Thursday, January 31, 2008

Everyone's been blogging about the cheeseburger in a can. This guy tried one and has detailed pictures and a review. (Via Cynical-C.)
All people with blue eyes have a single common ancestor:
New research shows that people with blue eyes have a single, common ancestor. A team at the University of Copenhagen have tracked down a genetic mutation which took place 6-10,000 years ago and is the cause of the eye colour of all blue-eyed humans alive on the planet today.

"Originally, we all had brown eyes", said Professor Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology. "But a genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a 'switch', which literally 'turned off' the ability to produce brown eyes".
The LAN turns 30. The article includes some interesting history. (Via Rand Simberg.)
I don't understand the appeal of munchable ice.
Video of the day: "Magic Highway USA". An awesome retro look at the future of highway and automobile technology, as envisioned by Disney studios in 1958. Beyond the specific technological predictions, what struck me most was the overall tone of optimism and the unquestioned sense that man could and should manipulate nature for human benefit -- a sentiment that is unfortunately too infrequent in contemporary Western culture. (Via Aeon Skoble.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Why water is so weird. (Via Cosmic Log.)
"20 Tools for preparing for your death online". (Via Clicked.)
Would a gun work in space?
"Two artificial DNA 'letters' that are accurately and efficiently replicated by a natural enzyme have been created by US researchers. Adding the two artificial building blocks to the four that naturally comprise DNA could allow wildly different kinds of genetic engineering..."
I hope the US military starts deploying this phased-array radar system soon. (Via Instapundit.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Secret Codes in Craig Venter's Artificial Genome":
David Wheeler and Tao Tao of the NCBI checked into the genetic sequence submitted by Venter's Institute and found the watermarks hidden in plain sight. For the first time, we reveal the five coded messages that will go down in history as embedded in the first synthetic genome ever created after the jump.


I have to say that I was hoping for something poetic, profound, or clever. At least something in Greek, or Latin. Brandon suggested "STEALTHISCODE." Instead, we get what we probably should have expected: an advertisement for the Venter Institute.
As the New York Times explains: "The team also added some DNA segments to the genome to serve as 'watermarks,' allowing scientists to distinguish the synthetic genome from the natural one."
Now that's a scary airport runway. (Via BBspot.)
"The Algorithms of Love."
Clever online catalog from the Dutch company Hema. (Via Sam Cox.)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Update on commercial jetpacks. Only $100,000, available August 2008. Here's the corporate website.
Colliding water droplets merge when they are separating from one another, rather than when they are pushing together.
Are you smarter than a Super Bowl quarterback? According to the New York Times:
[NY Giants quarterback Eli] Manning posted a score of 39 out of 50 on the Wonderlic, the intelligence test administered by N.F.L. teams to evaluate draft prospects. It was 11 points higher than [older brother and quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts] Peyton's score and well above the average.
A sample test is available here. Just multiple the number right on these 20 questions by 2.5 to get your Wunderlich score.

Here are how some other NFL players scored and what those numbers mean:
Specifically, 21, considered an average score, is equivalent to the average IQ of 100. Higher scoring applicants are supposed to learn more rapidly, master more complex material, and exercise better judgment while lower scoring applicants tend to require more time, detailed task instruction, and less challenging job routines. 25 is the average score for quarterbacks and offensive linemen. Other positions average about a 20.
How the NFL "wireless police" will deal with the 10,000+ wireless devices at the Super Bowl. (Via Fark.)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Nice overview of the state of commercial space flight.
"When data center cabling becomes art". (Via BBspot.)
What happens to your blog post after you hit "Publish". (Via Boing Boing.)
What are political candidates trying to convey by their choice of fonts? (Via Linkfilter.)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bizarre theme park of the day: If you haven't gotten over your nostalgia for the old Soviet Union, a theme park in Vilnius, Lithuania will recreate the experience for you, including simulated beatings and interrogations by "KGB agents".

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Video of the day: "Amazing backflip wrestling move". (Via Clicked.)
"Scientists Build First Man-Made Genome; Synthetic Life Comes Next"
"10 stunning ultra-geeky home cinemas". (Via GMSV.)
I kind of like the Anti-MacBook Air.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cruel practical joke of the day: The wrong number generator.
If you really want to screw with someone, put this Wrong Number Generator on their landline. When your victim (wife) tries to make a call, it'll screw up some digits and randomly dial someone. Better yet, it only does this 75% of the time, meaning that it'll let them dial the right number 25% of the time—which allows them to think that they've got the sloppiest fingers in the world. We thought this would be even more exciting when someone's trying to dial 911, but apparently it lets all of those calls through unmolested.
If you're waiting for the bus and it doesn't show, it pays to be lazy.
How the iPhone knows where you are without GPS. (Via IPList.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Interesting new tech. I especially liked the collapsible wheel and the 3-D medical imaging display system. (Via Gregg F.)
Funny comment about the new Sarah Connor Chronicles (towards the end of the post):
I also had very low expectations for the Sarah Connor Chronicles series, but Tivoed it anyway on the off chance it wouldn't be too awful. I've been pleasantly surprised; they make a lot of T2 references (it's almost an extension of the movie, which is one of my all-time favorites), and they do have a sense of humor (the one-liners are a bit cheesy though). It was interesting seeing Sarah learn about 9/11 secondhand — and who knows, maybe we'll even get to see her reaction to the result of the 2003 California recall election.
The main post itself also has some interesting comments about "friendly AI".

(Via Instapundit.)
Claims of supernatural powers: The data so far.
Cockroaches born in outer space grow up to be "faster and tougher than their terrestrial brethren". (Via Fark.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Windows error message of the day.
People's "gaydar" can determine another person's sexual orientation within 100 milliseconds. However, accuracy ranged from less than 50% to 70%; in other words a little bit better than flipping a coin. (Via SciTechDaily.)
Satellite wars?
"10 Incredible Old Computer Ads". (Via Linkfilter.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Video of the day: Dolphins creating rings of air bubbles:
Dolphins have been observed to create bubble rings by exhaling air carefully in the middle of the vortices caused by the motion of their fins through the water, among other techniques. Besides being nice to look at (and a neat demonstration of fluid mechanics), this phenomenon also might throw some light on dolphin cognition, since the skill to create the rings is a bit subtle and tends to be taught from one dolphin to the next via careful observation and practice.
(Via MeFi.)
"Everybody's PIN Number Revealed!" Including yours. Not intended for criminal use. (Via Cynical-C.)
"Ten myths about nuclear power". (Via SciTechDaily.)
"10 Gadgets For Smokers That Don't Want to Quit"

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Contact lenses with circuits inside. (Via Attila.)
According to the CIA, "Criminals have been able to hack into computer systems via the Internet and cut power to several cities":
Criminals have launched online attacks that disrupted power equipment in several regions outside of the U.S., he said, without identifying the countries affected. The goal of the attacks was extortion, he said.

"We have information, from multiple regions outside the United States, of cyber intrusions into utilities, followed by extortion demands," he said in a statement posted to the Web on Friday by the conference's organizers, the SANS Institute. "In at least one case, the disruption caused a power outage affecting multiple cities. We do not know who executed these attacks or why, but all involved intrusions through the Internet."
It's almost like living in a real-life Bruce Willis movie.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Surgeons improve their skills after practicing with a Nintendo Wii.
"Accidental Algorithms: A strange new family of algorithms probes the boundary between easy and hard problems"
"The Top 10 real life Star Trek inventions". (Via The Speculist.)
Enterprise image and cast from the new JJ Abrams Star Trek movie.
Helical cups for outer space. (Via Cosmic Log.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Amazon is being punished by the French government for offering free shipping:
The Tribunal de Grande Instance (a French appeals court) in Versailles ruled back in December that Amazon was violating the country's 1981 Lang law with its free shipping offer. That law forbids booksellers from offering discounts of more than 5 percent off the list price, and Amazon was found to be exceeding that discount when the free shipping was factored in.

The company was told to start charging within ten days or pay a daily fine. It also owes €100,000 to the French Booksellers' Union for the court battle and for the losses it has apparently caused them. With the holidays over and the ten-day grace period over, Amazon has officially announced its plan to ignore the court order and pay the fine instead, according to the International Herald Tribune.

Amazon can do so for 30 days (€30,000), but after that time the court will review the fine. They could raise it, or they could lower it, but given that Amazon has chosen to flip the justices the bird, guess which outcome is more likely? At some point, if Amazon doesn't change its ways, the fine will probably be jacked up so high that the company has no choice but to comply.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, has taken to the virtual airwaves to rally the French public in support of Amazon's free shipping. He sent out a recent e-mail to French customers in which he claimed that "France would be the only country in the world where the free delivery practiced by Amazon would be declared illegal." He then asked people to sign an online petition that has so far garnered more than 120,000 signatures.
Gosh, we can't have some companies offering to save their customers' money! It might wreak havoc with the economy!
Does the font you use in a paper affect the grade you receive? This student thinks so:
...My essays written in Georgia did the best overall. This got me thinking as to why that might be: maybe fonts speak a lot louder than we think they do. Especially to a professor who has to wade through a collection of them; Times seems to be the norm, so it really doesn't set off any subconcious triggers. Georgia is enough like Times to retain its academic feel, and is different enough to be something of a relief for the grader. Trebuchet seems to set off a negative trigger, maybe just based on the fact that it's not as easy to read in print, maybe on the fact that it looks like something off a blog rather than an academic journal. Who knows.

...What I'm not opposed to saying, however, is that the style used in an essay certainly seems to influence grading tendencies, even if that is at an unconcious level. I think that it's possible that a person sees a Serif font and thinks "proper, academic", and sees a Sans font and thinks "focus is on the style, not the substance; must lack integrity". Maybe.

But, it's hard to deny this, evidenced over 52 papers. Within each of the three fonts I used, there wasn't terribly much variance, either. It's not like these were just written for one subject, either: a wide range of disciplines were included, from Philosophy to Economics to Marketting to Political Science to Computer Science, even having paper on Computational Neuromodelling thrown in there.
Obviously, this is not a controlled double-blind study. But it is intriguing nonetheless. (Via Dave Does The Blog.)
Sensitive synthetic skin: "By combining carbon nanotubes with a specially designed polymer, researchers are making a material that looks, feels, and functions like human skin. The synthetic skin could lead to next-generation prosthetic arms with which users can feel a light touch, shake hands, cook, and type naturally." (Via SciTechDaily.)
"The physics of surviving a 500-foot plunge." (Via Clicked.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"A rhesus monkey uses thought to make a robot walk, paving the way for paralysis victims to move using brain-powered prosthetic limbs."
How to make your own magic fireballs.
"3D 'Invisibility Cloak' For Sound?" (Via Gravity Lens.)
Ironic development of the day: Astrological Magazine is shutting down due to "unforseen developments".

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cool animation showing how a bobbin works in a sewing machine. (Via Cynical-C.)
Scientists have created the darkest known material:
Pulickel Ajayan, a professor of engineering at Rice University, created a carpet of carbon nanotubes that reflects 0.045 percent light, making it 100 times darker than a black-painted Corvette, the Houston Chronicle reported Monday.

...The previous darkest known material, a nickel and phosphorus alloy created by scientists in London, reflected about 0.16 percent of light.
The tastiest version of Minas Tirith I've ever seen. (Via BBspot.)
Astronomers have discovered "a strange spiral galaxy show it has a pair of arms winding backward compared to the typical direction for most galaxies":
Most spiral arms observed so far tend to trail in the wake of their galaxy's spin, meaning they wind in the direction opposite the rotation. The strange galaxy, known as NGC4622, lies 200 million light years away and has a large outer arm pair that winds clockwise.

Byrd and his colleagues analyzed a 2001 Hubble Space Telescope image of the galaxy and found a previously hidden inner pair of arms winding counter-clockwise. Whichever way the galaxy happens to rotate, one pair of arms ends up turning in the unusual direction.

"Contrary to conventional wisdom, with both an inner counter-clockwise pair and an outer clockwise pair of spiral arms, NGC4622 must have a pair of leading arms," Byrd said. "With two pairs of arms winding in opposite directions, one pair must lead and one pair must trail."
One possible explanation is that this galaxy have have "devoured another smaller galaxy". Here's the image.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"A new kind of dating agency relies on matching people by their body odour":
...[A]s the multi-billion-dollar perfume industry attests, beauty is in the nose of the beholder, too., a Boston-based internet-dating site launched in December, was created to turn this insight into money. Its founder, an engineer (and self-confessed serial dater) called Eric Holzle is drawing on an observation made over a decade ago by Claus Wedekind, a researcher at the University of Bern, in Switzerland.

In his original study Dr Wedekind recruited female volunteers to sniff men's three-day-old T-shirts and rate them for attractiveness. He then analysed the men's and women's DNA, looking in particular at the genes that build a part of the immune system known as the major histocompatability complex (MHC). Dr Wedekind knew, from studies on mice, that besides fending off infection, the MHC has a role in sexual attractiveness. It changes odours in ways the mice can detect (with mice, the odours are in the urine), and that detection is translated into preferences for particular mates. What is true for mice is often true for men, so he had a punt on the idea that the MHC might affect the smell of human sweat, as well.

It did. Women preferred T-shirts from men whose MHC was most different from their own. What was more, women with similar MHCs favoured the use of similar commercial perfumes. This suggests that the role of such perfumes may be to flag up the underlying body scent rather than mask it, as a more traditional view of the aesthetics of body odour might suggest.

That makes evolutionary sense. The children of couples with a wide range of MHC genes, and thus of immune responses, will be better protected from disease. As the previous article suggests, that could be particularly important in a collaborative, group-living species such as humanity. Moreover, comparing MHCs could be a proxy for comparing kinship, and thus help to prevent inbreeding.
Interesting game theoretic proof that aleph one > aleph null (i.e., the real numbers are not countable).
Michael Williams (and CS PhD) argues that, "Colleges Don't Teach Computer Science Anymore".

Update: Here's a related article, "Computer Science Education: Where Are the Software Engineers of Tomorrow?"
Addicting game of the day: "Untangle". (Via Neatorama.)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

"New Alzheimer's treatment works in minutes". Here's a related story. (Via Howard Roerig.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Invention of the day: The Self-Cleaning Toilet. Hilarious ad! (Via Richard Bramwell.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It must be a bit disconcerting to run into your wife at the brothel. (Via Rand Simberg.)
Intelligent foam.
Update on interesting science, including backwards-in-time causality, stable anti-matter production, and low-cost nuclear fusion. These are all still works-in-progress.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

"Mathematician proposes another way of divvying up the US House".

Of course, those states (and/or political parties) that would lose representatives under this (or any other proposed) new system might not be too keen on embracing it, independent of its merits.
Invention of the day: The Disappearing Car Door. If this is real, then it looks quite slick. (Via Found On The Web.)

Monday, January 07, 2008

Sometimes I can't tell the difference between real life and The Simpsons.
Evolutionary algorithms.
Nice review of the current state of anti-aging research.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Admin note: Posting may be lighter than usual for the next week due to external obligations.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

"Asch's Conformity Experiment". (Via BBspot.)
There's been a fair amount of extreme cold weather recently around the world. Some environmentalists are attributing this to global warming. Geophysicist David Deming notes:
Extreme cold weather is occurring worldwide. On Dec. 4, in Seoul, Korea, the temperature was a record minus 5 degrees Celsius. Nov. 24, in Meacham, Ore., the minimum temperature was 12 degrees Fahrenheit colder than the previous record low set in 1952. The Canadian government warns that this winter is likely to be the coldest in 15 years.

Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri are just emerging from a destructive ice storm that left at least 36 people dead and a million without electric power. People worldwide are being reminded of what used to be common sense: Cold temperatures are inimical to human welfare and warm weather is beneficial. Left in the dark and cold, Oklahomans rushed out to buy electric generators powered by gasoline, not solar cells. No one seemed particularly concerned about the welfare of polar bears, penguins or walruses. Fossil fuels don't seem so awful when you're in the cold and dark.

If you think any of the preceding facts can falsify global warming, you're hopelessly naive. Nothing creates cognitive dissonance in the mind of a true believer. In 2005, a Canadian Greenpeace representative explained “global warming can mean colder, it can mean drier, it can mean wetter.” In other words, all weather variations are evidence for global warming. I can't make this stuff up
"USAF Creates Cyber War Central":
Air Force is building a Cyber Control System. This would be a hardware and software system that would enable the Air Force Cyberspace Command to monitor, in real time, the security state of all air force networks. If any of these networks were attacked, the Cyber Control System software would immediately alert Cyberspace Command controllers, and recommend a course of action. Think of this as a war room for Cyber War. Many people, deluged with TV and movie representations of high tech military command centers, believe such a Cyber War center already exists. It doesn't, and the air force is building it. If the Cyber Control System can prove itself, the air force hopes to run the show for all Department of Defense networks.
Start the new year with some timewasters.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

"JK Rowling drops hints of possible eighth Harry Potter book".
What your cat would do if he could. (Via Found on the Web.)
Invention of the day: The Love Mattress. It's a little bit more practical than this solution from xkcd.
It sucks to be wrongly accused. (Via Bruce Schneier.)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Still looking for gifts for your obsessive-compulsive relatives? Look no further than the infinitely poppable BubbleWrap Keychain. Only a mere $15.
"Robot Surgeons Closer Than You Think". (Via DefenseTech.)
"IQ Distribution of Various Jobs". (Via Mike Williams.)
Who wouldn't want one of these?
"A Battery That Can Power a Whole Town"

Nuclear "batteries" are nothing new. Energy from a fist-size lump of plutonium has powered the Voyager spacecraft for 25 years. And tiny specks of the stuff kept pacemakers ticking for decades. Now, Hyperion Power Generation (HPG) is developing a nuclear battery capable of powering a town. The size of a hot tub, it can put out more than 25 megawatts for five years, enough to run 25,000 homes.

Building on technology developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Santa Fe (N.M.) startup's battery runs on uranium hydride, which acts as fuel and also regulates power output, making it virtually impossible for the battery to suffer a meltdown. With no moving parts to break or corrode, HPG's batteries can be buried in the earth for added security and safety. Their small size makes them easy to install and, later, to remove and refuel, cutting out the need to handle radioactive materials on site.

HPG plans to sell its first units to towns and industrial operations not connected to the grid. The company estimates lifetime costs for its battery will be a fraction of the price to build and run a natural gas plant with the same capacity. Backed by venture capital from Altira, HPG could have its batteries ready in six years.
(Via Transterrestrial Musings.)