Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"Ebay bans virtual booty auctions":
Auctions of virtual gold, armour and other digital booty amassed in online computer games like World of Warcraft have been banned by Ebay.

The internet auction house, based in California, US, announced on Tuesday that it had decided to prohibit the sale of virtual riches, weapons and other items, due to "legal complexities" regarding ownership.

...Ebay will, however, continue to allow auctions of items amassed in virtual worlds such as Second Life. In this world players can build items and buy and sell virtual property and land, but there are no conventional game objectives.

"Right now, Second Life is not considered a game so we are not applying the restriction to it," Durzy explains.
But the IRS is willing to tax these virtual world earnings.
Google defuses some of the more notorious "googlebombs".
"Why can't a person tickle himself?"

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Sweden is to become the first country to establish diplomatic representation in the virtual reality world of Second Life..."
"We are planning to establish a Swedish embassy in Second Life primarily as an information portal for Sweden," Swedish Institute (SI) director Olle Wästberg told AFP.

The embassy would not provide passports or visas but would instruct visitors how to obtain such documents in the real world and act as a link to web-based information about the Scandinavian country.
(Via Metafilter.)
Private spaceports are popping up all over the place.
"Top 10 Foods for a Good Night's Sleep". Unfortunately, my wife's latest food obsession isn't on the short list. (Via Cynical-C.)
"Why Chicks Don't Dig The Singularity". (Via Rand Simberg.)

Monday, January 29, 2007

"The Scariest Ideas In Science". (Via Cosmic Log.)
"Inflatable Habitats for Polar and Space Colonists"
Robot housebuilders threaten bricklaying profession:
By building almost an entire house from just two materials -- concrete and gypsum -- the robots will eliminate the need for dozens of traditional components, including floorboards, wooden window frames and possibly even wallpaper. It may eventually be possible to use specially treated gypsum instead of glass window panes.

Engineers on both projects say the robots will not only cut costs and avoid human delays but liberate the normal family homes from the conventional designs of pitched roofs, right-angled walls and rectangular windows.

"The architectural options will explode," predicted Dr Behrokh Khoshnevis at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who will soon unleash his $1.5m robot. "We will be able to build curves and domes as easily as straight walls."
(Via Michael Williams.)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

"Has there ever been a mutiny aboard a U.S. naval vessel?"
The Caine Mutiny opens with the words, "There has never been a mutiny in a ship of the United States Navy." This may be narrowly true -- so far as I can determine, nobody has ever been formally charged with committing mutiny aboard a commissioned U.S. naval vessel. But let's not bandy words. There have been mutinies in the U.S. Navy, including one conspiracy aboard a ship at sea; U.S. Navy personnel have been formally charged with mutiny and punished for it; and a few poor sods hanged. We've just never had a case where all these things applied at the same time. Here's how it all sorts out...
Computers are starting to get pretty good at playing the board game Go.
"20 Greatest Guitar Solos Ever, With Videos"
Protect yourself against the "Free Wi-Fi" spoofing scams at airports. (Via Howard Roerig.)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Admin note: Posting will be light today due to outside obligations.
Cool water scupture. (Via BBspot.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Interesting article on the psychology of magical thinking. One excerpt:
...Children exhibit a form of magical thinking by about 18 months, when they begin to create imaginary worlds while playing. By age 3, most know the difference between fantasy and reality, though they usually still believe (with adult encouragement) in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. By age 8, and sometimes earlier, they have mostly pruned away these beliefs, and the line between magic and reality is about as clear to them as it is for adults.

It is no coincidence, some social scientists believe, that youngsters begin learning about faith around the time they begin to give up on wishing. "The point at which the culture withdraws support for belief in Santa and the Tooth Fairy is about the same time it introduces children to prayer," said Jacqueline Woolley, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas. "The mechanism is already there, kids have already spent time believing that wishing can make things come true, and they're just losing faith in the efficacy of that."

..."The question is why do people create this illusion of magical power?" said the lead author, Emily Pronin, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton. "I think in part it's because we are constantly exposed to our own thoughts, they are most salient to us" -- and thus we are likely to overestimate their connection to outside events.

The brain, moreover, has evolved to make snap judgments about causation, and will leap to conclusions well before logic can be applied.
(Via Boing Boing.)
"The 5 Smallest Countries in the World." (Via Gravity Lens.)
"The problem with Wikipedia". (Via Found On The Web.)
"Top 10 Magic Trick Tutorial Videos". (Via Clicked.)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

How to determine if a credit card number is valid. More on the Luhn Algorithm. (Via The Consumerist.)
Cool video demonstration of the multi-touch screen. And a related article. (Via Defense Tech.)
Caption this screen capture from Star Trek: Next Generation.
101 Best Free Games on the Internet. (Via Ars Technica.)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Multi-touch screens.
The Tupper Self-Referential Formula has the amazing property that if it is plotted for a certain value of x, it generates a graph which is the formula itself. (Via Neatorama.)
"Ultra-Dense Optical Storage On One Photon: Researchers at the University of Rochester have made an optics breakthrough that allows them to encode an entire image's worth of data into a photon, slow the image down for storage, and then retrieve the image intact."
"Top 10 weirdest keyboards ever". (Via Madville.)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Invention of the day: The Proteus boat.
The 100-foot, spider-shaped contraption skimming around San Francisco Bay looked more like a James Bondian vessel than it did a new class of watercraft.
"Neural 'extension cord' developed for brain implants":
A "data cable" made from stretched nerve cells could someday help connect computers to the human nervous system. The modified cells should form better connections with human tissue than the metal electrodes currently used for purposes such as remotely controlling prosthetics...

"The nervous system doesn't like nasty hard metal or plastic," says Doug Smith, who is developing the cell-based cable at the University of Pennsylvania, US. Nerve tissue can develop scarring or shrink away from contact with metal and other non-biological materials, he says.

"Nerve cells will happily grow to form new connections with new nerve cells though," Smith adds, "we want to try that as an alternative to ramming something into a nerve or the brain. The idea is to make a kind of extension cord." Prototype cables developed by his team have already been shown to transmit simple signals effectively.
How universal are terms for colors between cultures?
Your online identity can be revealed by your typeprint, clickprint, and writeprint.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"Researchers directly imaged the motion of charge carriers in a semiconductor junction, the basic element of a transistor." Link includes representative pictures.
Video of the day: Stephen Colbert explains the whole AT&T-Cingular thing. (Via Cynical-C.)
How long can you keep an embryo frozen?
The iPod and global currency markets.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"How does the brain handle numbers?"
"New strides in radar and gait-analysis software show that it's possible to detect when someone is carrying a bomb well before he or she reaches a security checkpoint."
"Cheap, safe drug kills most cancers". (Via David Jilk.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Wil Wheaton has his own snarky summaries of Star Trek: Next Generation episodes. (Via MeFi.)
"How far can bullets travel when fired into water?" Their conclusion:
So the general rule is that most ordinary guns and bullets aren't tremendously effective when fired into the water, and if you can dive below eight feet, you're probably safe from your run-of-the mill assassins. But if you've incurred the wrath of the Bundeswehr, all bets are off. You may as well stay dry and meet your fate like a man.
"Novel Chip Architecture Could Extend Moore's Law". (Via Rand Simberg.)
Aerogel update.

Monday, January 15, 2007

"A group of high school and college teachers and students has transmitted sound pulses faster than light travels..." Of course, when reading articles like this, one must always remember to distinguish between group velocity and phase velocity.
"People with amnesia have difficulty imagining future events with any richness of detail and emotion, a new study reveals. The finding adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that memories help people visualise the future." Here's a related article.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

"Being colorblind can be a good thing":
Researchers studying capuchin monkeys in the forests of Costa Rica have shown that colorblind individuals are better at detecting camouflaged insects than are those that see a wider spectrum of colors. The finding is the first evidence from the wild that colorblindness confers advantages during foraging.

...The findings make sense, says Nathaniel Dominy, a primatologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz: "If you reduce the amount of color information coming into the brain, your brain may be better able to detect shapes, contours, and contrasts." That may be why these color-challenged monkeys have managed to stick around in the gene pool, he says.
One of my partners is an excellent mammographer, and he also happens to be color-blind. I would love to know whether this was correlated with his ability to detect subtle breast cancers on the often-challenging grey-scale mammogram images. (Via SciTech Daily.)
"Scientists can now look into the brains of people making a purchase decision and predict whether or not they will buy." This article in The Economist has more detail. And here's the paper abstract. (Via Boing Boing.)
William Shatner has leaked a few details of the upcoming Star Trek 11 movie, to be directed by JJ Abrams (who also produced Lost and Alias):
William Shatner revealed to SCI FI Wire that the upcoming 11th Star Trek movie will indeed, as rumored, deal with the early years of Capt. James T. Kirk and Spock -- and that he will definitely appear in the movie if director J.J. Abrams can find a place to use him.

...As for the many rumors concerning the sequel's story, Shatner said that Abrams will explore Kirk and Spock during their Starfleet Academy years. "Yes, we know the story is based on young Kirk," Shatner said. Up until now, everyone connected with the film has maintained strict silence about the storyline, though rumors have run rampant that they concern Kirk and Spock's first missions.

As for Shatner's place in that storyline? "They need to figure out how to put the dead captain in with the young captain," he said. "It's a very complex, technical problem of how to write the character in, and I'm not sure how they will solve it." It sounds as if Shatner may play an older version of Kirk.
Video of the day: Asimo's Pimp Shuffle. (Via BBspot.)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Thursday, January 11, 2007

"Apple iPhone Signals Death of Ringtone Industry":
...Let me be the first to say that the iPhone is a huge problem for the ringtone industry. In many ways it makes the ringtone industry completely obsolete. It's an iPod so any song that you own can be used as a Ringtone. Don't want to pay $1.99 for a low-quality re-sampling of a song that you already own to be used as your ringtone? Great, you don't have to. What about wallpapers? Well, any photo on the iPhone can be used as a wallpaper, so just download one from the iPhone's built-in web browser and you're golden. Goodbye $9.99 per month ringtone subscription fees!
(Via Clicked.)
Invention of the day: Atlas Rope Ascender. (Via Joost Bonsen.)
Bruce Schneier describes how password guessing software works, with tips on how best to choose a secure password.
"Tiny Device Stores Light":
By forcing light to circle multiple times through ring-shaped structures carved into silicon, researchers at IBM have been able to delay the flow of light on a microchip. Being able to delay light is crucial for high-performance, ultrafast optical computers of the future that will process information using light and electrical signals.
Self-waxing skis.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

NBC is planning to remake the 1970's television series The Bionic Woman. The new version will be co-written and co-produced by David Eick, who also produced the new version of Battlestar Galactica. (Via Dave Hill.)
"How Apple kept its iPhone secrets":
One of the most astonishing things about the new Apple iPhone, introduced yesterday by Steve Jobs at the annual Macworld trade show, is how Apple managed to keep it a secret for nearly two-and-a-half years of development while working with partners like Cingular, Yahoo and Google.

...Pillow talk was a challenge at the other end of the spectrum. Keeping secrets from loved ones is especially hard. Those stresses were amplified by the frantic race over the past half year to get the iPhone ready for launch. As Macworld approached, dinners were missed, kids were not tucked in properly, and family plans were disrupted, especially over the holidays. And for what? "Sorry, that's classified" is not considered a satisfactory answer in many households when Mom or Dad misses the school play or the big wedding anniversary dinner.

Phil Schiller, Apple's head of marketing and one of the few Apple executives involved with the project from the start, said he had to keep the iPhone development secret even from his wife and children. When he left home for the official unveiling yesterday, Schiller said, his son asked, "Dad, can you finally tell us now what you've been working on?"
(Via /.)
"Walgreen selling cigarette in a hand gel across U.S.":
A new hand gel is starting to appear on drug-store shelves promising more than just an end to germs or dry skin -- this one claims to satisfy users' tobacco cravings for up to four hours.

Walgreen Co., the largest U.S. drugstore chain by sales, is now stocking its more than 5,500 stores with packets of Nicogel, a quick-evaporating gel made with tobacco extracts. The roll-out should be finished within a couple weeks, said company spokeswoman Carol Hively in an e-mail, adding that it costs $5.99 for box of 10 doses.

Nicogel, made by a unit of privately held Blue Whale Worldwide Inc., can be used when smoking is inconvenient, such as at work, on an airplane, in a theater or, these days, in almost any other public place.

...The clear gel, ... has all the components of tobacco but lacks many carcinogens that are formed as cigarettes burn.
"Did NASA accidentally kill life on Mars?":
Two NASA space probes that visited Mars 30 years ago may have found alien microbes on the red planet and inadvertently killed them, a scientist is theorizing.

The Viking space probes of 1976-77 were looking for the wrong kind of life, so they didn't recognize it, a geology professor at Washington State University said.
"Lightning balls created in the lab".

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

"How to Recover Numbers from Blurred Images". (Via Bruce Schneier.)
Physics problem of the day: "Poof and Foop".
The much-anticipated Apple iPhone is out. At least one reviewer likes it. However, those who have stock in Palm (who makes the Treo) or RIM (who makes the Blackberry) are less happy.
"The DNA so dangerous it does not exist: Could there be forbidden sequences in the genome -- ones so harmful that they are not compatible with life?"
Self-cleaning underwear.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

"13 Photographs That Changed the World".
A brief history of information, Part 1 and Part 2.
"Four great Google applications you don't know about."
"Video Games and Real Combat". The US military has long used video-game-like simulators to train their skilled personnel to operate high tech equipment. Now, they are also borrowing interfaces from commercial video game manufacturers:
...One of the most amazing (to the brass) findings was that the average recruit now comes in with several thousand hours of time playing video games. Hmmm, interesting skill set. It took a few years for the military to find out how to make use of this.

Actually, the troops themselves demonstrated their special abilities, by quickly adapting to certain types of equipment, like fire control systems, and UAVs. Before long, companies that built micro-UAVs (weighing under ten pounds), realized that the best format for the controller was that used by video games. So now, the controllers used to operate these micro-UAVs often look like video game controllers, with a small video screen built in. For the larger UAVs, new controller equipment is appearing, which obviously borrows a lot of the "look and feel", not to mention functionality, from video game software. This approach works, and it cuts training time a lot.

Before this, UAV controllers were using PC software that depended a lot on a keyboard and mouse. This was not the sort of thing video gamers were used to. Indeed, keyboard and mouse were a pretty lame interface for something as hectic as running a UAV. The keyboard and mouse angle came from the engineers who developed the controller software. Yeah, OK, for developing software, but not for actually operating the UAV under combat conditions.

The military is now keeping a close watch on developments in video game interface hardware and software.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Sasha Volokh notes:
It's a myth that Eskimos have a huge number of words for snow (i.e., many more than we have). However, Eskimologists (not the same as eschatologists) confirm that, at least among the West Greenland Inuit, there's a single word for "They were wandering about gathering up lots of stuff that smelled like dead fish."

Thursday, January 04, 2007

5 Interesting Materials, with unusual properties. The site includes links to more information and videos:
1. Dilatants - fluids that get more solid when stressed.
2. Auxetic materials - materials that get thicker when stretched. Pull them in one direction and they expand in another.
3. Superfluids - liquids that flow without friction. They can effortlessly flow through the tiniest of cracks and will even flow up the walls of a beaker and out the top. It's possible because all the atoms in a superfluid are in the same quantum state, so they all have the same momentum and move together.
4. Ferrofluids - magnetic fluids that can look spectacular. They're made from nanoscale magnetic particles suspended in a liquid.
5. Dry ice.
(Via /.)
A serious discussion of a hitherto science-fiction topic: "An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion". (Via Instapundit.)
Jeff Bezos' private spacecraft has had a successful first test flight. (Via Howard Roerig.)
Video of the day: "Effects Of Drugs And Alcohol On Spider Webs". Funny! (Via Rand Simberg.)
"Google Earth Goes to War". Interesting analysis of the impact this publically available database has had on military intelligence. Some excerpts:
In the last 18 months, Google Earth ( has revolutionized military intelligence, but the military doesn't like to admit it. By putting so much satellite photography at the disposal of so many people, in such an easy-to-use fashion, much more information has been made available to a lot more people. That includes people in the military, and those they fight.

...Google Earth's major problem was not it's ease-of-use, but the manner in which it showcased the shortcomings of the American NGA (National Geospatial Intelligence Agency). The NGA is responsible for taking the satellite photos, spiffing them up as needed, and getting them to the troops. Trouble is, the stuff still isn't getting to the troops that need it, when they need it. This was made very obvious when Google Earth showed up, and demonstrated how you can get satellite images to anyone, when they need it, with minimal hassle.

...Now the troops got access to Google Earth, and have seen what they have been missing. To make matters worse, the software Google Earth uses to get the job done, was first developed for the NGA. But the way the NGA operates, you have to worry about security considerations, and all manner of bureaucratic details. The troops are fighting a war, you say? Well, we still have to deal with security and keeping the paperwork straight. But now the troops are beating NGA over the head with Google Earth, and some in Congress are beginning to listen.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

"Top 5 Robots You Can Buy Right Now". (Via Instapundit.)
Medical identity theft.
Gift idea of the day: The inkless pen. (Unfortunately out of stock until mid-January.)
Who owns a donated organ?
Are surveys biased because we prefer to mark the left-hand side of questionnaires? (Via Marginal Revolution.)
The mathematics of cloaking. One interesting tidbit:
Their analysis also revealed another surprise: a person trying to look out of the cloak would effectively be faced with a mirror in every direction. If you can imagine Harry Potter's own invisibility cloak working this way, and Harry turning on his flashlight to see, its light would shine right back at him, no matter where he pointed it.
And from the University of Rochester press release:
The current work of Greenleaf, Kurylev, Lassas, and Uhlmann mathematically proves full-wave invisibility of active devices at all frequencies -- if suitable modifications are made to the original constructions.

Rather than cloaking an inactive object, which does not generate EM waves, the new mathematics allows for cloaking active devices, such as cell phones, computers, and anything else that might generate signals. In addition, the mathematics works (theoretically) at all wavelengths.
Here's some background information.
"How can you tell if some kid is Buddha's reincarnation?" (Via Cosmic Log.)
"Addictive little online games". (Via Found On The Web.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

"Researchers report the first creation of the long-lived nucleus hassium-270, a 'doubly magic' combination of 108 protons and 162 neutrons." In this case, "long-lived" means a half-life of approximately 22 seconds.
Ping Pong for three. With photo.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Admin update: Happy New Year! Unfortunately, posting will probably remain light for the rest of the week due to outside obligations.