Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Law in the computer era: The "electronic discovery" business is booming.
A 75-kilometer-long laser: Researchers have demonstrated the longest laser ever built, using an optical fiber that could stretch from Washington, DC, to Baltimore.
Inhalable insulin.
What does your phone number spell? (Via Cynical-C.)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Google self-censorship: This was circulated as a noteworthy example.
Compare the following.

Google China:
<http://images.google.cn/images?q=tiananmen>

Google the rest of the world:
<http://images.google.com/images?q=tiananmen>
Disclaimer: I don't know how significant or representative this is of the Google.cn site. (Via IPList.)

Google's official explanation (or some would say rationalization) for its China policy can be found here.
Can patients keep their excised parts?
Synthetic life: "The way to a synthetic organism is paved with 12 steps, and we've taken 10 of them already." (Via SciTechDaily.)
A sample of moon dust collected by Apollo 11 almost went on sale.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Friday, January 27, 2006

Google cache has been ruled legal, under fair use provisions.
Physicists have figured out how best to throw a soccer ball.
Sex as a stress reliever: "Got some public speaking to do? Here is a tip to keep stress at bay: have sex beforehand. But make sure it's penetrative sex - the magic vanishes if you pursue other forms of sexual gratification."

(Hmm, I don't recall seeing this technique described on the Toastmaster's website...)
Scientists create the first solar-powered nano motor.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Follow the money: Scientists will attempt to predict the spread of influenza epidemics by using insights gleaned from an internet website that tracks the spread of dollar bills.
A popular U.S. Web site that tracks the geographical circulation of money could offer new insights into predicting the spread of infectious diseases like bird flu.

Money, like diseases, is carried by people around the world, so what better way to plot the spread of a potential influenza pandemic than to track the circulation of dollar bills, researchers reasoned.

Researchers in Germany and the United States did just that to develop a mathematical model of human travel that can be used to plot the spread of future pandemics.
Here's the "Where's George?" website.
"CSI: Athens" or "Another mystery of the ancient world solved": The ancient Athenian plague described by Thucydides in his classic "History of the Peloponnesian War" has been shown by modern DNA testing to be typhoid fever.

The DNA testing also excluded "bubonic plague, typhus, anthrax, tuberculosis, cowpox and catscratch disease before finding a match in Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi -- the bacteria responsible for typhoid fever."

Here's the full article (PDF format).
"The Best Time to Buy Everything". (Via BBspot.)
Military advance of the day: "Using Vomit as a Weapon"

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What a Honda sounds like as performed by a choir. Awesome video!
"Two years ago today Bill Gates predicted that spam email would be eradicated as a problem within 24 months."
Why women are attracted to men with a sense of humor.
"A material that could enable spacecraft to automatically 'heal' punctures and leaks is being tested in simulated space conditions on Earth."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

US radio spectrum frequency allocation chart.
Robot pets generate some health benefits in their owners, just not as much as real pets. (Via /.)
"Next time you are organising a cheese and wine party, don't waste your money on quality wine. Cheese masks the subtle flavours that mark out a good wine, so your guests won't be able to tell that you are serving them cheap stuff."
Orbital debris may pose an increasingly serious problem for future space launches. Related article.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Time-waster of the day: This "intelligence test" has been making the internet rounds lately. It consists of 33 questions, with no time limit.

I eventually figured out 27 (no Googling!), but I got stuck on six of them and stopped; Diana is still working on hers. If you finally give up, there's a link to the answers at the bottom of the FAQ page.

(FWIW, I don't think the test is a good measure of general intelligence and it's a bit too generous with the term "genius", but it does test for certain type of ability to recall general knowledge and cultural trivia.)
"American troops appear to have a considerable advantage because most of them grew up playing video games and using PCs." (Via Instapundit.)
"How to Foil Search Engine Snoops"
The government isn't asking for search engine users' identifying data -- at least not yet. But for those worried about what companies or federal investigators might do with such records in the future, here's a primer on how search logs work, and how to avoid being writ large within them.
"How to Detect a Two-Way Mirror" (Via Digg.)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

"Eastern Europe has a mystifying array of strange drinks". (Via BBspot.)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Stackable cars. Related article.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I hate when this happens: "Mouthy parrot 'reveals sex secret'"
The African grey parrot kept squawking "I love you, Gary" as his owner, Chris Taylor, sat with girlfriend Suzy Collins on the sofa of their shared flat in Leeds, northern England.

But when Taylor saw Collins's embarrassed reaction, he realized she had been having an affair -- meeting her lover in the flat whilst Ziggy looked on, the UK's Press Association reported.

Ziggy even mimicked Collins's voice each time she answered her telephone, calling out "Hiya Gary," according to newspaper reports.
I guess this doesn't only happen on bad sitcoms...
"Geocaching puts authorities on edge"
You can buy your own 400 Joules 40 KV EMP Shock Pulse generator for only $11,000. Just in case you run into a few Matrix Sentinels, Mr Anderson... (Via Fark.)
William Shatner has sold his kidney stone for $25,000.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Song of the day: "I am the very model of a Singularitarian". Site includes a link to the MP3.

(Via Howard Roerig who notes, "And, warn folks not to play it at work! Had me laughing out loud when I was supposed to be doing some serious stuff.")
Do astronauts and alcohol mix? (Here's a related article.)
Programmers may enjoy these snarky History of BASIC or History of C Family of Languages by Billy Hollis. (Via Arthur Stevens.)
Time-wasting game of the day. (Via Mike Otte.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Cato Unbound has an interesting discussion on "Internet Liberation" including a lead essay by Jaron Lanier, and responses from Glenn Reynolds, John Barlow, David Gelernter, and Eric Raymond. (Via Will Wilkinson.)
Serenity and Beyond: According to Joss Whedon,
"A sequel's unlikely," Whedon told Empire with a note of clear regret, "but it's amazing what permutations of something can happen." But if not a theatrical encore, that leaves... yes, you guessed it, a possible return to the smaller screen. "As long as I was able to service the characters with integrity and had enough money so that I wasn't hampered, then I would love to return Serenity to TV. I love that universe; it continues and those characters live on. There could be a series, there could be a miniseries, there could be all sorts of things. I'm not ruling anything out. I'll let it simmer for a while and see if anyone calls."
(Via BBspot.)
Invention of the day: Cell phone distress beacon for those who are at risk of being abducted.
A camera cellphone for anyone who fears being abducted has been devised by Nokia. It pretends to be off while actually sending an emergency alert, complete with pictures, sound and GPS location.

A recessed panic button triggers a pre-recorded emergency message when pressed. The phone camera then takes and sends a series of time-stamped snapshots or video clips to a service centre or trusted friend, along with any sound picked up by the microphone. If the phone has a GPS receiver it also stamps the message with location.

If reception is lost, for instance if an abductor drives into an underground car park, the phone stores images and audio in memory and automatically transmits them as soon a signal is regained.

Transmission can be discrete, with the phone apparently off, or obvious to warn an abductor that a call for help has been sent. Once triggered, the emergency call can only be halted by entering a personal code, so accidental false alarms can be averted.
Here's the US Patent Application.
"Scientists detect indentation in spacetime from a spinning black hole". (Via Cosmic Log.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Will mathematics revolutionize advertising and criminal investigations in the early 2000's the same way that it revolutionized quantitative finance a generation ago?
"A film of bacterial protein can slow the speed of light to less than a tenth of a millimeter per second."
"15 Tech Concepts You'll Need To Know In 2006"
More on directed energy weapons.

Monday, January 16, 2006

"The State of the Internet, Circa 2006" (Via Clicked.)
How To Cook With Lava.

Disclaimer from the article: "It is illegal to cook food in lava or remove lava from the Hawaii Volcanos National Park. All the activities shown on this page were done outside of the park boundries on the Puna side." (Via Gravity Lens.)
Can the NSA compete with Google for the best mathematicians?
MS Pinball hack: How to get into "cheat mode", and how to find similar such backdoors in other programs.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

How to make your own real-life rocket bike. 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Cathy Seipp has a nice essay on Richard Feynman. (Via Instapundit.)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Ray Kurzweil believes "IT Will Be Everything": His thoughts on "3-D molecular computing, nanobots in the brain and intelligence for the universe". (Via Lisa Langsdorf.)
Fractal camouflage. (Via DefenseTech.)
The North Star (Polaris) is actually three stars. (Via MeFi.)
California astronomers have discovered a "giant, magnetic Slinky wrapped around a long, finger-like interstellar cloud."
Taiwanese scientists have bred transgenic fluorescent, green pigs. No, really...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Thinking of looking up an old high-school sweetheart online? It may be more perilous than you realize:
It sounds innocent. You get to wondering whatever happened to that special someone you dated in high school or college, so you track her, or him, down online and send an e-mail.

Your old flame is thrilled to hear from you. You chat online, talk on the phone, meet for coffee. And faster than you ever imagined, everything gets out of hand and someone's marriage is ruined.

It happens a lot more often than you'd think.

"It starts with e-mails," says Nancy Kalish, a psychology professor at Cal State Sacramento who has studied the phenomenon. "It goes to IMs (instant messages), and the hotel room follows pretty soon afterward."
(Via Linkfilter.)
"Desktop fusion is back on the table". I'm still not holding my breath waiting...
Quantum computing update: "University of Michigan scientists have created the first quantum microchip", and in a separate development, "A simple semiconductor chip has been used to generate pairs of entangled photons, a vital step towards making quantum computers a reality."
Update on computer language translation (i.e., from one human language to another).

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Will Serenity fly again? According to this article, it just might:
Loni Peristere, visual-effects supervisor for the SF movie Serenity, told SCI FI Wire that there's hope for future flights of the cast and crew of the movie, which just came out on DVD. Director Joss Whedon -- who also created the canceled Fox TV show Firefly, on which the movie is based -- expected that the movie might draw the low numbers it did in its theatrical release, Peristere said in an interview. But he added that the movie's sales on DVD, which came out on Dec. 20, are running neck-and-neck with the hit comedy Wedding Crashers, which bodes well for a possible Serenity sequel.

"We kind of expected this from our audience," Peristere said. "We did so well on [Amazon.com] with the Firefly box set and the performance of that helped us get the movie made. We wish the audience would get up and go to the theater, but it shows that they like to keep coming back and revisiting the world Joss created." Serenity made $25 million at the domestic box office after it was released Sept. 30.

Whedon and his crew are waiting to see how well the DVD numbers go before proceeding with a Serenity sequel, Peristere said. "We really hope to return to this work," he said. "We love the characters. It's fun storytelling, and we all love using our talents... It all depends on Joss. He's not giving up on the characters. He had incredible writers who had a million stories to tell, and we're all just hanging out and seeing what the world has to give us, and given the opportunity we'll make more."
(Via Howard Roerig.)
Carnival of Tomorrow #17 is now up.
America's new ray guns. (Via SciTechDaily.)
Secret Starbucks economics or "Why you should order the short capuccino". (Via Linkfilter.)
"So long, and thanks for the Ph.D.!" or "Everything I wanted to know about Computer Science graduate school at the beginning but didn't learn until later." (Via Linkfilter.)

There's also a link to the entertaining short essay, "The Lord of the Rings: An Allegory of the PhD?" (based on the book not the movie version, BTW):

The story starts with Frodo: a young hobbit, quite bright, a bit dissatisfied with what he's learnt so far and with his mates back home who just seem to want to get jobs and settle down and drink beer. He's also very much in awe of his tutor and mentor, the very senior professor Gandalf, so when Gandalf suggests he take on a short project for him (carrying the Ring to Rivendell), he agrees.

Frodo very quickly encounters the shadowy forces of fear and despair which will haunt the rest of his journey and leave permanent scars on his psyche, but he also makes some useful friends. In particular, he spends an evening down the pub with Aragorn, who has been wandering the world for many years as Gandalf's postdoc and becomes his adviser when Gandalf isn't around.

After Frodo has completed his first project, Gandalf (along with head of department Elrond) proposes that the work should be extended. He assembles a large research group, including visiting students Gimli and Legolas, the foreign postdoc Boromir, and several of Frodo's own friends from his undergraduate days. Frodo agrees to tackle this larger project, though he has mixed feelings about it. ("'I will take the Ring', he said, 'although I do not know the way.'")

Very rapidly, things go wrong. First, Gandalf disappears and has no more interaction with Frodo until everything is over. (Frodo assumes his supervisor is dead: in fact, he's simply found a more interesting topic and is working on that instead.) At his first international conference in Lorien, Frodo is cross-questioned terrifyingly by Galadriel, and betrayed by Boromir, who is anxious to get the credit for the work himself. Frodo cuts himself off from the rest of his team: from now on, he will only discuss his work with Sam, an old friend who doesn't really understand what it's all about, but in any case is prepared to give Frodo credit for being rather cleverer than he is. Then he sets out towards Mordor.

The last and darkest period of Frodo's journey clearly represents the writing-up stage, as he struggles towards Mount Doom (submission), finding his burden growing heavier and heavier yet more and more a part of himself; more and more terrified of failure; plagued by the figure of Gollum, the student who carried the Ring before him but never wrote up and still hangs around as a burnt-out, jealous shadow; talking less and less even to Sam. When he submits the Ring to the fire, it is in desperate confusion rather than with confidence, and for a while the world seems empty.

Eventually it is over: the Ring is gone, everyone congratulates him, and for a few days he can convince himself that his troubles are over. But there is one more obstacle to overcome: months later, back in the Shire, he must confront the external examiner Saruman, an old enemy of Gandalf, who seeks to humiliate and destroy his rival's protege. With the help of his friends and colleagues, Frodo passes through this ordeal, but discovers at the end that victory has no value left for him. While his friends return to settling down and finding jobs and starting families, Frodo remains in limbo; finally, along with Gandalf, Elrond and many others, he joins the brain drain across the Western ocean to the new land beyond.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

True geeks will want these fuzzy 20-sided dice for hanging from their rear-view mirrors. (Via Boing Boing.)
Nice overview of the laws regarding the use of cameras on public property. The short version is that, "If you can see it, you can shoot it", although there are some important subtleties and exceptions that are covered in the article:
Let's get the easy stuff out of the way. Aside from sensitive government buildings (e.g., military bases), if you're on public property you can photograph anything you like, including private property. There are some limits -- using a zoom lens to shoot someone who has a reasonable expectation of privacy isn't covered -- but no one can come charging out of a business and tell you not to take photos of the building, period.

Further, they cannot demand your camera or your digital media or film. Well, they can demand it, but you are under no obligation to give it to them. In fact, only an officer of the law or court can take it from you, and then only with a court order. And if they try or threaten you? They can be charged with theft or coercion, and you may even have civil recourse. Cool...

It gets better.

You can take photos any place that's open to the public, whether or not it's private property. A mall, for example, is open to the public. So are most office buildings (at least the lobbies). You don't need permission; if you have permission to enter, you have permission to shoot.

In fact, there are very few limits to what you're allowed to photograph. Separately, there are few limits to what you're allowed to publish. And the fact that they're separate issues -- shooting and publishing -- is important. We'll get to that in a moment...

You can take any photo that does not intrude upon or invade the privacy of a person, if that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Someone walking in a mall or on the street? Fair game. Someone standing in a corner, looking at his new Prozac prescription? No. Using a long lens to shoot someone in an apartment? No.

Note that the limits have nothing to do with where you are when you take the shots; it's all about the subject's expectation of privacy. You can be on private property (a mall or office-building lobby), or even be trespassing and still legally take pictures. Whether you can be someplace and whether you can take pictures are two completely separate issues.
The whole thing is worth reading, especially if you have a new digital camera or camera-phone. (Via Clicked.)
"Can someone be literally scared to death?"
NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft and an Earth-based observatory successfully exchanged laser pulses with each other while millions of miles apart. "This is like trying to aim the beam of a very strong laser pointer, akin to the type used in a conference room, at a target millions of miles away."

Monday, January 09, 2006

"The US Department of Defense has revealed plans to develop a lie detector that can be used without the subject knowing they are being assessed."
IBM computer brochure from 1979 with some seriously retro office pictures -- Part 1 and Part 2:
Exceptionally compact, yet more powerful than many larger systems, the IBM 4331 Processor is designed to provide advanced computing benefits at a cost comparable to what you're probably paying now for a system with less application capability.

The system with a future. If you're looking for sensible, low-cost entry to full-function data processing, the 4331 opens a new dimension worth considering. It gives you power and capacity you require today and the ability to grow the way you want to... for years to come.
The snarky blog comments on the pictures are also entertaining. (Via Boing Boing.)
Will the IRS make gamers pay real-world taxes on virtual treasures? (Via Linkfilter.)
Medical advance of the day: "A novel method for the removal of ear cerumen".

Or in plain English, "How we removed critically impacted earwax with a Super Soaker Max-D 5000". Includes a picture.

The whole article is actually quite entertaining and worth reading. (Via MeFi.)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

"Collectors Go Bananas for Flawed $20 Bill: An ordinary fruit sticker that mysteriously ended up on a $20 bill could spur currency collectors to bid up to 1,000 times the bill's face value at an auction Friday. The flawed bill bears a red, green and yellow Del Monte sticker next to Andrew Jackson's portrait. The bill originated at a U.S. Treasury Department printing facility in Fort Worth, but how the fruit tag found its way onto the greenback is unknown." Of course there's a picture.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Million dollar idea: I sure wish I had thought of this simple-but-brilliant idea. A young UK college student posted a webpage called MillionDollarHomepage, which started off with a million blank pixels. Anyone who wanted to purchase ad space could do so for $1 per pixel. The home page is guaranteed to stay up for a minimum of 5 years.

As of today, he's sold 999,000 of the pixels. In fact, the last 1000 pixels are being auctioned on eBay and the current price is over $150,000(!)

It goes to show that there's no shortage of great capitalist ideas...

Friday, January 06, 2006

Classic article from 1945 on what would later be known as Silly Putty. (Via Boing Boing.)
Excellent guide to Internet Explorer privacy and security settings. (I almost always use Firefox for routine browsing, but occasionally I still need to use IE for certain sites.)
100 things we didn't know this time last year. Not all of them are truly new facts, but here are some of the better ones:
11. One in 10 Europeans is allegedly conceived in an Ikea bed.

14. It's possible for a human to blow up balloons via the ear. A 55-year-old factory worker from China reportedly discovered 20 years ago that air leaked from his ears, and he can now inflate balloons and blow out candles.

19. The = sign was invented by 16th Century Welsh mathematician Robert Recorde, who was fed up with writing "is equal to" in his equations. He chose the two lines because "noe 2 thynges can be moare equalle".

29. When faced with danger, the octopus can wrap six of its legs around its head to disguise itself as a fallen coconut shell and escape by walking backwards on the other two legs, scientists discovered.

32. "Restaurant" is the most mis-spelled word in search engines.

87. Pulling your foot out of quicksand takes a force equivalent to that needed to lift a medium-sized car.
All of the words in English that can be spelled with chemical symbols. All 26812 of them. (Via Cynical-C.)

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Update on brain-scanning for lie detection. Some interesting tidbits:
Later this year, two startups will launch commercial fMRI lie-detection services, marketed initially to individuals who believe they've been unjustly charged with a crime...

By the end of 2006, two companies, No Lie MRI and Cephos, will bring fMRI's ability to detect deception to market. Both startups originated in the world of medical diagnostics. Cephos founder Steven Laken helped develop the first commercial DNA test for colorectal cancer. "FMRI lie detection is where DNA diagnostics were 10 or 15 years ago," he says. "The biggest challenge is that this is new to a lot of different groups of people. You have to get lawyers and district attorneys to understand this isn't a polygraph. I view it as no different than developing a diagnostic test."
Movie theater economics: Theater owners don't always have the same incentives as the filmmakers/movie studios, especially since they make so much of their money from the concession stand.
Popcorn, for example, because of the immense amount of popped bulk produced from a relatively small amount of kernels -- the ratio is as high as 60:1 -- yields more than 90 cents of profit on every dollar of popcorn sold. It also serves to make customers thirsty for sodas, another high-margin product (supplied to most theater chains by Coca-Cola, which makes lucrative deals with theater owners in return for their exclusive "pouring" of its products).

One theater chain executive went so far as to describe the cup holder mounted on each seat, which allows customers to park their soda while returning to the concession stand for more popcorn, as "the most important technological innovation since sound." He also credited the extra salt added into the buttery topping on popcorn as the "secret" to extending the popcorn-soda-popcorn cycle throughout the movie.

For this type of business, theater owners don't benefit from movies with gripping or complex plots, since that would keep potential popcorn customers in their seats. "We are really in the business of people moving," Thomas W. Stephenson Jr., who then headed Hollywood Theaters, told me. "The more people we move past the popcorn, the more money we make."
The 50 Greatest Gadgets of the Past 50 Years
It may not be politically correct, but it's the best blonde joke I've ever heard.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The shape of the glass has a surprisingly strong effect on how much you drink.
The US Air Force is looking for a space warfare simulator game.
Can a live person be packed in a shipping crate and mailed?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Klingon personal ads.
How To Order Wine Without Looking Like An Asshole. (Via Cynical-C.)
Woman marries dolphin. (Via MeFi.)
Food experiment of the day: Mentos + Coca-Cola = A Geyser! Of course there's a video. (Via Joost Bonsen.)

Monday, January 02, 2006

Update on the earlier Silly Putty story: Physics Professor John Camp explains how to break up the large mass of Silly Putty -- hit it with a hammer.