Friday, August 31, 2007

"Exploit the Earth or Die": Looks like I'll have to get one of these t-shirts!
Exploit the Earth or die. It's not a threat. It's a fact. Either man takes the Earth’s raw materials -- such as trees, petroleum, aluminum, and atoms -- and transforms them into the requirements of his life, or he dies. To live, man must produce the goods on which his life depends; he must produce homes, automobiles, computers, electricity, and the like; he must seize nature and use it to his advantage. There is no escaping this fact. Even the allegedly "noble" savage must pick or perish. Indeed, even if a person produces nothing, insofar as he remains alive he indirectly exploits the Earth by parasitically surviving off the exploitative efforts of others.

The fact annoys some people. But it shouldn't: Hence our "Exploit the Earth or Die" campaign.
Video tutorial on pen tricks. (Via Cynical-C.)
"Teen cracks AU$84 million porn filter in 30 minutes".

(That's approximately $69 million in US dollars.) This is the software theat the Australian government was giving out to schools to keep students from viewing porn. I think this young man is going to be the most popular high school kid in Australia... (Via Bruce Schneier.)
Headline of the day (real-life, not a parody): "Tiny brain no obstacle to French civil servant".

Includes images from his brain CT and MRI scan. I'll leave any political commentary to others. (Via Marginal Revolution.)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"How ads affect our memory."
Invention of the day: The iRobot gutter-cleaning robot. Can the Woomba be far behind?
More details on the Google GPhone.
"Apple now sells more than one in six laptops in U.S.":
The market share increase pushed Apple past Gateway Inc. into third place on NPD's list of laptop sales leaders, behind Hewlett-Packard Co. and Toshiba Corp. Research firm IDC also has Apple in the third spot; data it released last month put Apple's share of U.S. sales at 5.6%, far behind leaders HP (28.4%) and Dell (23.6%) but tied with Gateway.
(Via Instapundit.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Can a roller coaster scare you to death? Here's an interesting physiology tidbit:
Interestingly -- if not surprisingly -- the maximum increase in heart rate occurred not during the drops and racing, but in the anticipation phase, as the cars slowly ascended to their maximum height and the riders thought about what was to come. The maximum heart rate for some riders exceeded 200 beats per minute.
Interesting article on the legal status of unlocked iPhones. (Via Instapundit.)
Technology Review dissects the iPhone.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"Are weathermen checked for forecast accuracy?"
I've spent too much time perusing this blog on EDC (every day carry) items.
"Monkeys Use Baby Talk With Infants". (Via SciTechDaily.)
2/3rds of your ancestors are women. (Via Andrew Breese.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Mathematics of mutating computer worms.
The only flowchart you'll ever need. (Via Boing Boing.)
Klingon language computer keyboard. (Via Gravity Lens.)
Which is the safest seat on an airplane?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Too bad I didn't get the ZunePhone instead...

Friday, August 24, 2007

"Researchers have found a way to induce out-of-body experiences using virtual-reality goggles..."
Gift idea of the day: Genuine aluminum chain mail. Includes the following new user tips:
In case you weren't aware, chain mail does not stretch. You cannot put it on one arm at a time like a fabric shirt. Instead lay the chain mail flat on the ground, bend over and thrust both arms into the bottom of the shirt. Work your hands through to the end of the sleeves and then begin to stand-up. Get your head through the neck hole and let the chain mail slide down your body. If you have long hair, make sure to tie up your hair before you wear the chain mail. Otherwise it could get tangled in your hair. You might feel a bit claustrophobic when first wearing the chain mail... but don't worry you won't get stuck. PLEASE wear a shirt or some other garment underneath the chain mail. The edges of the rings where they are joined together are a bit rough and can scratch you.
Only $100! (Via Michael Williams.)
I've done a lot of things in my youth, but at least I've never committed jactitation. (And neither has Morgan Fairchild, who happens to be my wife,... yeah, that's the ticket...)
I hate it when I mistake a landmine for a frisbee.
Update on the theoretical aspects of invisibility cloaks.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Who wouldn't want a rocket-powered bionic arm? (Via Gravity Lens.)
"Production line built from Legos makes Lego cars". Ok, I'm scared now. (Via Jim May.)
Robotic vacuums get smarter.
Luxury camping. (Via BBspot.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"The software awards scam":
I put out a new product a couple of weeks ago. This new product has so far won 16 different awards and recommendations from software download sites. Some of them even emailed me messages of encouragement such as "Great job, we’re really impressed!". I should be delighted at this recognition of the quality of my software, except that the 'software' doesn't even run. This is hardly surprising when you consider that it is just a text file with the words "this program does nothing at all" repeated a few times and then renamed as an .exe.

...Even the name of the software, “awardmestars”, was a bit of a giveaway. And yet it still won 16 'awards'.

...The obvious explanation is that some download sites give an award to every piece of software submitted to them. In return they hope that the author will display the award with a link back to them. The back link then potentially increases traffic to their site directly (through clicks on the award link) and indirectly (through improved page rank from the incoming links). The author gets some awards to impress their potential clients and the download site gets additional traffic.

This practise is blatantly misleading and dishonest. It makes no distinction between high quality software and any old rubbish that someone was prepared to submit to a download site. The download sites that practise this deceit should be ashamed of themselves. Similarly, any author or company, that displays one of these ‘awards’ is either being naive (at best) or knowingly colluding in the scam (at worst).
Both funny and alarming. (Via BBspot.)
An archaeology student has found the world's oldest chewing gum -- 5000 years old.
"Your Virtual PhD": Nice roundup of online learning resources at the graduate level, with a heavy emphasis towards science and technology. Includes information on the MIT OpenCourseWare and Harvard Extension School. (Via Instapundit.)
"In developing robots to work alongside humans, scientists find even crude facsimiles of human behavior help people accept mechanical colleagues".

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"iPhone hacking for the rest of us". Full details here.
Chips with "mesh architecture".
"Robot wars are a reality". (Via Gravity Lens.)
"Why Did Google Answers Shut Down?" (Via Waxy.)

Monday, August 20, 2007

"Artificial life likely in 3 to 10 years".
Some questions about the recently reported speed-of-light "violations".
"Is strength of will in fighting illness a factor in whether you live or die?"
I have no idea if Star Trek: New Voyages will suck or not. (Via Michael Williams.)
Reinventing the ladder.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

"How to blow out a candle from the other side of the world."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

How to unlock police-style plastic handcuffs. (Via Bruce Schneier.)
Have scientists really broken the speed of light?
...[T]wo German physicists claim to have forced light to overcome its own speed limit using the strange phenomenon of quantum tunnelling, in which particles summon up the energy to cross an apparently uncrossable barrier.

Their experiments focused on the travel of microwave photons -- energetic packets of light -- through two prisms.

When the prisms were moved apart, most photons reflected off the first prism they encountered and were picked up by a detector.

But a few appeared to "tunnel" through a gap separating them as if the prisms were still held together.

Although these photons had travelled a longer distance, they arrived at their detector at the same time as the reflected photons. This suggests that the transit between the two prisms was faster than the speed of light.

Dr Gunter Nimtz, of the University of Koblenz, told the magazine New Scientist: "For the time being, this is the only violation of special relativity that I know of."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More on why Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrum thinks we may be living in a Matrix-like simulation. (Via Gravity Lens.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Admin note: Posting will be light and/or irregular for the next week due to external obligations.
"Space Hotel Expects 2012 Opening":
"Galactic Suite," the first hotel planned in space, expects to open for business in 2012 and would allow guests to travel around the world in 80 minutes.

Its Barcelona-based architects say the space hotel will be the most expensive in the galaxy, costing $4 million for a three-day stay.

..."It's the bathrooms in zero gravity that are the biggest challenge," says [company director Xavier] Claramunt. "How to accommodate the more intimate activities of the guests is not easy."

But they may have solved the issue of how to take a shower in weightlessness -- the guests will enter a spa room in which bubbles of water will float around.
(Via Engadget.)

Friday, August 10, 2007

"How to become a mad scientist for DARPA".
"101 Frightening Ice Cream Flavors From Around The World". (Via BBspot.)
Financial markets and Second Life.
Never type "http://www" or ".com" again.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Video of the day: "Jeep® Waterfall". Very slick visual effect. (Via Found on the Web.)
Invention of the day: "The Incapacitating Flashlight, An LED flashlight makes culprits vomit."
Detailed analysis of the red-shirt phenomenon. (Via Cynical-C.)
"Can You Survive in Space Without a Spacesuit?" (Via Cosmic Log.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"Pencil removed from woman's head 55 years after accident". Of course it includes a dramatic picture from a CT scan of her head. (Via Boing Boing.)
"Bacteria revived after 8 million years in the freezer".
Science fiction on Mars:
A glass CD loaded with literary, visual and audio science fiction works about the red planet was strapped to NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, the Planetary Society in Pasadena, Calif. said Friday. Called the "Visions of Mars" library, the 3.2-inch (8-centimeter) disk also contains more than 250,000 names of the organization's members and space exploration enthusiasts.

...The CD contains 161 novels and stories, 63 pieces of artwork and four radio broadcasts related to Mars, totaling 1.43 gigabytes of data.

Inlcluded in the works are H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds," Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" and even Thomas Disch's "The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars."

Kim Stanley Robinson, a popular science fiction writer, said he is thrilled to have his short novella "Green Mars" included on the CD.

"The idea that I'm part of the first library on Mars ... is really a fulfilling moment," Robinson said.
(Via Gravity Lens.)
Update on levitation technology.
"The World's Most Advanced Bionic Arm"

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"How to take Someone's Wallet, Just By Asking".

Blogger "Cynical-C" notes:
After watching the clip above, I did some research on what exactly was happening and found out this entry on Milton H. Erickson and the Handshake Induction:

Confusion is the basis of Erickson's famous hypnotic handshake. Many actions are learned and operate as a single "chunk" of behavior: shaking hands and tying shoelaces being two classic examples. If the behavior is diverted or frozen midway, the person literally has no mental space for this -- he is stopped in the middle of unconsciously executing a behavior that hasn't got a "middle". The mind responds by suspending itself in trance until either something happens to give a new direction, or it "snaps out". A skilled hypnotist can often use that momentary confusion and suspension of normal processes to induce trance quickly and easily.
"Can spiders sucked into a vacuum survive?"
"The Netflix Prize: 300 Days Later". One entertaining tidbit:
As soon as you start looking at the data set it becomes obvious why it is so difficult to get good results. Databases don't have the linear algebra and other mathematical tools for taking a run at the prize but they are convenient for exploring data sets, so I loaded the data into a SQL Anywhere database (The developer edition is a free download, and I'll provide a perl script to load the data if you really want it) and started poking around. Here are a few of the more obvious oddities (all these observations have been posted elsewhere - see the Netflix prize forum for more):

* Customer 2170930 has rated 1963 titles and given each and every one a rating of one (very bad). You would think they would have cancelled their subscription by now.

* Five customers have rated over 10,000 of the 17,770 titles selected - and presumably they also have rated some of the others among the 60,000 or so titles Netflix had available when they released the ratings. Are these real people?

* Customer 305344 had rated 17654 titles. Even though Netflix make it easy to rate titles that you have not rented from them (so they can get a handle on your preferences) can this be real?

* Customer 1664010 rated 5446 titles in a single day (October 12, 2005).

* Customer 2270619 has rated 1975 titles. 1931 were given a 5, 31 were given a 4, 10 given a 3, 2 given a 2 (Grumpy Old Men and Sex In Chains) and a single title was given a 1. That title? Gandhi, which has an average rating of over 4 and which less than 2% of those who watch it give a 1.

* The most often rated movie? Miss Congeniality with ratings by over 232,000 of the 480,000 customers. And which title is most similar to it in terms of ratings (using a slightly weighted Pearson formula)? Bloodfist 5: Human Target.

* Most highly rated - Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Extended Edition), with 4.7.
There's lots more worthwhile analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of recommender systems in general in the post. (Via Marginal Revolution.)

Monday, August 06, 2007

"When Cell Phones Fail":
This week's tragic collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis triggered another collapse of sorts: a jam-up of the cellular phone networks in the area. Bystanders and survivors tried to phone loved ones, only to find that they couldn't put the call through. So what's the solution? Two words: text messaging.

...Cell-phone networks are set up in such a way that text messages can piggyback on the streams of voice data traffic bouncing around the system. The digital messages, which amount to mere dozens or hundreds of bytes, can be slipped into the gaps in that stream.

"They're able to sneak through there, even when you and I are having a conversation," [Minneapolis Verizon spokeswoman Karen] Smith explained.

So if you don't know how to use the text-messaging feature on your phone, now is a good time to learn. "Get one of your nieces or nephews to teach you how to do it," Smith joked, "or stop by a Verizon store and ask them to show you."
Silicon Valley millionaires who don't feel rich.

(I don't usually link to NY Times articles because they require registration, but I thought this was sufficiently interesting to be worth passing along. It explores the lifestyle and psychologies of the "single digit millionaires", i.e., those worth < $10 million. Of course, to the extent that the cost of living is higher in the SF Bay area as opposed to, say, Kansas City, their concerns have some merit. To the extent that they are driven by a desire to "keep up with the Jones", then their problems are psychological. It does show that the key to happiness isn't necessarily more money but rather having an appropriately thought-out set of priorities, goals, and expectations, aka a proper "hierarchy of values".)
"Climate models may never produce predictions that agree with one another even with dramatic improvements in their ability to imitate the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans."

(Which gives rise to the natural question -- should major public policy decisions be based on these models that cannot be proven to be valid?)
Both Diana and I have been spending too much time on StumbleUpon.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Armed robots are being deployed in Iraq.
"Does massage work by getting rid of toxins?"
The architecture underneath the hood of YouTube.
A pessimistic view of the war against spam. (Via ALDaily.)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Beer in space. One excerpt:
Graduate student Kirsten Sterrett at the University of Colorado in the US wrote a thesis on fermentation in space, with support from US beer behemoth Coors. She sent a miniature brewing kit into orbit aboard a space shuttle several years ago and produced a few sips of beer. She later sampled the space brew, but because of chemicals in and near it from her analysis, it didn't taste great by the time she tried it.

Beyond the challenge of producing beer in space is the problem of serving it, says Jonathan Clark, a former flight surgeon and now the space medicine liaison for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute in Houston, Texas, US.

Without gravity, bubbles don't rise, so "obviously the foam isn't going to come to a head", Clark told New Scientist.
(Via Boing Boing.)
Guitarist Brian May of the rock band Queen used to study astrophysics before he became an international rock star. Now at age 60, he will be completing his Ph.D. in astrophysics. His dissertation topic will be, "Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud" for the Imperial College of London. (Via Marginal Revolution.)
LISP cycles.
"10 Reasons It Doesn't Pay To Be 'The Computer Guy'"

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

10 things your IT department doesn't want you to do, and how to do them anyways. (Via Diana.)
"How does a human calculator do it?" (Via Cosmic Log.)
Humans can't detect cellphone tower emissions:
Roughly 4% of Britons claim to be affected by radio waves from sources such as telephone transmitters and other electrical equipment.

...When told that the transmitter was switched on for 50 minutes, 'sensitive' individuals reported higher anxiety, discomfort and tension. But when asked to tell whether the transmitter was on or off, only two of the 44 'sensitive' volunteers were correct six times out of six. Five of the controls were equally successful.

And the severity of symptoms reported by the volunteers, as well as their heart rate and levels of sweating, did not depend on whether the transmitter was switched on or off, the researchers report...

...The results suggest that the many health problems attributed to mobile phone transmitters -- including nausea, headache and flu-like symptoms -- are probably caused by something else, says Elaine Fox, a psychologist at the University of Essex in Colchester, who led the research. She suggests that the problems may well be psychological.
This is a nice bit of science.
Sharks are repelled by geeky rare earth magnets.