Monday, March 31, 2008

Interesting applications for ultrafast pulsed lasers:
Instead of emitting a continuous beam, a pulsed laser concentrates its energy into brief bursts. An ultra-fast laser produces fantastically short bursts in which the intensity and power of the pulses can reach mind-boggling levels. Because the pulses happen so quickly, the effects are concentrated in time. This gives ultra-fast lasers valuable properties that their slower predecessors do not have. They can, for instance, cut something out before the energy from the pulse gets a chance to heat up and possibly damage the surrounding area. This means ultra-fast lasers are better at such jobs as cutting and welding, eye surgery and creating some of the smallest man-made structures on the surface of semiconductors.
The article lists several uses in engineering, computers, and medicine.
"Top 10 April Fools' Pranks for Nerds". Numbers 6,8, and 5 are my favorites.
"The 10 Most Historically Inaccurate Movies" (Via BBspot.)
Wikipedia wars between Clinton and Obama supporters.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Property law issues in Lord of the Rings. (More here by Ilya Sonin at Volokh Conspiracy.)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Does the US have 10x more oil reserves than previously estimated?
America is sitting on top of a super massive 200 billion barrel Oil Field that could potentially make America Energy Independent and until now has largely gone unnoticed. Thanks to new technology the Bakken Formation in North Dakota could boost America’s Oil reserves by an incredible 10 times, giving western economies the trump card against OPEC’s short squeeze on oil supply and making Iranian and Venezuelan threats of disrupted supply irrelevant.

In the next 30 days the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) will release a new report giving an accurate resource assessment of the Bakken Oil Formation that covers North Dakota and portions of South Dakota and Montana. With new horizontal drilling technology it is believed that from 175 to 500 billion barrels of recoverable oil are held in this 200,000 square mile reserve that was initially discovered in 1951. The USGS did an initial study back in 1999 that estimated 400 billion recoverable barrels were present but with prices bottoming out at $10 a barrel back then the report was dismissed because of the higher cost of horizontal drilling techniques that would be needed, estimated at $20-$40 a barrel.
(Via Rand Simberg.)
10 pages of awesomely bad military patches. Some may be NSFW. (Via Michael Williams.)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Pre-Edison sound recording:
For more than a century, since he captured the spoken words “Mary had a little lamb” on a sheet of tinfoil, Thomas Edison has been considered the father of recorded sound. But researchers say they have unearthed a recording of the human voice, made by a little-known Frenchman, that predates Edison’s invention of the phonograph by nearly two decades.
(Via Gregg Favalora.)
"World's Worst Intersections & Traffic Jams", Part 2. You may also wish to look at Part 1 from 2006. (Via BBspot.)
"What Will Life Be Like in the Year 2008?" Predictions from the November 1968 issue of Modern Mechanix. As usual, some predictions were not too far from the mark, whereas others were way off. (Via GMSV.)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Inside the Twisted Mind of the Security Professional".
Update on antimatter research:
[Harvard professor Gerald Gabrielse] explains the process of creating antihydrogen in the ATRAP technique: First, antiprotons are slowed by lowering their temperatures to close to four degrees above absolute zero. Positrons are also cooled down. "Next, we get the positrons and the antiprotons to interact – we get them to collide," Gabrielse says. "If we do it at a low enough energy, there is a probability that they will get attached and form an antihydrogen atom."

The problem is that, without charge, the antihydrogen doesn't trap very well. The ATRAP Collaboration overcame this problem by "creating a trap within a trap," Gabrielse explains. A Penning trap, which is designed for the antiprotons and positrons, is located inside an Ioffe trap with four current-carrying poles. This creates a region where the magnetic field is at a minimum. "Antiydrogen atoms that are cold enough and in the right quantum state will preferentially stay in the place where the magnetic field is lowest," Gabrielse explains. The Ioffe trap is designed to keep the antihydrogen, once it's formed, in place.

...Once this is done, it should be possible to study the properties of antihydrogen and compare them to the properties of hydrogen. "If we discover they have different properties," Gabrielse says, "it will have huge implications at a fundamental level. If we find that they are the same, that reality does conform to theory, it's still a winning situation."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Who's Your Daddy?" Home DNA paternity tests:
Identigene is selling at-home DNA testing kits for paternity testing at drugstores across the country. The $30 kit includes swabs for the child, mother, and "alleged father," consent forms, and a mailer to be sent back to the company. You'll also want to include a check—the lab fees are an additional $120. Results are available in 3-5 business days once the samples have been received.

Only $150 separates you from the truth about your child's paternity, although you'll have to pay an additional $250 if you need legal paperwork from Indentigene to be used in divorce, custody, child support, inheritance, or other legal cases.
European scientists will attempt to discover systematic scientific explanations of religious experience and behaviour.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Beating Traffic By Joining the Network":
...Dash Navigation begins selling two-way GPS devices for cars, creating, in essence, a network of drivers. A central computer will collect speed and location information from each car, then create and transmit back what the start-up company hopes will be the most complete and up-to-the-minute picture of traffic ever created.

Based on the once-futuristic notion of the "hive mind" -- essentially, the aggregation of what everyone in a group senses individually -- the effort reflects what many consider one of the most fertile areas for innovation: collecting and analyzing data from disparate but newly linked sources.

A driver who installs a $599 Dash unit would, in theory, be able to learn about the traffic ahead from someone in the network who had just experienced it. It's like Web efforts that rely on a group of users -- Wikipedia or Amazon's book recommendations, for example. But the Dash network will operate in real time and rely less on humans for input than on the devices. The more people who have the devices in a given area, the more accurate the information.
"The light bulb of the future?" (Via Howard Roerig.)
ABC3D: Now this is a cool alphabet pop-up book. (Via Cynical-C.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

The evolution of home video game consoles. (Via Fark.)
Until last week, I had never heard of "uncombable hair syndrome". Here's a non-Wikipedia reference.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Admin note: Posting may be irregular for the next few days due to external obligations.

Friday, March 21, 2008

As a supporter of free speech, I am in full agreement with this piece by Yaron Brook on why the current campaign finance laws are wrong.
"FBI posts fake hyperlinks to snare child porn suspects":
...The implications of the FBI's hyperlink-enticement technique are sweeping. Using the same logic and legal arguments, federal agents could send unsolicited e-mail messages to millions of Americans advertising illegal narcotics or child pornography--and raid people who click on the links embedded in the spam messages. The bureau could register the "unlawfulimages.com" domain name and prosecute intentional visitors. And so on.

...So far, at least, attorneys defending the hyperlink-sting cases do not appear to have raised unlawful entrapment as a defense.

"Claims of entrapment have been made in similar cases, but usually do not get very far," said Stephen Saltzburg, a professor at George Washington University's law school. "The individuals who chose to log into the FBI sites appear to have had no pressure put upon them by the government...It is doubtful that the individuals could claim the government made them do something they weren't predisposed to doing or that the government overreached."

The outcome may be different, Saltzburg said, if the FBI had tried to encourage people to click on the link by including misleading statements suggesting the videos were legal or approved.

...Civil libertarians warn that anyone who clicks on a hyperlink advertising something illegal--perhaps found while Web browsing or received through e-mail--could face the same fate.
(Via GMSV.)
Google nap pods. (Via BBspot.)
Easter safety tip: "Crucifixion is bad for you." In particular, the article recommends that you get a tetanus shot, use clean nails, and bring plenty of drinking water before the big event. (Via Rand Simberg.)
"Google's Top 17 Easter Eggs, Gags, and Hoaxes"

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Room temperature superconductor. However, it does require high pressure to work, as opposed to low temperatures. (Via /.)
"How Apple Got Everything Right By Doing Everything Wrong"
"40% of all spam comes from just one source". (Via Clicked.)
"The 10 Most Disruptive Technology Combinations"
"Should Mac Users Run Antivirus Software?" (Via Instapundit.)
"Long-Distance Wi-Fi: Intel has found a way to stretch a Wi-Fi signal from one antenna to another located more than 60 miles away.":
Intel has announced plans to sell a specialized Wi-Fi platform later this year that can send data from a city to outlying rural areas tens of miles away, connecting sparsely populated villages to the Internet. The wireless technology, called the rural connectivity platform (RCP), will be helpful to computer-equipped students in poor countries, says Jeff Galinovsky, a senior platform manager at Intel. And the data rates are high enough--up to about 6.5 megabits per second--that the connection could be used for video conferencing and telemedicine, he says.

The RCP, which essentially consists of a processor, radios, specialized software, and an antenna, is an appealing way to connect remote areas that otherwise would go without the Internet, says Galinovsky. Wireless satellite connections are expensive, he points out. And it's impractical to wire up some villages in Asian and African countries. "You can't lay cable," he says. "It's difficult, expensive, and someone is going to pull it up out of the ground to sell it."

...Importantly, the devices require relatively little power. Running two or three radios in a link, Galinvosky says, requires about five to six watts. This makes it possible to power the radios using solar energy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Optical-based three-dimensional information storage".
A moment of silence for Arthur C. Clarke.
"Start Writing the Eulogies for Print Encyclopedias". (Via ALDaily.)
"Atheist Sees Image of Big Bang in Piece of Toast". (Via Andy Farrell.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Eugene Volokh has a nice analysis of statements like, "10% of All X's Account for 25% of All Y's":
Consider a boundary case: Say that each police officer has a 10% chance of having a complaint this year. Then, on average 10% of all officers will have 100% of this year's complaints. Likewise, say that each police officer has a 1% chance of having a complaint each year for 10 years, and the probabilities are independent from year to year (since complaints are entirely random, and all the officers are equally prone to them). Then, on average 9.5% (1 - 0.99^10) of all police officers will have 100% of the complaints over the 10 years, since 0.99^10 of the officers will have no complaints.

Or consider a less boundary case, where the math is still easily intuitive. Say that you have 100 honest coins, each 50% likely to turn up heads and tails. You toss each coin twice. On average,

* 25 of the coins will come up heads twice, accounting for 50 heads.
* 50 of the coins will come up heads once and tails once, accounting for 50 heads.
* 25 of the coins will come up tails twice, accounting for 0 heads.

This means that 25% of the coins account for 50% of the heads -- but because of randomness, not because some particular coins are more likely to turn up heads than others.

Likewise, we see the same in slightly more complicated models. Say that each police officer has a 10% chance of having a complaint each year, and we're looking at results over 10 years. Then 7% of all officers will have 3 or more complaints (that's SUM (10-choose-i x 0.1^i x 0.9^(10-i)) as i goes from 3 to 10). But those 7% will account for 22.5% of all complaints (that's SUM (10-choose-i x 0.1^i x 0.9^(10-i) x i) as i goes from 3 to 10). And again this is so even though each officer is equally likely to get a complaint in any year.

Now of course it seems very likely that in fact some officers are more prone to complaints than others. My point is simply that this conclusion can't flow from our observation of the 10%/25% disparity, or 7%/22.5% disparity, or even a 20%/80% disparity. We can reasonably believe it for other reasons (such as our knowledge of human nature), but not because of that disparity, because that disparity is entirely consistent with a model in which all officers are equally prone to complaints.

...But often we hear just a "10% of all X's account for 25% of all Y's" report, or some such, and are asked to infer from there that those 10% have a disproportionate propensity to Y. And that inference is not sound, because these numbers can easily be reached even if everyone's propensity is equal.
Wireless earbuds.
Video of the day: The Big Dog robot. (Via Howard Roerig.)
"Anonymous activists gaining strength online".

Monday, March 17, 2008

"When is a person dead -- or dead enough?" Good review from the intersection of medicine, ethics and law on death and brain death. (Via SciTechDaily.)
"Japanese scientists have invented a pair of intelligent glasses that remembers where people last saw their keys, handbag, iPod or mobile phone." (Via Drudge.)
Airborne laser cannon:
...Later this year, scientists will put a 40,000-pound chemical laser in the belly of a gunship flying at 300 mph and take aim at targets as far away as five miles. And we're not talking aluminum cans. Boeing's new Advanced Tactical Laser will cook trucks, tanks, radio stations -- the kinds of things hit with missiles and rockets today. Whereas conventional projectiles can lose sight of their target and be shot down or deflected, the ATL moves at the speed of light and can strike several targets in rapid succession.

...Precise control over the beam's aim allows it to hit a moving target a few inches wide and confine the damage to that space. The Pentagon hopes such precision will translate into less collateral damage than even today's most accurate missiles. Future versions using different types of lasers could be mounted on smaller vehicles, such as fighter jets, helicopters and trucks.
(Via Instapundit.)
"A neckband that translates thought into speech by picking up nerve signals has been used to demonstrate a 'voiceless' phone call for the first time." (Via Flibbertigibbet.)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"What You Don't Know About Living in Space". Tidbits include:
iPods: For the last few years astronauts have been allowed to fly with iPods, a great space saver over CD players. The iPods had to be modified to fly in space; the lithium batteries were taken out and replaced with alkaline double As that are certified to fly on the shuttle.

Though iPods can fly on the space shuttle, when the shuttle docks to the space station, iPods can't cross over the hatch because they haven't been certified to fly on the space station yet.

But now the people who figure out just where to stow everyone on the space shuttle have to find space for spare double-A batteries, because the iPods tend to be battery burners!

Money: Money has no value in space. When seven astronauts are living together in a cramped atmosphere the psychology of small isolated groups kicks in. Whoever has squirreled away the most M&Ms, tortillas or coffee has the most bargaining power. Those are items that are most prized at the end of a mission if someone runs short in their own stash. Astronauts' meals are color coded on shuttle missions -- and reliable sources tell ABC News some astronauts aren't above switching the colored dots on their dehydrated meals if they have run out of say, lasagna, on day six and have way too much creamed spinach left.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Classic Star Trek episodes now online. (Via Marginal Revolution.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

"Casino insider tells (almost) all about security". Among some of the cheating methods discussed:
# The infinite hundred-dollar bill: One team took US$1.2 million off a casino in two weeks when it discovered that a new hundred-dollar bill could be fed into a certain slot machine and, if you hit a button at just the right time, the machine would give the player US$100 worth of credit while spitting the actual US$100 bill right back into the player's hands.

# The chip cup: The chip cup looks just like a stack of $5 chips, but it's hollowed out and can hold a few $100 chips. Using the chip cup, a dealer and player working together can make a killing.

# The palm: A player palms a card and trades it with a neighbor to make a better blackjack hand. This trick is decidedly low-tech, but nearly undetectable when done with great skill.

# The specialty code: A programmer who worked on a video poker game snuck in some code that produced an automatic royal flush if a player followed a specific sequence of betting over the course of seven or eight hands.

# Cameraman: Jonas showed photos of one player who was wearing buttons that were actually infrared cameras, capable of capturing the identity of cards as they pass through a shuffle machine. One shuffle machine in particular had a tiny hole that revealed each card, but not to the naked eye. The infrared camera illuminated the card, and the video images were transmitted to a vehicle in the parking lot, where collaborators slowed the video down and could tell their player in the casino which card was coming next. Hitting on 17 is a smart move when you know a four is coming next.
(Via Linkfilter.)
"Eight of the Oddest Inspirations for the Coolest Science Fiction Machines".
How car names are chosen.
"The Secret China-U.S. Hacking War". (Via IPList.)
Video of the day: Slow motion of a 120mm tank shell being fired. (Via BBspot.)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"How can you tell if you're being followed?" (Via Dave Does the Blog.)
"Prostitution in a wired world":
The prostitution scandal involving New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer lays bare some of the inner workings of modern-day sex work: text messaging to clock in the client, electronic fund transfers, a Web site featuring color photos, prices and rankings.
(Via Linkfilter.)
Excellent photograph of a galaxy viewed on edge. (Via BBspot.)
"The battle for Wikipedia's soul" -- i.e., Inclusionists vs. Deletionists.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"Bugging the Cloud": A nice overview of internet wiretapping.
"Rate-My-Cop: New Website Has Police Furious". However, the information is apparently obtained by public sources and appears to be protected by the usual 1st Amendment provisions:
Police agencies from coast to coast are furious with a new website on the internet. RateMyCop.com has the names of thousands of officers, and many believe it is putting them in danger.

Officer Hector Basurto, the vice president of the Latino Police Officers Association, recently learned about the site. "I'd like to see it gone," he said.

"Having a website like this out there puts a lot of law enforcement in danger," he said. "It exposes us out there."

Kevin Martin, the vice president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, agrees. "Will they be able to access our home addresses, home phone numbers, marital status, whether or not we have children? That's always a big concern for us," he said.

Creators of the site say no personal information will be on the site. They gathered officers' names, which are public information, from more than 450 police agencies nationwide. Some listings also have badge numbers along with the officer's names.

Rebecca Costell says, in a statement, that the site helps people rate more than 130,000 officers by rating them on authority, fairness and satisfaction.

She adds, "Our website's purpose is to break the stereotype that people have that cops are all bad by having officers become responsible for their actions."
One key question is whether there's any reason to assume that the information posted is reliable. I would imagine that a lot of people would have an incentive to post information that might not necessarily be accurate about individual police officers. And you can make a guess as to whether a deliberate inaccuracy would be more likely to portray an officer in falsely good light or a falsely bad light.

(Via Cynical-C.)

Update: Looks like the site has been shut down.
ImprovEverywhere's newest project is "Food Court Musical". More info here.
"The science of experience". (Via SciTechDaily.)

My two favorite quotes about experience are:
"Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment"

And:
"Experience is what you get when you don't have it but you need it."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"The Boston Retinal Implant Project recently developed a bionic eye implant that will restore vision to those affected by degenerative blindness."
"Physicists Successfully Store and Retrieve Nothing". I still don't understand what a "squeezed vacuum" is. (Via Cosmic Log.)
How many North Poles are there? At least four, including the geographic north pole, the instantaneous north pole, the magnetic north pole, and the geomagnetic north pole.
Modular snake robots. (Via BBspot.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Weaponizing PlayStation:
The U.S. Air Force is buying 300 PlayStation 3 game consoles. Not to play games, but because it's the cheapest way to get the powerful processors that create the photorealistic graphics for PlayStation games. Air force researchers want to use these processors (similar to the ones found in high end video cards) to build faster computers for military use.

The CPU manufacturer was not willing to sell the PlayStation processor separately, at least for a reasonable price. So it was easier to just buy PlayStation 3s.
Mathematical modelling of editorial decisions: Should novelty or popularity be the primary criterion? Using a simulated version of Digg.com, they found the interesting result:
The simulator—a virtual world that reproduces the way people digg stories—was allowed to run with each strategy for the equivalent of a year. Measured by the total number of diggs in this period, the novelty-based strategy for ordering stories on the home-page proved far superior to the popularity-based one. In other words, digg.com is doing the right thing. However, if the half-life is increased, the situation changes. When it rises above 350 minutes, sorting stories according to their popularity rather than their novelty generates more diggs. This switchover is mathematically analogous to phase transitions in nature, such as the way water freezes as soon as the temperature drops below 0°C.
"Music as an audible exploration of hyperdimensional geometries."
Urban word of the day: "Collateral misinformation"
Definition: When someone alters a Wikipedia article to win a specific argument, anyone who reads the false article before the "error" is corrected suffers from collateral misinformation.

Example: "I changed the scientific classification of red foxes last night in order to win an argument with Judy. I hope some stupid High School student didn't suffer from collateral misinformation."

Friday, March 07, 2008

Per capita maps of Starbucks and Walmart in the US. Plus an animation of the spread of Walmart. (Via Waxy.)
The Dune theory of Democratic politics. (Via Instapundit.)
The Onion's "American Voices" on the death of Gary Gygax.
The science of finger length ratios. (Via Marginal Revolution.)
"Top 10 Ways to Get Cables Under Control". (Via Neatorama.)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

"Audiophiles can't tell the difference between Monster Cable and coat hangers". (Via BBspot.)
"'Runners high' confirmed via brain imaging".
Picture Of The Day: "Earth And Moon As Seen From Mars." (Via Instapundit.)
Video of the day: "How to break up a cat fight".

(Via Flibbertigibbet who adds, "And Then the First Two are Like, "DOOD! WTF?")

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

What it's like to work at Google. Or at Microsoft.
The top 5 stolen books:
1. Charles Bukowski
2. Jim Thompson
3. Philip K. Dick
4. William S. Burroughs
5. Any Graphic Novel

...Most used bookstores try to avoid buying unread-looking books from the list above, but they do always sell, and so any crook who figures out how to roll a spine can turn a profit pretty easily. The list of popular books is surprisingly static, although newer artists have earned their place in the pantheon with Hunter S. Thompson and the Beats: Palahniuk, Murakami, and Danielewski have become hugely popular antisellers in the last five years. I've had hundreds of dollars of graphic novels -- Sandman, Preacher, The Dark Knight Returns -- lifted from right under my nose all at once. Science fiction and fantasy are high in demand, too: The coin of the realm is now, and has always been, the fiction that young white men read, and self-satisfied young white men, the kind who love to stick it to the man, are the majority of book shoplifters.
(Via ALDaily.)
"Top 10 Worst Captchas". (Via BBspot.)
"Top 10 Amazing Chemistry Videos"

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Will this psychologist come from nowhere to win the Netflix prize?
"The Milky Way is twice the size we thought it was". (Via The Speculist.)
"To the Crazy-bat-sh*t-lady who picked up the free fridge". (Via BBspot.)
Good online retirement income calculator. (Via Michael Williams.)
Inside the MIT fusion lab. (Via Cosmic Log.)

Monday, March 03, 2008

CNN's strangest headlines can be found at WTFCNN? (Via Flibbertigibbet.)
Christian Bale will play the adult John Connor in the new T4 movie, Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins. Release date is 5/22/2009. (Via Clicked.)
"Diabetic mice 'cured' with drugs".
The evolution of the portable computer.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

New watch: I've always been a big fan of Casio G-shock watches, because they are sturdy, reliable, relatively inexpensive, and keep good time. Casio has always had innovative technology at a reasonable price, and some of their latest watches feature solar power (so the watch battery doesn't need replacing) as well as atomic synchronization (the watch synchronizes every day to the official US atomic clock time signal sent out by radio from Fort Collins, Colorado, or the equivalent stations in Europe or Japan, so it's never off by more than a second.)

So when Casio announced a new digital watch with those features (the GW-M5600), but matching the form factor of the classic DW-5600E, I knew I had to buy one. It's not yet sold in the US, but I was able to purchase one from Seiya Kobayashi, a highly-regarded reputable watch exporter from Japan.

The watch is sleek, lightweight, tough, accurate, and has the classic retro look that I wanted. I anticipate this will be my "everyday watch" for a long time to come.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

"Return to Dark Castle demo available for download":
One of the first hit Mac games is making its proud comeback -- Super Happy Fun Fun has released a demo of Return to Dark Castle, and promises that the full game will be released "very, VERY soon."

Return to Dark Castle is the latest installment of a game series that originally appeared on black-and-white Macs more than 20 years ago. A 2D platformer, the game puts you in the role of an intrepid hero who has to make his way through a castle filled with rats, flying bats, birds, haunted suits of armor, weird creatures on a quest to slay the evil Black Knight. Along the way you have to retrieve magic orbs and defeat your enemies using bags of rocks and other objects.

Return to Dark Castle sports more than 50 brand-new levels including all 30 levels from the original Dark Castle and its sequel, Beyond Dark Castle, remastered and integrated into a new quest. The game features new secret rooms and mini-games.
I never played the game, but my wife was a big fan. She spent quite a few hours playing the demo last night.