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.)