Monday, December 31, 2007

"Can someone with no flight training safely land an airliner?" Airline pilot Patrick Smith says:
With commercial aviation as rich as it is with mysteries and misconceptions, it's perhaps no surprise that plane-related topics are among [MythBusters TV show's] most frequent. Most recently, hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman attempted to find out if people with no flight training, namely themselves, could safely land an airliner. Their answer turned out to be yes, probably.

The correct answer, of course, is no, absolutely not.
"Snorting a Brain Chemical Could Replace Sleep":
In what sounds like a dream for millions of tired coffee drinkers, Darpa-funded scientists might have found a drug that will eliminate sleepiness.

A nasal spray containing a naturally occurring brain hormone called orexin A reversed the effects of sleep deprivation in monkeys, allowing them to perform like well-rested monkeys on cognitive tests. The discovery's first application will probably be in treatment of the severe sleep disorder narcolepsy.

The treatment is "a totally new route for increasing arousal, and the new study shows it to be relatively benign," said Jerome Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and a co-author of the paper. "It reduces sleepiness without causing edginess."

...Dr. Michael Twery, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, said that while research into drugs for sleepiness is "very interesting," he cautioned that the long-term consequences of not sleeping were not well-known.

Both Twery and Siegel noted that it is unclear whether or not treating the brain chemistry behind sleepiness would alleviate the other problems associated with sleep deprivation.

"New research indicates that not getting enough sleep is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders," said Twery.
Absolute hot: What is the highest possible temperature?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Joke of the day, via Monica:
Last night my sister and I were sitting in the den and I said to her, "I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle to keep me alive. That would be no quality of life at all. If that ever happens, just pull the plug."

So she got up, unplugged the computer, and threw out my wine.

She's such a bitch.
Wing suits.
Lawsuits as an investment asset class?
The notion of litigation as a separate asset class is a novel one. It's hard to imagine fund managers one day allotting a bit of their portfolio to third-party lawsuits, alongside shares, bonds, property and hedge funds.

But some wealthy investors are starting to dabble in lawsuit investment, bankrolling some or all of the heavy upfront costs in return for a share of the damages in the event of a win.

...Juridica will make investments in ongoing legal claims, mostly in the US, and loans to law firms to finance their costs in pursuing claims.

Profiting from other people's lawsuits, a practice known as champerty, is illegal in some jurisdictions and risks accusations of ambulance-chasing, but Juridica is concentrating on backing business plaintiffs, where the practice is better established and more accepted.
(Via Marginal Revolution.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Interactive Flash Physics modules. (Via Mental Floss).
Good web games you don't have to pay for.
Quantum dot memory storage.
Robotic foosball table.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The economics and culture of modern poker.
Seven classic medical myths. (Via Howard Roerig.)
Excellent article on how a Taser works: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. (Via Bruce Schneier.)
"The antithesis of sites like Match and eHarmony": Welcome to Dating 2.0.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

If you got a Nintendo Wii for Christmas, then you'll enjoy this cool video:
"Head Tracking for Desktop VR Displays using the Wii Remote"

Using the infrared camera in the Wii remote and a head mounted sensor bar (two IR LEDs), you can accurately track the location of your head and render view dependent images on the screen. This effectively transforms your display into a portal to a virtual environment. The display properly reacts to head and body movement as if it were a real window creating a realistic illusion of depth and space. By Johnny Chung Lee, Carnegie Mellon University. For more information and software visit http://johnnylee.net
(Via Vik Rubenfeld.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Some scientists believe that time is literally running out.

I'm in no hurry to find out and am willing to wait-and-see. (Via SciTechDaily.)
Toshiba home nuclear reactor. No, really. (Via Joshua Zader.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The secret to winning at rock-paper-scissors:
According to New Scientist magazine, the way to win is to start with scissors.

Research shows that stone, also called rock, is the most popular of the three possible moves in the game.

That means that your opponent is likely to choose paper, because they will expect to you to start the game with stone.

By going with scissors, you achieve an early victory.
(Via BBspot.)

Update: Regular reader Chris Zeh points out a problem with the New Scientist strategy:
It seems New Scientist's conclusion to the data is wrong. In my opinion if the most popular move is rock, then it has the highest probability of being thrown. If you throw paper you have the highest probability of winning, and if your opponent is aware of rock's popularity he will throw paper, producing a tie. This is favorable compared to losing your scissors to the majority throwing rock.
I believe he is right. The NS strategy works if your opponent is aware of the fact that Rock is most popular, but believes that you don't already know that. And I don't know how often that will be the case.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Blog obscurity: Here's one interesting statistical tidbit from Derek Gordon, the vice president of Technorati:
Q) Any idea how many of the 109.2 million blogs you track get no hits in the course of a year?

A) Just over 99 percent. The vast majority of blogs exist in a state of total or near-total obscurity.
(Via Gus Van Horn.)
"Stanford's nanowire battery holds 10 times the charge of existing ones". (Via Howard Roerig.)
Wristwatches using electronic ink display technology. Here's the commercial website.
Google Code Search has found some interesting bits of programmer profanity in program comments. (Via BBspot.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Update on synthetic DNA and synthetic life. (Via Cosmic Log.)
"Mathematicians from the University of Exeter have solved the mystery of traffic jams by developing a model to show how major delays occur on our roads, with no apparent cause. Many traffic jams leave drivers baffled as they finally reach the end of a tail-back to find no visible cause for their delay."
"The World's Most Dangerous Roads". (Via Neatorama.)
Excellent Christmas prank: A creative seller on eBay is offering the following opportunity for you to "Drive Someone Insane with Postcards":
You are bidding on a rare chance to traumatize a treasured friend or relative with baffling, mind-numbing, mystery correspondence from abroad.

Here is the arrangement:

I will be spending the Christmas holiday in Poland in a tiny village that has one church with no bell because angry Germans stole it. Aside from vodka, there is not a lot for me to do.

During the course of my holiday I will send three postcards to one person of your choosing.

These postcards will be rant-ravingly insane, yet they will be peppered with unmistakable personal details about the addressee. Details you will provide me.

The postcards will not be coherently signed, leaving your mark confused, guessing wildly, crying out in anguish.

"How do I know this person? And how does he know I had a ferret named Goliath?"

Your beloved friend or relative will try in vain to figure out who it is. Best of all, it can't possibly be you because you'll have the perfect alibi: you're not in Poland. You're home, wherever that is, doing whatever it is you do when not driving your friends loopy with international prankery.

Your target will rack their brains in the shower. At dinner. During long drives. At work. On the golf course.

"Who did I tell about the time I got fired by a note on my chair?" they'll ponder, "And where the hell is Szczeczinek?"

But wait, there's more.

To add to the sheer confusion and genuine discomfort, one missive will be on an original promotional postcard announcing the 1995 television premiere of Central Park West on CBS.

Another will be a postcard celebrating Atlanta's disastrous hosting of the 1996 summer Olympic games.

Your mark will be at a complete loss, desperate for answers, debating contacting people he or she hasn't talked to in years.

"I know this will sound weird," they'll say, "but by any chance were you in Eastern Europe ranting about cantaloupe... twelve years ago... right before some show with Mariel Hemingway debuted?"

When you decide to end the torment is completely up to you. If you can, I recommend owning up on 1 April 2008 - giving you nearly half a year of joy and a George Clooney-esque level of prankage. If you can't hold it in that long, I totally understand.
(Via Marginal Revolution.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Lunar land prices are rocketing". (Via Rand Simberg.)
Peter Jackson will be making a movie version of The Hobbit:
The Oscar-winning Wellington film-maker and Hollywood studios New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios announced today that they had resolved their legal dispute. Jackson and partner Fran Walsh will serve as executive producers on two Hobbit movies.

Pre-production will begin as soon as possible and both will be shot simultaneously, tentatively in 2009. The Hobbit is likely to be released in 2010 and the sequel in 2011.
(Via Instapundit.)
Funny "review" from someone who "upgraded" from Vista to Windows XP. (Via Howard Roerig.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Am I the only one that's slightly weirded out by these cloned glow-in-the-dark cats?
Short story of the day: "Security Question". (Via Bruce Schneier.)
"Death Ray Replaced By The Voice of God":
LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) is basically a focused beam of sound. Originally, it was designed to emit a very loud sound. Anyone whose head was touched by this beam, heard a painfully loud sound. Anyone standing next to them heard nothing. But those hit by the beam promptly fled, or fell to the ground in pain. Permanent hearing loss is possible if the beam is kept on a person for several seconds, but given the effect the sound usually has on people (they move, quickly), it is unlikely to happen. LRAD works. It was recently used off Somalia, by a cruise ship, to repel pirates. Some U.S. Navy ships also carry it, but not just to repel attacking suicide bombers, or whatever. No, the system was sold to the navy for a much gentler application. LRAD can also broadcast speech for up to 300 meters. The navy planned to use LRAD to warn ships to get out of the way. This was needed in places like the crowded coastal waters of the northern Persian Gulf, where the navy patrols. Many small fishing and cargo boats ply these waters, and it's often hard to get the attention of the crews. With LRAD, you just aim it at a member of the crew, and have an interpreter "speak" to the sailor. It was noted that the guy on the receiving end was sometimes terrified, even after he realized it was that large American destroyer that was talking to him. This apparently gave the army guys some ideas, for there are now rumors in Iraq of a devilish American weapon that makes people believe they are hearing voices in their heads.

This made more sense when an American advertising firm recently used an LRAD unit to support a media campaign for a new TV show. LRAD was pointed at a sidewalk in Manhattan, below the billboard featuring the new show. LRAD broadcast a female voice providing teaser lines from the show. The effect was startling, and a bit scary for many who passed through the LRAD beam. It appears that some of the troops in Iraq are using "spoken" (as opposed to "screeching") LRAD to mess with enemy fighters. Islamic terrorists tend to be superstitious and, of course, very religious. LRAD can put the "word of God" into their heads. If God, in the form of a voice that only you can hear, tells you to surrender, or run away, what are you gonna do?
Excellent video archive from the Computer History Museum. (Via IPList.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

"Tech aplenty for cheaters, suspicious spouses".
Wireless recharger.
"A federal judge in Vermont has ruled that prosecutors can't force a criminal defendant accused of having illegal images on his hard drive to divulge his PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) passphrase."

Here's additional legal analysis from Orin Kerr, arguing that the decision is wrong.
Cool animation of cell biology. Very sleek computer graphics. (Via Susan Mashaw.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

How out-of-body illusions cause plane crashes. (Via Cosmic Log.)
Who wouldn't want a Zeus Lightning Bolt Letter Opener? (Via Neatorama.)
Immanuel Kant attack ad.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Why pregnant women don't fall over"
For IT staff: "The 5 users you meet in hell (and one you'll find in heaven)". (Via GMSV.)

Or visit "The IT Room". (Via Jeff Johnson.)
"How Super-Precise Atomic Clocks Will Change the World in a Decade"
"Scientists think they have discovered the energy source of auroras borealis, the spectacular color displays seen in the upper latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bizarre Windows errors. (Via GMSV.)
Feigning death works:
After playing World of Warcraft, the 12 year old boy knew how to cope when he was attacked by a moose in the forest.

In the article he describes how he first yelled at the moose, distracting it so his sister got away, then when he got attacked and the animal stood over him he feigned death. "Just like you learn at level 30 in World of Warcraft."

Now who says you can't learn useful stuff from WoW?...
(Via BBspot.)
Video of the day: "James Randi tricks philosopher Dan Dennett". (Via Cynical-C.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Drugs or genetic manipulation can turn the homosexual behavior of fruit flies on and off within a matter of hours." The article is careful to note that this does not necessarily have scientific implications for the cause(s) of human sexual preferences.
"World War II Weapon: Monopoly With Real Money"
In 1941, the British Secret Service asked the game’s British licensee John Waddington Ltd. to add secret extras to some sets, which had become standard elements of the aid packages that the Red Cross delivered to allied prisoners of war. Along with the usual dog, top hat and and thimble, the sets had a metal file, compass, and silk maps of safe houses (silk, because it folds into small spaces and unfolds silently). Even better, real French, German and Italian currency was hidden underneath the game’s fake money. Departing allied soldiers and pilots were told that if they were captured they should look out for the special editions, identified by a red dot in the Free Parking space. Any sets remaining in the U.K. were destroyed after the war. Of the 35,000 prisoners of war who escaped German prison camps by the end of the war, “more than a few of those certainly owe their breakout to the classic board game,” says [historian Brian] McMahon.
More details here. (Via Bruce Schneier.)
History and technology of the toothpick. (Via ALDaily.)
Bizarre Japanese game show of the day: "Human Tetris". (Via Susan Brickell.)
Web metrics: Nice discussion of "unique visitors" vs. "page views" vs. "time spent", and who benefits from each metric.

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Things Other People Accomplished When They Were Your Age". (Via MeFi.)
"Subliminal smells can have powerful effects".
"Using a new technique to turn skin cells into stem cells, scientists have corrected sickle cell anemia in mice."
Video of the day: "Here Comes Another Bubble". (Via Howard Roerig.)

Friday, December 07, 2007

Moral Health Care vs. "Universal Health Care"

ObPoliticalPost: Lin Zinser and I have co-authored an article on health care history and policy that will be appearing in the Winter 2007-2008 issue of the journal The Objective Standard entitled "Moral Health Care vs. 'Universal Health Care'".

We argue that the current crisis in American health care is the result of decades of government interference and violations of individual rights in health insurance and medicine. Hence the solution to the problem is not more government controls but instead to gradually and systematically transition to a rights-respecting, fully free market in those industries.

Normally, the articles are available to subscribers only, but the editor has made the full text of the article available for free online.

(Regular GeekPress blogging will resume on Monday December 10.)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Experiments in Israel show that subliminal images of the national flag make extreme nationalists more moderate"
"In Defense of Audiophiles".
Excellent interview with Bruce Schneier by the Freakonomics Blog.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Tesla coil Christmas tree. (Via GMSV.)
"What stories do ghosts tell around the campfire?"
"When Newton's Third Law Doesn't Work":
One of the interesting phenomena present in quantum mechanics is the Aharonov-Bohm (AB) effect. The AB effect predicts that a charged particle, usually an electron in experiments, shows effects from electromagnetic fields in regions where the particle is excluded. This leads to the interesting fact that, in electromagnetism, Newton’s Third Law of Motion doesn’t always hold true.

Herman Batelaan explains to PhysOrg.com: “If you want to move anything in the world around you, you need forces. But in the Aharonov-Bohm effect, the electron reacts without any forces. There is no force, but something happens.”
The end of an era: "AT&T to hang up its pay phones".

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

3G iPhone coming in 2008?
Pictures of water effects in computer games over the years. (Via GMSV.)
"Young chimp beats college students" in memory tests. If those students were anything like this young woman, then I'm not surprised...
Great Amazon "reviews" of uranium ore. (Via BBspot.)

Monday, December 03, 2007

"Anesthesia awareness".
"12 Things I Learned from TV Court Shows"
Motion Induced Blindness illusion. (Via BBspot.)
NASA has conducted research in what sexual positions are possible in outer space:
Twenty positions were tested by computer simulation to obtain the best 10, [science writer Pierre Kohler] says. "Two guinea pigs then tested them in real zero-gravity conditions. The results were videotaped but are considered so sensitive that even NASA was only given a censored version."

Only four positions were found possible without "mechanical assistance". The other six needed a special elastic belt and inflatable tunnel, like an open-ended sleeping bag.

Mr Kohler says: "One of the principal findings was that the classic so-called missionary position, which is so easy on earth when gravity pushes one downwards, is simply not possible."

Saturday, December 01, 2007

"Tag Heuer plans watch phone for 2008". (Via Clicked.)

Friday, November 30, 2007

How to attach this to that. (Via Brian Schwartz.)
"How Does Bruce Schneier Protect His Laptop Data? With His Fists -- and PGP".
"The Secret to Raising Smart Kids: Don't tell them that they are." (Via Jim May.)
Are sleep deficits permanent? (Via SciTechDaily.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Stir fried Wikipedia. (Via Waxy.)
"Marine Research Facility Designed Using Star Wars Films"
Update on reverse engineering the brain in silicon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

If you're going to sue your boss, don't use your work e-mail account to discuss strategy with your lawyers.
"Prosthetic Limbs That Can Feel".
Why you shouldn't name your ship the "MS Explorer". (Via BBspot.)
"Top 10 worst IT disasters of all time". (Via Fark.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"15 cool word illusions". (Via Clicked.)
"How to charge an iPod using electrolytes and an onion"
Photographs of cats caught in midair. (Via Neatorama.)
Nice summary of the science and/or pseudoscience of birth order and its effects on personality traits. (Via ALDaily.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Forgotten your password? Google can find it for you. Unfortunately". (Via Fark.)
"Why you shouldn't go to law school". (Via Volokh.)
More on fMRI lie detection.
"7 Incredible Natural Phenomena You've Never Seen". (Via BBspot.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

More on Garrett Lisi's physics theory, including a Wikipedia summary of its strengths and critcisms, a FAQ for newspaper reporters, and a personal FAQ about Lisi himself.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

"Whose Rules Apply On The Web?": Interesting article on how internet companies can or should respond if they are based on one US state and/or country, but they run afoul of the laws of another state/country.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The day after Thanksgiving is not the busiest shopping day of the year.
This 360-degree military simulator is one step closer to a holodeck.
Robotic "Pied Piper" cockroaches can trick real cockroaches into following them, "even to places where a sensible roach would never venture". (Via SciTechDaily.)
British nuclear security: Until 1998, some British nuclear weapons could be armed by just the single turn of a bicycle lock key.
To arm the weapons you just open a panel held by two captive screws - like a battery cover on a radio - using a thumbnail or a coin.

Inside are the arming switch and a series of dials which you can turn with an Allen key to select high yield or low yield, air burst or groundburst and other parameters.

The Bomb is actually armed by inserting a bicycle lock key into the arming switch and turning it through 90 degrees. There is no code which needs to be entered or dual key system to prevent a rogue individual from arming the Bomb.
(Via Bruce Schneier.)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving! Regular blogging will resume tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"What If Gmail Had Been Designed by Microsoft?"
The procrastination flowchart. (Via GMSV.)
Tyler Cowen on his iPhone:
I still use my iPhone almost every day and I can no longer imagine not having one. Mostly I surf web sites and blogs while waiting in lines, or read email. I've yet to make a phone call with it.
Who has the oil? (Via BBspot.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Principles of economics, translated into normal English. Very funny piece from the Stand-Up Economist. (Via Lin Zinser.)
Theory of Everything? Physicist/surfer Garrett Lisi may have found a way to unify all the major particle and forces of nature, including gravity, without having to rely on dubious multi-dimensional string theory. Plus his theory may be testable in the near future. His theory predicts:
...more than 20 new particles not envisaged by the standard model. Lisi is now calculating the masses that these particles should have, in the hope that they may be spotted when the Large Hadron Collider - being built at CERN, near Geneva in Switzerland - starts up next year.
Here's a related article. Here's the link to his paper. (Click on the "PDF" icon on the upper right for the PDF version.) And a link to a semi-technical explanation (with video).

(FWIW, I once met him several years ago at a dinner party, back when Diana and I lived in San Diego and he was a PhD student at UCSD. He was a friend-of-a-friend, and he struck me as an extremely intelligent man. So although my math background is not strong enough to enable me to assess the merits of his theory, he would be a plausible candidate to have come up with a revolutionary new theory in foundational physics.)
Cool Star Trek home theater. (Via /.)
Wormholes on Earth? And a related article from Nature.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"A pair of mathematicians has created a video that shows how to visualize and understand Möbius transformations, which are a fundamental and highly abstract mathematical tool. The new video, "Möbius Transformations Revealed," has become an Internet sensation, with 60,000 hits on YouTube so far.

"... 'You need some pretty heavy mathematical machinery that people usually don't do until their first year of grad school to prove the stuff in the video,' [Jonathan] Rogness says, "but we've been showing this to high school students and they seem to get it."
"How to halt light and bottle it".
Hushmail turns over data to the government. (Via Bruce Schneier.)
Because November 19 is World Toilet Day, it seems as good a time as any to answer the perennial question, "What if everybody in the United States flushed the toilet at the same time?". (Via Neatorama.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The end of Tesla vs. Edison: Con Ed will shut down the last of their DC electrical service in Manhattan, marking the end of the famous battle between the AC and DC power distribution methods advocated by Tesla and Edison respectively. (Via Howard Roerig.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

It's probably illegal to do this to a telemarketer. But it is tempting... (Via MDMD, aka "Mad Dog".)
"Did NSA Put a Secret Backdoor in New Encryption Standard?"
This is how it works: There are a bunch of constants -- fixed numbers -- in the standard used to define the algorithm's elliptic curve. These constants are listed in Appendix A of the NIST publication, but nowhere is it explained where they came from.

What Shumow and Ferguson showed is that these numbers have a relationship with a second, secret set of numbers that can act as a kind of skeleton key. If you know the secret numbers, you can predict the output of the random-number generator after collecting just 32 bytes of its output. To put that in real terms, you only need to monitor one TLS internet encryption connection in order to crack the security of that protocol. If you know the secret numbers, you can completely break any instantiation of Dual_EC_DRBG.

The researchers don't know what the secret numbers are. But because of the way the algorithm works, the person who produced the constants might know; he had the mathematical opportunity to produce the constants and the secret numbers in tandem.

Of course, we have no way of knowing whether the NSA knows the secret numbers that break Dual_EC-DRBG. We have no way of knowing whether an NSA employee working on his own came up with the constants -- and has the secret numbers. We don't know if someone from NIST, or someone in the ANSI working group, has them. Maybe nobody does.

We don't know where the constants came from in the first place. We only know that whoever came up with them could have the key to this backdoor. And we know there's no way for NIST -- or anyone else -- to prove otherwise.

This is scary stuff indeed.
High definition video is causing problems for pornographers:
Pornography has long helped drive the adoption of new technology, from the printing press to the videocassette. Now pornographic movie studios are staying ahead of the curve by releasing high-definition DVDs.

They have discovered that the technology is sometimes not so sexy. The high-definition format is accentuating imperfections in the actors — from a little extra cellulite on a leg to wrinkles around the eyes. ...

“The biggest problem is razor burn,” said Stormy Daniels, an actress, writer and director.
(Via Michael Williams.)
Toddlers start treating robots as if they were other children after only a few months of exposure.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Neuroimaging and political prediction: Powerful new tool or overhype-of-the-day?
"The Death of E-Mail": The cultural gap between first and second generation internet users.
"Suitcase nukes closer to fiction than reality". Includes obligatory Jack Bauer picture. (Via SciTechDaily.)
Today's prequel is Battlestar Galactica: Razor. Coming November 24.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Thought Police: How Brain Scans Could Invade Your Private Life". We're definitely not at that point yet. But we're not that far away either. (Via Cosmic Log.)
Rand Simberg dispels cloning myths. And Phil Bowermaster explains, "Three Things Cloning Isn't".
If you don't want to know the plot to the Star Trek 11 movie, then don't click here. (Via /.)
"24: The Unaired 1994 Pilot". Jack Bauer saves the world with AOL 3.0!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Top 10 Off Switches. (Via /.)
14-year old boy saves a life because he watched "MythBusters". (Via BBspot.)
Malcolm Gladwell has a new thought-provoking essay asking if criminal profiling is more like a pseudoscience rather than a science, especially with predictions that are too vague to provide guidance, and get be fitted to the actual facts only in retrospect.

For instance, here is a summary of the profilers' predictions about the famous BTK serial killer:
The best minds in the F.B.I. had given the Wichita detectives a blueprint for their investigation. Look for an American male with a possible connection to the military. His I.Q. will be above 105. He will like to masturbate, and will be aloof and selfish in bed. He will drive a decent car. He will be a “now” person. He won’t be comfortable with women. But he may have women friends. He will be a lone wolf. But he will be able to function in social settings. He won’t be unmemorable. But he will be unknowable. He will be either never married, divorced, or married, and if he was or is married his wife will be younger or older. He may or may not live in a rental, and might be lower class, upper lower class, lower middle class or middle class. And he will be crazy like a fox, as opposed to being mental. If you’re keeping score, that’s a Jacques Statement, two Barnum Statements, four Rainbow Ruses, a Good Chance Guess, two predictions that aren’t really predictions because they could never be verified—and nothing even close to the salient fact that BTK was a pillar of his community, the president of his church and the married father of two.
A real-life DaVinci code?
An Italian musician and computer technician claims to have uncovered musical notes encoded in Leonardo Da Vinci's "Last Supper," raising the possibility that the Renaissance genius might have left behind a somber composition to accompany the scene depicted in the 15th-century wall painting.

"It sounds like a requiem," Giovanni Maria Pala said. "It's like a soundtrack that emphasizes the passion of Jesus."
(Via Instapundit.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

"'Robo-moth' melds insect, machine". And more stories on animal brains in robotic bodies (2nd paragraph down).
"Nonlocality of a Single Particle Demonstrated Without Objections"
"Why bad employees don't get fired". (Via Mental Floss.)
Researchers have fashioned the world's tiniest radio out of a carbon nanotube:
The nanotube radio works differently than a conventional radio does. Conventional radios have four main functional parts: antenna, tuner, amplifier, and demodulator. Radio waves falling on a radio antenna create electric currents at different frequencies. When someone selects a radio station, the tuner filters out all but one of the frequencies. Transistors amplify the signal, while a demodulator, typically a rectifier or a diode, separates the data--the music or other audio--that has been encoded on a "carrier" electromagnetic wave.

Zettl's team used one carbon nanotube for all these functions. Because of their unique electrical properties, carbon nanotubes have been previously used to make electronic components such as diodes, transistors, and rectifiers. "It was a revelation that all of this could be built into the same [nanotube]," Zettl says.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Twins were born last weekend but due to the time change from DST to Standard time, the 2nd twin has an official birth time before the first twin:
Everyone knows the pecking order in a family has everything to do with age. The oldest sibling usually rules the roost. But what if you get cheated out of the title because of Daylight Saving Time?

Peter Sullivan Cirioli was dubbed "Baby A" at WakeMed Cary when he arrived early Sunday morning.

"Yes, Peter was born first, it was at 1:32 a.m.," mother Laura Cirioli said.

Thirty-four minutes later, Peter's twin sister, Allison Raye Cirioli, known as "Baby B," made her entrance into the world.

Because of Daylight Saving Time, Allison's time of birth was 1:06 a.m., which makes her 26 minutes older than her brother even though he was born first.
(Via BBspot.)
The Speculist has an exclusive interview with the scientist who discovered the cancer-proof mouse.
"Random-Access Warehouses: A company called Kiva Systems is speeding up Internet orders with robotic systems that are modeled on random-access computer memory."
The most caffeinated city in the US is Chicago.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Some interesting examples of concepts that have a word in foreign languages, but no single word equivalent in English:
Pesamenteiro - Portuguese: one who joins groups of mourners at the home of a dead person, apparently to offer condolences but in reality is just there for the refreshments.

Hanyauku - Rukwangali, Namibia: walking on tiptoes across warm sand.

Tartle - Scottish: to hesitate when you are introducing someone whose name you can't quite remember.

Prozvonit - Czech and Slovak: to call someone's mobile from your own to leave your number in their memory without them picking it up.

Pelinti - Buli, Ghana: to move very hot food around inside one's mouth.

Biritululo - Kiriwani, Papua New Guinea: comparing yams to settle a dispute.

Poronkusema - Finnish: the distance equal to how far a reindeer can travel without a comfort break.

Shvitzer - Yiddish: someone who sweats a lot, especially a nervous seducer.

Gattara - Italian: a woman, often old and lonely, who devotes herself to stray cats.

Baffona - Italian: an attractive moustachioed woman.
Scientists and Proctor and Gamble have sequenced the gene for the organism that causes dandruff.
Dr. Jay Parkinson explains why many doctors won't use e-mail to communicate with their patients:
When I first went live with my practice on September 24th, 2007, I received plenty of criticism regarding patient privacy and security. Many people questioned my compliance with HIPAA, a federal law the vast majority of physicians and institutions in America have to abide by in order to protect patients’ private health information (PHI). PHI is defined as any situation where there is an identifying factor (such as name or SSN) associated with a diagnosis. For example, John Smith is telling me about his seasonal allergy symptoms via AIM. Under HIPAA, if I were IM’ing with a patient using an unsecure chat application, like AIM, I could face thousands of dollars in fines. If I revealed this health information with criminal intent, I could face up to $250,000 in fines and 10 years in prison.

If I signed contracts with insurance companies and/or Medicare and submitted online claims to these companies I would have to abide by HIPAA. My entire practice would be illegal. I could not email, IM, text, or video chat anyone using the ubiquitous most popular communication apps (like AIM, gmail, etc.) without breaking federal law. They are not encrypted and considered not secure. I would be fined out of existence and, if argued in court, I could even face years of jail time.

If any of you are wondering why your own doctor doesn’t communicate with you using email, IM, and other ways that simply make sense in today’s world, wonder no further. They break federal law with every email and IM since the vast majority of physicians have contracts with insurance companies or Medicare.

...Because I do not take health insurance, I am free from HIPAA regulations and therefore I can conveniently communicate with you in ways that simply and plainly just make sense in today’s world. People have criticized me, a solo physician who will likely have about 1,000 patients in my practice, about security and privacy (FYI...all of my patient medical records are encrypted, password protected twice on my laptop and backed up daily to a secure, encrypted remote server). Those who question me seem horribly concerned about my patients’ privacy. Meanwhile, those of you who do have health insurance with the major insurance companies, please beware. Your name, SSN, and medical information are stored along with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of other people in enormous databases at your mega-insurance company. The people responsible for that CD they’re using to transport maybe 196,000 people’s PHI aren’t doing such a good job. I guarantee I won’t have to provide 12 months of free Equifax to you if you are my patient. Go with the big guys and kiss your privacy goodbye. I personally use Apple’s encryption technology called Firevault. According to Apple, it could take as long as 149 trillion years to crack my password using a computer that could attempt it every second.
(Via KevinMD.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"Why are they called 'trailers' if they're shown before the movie?"
"Anti-social bot invades Second Lifers' personal space: An ill-mannered automated avatar is assisting psychological experiments in the virtual world – and raising ethical concerns too..."
Levitating lamps.
"25 Photographs Taken at the Exact Right Time". (Via Cynical-C.)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I don't think I'd do well at either half of chessboxing.
Defeating CAPTCHA's with porn:
Spammers have created a Windows game which shows a woman in a state of undress when people correctly type in text shown in an accompanying image.

The scrambled text images come from sites which use them to stop computers automatically signing up for accounts that can be put to illegal use.

By getting people to type in the text the spammers can take over the accounts and use them to send junk mail.
(Via Bruce Schneier.)
High speed video of popcorn kernel popping. (Via GMSV.)
Convert any URL into a HugeURL. (Via Found On The Web.)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Engadget vs. Gizmodo smackdown. As Gizmodo's Brian Lam says, "We're like two samurai in the movies. We might respect each other's skills, but in the end we have a job to do, and one of us is going to kill the other."
Cellphone jammers: "Sweet but illegal".
Flying robotic insect spies.

Friday, November 02, 2007

"If We Had No Moon". (Via BBspot.)
"Who won, the Hatfields or the McCoys?"
Consumer revenge story of the day:
"Consumer's Revenge Against Restaurant Not Honoring Coupons"

Three co-workers and I went out to lunch. We brought a coupon that said, "Buy one entree, and receive 50% off a second entree of equal or lower price." Three of us ordered food from the Entree section of the menu, but one of us ordered something from the [cheap] Sandwich section.

When the bill came, they had given us the sandwich for half price. I complained to the waiter, pointing out that the sandwich was not an entree. He did not budge. I asked to speak to the manager. After a while, the waiter returned and said he had spoken to the manager, who also refused to honor the coupon. He said that the 50% was off the cheapest meal on the menu, whether it was an entree or not.

For the next week, I scrounged up about 10 of the same coupons...

Then I returned to the restaurant with my co-workers. I handed out these coupons to other customers. The restaurant staff became furious. They wanted to kick us out, but we already had our food. They asked me which customers I'd given the coupons to, but I refused to say. I related the sandwich story, and they really didn't have any recourse.

So I never did get the $3 or whatever they owed me. But I got way more than $3 in entertainment, satisfaction, and the admiration of my co-workers.

After we left, a waiter ran after us in the parking lot to write down our license plate number. Be we never returned.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

"If brainpower in the computer is doubling every 12 months and Google is gathering every single minute of every day the intentions of all the humans in the planet, imagine where that might lead in 10 years." (Via SciTechDaily.)
"Black holes may harbour their own universes".
"Ripping off virtual-world sex toys leads to real-world lawsuit":
...Now remember, all of this takes place within Second Life; there are no real-world objects at issue. But there is real-world cash at stake, along with the reputation of the various brands, and in that sense, virtual counterfeiting operates much like real-world counterfeiting. Eros claims to have sold over 1,000 SexGens in the past year, and at $40 a pop, it's not an inconsiderable amount of money we're talking about.
Top 30 Failed Technology Predictions. (Via Fark.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

If it's Halloween, then it's time for extreme pumpkins.
"MIT researchers improve 'tractor beam'".
The fastest Windows Vista notebook is a MacBook Pro. (Via Fark.)
"How to Win an Election: Make a Good First Impression (in Less than 250 Milliseconds)"

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"One-third of lottery winners find themselves in serious financial trouble or bankrupt within five years of turning in their lucky numbers..." (Via Consumerist.)
Ars Technica has a nice detailed review of Apple's new Leopard OS.
"The Ethics of Erasing a Bad Memory". (Via SciTechDaily.)
"What's the Going Rate for Bribing a Traffic Cop?":
I am told that the top and bottom limit in the United States is $100. No need to offer more; don't bother offering less. The delicate issue, of course, is how it's proffered. Best defense: Let it fall "absentmindedly" to the ground as you pull out your driver's license (don't look at the money). You haven't offered anything; it's the cop's choice to pick it up after you leave. But as with any bribe, you could lose your $100, get nailed for the ticket and wind up in county jail.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Invention of the day: The xkcd Cuddle Mattress.
"We live in a world where universities compete to build the most powerful antimatter beam." (Via Gravity Lens.)
"Accused speeder to cops: My GPS proves your radar gun is wrong"
While many GPS systems don't log travel details extensively enough to be used as a defense against a moving violation, Malone's car was outfitted with a device that could do just that. According to [stepfather Roger] Rude, all recorded plots on Malone's route show him to be driving under the speed limit. At the same time, Rude says, GPS-systems are clearly more reliable than radar systems, which, while good, are "not an infallible tool" and are subject to human error.
Mathematical fortune telling.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"The art of sharpening pencils". (Via GMSV.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

"Climate is too complex for accurate predictions":
Climate change models, no matter how powerful, can never give a precise prediction of how greenhouse gases will warm the Earth, according to a new study.

The result will provide ammunition to those who argue not enough is known about global warming to warrant taking action.

...What is more, they found that better computer models or observational data will not do much to reduce that uncertainty. A better estimate of sensitivity is the holy grail of climate research, but it is time to "call off the quest", according to a commentary published alongside the paper.
Which raises the question as to why major policy decisions are being advocated based on inherently unreliable models.
"Glue That Sticks to Nearly Everything"
Best and worst logo remakes. (Via Cynical-C.)
Invisibility update: "'Electromagnetic Wormhole' Could Make Objects Invisible". (Via SciTechDaily.)
How robust is the internet?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Counterfactual sports t-shirts: Immediately after a major sports championship such as a Super Bowl, the winners get pre-made t-shirts proclaiming their victory. But what happens to t-shirts that were made in case the other team had won? They get sent to Africa. It sure would be a cool collectors' item to have all 4 of the "Buffalo Bills Super Bowl Champion" counterfactual t-shirts for 1991-1994.
Some good news on the Stormbot front.
Software geek-entrepreneur Francisco Gutierrez posts his Annual Rant On Taxes. I completely agree with his criticisms of the current system. (Disclamer: I haven't studied the various "fair tax" proposals in detail, so I don't necessarily endorse that particular solution.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Reporter Alex Frankel went undercover for 2 years as an Apple Store retail worker, and reports on his findings. He has a generally very positive assessment of their retail culture. (Via TUAW.)
"Detecting Restaurant Credit Card Fraud with Checksums". (Via Bruce Schneier.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Stormbot update: Bruce Schneier thinks it is a significant problem that may cause more problems than anticipated. (Here's a related article from his blog.)

On the other hand, Brandon Enright thinks the worst is over for Storm.
200 Colorado state employees hatched a scheme to purchase World Series tickets using the fast, state-owned supercomputers at the Colorado Emergency Operations Center. Fortunately, they were caught.
Interesting facts about the 5 smallest countries in the world. I guess they don't count the Principality of Sealand as a real country. (Via BBspot.)
How times have changed for Apple and Dell:

In October 1997, Michael Dell was asked what he would do if he ran Apple Computer. His reply, "I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholder". At that time, Dell had a market value of $4 billion to Apple's $700 million.

In October 2007, "Apple's valuation has since soared to $150 billion, more than double that of its personal-computer rival. Last month, Apple passed PC leader Hewlett-Packard Co. in market capitalization for the first time." (Via Fark.)

Monday, October 22, 2007

The neurophysiology of religious experience.
"In today’s America, there are more World of Warcraft players than farmers."
"Brewery offers lifetime supply of beer in return for stolen laptop"
"How Google maps the world"

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I never knew that Albus Dumbledore was gay.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Updated casting choices for the new Star Trek movie by J.J.Abrams:
Chris Pine (Just My Luck) will play a young Captain James T. Kirk and Karl Urban (Lord of the Rings) has been cast as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in J.J. Abrams' upcoming Star Trek movie for Paramount. ...Just last week, Abrams cast John Cho (Harold and Kumar) as Sulu, Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz) as Scotty, and Eric Bana (Hulk) as the villain Nero. Also on board are Zoe Saldana (Guess Who, Drumline) as the young Uhura, Anton Yelchin (Hearts in Atlantic) as the young Chekov, and Zachary Quinto (Heroes) as the young Spock. Original Spock Leonard Nimoy will also appear in the movie. Little is known about the plot other than it will probably chronicle the Enterprise crew's early days at the Starfleet Academy.
As some commentators have noted, it's sounding a lot like Star Trek: 90210.

In other television SF news:
Fox is set to premiere its new series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on Monday, Jan. 14 at 8 p.m. and will air the show Monday nights alongside 24. The show stars Lena Headey (Aberdeen, 300) as Sarah Connor, who, along with her son John (Thomas Dekker), battle attackers from the future.
Auto-ramen restaurants.
"Quantum cryptography to protect Swiss election"
"The Blow Up": Interesting story (Part 1 and Part 2) about the Wall Street "quants" and the summer 2007 financial crisis. It looks like many in the industry still don't sufficiently take into account the "Black Swans" described by Nassim Taleb.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Which American laws go unenforced? (Via BBspot.)
"Astrophysicist Replaces Supercomputer with Eight PlayStation 3s". Yes, this is a real story not an Onion satire.
Neuroscience update on the biological basis of deja vu, out-of-body experiences, the creepy feeling that you're being watched, etc.
Steven Pinker has written an interesting essay, "Why We Curse". Warning: It does contain a number of curse words that may be NSFW. (Via Cosmic Log.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"Invisibility made easier".
"Sex and Marriage With Robots by 2050". (Via Gravity Lens.)
How does it feel to die? (Via Cosmic Log.)
"The most powerful Internet weapon on the planet is hiding in plain sight, and no one can do anything about it":
The weapon in question is the Storm botnet. This is the largest botnet ever seen, and it is acting like something out of a science fiction story. The Storm network is now believed capable to shutting down any military or commercial site on the planet. Or, Storm could cripple hundreds of related sites temporarily. Or, Storm could do some major damage in ways that have not yet been experienced. There's never been anything quite like Storm...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Update on neuromarketing: "This is your brain on advertising". (Via SciTechDaily.)
"The Internet may be killing the pop CD, but it's helping classical music."
"Why are pirates depicted with a parrot on their shoulder?"

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Admin note: Due to external obligations, posting will be sparse-to-nonexistent until Tuesday October 16.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Flying cars within one year?
The best way to deflect asteroids may be with mirrors.
Fake plane trips are surprisingly popular in India. (Via Volokh.)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Human-Animal Cybrids"
"WtF" apparently stands for "Welcome to Finland".
The Wallet Test: This group dropped 100 wallets in a public place (each containing a small amount of cash, a fake $50 gift certificate, and an ID) in front of a hidden camera in order to see who would keep the wallet and who would return it. They then tabulated their results, including a breakdown by age, race, and gender. There's also a FAQ and a short 8-minute video about the project.

They are careful to make the following disclaimer:
Note: It was not the intention of this experiment to make any particular group look bad, reinforce stereotypes nor to further a hidden agenda of any kind. The actions of a few members in a group should not, of course, be used to judge the whole group.
Of course, there's plenty of online discussion, questions, and ranting about the meaning and significance of the results.

For those who care, it is technically a crime to fail to return a lost wallet in Illinois, where the test was performed (720 ILCS 5/16-2 "Theft of Lost or Mislaid Property".) This may or may not be widely known amongst the general population however.

(Via Clicked.)
"How Pickpockets Work"

Monday, October 08, 2007

What does The Simpsons have to say about cosmology? Or "Doughnuts -- Is there anything they can't do?" (Via SciTechDaily.)
Robert Heinlein quote of the day:
Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded -- here and there, now and then -- are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as "bad luck."
(Via Instapundit.)
"A long-lost text by the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes shows that he had begun to discover the principles of calculus."
Interesting maps of the internet. I especially like the city-to-city connectivity map. (Via /.)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Who else is tired of hearing about "Web 3.0"?
Jennifer Pariser, the head of litigation for Sony BMG, says that it's wrong to make a copy of a song you've already bought for your own personal use:
...[Attorney Richard] Gabriel asked if it was wrong for consumers to make copies of music which they have purchased, even just one copy. Pariser replied, "When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." Making "a copy" of a purchased song is just "a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy'," she said.
"New plastic is strong as steel, transparent".

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Droplets "can defy gravity and travel up hill -- even on an incline as steep as 85 degrees -- if the surface vibrates up and down sufficiently strongly."
TUAW Interview: "Ambrosia's Andrew Welch on the iPhone update and iToner."
Kyle Haight says:
You Know You're A Geek When...

... you're listening to a history lecture on the Reformation and you have to fight down the urge to ask the teacher why Superman didn't do anything to stop the spread of Lutheranism.
"Could a Computer Hypnotize You?"

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"Gold rings create first true invisibility cloak":
The world's first true invisibility cloak -- a device able to hide an object in the visible spectrum -- has been created by physicists in the US. But don't expect it to compete with stage magic tricks. So far it only works in two dimensions and on a tiny scale.

The new cloak, which is just 10 micrometres in diameter, guides rays of light around an object inside and releases them on the other side. The light waves appear to have moved in a straight line, so the cloak -- and any object inside -- appear invisible.
"Levels of Losing, Version 2.0". (Via Volokh.)
The physics of knots in strings.
"5 Things Hollywood Thinks Computers Can Do"

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Some people are getting a little too attached to their robots.
The rise of DNA evidence to exonerate wrongly convicted suspects has led several states to change their rules of evidence, including DNA evidence, eyewitness testimony, "double-blind" lineups and how testimony from criminal informants is handled.
Why are there only two sexes?
"If A Meeting Were a Blog Comment Thread..." (Via Timothy Sandefur.)

Monday, October 01, 2007

"The 8 Most Common Sci-Fi Visions of the Future (And Why They'll Never Happen)"
"Water forms floating 'bridge' when exposed to high voltage"
"33 Different Ways To Lace Shoes". And "16 Ways To Lace Shoes With Lugs". (Via Found On The Web.)
The first mobile phone:
Motorola's DynaTAC (Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage) 8000X was the world's first commercially released mobile phone -- making its debut in 1983 at the price of $3,995.

...The company spent over $100-million and 15 years developing the technology. At 13 x 1.75 x 3.5 in., the DynaTAC 8000X featured an LED display and up to 30-minutes of talk time when fully charged. It was available in three different color combinations, which included tan/gray, tan, and dark gray.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Minesweeper: The Movie"

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Privately owned missile silos:
There's a hot market for demilitarized ICBM silos. There are three of them on offer at eBay right now, with the asking price of $500,000 per silo, which includes underground and above ground support facilities. Hundreds of ICBM silos have been sold off in the last twenty years, as new missile forces were reduced with the end of the Cold War, and the enactment of arms reduction treaties. Most of these are located in remote areas. For example, the three silo complex being offered on eBay sits on 57 acres in central Washington State.

This one is kind of prime because, unlike most of the others, it is dry. Your typical missile silo complex sits under the water table, and needs pumps to keep the water out. When these silo complexes are demilitarized, most electrical and mechanical gear (including a lot of the plumbing) is removed. The water, and some wildlife, return.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The growing use of MRI machines is contributing to the world helium shortage, as well as hurting the party supply business. (Via Fark.)
Classic essay on nerds and tact filters:
All people have a "tact filter", which applies tact in one direction to everything that passes through it. Most "normal people" have the tact filter positioned to apply tact in the outgoing direction. Thus whatever normal people say gets the appropriate amount of tact applied to it before they say it. This is because when they were growing up, their parents continually drilled into their heads statements like, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all!"

"Nerds," on the other hand, have their tact filter positioned to apply tact in the incoming direction. Thus, whatever anyone says to them gets the appropriate amount of tact added when they hear it. This is because when nerds were growing up, they continually got picked on, and their parents continually drilled into their heads statements like, "They're just saying those mean things because they're jealous. They don't really mean it."

When normal people talk to each other, both people usually apply the appropriate amount of tact to everything they say, and no one's feelings get hurt. When nerds talk to each other, both people usually apply the appropriate amount of tact to everything they hear, and no one's feelings get hurt. However, when normal people talk to nerds, the nerds often get frustrated because the normal people seem to be dodging the real issues and not saying what they really mean. Worse yet, when nerds talk to normal people, the normal people's feelings often get hurt because the nerds don't apply tact, assuming the normal person will take their blunt statements and apply whatever tact is necessary.

So, nerds need to understand that normal people have to apply tact to everything they say; they become really uncomfortable if they can't do this. Normal people need to understand that despite the fact that nerds are usually tactless, things they say are almost never meant personally and shouldn't be taken that way. Both types of people need to be extra patient when dealing with someone whose tact filter is backwards relative to their own.
(Via Mental Floss.)
Dog Flowchart. (Via Neatorama.)
Dueling Wikis: The Unencyclopedia on Wikipedia and Wikipedia on the Unencyclopedia. (Via GMSV.)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Can I legally prevent people from putting flyers under my door or on my windshield?
"The top 10 hand gestures you'd better get right". (Via GMSV.)
If you stand far enough away from this image you will see the Mona Lisa. (Via BBspot.)
The politics of time zones. (Via SciTechDaily.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Positive review of tonight's premier of Bionic Woman.
"The Man Who Saved the World by Doing... Nothing"
More interesting discussion on the legal aspects of ringtones, copyright, fair use, and iTunes.
"New GPS Wartime Restrictions":
The U.S. announced that it can now degrade the GPS signal in a small area, and will no longer buy GPS satellites equipped to degrade the signals planet wide. The degraded signal (originally the "civilian" signal) is only accurate to within 100 meters, while the most accurate signal (originally the "military" signal) is accurate to ten meters (31 feet) or less (with additional ground equipment.) The newly announced capability can degrade the civilian signal to a different degree. Since 2000, the only signal available has been the military one, so that more commercial applications could be implemented. To access the military signal, you need special codes. But since 2000, everyone got the military grade signal, without needing special access codes.

Russia, the European Union and China have been developing competitors for GPS, but so far these efforts have spent a lot of money, and not produced any real competition. This new announcement about GPS accuracy was meant to reassure non-U.S. users that they would never have to worry about losing the 10 meter signal. The U.S. Department of Defense has also spent a lot of money on developing ways to deal with enemy attempts to jam the GPS signal, and creating the ability to degrade the signal for non-U.S. users in a combat zone.
Was the Star Trek Federation essentially "one big protection racket"?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A journalist tries the nonlethal US Army pain generator:
...It is a bit like touching a red-hot wire, but there is no heat, only the sensation of heat. There is no burn mark or blister.

...When turned on, it emits an invisible, focused beam of radiation -- similar to the microwaves in a domestic cooker -- that are tuned to a precise frequency to stimulate human nerve endings.

It can throw a wave of agony nearly half a mile.

Because the beam penetrates skin only to a depth of 1/64th of an inch, it cannot, says Raytheon, cause visible, permanent injury.

But anyone in the beam's path will feel, over their entire body, the agonising sensation I've just felt on my fingertip. The prospect doesn't bear thinking about.

"I have been in front of the full-sized system and, believe me, you just run. You don't have time to think about it -- you just run," says George Svitak, a Raytheon executive.
It sounds like a real-life version of the neural pain stimulator from Dune. And of course, there's one more obvious application:
Perhaps the most alarming prospect is that such machines would make efficient torture instruments.

They are quick, clean, cheap, easy to use and, most importantly, leave no marks. What would happen if they fell into the hands of unscrupulous nations where torture is not unknown?

The agony the Raytheon gun inflicts is probably equal to anything in a torture chamber -- these waves are tuned to a frequency exactly designed to stimulate the pain nerves.

I couldn't hold my finger next to the device for more than a fraction of a second. I could make the pain stop, but what if my finger had been strapped to the machine?
(Via Boing Boing.)
"Germs taken into space come back stronger"
Online alibi service:
Need an alibi for a tricky situation, something to get you out of the house, or into someone else's? Explain a missed meeting? Just log on to one of the increasingly available Internet sites that offer the latest in ebusiness, an alibi service.

...The Swiss site, alibi-beton.com launched in May, offers a choice of three languages -- French, German and English. "We can provide alibis carved in stone that are personalised and credible," it says, claiming to have bailed out about 100 clients since its launch.

The site offers a range of proofs, such as restaurant and hotel bills, invitations, requests to speak at a conference, handouts and notes, plane and train reservations, badges, pens and phone calls with a male or female voice.
UW CSE and ICSI Web Integrity Checker. (Via Diana.)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Oxford scientists claim mathematical proof of multiple parallel quantum universes. Personally, I am [very excited]|[deeply skeptical] about this development. (Via Fark.)
Imaging quantum entanglement.
Do you need a permit to land something on the moon?
Intelligent chatty machines?

Friday, September 21, 2007

What happens when you accidentally open every MacBook Pro application at once? Reportedly, it took 12 minutes for every app to fully open. Nice expose shot.
"Real-Time Footage of an Enzyme Interacting with DNA". Video here.
"New High-Tech Sprite Makes Its Own Ice When Opened"
"Watches Made from Meteorite"

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mach 6.
"US Air Force sets up Cyber Command".

As Fark notes, "System expected to learn at a geometric rate, become self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th".
Nice review of the cell biology behind prions and Alzheimer's disease.
Advice for budding capitalists: "Engrish" sales tips from the silk market. (Via BBspot.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Face-morphing robot can look like anyone":
The WD-2 robot is a pretty amazing piece of technology. It can't walk, talk, compute awesomely complex equations, or carry heavy objects. What it can do, however, is morph to look like anyone's face. Created by researchers at Tokyo University, the WD-2 has "17 facial points, for a total of 56 degrees of freedom," whatever that means.

Made from a material called Septom, which is both very rigid as well as malleable, it's able to shift to match nearly any facial structure. It's certainly a creepy idea, one that I can't quite see the practical benefits of. It's also incredible to watch doing its thing, as a realistic face seems to morph on the fly into another, completely different realistic face.
More information here.
Business and algorithms.
"Crazy questions at Google job interview". (Via Marginal Revolution.)
"Happiness is a warm electrode":
For the past 20 years, [Diane Hire] has suffered from severe depression, a crippling strain of the disease that afflicts as many as four million people. Years of therapy, at least 10 different drugs and six courses of the whole-brain shock technique known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) all failed to bring Hire lasting relief. Her final hope is this operation, a radical form of neurosurgery called deep-brain stimulation, or DBS.

Whereas ECT -- a treatment that's been demonized in movies like One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest but is still used on roughly 100,000 patients a year -- floods the brain with electricity from the outside, this technique delivers a smaller dose of better-targeted current to an area of the brain believed to be a key regulator of mood. Wires thread beneath the skin from their place in the brain and plug into two battery-run stimulators implanted in the chest. About the size of an iPod nano, each stimulator constantly pumps out current, bathing a small region of brain tissue in electricity. If ECT is the equivalent of slapping defibrillators against a heart-attack victim's chest, deep-brain stimulation is the pacemaker that prevents the attack in the first place.