Friday, December 30, 2005

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

Thursday, December 29, 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.)
Anti-terrorism tool of the day: Trained, bomb-sniffing wasps. No, really. (Via Bruce Schneier.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

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: 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:'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.

Tuesday, December 27, 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.

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.)

Monday, December 26, 2005

Elegant physical models of mathematical curiosities.
The mathematics of Sudoku. (Via ALDaily.)
Nice introduction to motherboards.
"Inside the Air Force's laser lab."
"Why the Japanese want their robots to act more like humans"

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 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!

Thursday, December 22, 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.)

Wednesday, December 21, 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..."

Tuesday, December 20, 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 The article also includes Jimmy's explanations of his reasons.

Monday, December 19, 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.)

Sunday, December 18, 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.)
Best latte art of 2005.

Friday, December 16, 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"

Thursday, December 15, 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".
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!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

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.)

Monday, December 12, 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"

Sunday, December 11, 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.

Saturday, December 10, 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.)

Friday, December 09, 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.)

Thursday, December 08, 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?

Wednesday, December 07, 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."

Tuesday, December 06, 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.)

Monday, December 05, 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.

Sunday, December 04, 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.)

Thursday, December 01, 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.)