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.)