Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Real-life rocket jetpack.
Invention of the day: A true 3-D plasma display.
Most "3D" displays draw pseudo-3D images on a two-dimensional plane by utilizing the human binocular disparity (your eyes are several inches apart, and see a slightly different view). This device creates a true three-dimensional picture with infrared pulse laser light that creates a small dot of plasma (light-emitting ionized gas) in mid-air. Software controls the galvanometric mirrors that aim the laser pulses; any figure can be reproduced.

The display uses one pulse for each "pixel" - the plasma pixel has an emission time of about a nanosecond. The device can create about 100 dots per second, limiting the resolution of the display.

Most science fiction fans immediately think "Help me, Obiwan Kenobi. You're my only hope" when they think about three-dimensional displays that appear in mid-air.
Here's a related story.
National Sex Offender Registry: "Enter an address below to view a map of registered sex offenders near you. By entering this address, you agree to abide by our terms of service."
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Your continued use of this site constitutes understanding of these provisions.
You may not like what you see. (Via Linkfilter.)
Australian scientists have grown a human prostate gland from embryonic stem cells. They plan on using this method to study prostate abnormalities.
The study's co-authors, Prue Cowin and Renea Taylor, said their discovery will allow scientists to monitor the progression of the prostate from a normal to a diseased state for the first time.

"We need to study healthy prostate tissue from 15- (to) 25-year-old men to track this process," said Taylor. "Understandably, there is a lack of access to samples from men in this age group, so to have found a way we can have an ongoing supply of prostate tissue is a significant milestone."

"The tissue we've grown behaves as a normal human prostate, so it's the perfect model for testing the different hormones and environmental factors we believe play a role in the onset of prostate disease," said Cowin.

Monday, February 27, 2006

eBay Economics: "Would you rather pay $10 and have free shipping or pay $5 and pay $6 for shipping? Answer: you prefer the latter. Well, at least if you are like most bidders on eBay." More information here.
Can physicists predict stock market crashes?
"On average a new parking space has cost 17 percent more than a new car."
Stansilav Petrov probably saved my life back in 1983. And Diana's. And yours, if you were living in the USA at the time. Here's what he did. (Via Vodkapundit.)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Feel-good story of the weekend: Amazing high-school sports story. Be sure to click through and watch the video.
Senior Jason McElwain had been the manager of the varsity basketball team of Greece Athena High School in Rochester, N.Y.

McElwain, who's autistic, was added to the roster by coach Jim Johnson so he could be given a jersey and get to sit on the bench in the team's last game of the year.

Johnson hoped the situation would even enable him to get McElwain onto the floor a little playing time.

He got the chance, with Greece Athena up by double-digits with four minutes go to.

And, in his first action of the year, McElwain missed his first two shots, but then sank six three-pointers and another shot, for a total of 20 points in three minutes.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Money Hath Its Privileges: Software billionaire Paul Allen is now a heavy contributor to the SETI Project. Hence,
If the SETI Institute ever detects radio signals from an alien civilization, Allen is No. 1 on the list of VIPs to call, says institute astronomer Jill Tarter.
Not a bad return for a $25 million investment!
Invention of the day: Super-repellant plastic. Even drops of honey roll right off.
Rubik's Cube for the blind. (Via Gizmodo.)
Too much free time on your hands? Try working on these One Billion Mazes.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Invention of the day: Long distance pen, used by author Margaret Atwood for tele-autographs.
The classic DigiComp mechanical digital toy computer is now available for purchase again! My parents bought me one when I was in 3rd-grade and it was one of the coolest gifts that I had ever received. (Via Boing Boing.)
Quantum computing story of the day: "Quantum computer works best switched off". Apparently this exploits the so-called "quantum Zeno effect", but I freely admit that I don't understand QM well enough to understand how this works. My favorite passage from the article:
"It is very bizarre that you know your computer has not run but you also know what the answer is," says team member Onur Hosten.

This scheme could have an advantage over straightforward quantum computing. "A non-running computer produces fewer errors," says Hosten.
Here's a related article.
"What Does a Chinese Keyboard Look Like?"

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The physics of stone skipping.
"Bloggers can be vicious, but they can also help companies avert disaster"
NSA Guidelines on how to sanitize a MS Word document before publishing them as Adobe PDF's.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

"Mathematical proofs getting harder to verify"
What does a webserver know about your computer when you connect to it? Find out here. The "ClipBoard Contents" for IE users was new to me. (Via Clicked.)
"The Trouble With The Turing Test". (Via ALDaily.)
"The laser that lets you see through solid objects". (Via inkycircus.)

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Biggest Beltway: "Astronomers have discovered a newly forming solar system with the inner part orbiting in one direction and the outer part orbiting the other way." Why is this significant?
Our solar system is a one-way boulevard. All the planets -- from Mercury out to Pluto and even the newly discovered objects beyond -- revolve around the Sun in the same direction. This is because the Sun and planets formed from the same massive, rotating cloud of dust and gas. The motion of that cloud set the motion of the planets.

The fact that a solar system can have planets running in opposite directions is a shocker.

"This is the first time anyone has seen anything like this, and it means that the process of forming planets from such disks is more complex than we previously expected," said Anthony Remijan of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
"How They Know What You Like Before You Do": Good article from the CS Monitor on the growing use of recommender systems for music, books, etc.
MIT students will attempt to build a flying car. It will look like an SUV with retractable wings.
Military innovation of the day: "Israel's military has found the perfect vehicle for special operations forces -- the llama."
After extensive tests, the uncomplaining work-horse animals were found to easily out-perform donkeys. What's more, they need refuelling only every other day.

Military sources said the Israel Army plans to use llamas for reconnaissance and combat missions in enemy territory, Middle East Newsline reported. They described the llama as ideal for special operations missions in Lebanon against the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah.

"The llama is a quiet and disciplined animal that can carry huge loads," a military source said. "Vehicles make noise and need roads and fuel. We've tried donkeys and they are not suitable for such missions."
(Via Linkfilter.)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Captured al-Qaeda documents describe employee benefits, including "medical, loan, furniture, vacation, disability, and severance benefits". One excerpt from their employee manual:
8- Vacations:
A- For those who work in Peshawar, they are entitled for Fridays, the two holy feasts (TC: Al-Adha [during the pilgrimage month] & Al-Fatr [following the end of the month of Ramadan]), and a one month annual leave to be enjoyed at the end of the eleventh month of work, as well sick leave not to exceed 15 days annually.
B- Those working in camps and in the frontlines:
Married: Enjoys a 7 day monthly vacation.
Single: Enjoys a 5 day monthly vacation
This in addition to the annual and sick leaves mentioned in the above paragraph.
C- If the vacation exceeds what is allowed, then, the relative salary will be withheld (prorated) except if those in responsible positions (in order of hierarchy) approve a holiday extension.
No, really. (Via Instapundit.)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Science-vs-Religion article of the day: "DNA tests contradict Mormon scripture"
From the time he was a child in Peru, the Mormon Church instilled in Jose A. Loayza the conviction that he and millions of other Native Americans were descended from a lost tribe of Israel that reached the New World more than 2,000 years ago.

"We were taught all the blessings of that Hebrew lineage belonged to us and that we were special people," said Loayza, now a Salt Lake City attorney. "It not only made me feel special, but it gave me a sense of transcendental identity, an identity with God."

A few years ago, Loayza said, his faith was shaken and his identity stripped away by DNA evidence showing that the ancestors of American natives came from Asia, not the Middle East.

"I've gone through stages," he said. "Absolutely denial. Utter amazement and surprise. Anger and bitterness."

For Mormons, the lack of discernible Hebrew blood in Native Americans is no minor collision between faith and science. It burrows into the historical foundations of the Book of Mormon, a 175-year-old transcription that the church regards as literal and without error...

...Officially, the Mormon Church says that nothing in the Mormon scriptures is incompatible with DNA evidence, and that the genetic studies are being twisted to attack the church.
All ASCII emoticons are blasphemous, at least according to some Muslim clerics:
Experts on a website called "Ask the Imam" say the act of keeping photographs of loved ones in an album is also prohibited in Islamic law.

And they go further than that: Even emoticons - the "smiley-face" icons widely used in email and mobile phone text messaging - are forbidden, rules Mufti Ebrahim Desai, a South Africa-based cleric.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Muhammed Emoticons:
Muhammad (((:~{>

Muhammad playing Little Orphan Annie
(((8~{>

Muhammad as a pirate
(((P~{>

Muhammad on a bad turban day
))):~{>

Muhammad with sand in his eye
(((;~{>

Muhammad wearing sunglasses
(((B~{>

Muhammad giving the raspberry.
(((:~{P>

Giving Muhammad the raspberry.
;-P

(From "Rusty", who notes "My great-great-grandfather came to America from Denmark in the 1840's", via Rand Simberg.)

Update: Reader "Martin" adds:
Muhammad with a bomb in his turban
*-O(:~{>
"Sleeping on it" is often the best strategy for complex decisions. Here's a related article.
Progress on the space elevator. (Via Howard Roerig.)
Cool 3-D Painted Rooms, that create a striking visual effect when viewed from the proper angle. (Via Boing Boing.)
"A new service called Airtroductions.com matches solo travelers with their ideal seatmates, giving singles a chance at love as they travel." Here's the corporate website. (Via Techdirt.)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

DNA analysis of hair tufts supposedly obtained from Bigfoot. (Via GMSV.)
"A lost interview with ENIAC co-inventor J. Presper Eckert". (Via Lisa Langsdorf.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Admin note: Posting may be light for the next couple of days due to personal obligations.
Inside the "John Frum" cargo cult on the South Pacific island of Vanuatu:
This is February 15, John Frum Day, on the remote island of Tanna in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. On this holiest of days, devotees have descended on the village of Lamakara from all over the island to honor a ghostly American messiah, John Frum. "John promised he'll bring planeloads and shiploads of cargo to us from America if we pray to him," a village elder tells me as he salutes the Stars and Stripes. "Radios, TVs, trucks, boats, watches, iceboxes, medicine, Coca-Cola and many other wonderful things."

The island's John Frum movement is a classic example of what anthropologists have called a "cargo cult" -- many of which sprang up in villages in the South Pacific during World War II, when hundreds of thousands of American troops poured into the islands from the skies and seas. As anthropologist Kirk Huffman, who spent 17 years in Vanuatu, explains: "You get cargo cults when the outside world, with all its material wealth, suddenly descends on remote, indigenous tribes." The locals don't know where the foreigners' endless supplies come from and so suspect they were summoned by magic, sent from the spirit world. To entice the Americans back after the war, islanders throughout the region constructed piers and carved airstrips from their fields. They prayed for ships and planes to once again come out of nowhere, bearing all kinds of treasures: jeeps and washing machines, radios and motorcycles, canned meat and candy.

But the venerated Americans never came back, except as a dribble of tourists and veterans eager to revisit the faraway islands where they went to war in their youth. And although almost all the cargo cults have disappeared over the decades, the John Frum movement has endured, based on the worship of an American god no sober man has ever seen.
Here's the print-friendly version of the Smithsonian article. (Via Boing Boing.)
"A Brief History of Hard Drives". Lots of great retro photos. (Via Boing Boing.)
"[R]esearchers have created a working prototype of a radical new chip design based on magnetism instead of electrical transistors."
Because the chip has no wires, its device density and processing power may eventually be much higher than transistor-based devices. And it won't be nearly as power-hungry, which will translate to less heat emission and a cooler future for portable hardware like laptops.

Computers using the magnetic chips would boot up almost instantly. The magnetic chip's memory is non-volatile, making it impervious to power interruptions, and it retains its data when the device is switched off.

The magnetic architecture of the chip can be reprogrammed on the fly and its adaptability could make it very popular with manufacturers of special-purpose computing hardware, from video-game platforms to medical diagnostic equipment.
Olympic figure skating will be judged by a new scoring system, but Yale statistics professor John Emerson thinks it is seriously flawed due to the random elimination of 3 judges' scores.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Behavioural modification story of the day: Results from a very interesting study.
This study was done by Adrian North and colleagues from the University of Leicester. They played traditional French (accordion music) or traditional German (a Bierkeller brass band - oompah music) music at customers and watched the sales of wine from their experimental wine shelves, which contained French and German wine matched for price and flavour. On French music days 77% of the wine sold was French, on German music days 73% was German -- in other words, if you took some wine off their shelves you were 3 or 4 times more likely to choose a wine that matched the music than wine that didn't match the music.

Did people notice the music? Probably in a vague sort of way. But only 1 out of 44 customers who agreed to answer some questions at the checkout spontaneously mentioned it as the reason they bought the wine. When asked specifically if they thought that the music affected their choice 86% said that it didn't. The behavioural influence of the music was massive, but the customers didn't notice or believe that it was affecting them...
(Via GMSV.)
Tabletop nuclear fusion confirmed.
"The Secret Cause of Flame Wars"
"An elderly Hungarian is set to become a millionaire after finding a priceless Stradivarius violin hidden above his chicken coop." Apparently his father had hidden it there prior to going off to war (presumbly WWII).

In a related story, Swedish researcher are using new computer modeling techniques to attempt to recreate the secret of the Stradivarius violin. (Both stories via Linkfilter.)

Monday, February 13, 2006

"40-Metre Profanity Spotted from Space". (Note: Contains the "f-word"). Here's the Google Maps link. The more delicate-minded can look at these safe-for-work crop circles instead.
How to take a caffeine nap.
Does repetition make a trip seem shorter or longer? (I'm not sure I agree with the conclusion, since my daily commute seems shorter now than it did in the beginning.)
Klingon recipes. My favorite is the Vegetarian Lasagna (serves 4-8):
Invite a vegetarian over for tea. Politely inquire about his degenerate lifestyle in order to lull him into a false sense of security. When he lowers his guard, beat him to death with a sack of phone books.

Cook vegetarian over medium heat until brown. Remove from heat and stir in pasta sauce, onion, garlic powder, basil, and oregano. Return to low heat to simmer. Cook, drain, and rinse noodles. In a baking dish, layer in noodles, sauce, and cheese. Bake covered with foil at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes or until top layer of cheese is bubbling. Let cool for 10 minutes, then serve and enjoy.

Afterward, discreetly dispose of the vegetarian's belongings and wipe down the house from top to bottom.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

"Colour vision may have evolved in primates to help them pick up on changes in blood and oxygen concentrations beneath the skin's surface, giving access to emotional cues, a new analysis proposes.

"Previously research has suggested that primates -- the only mammals with the ability to see in colour -- evolved this facility to spot ripe fruits or nutritional leaves."

(Update: Some readers have pointed out that primates aren't necessarily the only mammals with color vision.)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Friday, February 10, 2006

Why you shouldn't borrow your doctor's cell phone:
A study conducted at the Craigavon Area Hospital Group Trust in Northern Ireland has found that the majority of mobile phones used by doctors and other health workers are carrying infectious pathogens, including on some phones the deadly hospital "superbug", MRSA.
(Via Techdirt.)
How to Spoof an Email Without Software. (Via Clicked.)
"About Me" on Jack Bauer's Friendster Profile:
I don't have a lot of time to explain right now, but you're going to have to trust me.

During my years of covert government service, I have gone through hell and back. Yes, I am proud to have served my country, helping to avoid many horrific tragedies. Rules are meant to be followed, but I have a history of insubordination. While the methods I employ may seem harsh, I always have one goal in mind: saving lives. In the process, I have had to make some tough decisions, often within seconds, in order to avert disaster.

To my friends: I'm sorry for not telling you everything. It's not that I don't trust you, but we are operating on a strict need-to-know basis. But when I'm in a jam, I hope I can count on you. Whether it's illegally hacking passwords of suspected terrorist financiers or keeping your mouth shut about my smack habit, I really appreciate everything. And if you ever find yourself unavoidably chained to a weapon of mass destruction counting down to zero, you know I'm the first one there with an ax. You can even use my belt to stop the bleeding while I radio Division for help. Sorry I can't stick around to accompany you to the emergency room, but there's still work that needs to be done, so get me that chopper. And set up a perimeter right away.

To the ladies: Yes, I'm a single father, widowed. You have to understand, my job takes a heavy toll, and it's hard to maintain a stable relationship. If you don't handle stress very well, my advice to you is this: don't date a field agent. We aren't always around, the hours for my job are highly erratic, and I'm often too tired or traumatized when I get home to make whoopee. Yes, my life seems glamorous and exciting. Yes, I exude a brooding sexiness with my skills in unarmed combat and hostage negotiation. However, if you are forced to spend one whole day and night with me, you may not like everything you see. But damn it, I get results.

To my enemies: If I need information from you, seconds count. So apologies in advance if I have to break your thumbs or threaten to kill your family; I empathize with you. Believe me, I've been tortured plenty of times myself, and I know interrogation ain't no picnic. Please listen to me very carefully: I will DO WHATEVER IT TAKES to stop this assassination/nuclear bomb/horrible karaoke.

P.S. Feel free to add me to your friends list! Send me a detailed message first (preferably encrypted) with your full background information and a recent photo. I will reply within 24 hours with instructions as to how to proceed from there. Understand that if you deviate from my orders in any way, I will be forced to place you on the "Ignore/Block User" list. Are we clear?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Elements Of Spam.
"A game theoretic approach to the toilet seat problem." (Via inkycircus.)
Super Vision.
The Charles Babbage Difference Engine was one of the earliest mechanical computing devices. Andrew Carol has built a slick Lego version. (Via Linkfilter.)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Neuromarketing update: Functional MRI (fMRI) brain scans of television viewers show which Super Bowl ads resonated with the audience. I expect we'll be seeing lots more of this in the future. Here's a related article. (Via inkycircus.)
Your brain changes significantly at age 18.
"The vast bulk of international telephone and Internet traffic travels through underwater cables. This map shows the cables that were in use as of the end of 2004 and gives an indication of where traffic is heaviest."
Sexual averages. (Via Metafilter.)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

"Monetize Your Roof: Overhead mapping services like Google Earth are creating an unlikely new venue for online advertising."
Western Union has stopped sending telegrams.
"Notable Properties of Specific Numbers". Plus an interesting discussion of extremely large numbers, including some that are almost too difficult to express with any notation. (Via Metafilter.)
Extreme knitting. (Via Linkfilter.)

Monday, February 06, 2006

Law Enforcement advance of the day: "The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) will become the first law enforcement agency to outfit cars with a device that propels and sticks a Global Positioning System (GPS) onto a fleeing car."
The department will mount the StarChase LLC device in the grill of some squad cars in the fall. "Officers in the car would control a green lazar light, similar to an aiming device that fixes on your target," said LAPD Lieutenant Paul Vernon on Friday. "A small dart-like device is propelled from the officer's car."

The LAPD is hopeful the GPS device will reduce the number of high-speed car chases through the city."
"Things I Learned From My Patients": Hilarious thread on a medical discussion board, mostly anecdotes from the ER. Here are some choice examples (astute readers may notice a few recurrent themes):
(#1) If you're on the street corner selling coke and you see the cops coming to bust you don't eat all your coke. Having been taught this valuable lesson I will now know better than to do this and wind up going to the ER in handcuffs, seizing uncontrollably, aspirating my vomit and doing all of this with a white powder moustache looking like an ad for "Got Coke?"

(#5) Never, ever leave flashlights, shampoo bottles, beer bottles or any long, circular object on the floor because someday you will fall on it and it will somehow, work its way up your rectum.

(#7) Never leave your last refill of Percocet in plain sight after your doc's office closes if one of these 3 friends is coming over for dinner:
1. some dude
2. my friend
3. that bitch
(#13) Latex paint, despite being thick and creamy, does not coat your stomach and provide the same relief as Pepto-Bismol.

(#46) When attempting a self-circumcision do not use dry ice to numb the area... and when the dry ice sticks to the... a.... area, do not attempt to remove the ice with boiling water.

(#84) If you are in police custody and are brought to the ED for evaluation, do not go to the bathroom then try to escape through the ceiling, because the styrofoam ceiling will probably collapse at some point and the NYPD standing outside the bathroom door might notice your bare behind, scantiliy covered by the hospital gown, hanging out of the ceiling.

(#125) Don't allow someone with a known poorly controlled seizure disorder to perform oral sex on you...

(#201) If somehow a ping pong ball should make its way into your rectum and you cannot retrieve it, do not mix yourself a cement enema -- as this will only make your problems worse.

(#291) If you are 13 and feeling....experimental....Don't use the dish hose from the sink as your ambassador to rectal pleasure. If you do, the spring-loaded handle thingy will open after you shove it up past the anus, making it impossible to get out.

Furthermore, it will be difficult to explain to your step-father when he discovers you how you became 'tethered' to the sink by the dish hose.

You'll have to have it surgically removed. And I'm betting nobody will volunteer to do the dishes ever again...

(#399) Don't use hedge clippers to trim your big toe nails.

(#401) If it is late at night and you are hungry, the old chinese food and hunk of cheese that have been floating in a pool of fish blood at the bottom of a cooler full of fish and bait in the sun all day are a bad choice. The amount of projectile vomiting will be impressive.

(#412) Don't use this method of home repair: An unconscious 30-year-old man was brought to the ER by ambulance. His girlfriend had found him lying naked on the floor of his bathroom and called 911. In the ER, he was found to have a large lump on the top of his head and, strangely, several scratches on his scrotum. The doctors figured the lump was possibly caused by a fall or a knock to the head. However the source of the scratches remained a mystery until he woke up and provided the doctors with the following explanation. He said he had been cleaning his bathtub while naked, kneeling on the floor beside the tub. His cat, apparently transfixed by the rhythmic swaying of his scrotum, lunged forward, sinking its claws into this pendulous target. This caused the man to rocket upward, striking his head on the top frame of the shower door.
"Placebo Showdown: Not all placebos are created equal, according to a new study. In a rare trial pitting two fake treatments against each other, researchers have found that a sham acupuncture technique provided more pain relief than a dummy pill. The two nontreatments also caused different 'side effects.'" (Via Linkfilter.)
"Wasp performs roach-brain-surgery to make zombie slave-roaches". According to the article:
The wasp slips her stinger through the roach's exoskeleton and directly into its brain. She apparently use sensors along the sides of the stinger to guide it through the brain, a bit like a surgeon snaking his way to an appendix with a laparoscope. She continues to probe the roach's brain until she reaches one particular spot that appears to control the escape reflex. She injects a second venom that influences these neurons in such a way that the escape reflex disappears.

From the outside, the effect is surreal. The wasp does not paralyze the cockroach. In fact, the roach is able to lift up its front legs again and walk. But now it cannot move of its own accord. The wasp takes hold of one of the roach's antennae and leads it -- in the words of Israeli scientists who study Ampulex -- like a dog on a leash.

The zombie roach crawls where its master leads, which turns out to be the wasp's burrow. The roach creeps obediently into the burrow and sits there quietly, while the wasp plugs up the burrow with pebbles. Now the wasp turns to the roach once more and lays an egg on its underside. The roach does not resist. The egg hatches, and the larva chews a hole in the side of the roach. In it goes.

The larva grows inside the roach, devouring the organs of its host, for about eight days. It is then ready to weave itself a cocoon -- which it makes within the roach as well. After four more weeks, the wasp grows to an adult. It breaks out of its cocoon, and out of the roach as well. Seeing a full-grown wasp crawl out of a roach suddenly makes those Alien movies look pretty derivative.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Google will let you send a text message to a mobile phone for free. (Note: I don't know if it's necessarily free for the recipient.)
Rules of Engagement: The US Army is trying to teach troops how to pick the right spouse through a program called "How To Avoid Marrying a Jerk." Of course, the program is full the usual military acronyms.
The "no jerks" program is also called "P.I.C.K. a Partner," for Premarital Interpersonal Choices and Knowledge.

It advises the marriage-bound to study a partner's F.A.C.E.S. -- family background, attitudes, compatibility, experiences in previous relationships and skills they'd bring to the union.

It teaches the lovestruck to pace themselves with a R.A.M. chart -- the Relationship Attachment Model -- which basically says don't let your sexual involvement exceed your level of commitment or level of knowledge about the other person.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Friday, February 03, 2006

"How to Know When Unsubscribing Isn't Safe"
How to hide your e-mail address from spam-bots. Nice discussion. (Via Linkfilter.)
"Scenes from Lord of the Rings that might have been used as setups for bad commercials had the filmmakers not respected the material."
"Law and Order: SVU" Valentines. No, really. (Via Boing Boing.)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

What does moondust smell like? According to Apollo astronauts, it smells a lot like gunpowder. Here's an excerpt from the article:
How do you sniff moondust?

Every Apollo astronaut did it. They couldn't touch their noses to the lunar surface. But, after every moonwalk (or "EVA"), they would tramp the stuff back inside the lander. Moondust was incredibly clingy, sticking to boots, gloves and other exposed surfaces. No matter how hard they tried to brush their suits before re-entering the cabin, some dust (and sometimes a lot of dust) made its way inside.

Once their helmets and gloves were off, the astronauts could feel, smell and even taste the moon.

The experience gave Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt history's first recorded case of extraterrestrial hay fever. "It's come on pretty fast," he radioed Houston with a congested voice. Years later he recalls, "When I took my helmet off after the first EVA, I had a significant reaction to the dust. My turbinates (cartilage plates in the walls of the nasal chambers) became swollen."
(Via Linkfilter.)
Artificial "gills". (Via inkycircus.)
Which is better? Dewey Decimal System or Library of Congress Classification?
Children's Letters To God.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Shopping in 1975: Blogger Don Boudreaux recently bought a copy of the 1975 Sears & Roebuck catalog on eBay and has been comparing consumer goods from back then with their 2006 counterparts.

Here are some excerpts of his interesting analysis of what things cost back then (as well as an estimate of the number of hours of work it would take to earn the purchase price):
Sears' lowest-priced 10-inch table saw: 52.35 hours of work required in 1975; 7.34 hours of work required in 2006.

Sears' lowest-priced gasoline-powered lawn mower: 13.14 hours of work required in 1975 (to buy a lawn-mower that cuts a 20-inch swathe); 8.56 hours of work required in 2006 (to buy a lawn-mower that cuts a 22-inch swathe. Sears no longer sells a power mower that cuts a swathe smaller than 22 inches.)

Sears Best freezer: 79 hours of work required in 1975 (to buy a freezer with 22.3 cubic feet of storage capacity); 39.77 hours of work required in 2006 (to buy a freezer with 24.9 cubic feet of storage capacity; this size freezer is the closest size available today to that of Sears Best in 1975.)

Sears Best side-by-side fridge-freezer: 139.62 hours of work required in 1975 (to buy a fridge with 22.1 cubic feet of storage capacity); 79.56 hours of work required in 2006 (to buy a comparable fridge with 22.0 cubic feet of storage capacity.)

Sears' lowest-priced answering machine: 20.43 hours of work required in 1975; 1.1 hours of work required in 2006.

A 1/2-horsepower garbage disposer: 20.52 hours of work required in 1975; 4.59 hours of work required in 2006.

Sears lowest-priced garage-door opener: 20.1 hours of work required in 1975 (to buy a 1/4-horsepower opener); 8.57 hours of work required in 2006 (to buy a 1/2-horsepower opener; Sears no longer sells garage-door openers with less than 1/2-horsepower.)

Sears highest-priced work boots: 11.49 hours of work required in 1975; 8.26 hours of work required in 2006.
In an earlier post, he also notes:
Other than the style differences, the fact most noticeable from the contents of this catalog's 1,491 pages is what the catalog doesn't contain. The Sears customer in 1975 found no CD players for either home or car; no DVD or VHS players; no cell phones; no televisions with remote controls or flat-screens; no personal computers or video games; no food processors; no digital cameras or camcorders; no spandex clothing; no down comforters (only comforters filled with polyester).

Of course, some of what was available to Sears' customers in 1975 is also quite noticeable to those of us looking back from 2006: typewriters, turntables for stereo systems, 8-track players, black-and-white television sets. And lots and lots of clothing and bedding made from polyester.

The lowest-priced electronic calculator available in this catalog set the citizen of 1975 back $13.88 -- it had a whooping six digits and could add, subtract, multiply, and divide.
(As Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution notes, "The past is another country. I once lived there but have no desire to return.")
Good overview of the recent semi-scandal of Congressional staffers editing their bosses' Wikipedia biographies (at taxpayer expense) in order to remove negative (but true) factual information and to add entries that portray their bosses in a more favorable light. The article concludes,
Looked at from another perspective, though, the massive and anonymous tweaking coming from both the House and Senate shows the glaring weaknesses of the current Wikipedia system, and illustrates nicely why it cannot be considered an authoritative source of information. One of the strengths of the current system is that tampering can be caught and fixed, and in these cases it apparently has been corrected. Still, it's a reminder that anyone with a chip on his shoulder, a cranky opinion, or a political motivation may have created the content you read on Wikipedia. Will these latest incidents finally force the "Free Encyclopedia" to do away with anonymous revisions, or did the fact that this was discovered prove the worth of the current system?
Optical matter: "Scientists in the UK have made 2D arrays of particles that are held together by nothing except light."
One of the more bizarre neurological conditions has to be chronic deja vu:
Imagine suffering from chronic deja vu. You don't even go to the doctor because you feel like you've already been there.

"We had a peculiar referral from a man who said there was no point visiting the clinic because he'd already been there, although this would have been impossible," said psychologist Chris Moulin, who runs a memory clinic at the University of Leeds in the UK.