a particularly noteworthy accomplishment, because it demonstrated the amount of computer bandwidth (1 gigabyte/second) needed by the Australia and California research groups to observe and grab a fast-moving sperm with virtually no detectible delay in image transmission between the two laboratories.
Sounds like a great idea for a new video-game -- "Catch the Sperm"... (Via /.)
The etiquette of vomiting. (Via Linkfilter.)
Saturn's rings have their own atmosphere. Interestingly enough, the rings' atmosphere is made up predominantly of molecular oxygen, as opposed to the main atmosphere of Saturn which is 91% hydrogen.
Astronauts that would go to Mars would need new spacesuit designs.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Mathematics of mattress flipping. (Via ALDaily.)
Mathematical knitting. Includes information on how to make your own Moebius bands and Klein bottles. (Via MeFi.)
Harry Potter parody: Pretty damned good parody of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Yes, it's full of spoilers - you've been forwarned. Here are Part 1 and Part 2. (Via Linkfilter.)
Preying mantis vs. hummingbird.
As you can see from the photographs this hungry mantis captured and killed a hummingbird not much smaller than itself. The mantis used its spiny left foreleg to impale the hummingbird through the chest while leaving his right leg free.

We surmised that the mantis ran the hummer through and dangled its full weight on its foreleg while he consumed the flesh of the hummingbird from the abdomen. After he had his fill, the mantis gave his foreleg several swift jerks and freed his leg.
(Via Boing Boing.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Real-life robot modelled after a damaged "Terminator".
"The world's first pure batch of nerve stem cells made from human stem cells has been created in Edinburgh... It is hoped the newly-created cells will eventually help scientists find new treatments for diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. "
Bacteria that excrete electrically conductive nanowires. (Via GMSV.)
Excellent article on real sword-fighting vs. movie sword-fighting, with tips for science-fiction fans interested in creating more realistic lightsaber fight scenes. Some of the topics he covers includes:
1. Act Like You Are in a Fight
2. Don't Forget Physics
3. Moves that Look Cool are usually the Stupidest
4. Feint, Dodge, and Pause
5. Don't Stop When You Get in Close
6. Move Your Feet!
(Via Michael Williams.)

Monday, August 15, 2005

No-Fly Babies: "Infants have been stopped from boarding planes at airports throughout the U.S. because their names are the same as or similar to those of possible terrorists on the government's 'no-fly list.' It sounds like a joke, but it's not funny to parents who miss flights while scrambling to have babies' passports and other documents faxed."
"Real 40 Year Old Virgins Say 40 Year Old Virgin Movie Makes Them Uncomfortable: Sexually-frustrated Star Trek and Star Wars virgins sue Universal, ask for restraining order". (Yes, it's satire. Via Gravity Lens.)
"Erotic images can turn you blind".
"Were ancient tombs really booby-trapped?"
Invention of the day: Urine-powered paper battery. No, really.
The credit-card sized unit could be a useful power source for cheap healthcare test kits for diseases like diabetes, and could even be used in emergency situations to power a cellphone...

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Physics and dating: Physicist Richard Ecob has found some interesting similarities between physics systems and dating. Among his conclusions are the following:
He found that "super daters", people who have many short relationships, have a good effect on others' lives.

This is because they break up weak couples, forcing their victims to find better relationships.
The research suggested that multiple daters, those who form many relationships, were less effective at finding the right partner than those who remained in one place and let others come to them.

"If you have a complex network and you stay in one site you see more traffic coming through," he said. "It's a denser network, so there are more possible matches."

Another surprising discovery was that an increased set of preferences made no difference to a single's chance of ending up in a relationship.
Of course like in all such research, the validity of these conclusions is only as good as the validity of the underlying assumptions used in the computer modelling.
Counterfeit goods lead to rampant currency inflation in the virtual world of EverQuest2.
Remote-controlled humans.
"Strange Orbits: Orbiting bodies can follow weird trajectories, from figure-eight loops to complex, interlocked paths." I especially liked the example with "12 equal masses following four, roughly circular, interlocked orbits. Topologically, these orbits form the edges of a cuboctahedron." More info available here.
"FedEx Furniture is furniture put together by empty FedEx Boxes, and held together by fedex packaging supplies. All of the furniture seen here is 100% functional. The couch is standing/sleeping approved, I sleep on the bed every night, I eat at the dining table, and I work at the desk almost 20 hours a day."

As an interesting legal aside, FedEx is unhappy about this website, on the grounds that it is violating the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act). In response, the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society is providing a vigorous defense.

Related Wired story here.
Wal-Mart is kicking major butt in the US retail market. According to the rankings the 2004 gross sales for US retailers, Wal-Mart was a clear #1 at over $288 billion. This was nearly 4 times the total of #2 Home Depot, and exceeded the combined totals of retailers #2 through #6.

Here's the Top Ten according to the National Retail Federation (in billions of $):
1. Wal-Mart $288.2 Bentonville, Ark.
2. Home Depot $73.1 Atlanta
3. Kroger $56.4 Cincinnati
4. Costco $47.1 Issaquah, Wash.
5. Target $46.8 Minneapolis
6. Albertsons $39.9 Boise, Idaho
7. Walgreens $37.5 Deerfield, Ill.
8. Lowe's $36.5 Mooresville, N.C.
9. Sears $36.1 Hoffman Estates, Ill.
10. Safeway $35.8 Pleasanton, Calif.
(Second story down on this page.)

Interested readers can find the full list of the Top 100 here (PDF format, starting page 5). Interestingly enough, one of our favorite stores Trader Joe's (alas not available here in Colorado!) came in at #61, just a couple of slots behind Borders Books at #59. Amazon Books was listed at #40, ahead of both Borders and #50 Barnes & Noble.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Interesting blog post on technological innovation and war-fighting, including a link to the Z Backscatter Van, which uses special imaging technology
...which offers photo-like images that reveal contraband that transmission X-rays miss - such as explosives (including car bombs), people and plastic weapons - and provides photo-like imaging for rapid analysis...

The manufacturer's website describes this capability in more detail and provides a video, complete with cheerful music, showing how the equipment can turn everything it passes into the opacity of clear glass. The backscatter X-ray is tuned to organic wavelengths, enabling it to find hidden people and explosive. But this is not all it can do. For an optional extra, the Z-Backscatter Van can also find those pesky dirty bombs and nuclear weapons that every well-managed city wants to be rid of, all at a low price and in an environmentally responsible manner: getting frisked by the Z-Backscatter Van only requires an exposure equivalent to a fifteen minute flight on a commercial aircraft.
If I ever get tired of being a medical radiologist, perhaps I could start a second career in security x-ray image analysis. (Via Howard Roerig.)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Invention of the day: MIT scientists have invented the "Jerk-O-Meter", software that lets you know "if that spouse, friend or co-worker on the other end of the phone is really paying attention".
Photograph of the day: Self-portrait of astronaut Steve Robinson taken from outer space. Robinson also created the first podcast from space.
"A new nasal vaccine for Alzheimer's disease has cleared plaques from the brains of affected mice and will be tested in humans in 2006."
Star Trek business cards. (Via Boing Boing.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

GeekPress gets a citation in the Stanford Law Review. UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh has written an interesting article on "Crime-Facilitating Speech", and we're mentioned in footnote 99 (PDF page 20). Thanks, Eugene!
Quantum information can be negative, meaning the more you're told, the less you know. Here's the full paper (PDF format) as well as a summary for the layperson. The more I read about this, the less I understand, which I suppose is the point... (Via /.)
The music industry is starting to figure out that maybe they can make money from ringtones, downloadable songs, and other non-traditional sources.
Australian scientists devise a way to use plastic rather than coal to make stronger steel. (Via David Jilk.)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Should you invest in life-extension technology companies? Or should you be skeptical?
Classical music vs. loiterers.
Harry Potter books have become favorite reading for Islamic terror suspects being detained at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba:
Lori, who for two years has overseen the detention center's library, said J.K. Rowling's tales about the boy wizard are on top of the request list for the camp's 520 al Qaeda and Taliban suspects, followed by Agatha Christie whodunits.

"We've got a few who are kind of hooked on it. A couple have asked if they can see the movie..."
Hand Art. (Via Linkfilter.)

Monday, August 08, 2005

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Excellent article from The Economist on the social and cultural influence of videogames. (Update: Fixed bad URL.)
Killing cancer cells with carbon nanotubules and laser light. In the test tube, "[e]xposure to the laser duly killed off the diseased cells, but left the healthy ones untouched."
Getting closer to real-life "phaser" weapons. (Via Gravity Lens.)
Cartoon of the day: "Teach Both Sides". This says it all...

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Anticlimactic Twilight Zone episodes.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Bad Designs. (Via BBspot.)
"Obscenities uttered by Jesus Christ"
Invention of the day: A robot that can catch a thrown ball going 300 km/hr (180 miles/hr). Includes video. If that doesn't excite you, you can always pay to be flung around by a giant robotic arm. (Via Gravity Lens.)
"Blogging As You Go Belly Up"

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Astrophysicists have created plasma jets on Earth.
Your Night Sky: Enter your zip code to see what it will look like tonight. From that page you can also change time and date. (Via Marginal Revolution.)
Invention of the day: A steam engine made of paper.
Everything will work on this engine, the flywheel turns, there really is a slide valve in the valve chest, the piston works, the cranks and the connecting rods, eccentric and strap all work if built carefully. This is the first version available. I am hoping that if you download it and build it, you will give me feedback, and help me to inprove the buildability, and correct any errors in the model. The final model stands about 12 inches high. I hope you have as much fun building it as I had designing it.
(Via Boing Boing.)

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

"How many punch cards per 3 minute MP3?" Blogger ypsidixit writes,
"Remember punch cards? I use them. Still got a box or two. Great for taking notes, they fit in VHS boxes for notes, I even print my business card on them. Sure makes people take note."

So begins a very interesting discussion on the Stilyagi discussion board.

"Our tool crib at Ford still used punch cards for inventory control until the early/mid 80s" says another person. "Just think of the concept--the data is made up out of thin air! The card is just there to organize the holes" notes another.

The posters figure out how many punch cards it'd take to read a 3-minute mp3. Answer?

"Assuming a non-Hollerith encoding with eight bits per column, and an MP3 file encoded at 128kbps CBR, there would be 36,864 cards in that deck, and the card reader would need a throughput of 205 cards per second. It might be wise to include an 8-column sequence number, however, so that a misordered deck can be repaired by a card sorter; with 72 data columns per card, the total is precisely 40,960 cards (40K cards), requiring a 228 card/second throughput."

The 21 boxes of cards needed would by 5 feet 9 inches tall.

That such a huge leap in technology is well within living memory astonishes Y.
(Via IPList.)
Invention of the day: "Space Ram" -- vacuum packed instant noodles specially designed for Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi to eat during the U.S. space shuttle Discovery's current mission.
In an effort to prevent the contents from flying off in zero gravity while in space, the noodles are in the form of bite-size balls. The soup was also made stickier than usual.

The boiling point for water on the space shuttle is 70 C, and this forced Nissin Food to adjust the ingredients of the noodles.

Nissin Food also made the taste of the soup stronger because people in space have their sense of taste weakened, it said.
(Via GMSV.)
Is the claustrum the neurological integrating point of our consciousness? (Via Cosmic Log.)

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Internet as public-shaming medium: The story of the "dog poop girl".
Here's the basic story: A woman and her dog are riding the Seoul subways. The dog poops in the floor. The woman refuses to clean it up, despite being told to by other passengers. Someone takes a picture of her, posts it on the Internet, and she is publicly shamed -- and the story will live on the Internet forever. Then, the blogosphere debates the notion of the Internet as a social enforcement tool.

The Internet is changing our notions of personal privacy, and how the public enforces social norms.
Here are some of the pictures and subsequent parodies. This episode raises fascinating and important issues of so-called "privacy rights" and what constitutes reasonable expectation of privacy in the Internet era.
Carnival of Tomorrow 7.0 is up.
"Hacker forced new planet discovery out of the closet". Apparently, astronomers knew about this planet 2 years ago, but chose not to release the information until they had achieved adequate confirmation. But when an anonymous computer hacker broke into their secure website and threatened to release the information, they proceeded to make their announcement. (Via Techdirt.)
"NASA pisses away millions hauling H2O into orbit. But there's a better way - recycle astronaut urine. Just one question: How does it taste?"