Tuesday, November 30, 2010

If you don't want to wade through all 250,000 WikiLeaks documents, you can watch the 90 second animated Taiwanese news video for a quick summary:

(Via Wired.)
"The days of keeping your data locked inside a big hard drive on one machine are over."
The mathematics of big caves.

No mention of twisty little passages that all look alike.
"Is there a way to 'game the system' for getting a liver transplant?"

Monday, November 29, 2010

Klein bottle bottle opener.

Could be yours for a mere $78!
Negative temperature = infinitely hot?
After reading this discussion/history of Tron, I actually now want to watch the upcoming Tron: Legacy movie.
Is semen an anti-depressant?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

More details emerge on what and how the Stuxnet virus attacked the Iranian nuclear program.
Things to know before you buy a tablet computer.

In particular, Ars Technica says "Run screaming in the other direction" from this particular tablet. Unless you're willing to make use of it like this.
"How to Verify if an Email Address Is Real or Fake"
Parkour for lazy people.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Admin note: Because of the holiday, I'll take a short blogging hiatus. Regular posting will resume on Monday, November 29. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Harry Potter explains how he enjoys playing the role of Daniel Radcliffe, actor:

"Mail carriers will abuse your package more if it's marked as 'Fragile'".

More details on the testing with hidden accelerometers here.
The seamy world of the professional term-paper writer. (Via Diana.)
"How Rechargeable Batteries Work And Why They Die"

Monday, November 22, 2010

The neuroscience of bluffing. (Via Michael Williams.)
Bruce Schneier's Stuxnet roundup.
A single molecule processor. (Via Instapundit.)
"Jaz drives, spiral notebooks, and SCSI: How we lose scientific data"

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Incredibly cool marble run that a father built for his son's room:

(Via Neatorama.)
"The changing landscape of online fraud: Long life spam"
Bruce Schneier notes that "TSA Scans Won't Catch Anybody".

He also has a detailed set of links on this issue at his blog.
This clever camp stove by Biolite cooks quickly with only twigs and leaves. Includes video. (Via R.B.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Antimatter Trapped For the First Time":
After creating antihydrogen in their antiproton decelerator, scientists at CERN have been able to trap antimatter for the first time in history.
I just hope that the containment field doesn't give out, Scotty!
"Stunning Morning Dew Photography". (Via J.A.)
Google Skymap. (Via Brian Schwartz.)
"If Ikea Made Instructions for Everything"

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Insurance against celebrity disgrace. (Via MR.)
"Top 10 Movie Plot Holes You Probably Never Noticed Before". (Via BBspot.)
"MIT Professor invents camera that sees around corners".
"Google Docs Editing Goes Mobile". (Via @LyndsiM.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Oatmeal: "You Only Try This Once"
Puncture-proof airless spring tires, for use on the Moon.
"Why Do Auctioneers Talk Like That? To put you in a trance."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Science Cheerleaders!

Here's their official website.
"The Brutal Decline of Yahoo!"
Treating flashbacks with Tetris.
"How does the President order flowers?"

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bruce Schneier: "How often should you change your password?"
Web Designers Vs. Web Developers. (Via BBspot.)
"This Guy Went To Jail Because He Posted Naked Pictures Of His Ex-Girlfriend On Facebook"
The physics of cat-licking.

Radiation Risks from TSA Scanners?

A friend recently asked my opinion about the possible health risks from the new whole body "backscatter" x-ray scanners now being used by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) at many airports.

The short answer is that the radiation risk from the TSA scanners is minimal for a member of the general flying public.

(This is separate from privacy concerns -- or the fact that the bad choice offered to passengers between intrusive x-rays vs. an intrusive physical exam is a problem ultimately caused by our government's inept foreign policy.)

Hence, my personal approach when I fly will be to go through the full-body scanners rather than undergo the aggressive new pat-down searches.

The news media has recently given a lot of attention to the following letter sent several months ago by scientists/physicians at UCSF (Univ. California at San Francisco) to the federal government about the radiation risks:

"Letter of Concern", 4/6/2010

This NPR story from last spring that covers the details more fully:

"Scientists Question Safety Of New Airport Scanners", 5/17/2010

The NPR story also includes a sidebar listing the radiation dose generated by a TSA scanner, and comparing it to the dose one receives merely from being on a transcontinental flight, regular environmental exposure, getting a chest x-ray, etc.

Basically, just getting on a transcontinental flight exposes one to roughly 1,000 times more radiation than undergoing a TSA body scan. (This is because there is less atmospheric protection from natural solar/cosmic radiation at high altitude.)

The FDA has posted its own response to the UCSF letter at:

"Response to University of California - San Francisco Regarding Their Letter of Concern", 10/12/2010

First let me note that I am philosophically opposed to the FDA and other such regulatory bodies, on the grounds that they do not serve proper functions of government. But to the best of my knowledge, the FDA's scientific arguments in that specific response are essentially correct. And the FDA letter also addresses some of the technical issues raised by the UCSF scientists, such as the question of the TSA radiation being deposited mostly in the skin (vs. in the whole body).

Female passengers who are (or may be) pregnant while undergoing a TSA scan may also wonder about radiation effects on a developing fetus.

This web page from Duke University covers this topic nicely:

"Fetal Radiation Dose Estimates"

As a point of clarification, the Duke website uses the older units (rems and millirems) for radiation dose rather than the newer units (Sieverts, milliSv, etc.).

The conversion factor is:
1 Sievert = 100 rem or
1 milliSievert = 100 millirem
As the Duke website notes, if the fetus exposure to less than 1,000 millirem (10 milliSieverts), then there's no known risk to the fetus.

If the fetus exposure is between 1,000 and 10,000 millirem (10-100 milliSieverts), then then the fetus is probably still ok. But, this is the range where bad effects to a fetus start to be observable in some studies, using the most conservative (cautious) statistical criteria.

So if a pregnant passenger wishes to take the most cautious approach and keep her fetal exposure below the 1,000 millirem (10 milliSievert) range, she could still undergo thousands of TSA scans per year. Again, the radiation exposure caused merely by flying would far exceed that caused by the scanner. Furthermore, most of the TSA scanner radiation would be stopped at the skin before it could even reach the fetus, as opposed to the various forms of natural gamma and solar radiation received during the flight which would penetrate deeper into the body.

A pregnant woman might naturally wonder how much radiation she'd be exposed to from the air travel itself?

According to this aviation news website, if she logged 1,000 hours in the air, then she'd be at the 5-10 milliSievert range (depending on the exact altitude/route), which is the level where one might begin to be concerned:

"Radiation Exposure Aloft -- Are You Being Nuked?"

So if she took 10 flights during her pregnancy totaling, say, 40 hours of air time, then that should be no problem. But she were an airline pilot or a frequent business traveler logging 1,000 hours of air time per year, then it might become a genuine issue, using the most conservative estimates for fetal exposure.

This discussion makes two important assumptions, including:

1) The TSA scanners are actually functioning properly and operating within the limits claimed by the government. Of course, if a particular machine malfunctions in a way that it produces too much radiation, then all bets are off.

2) The passenger doesn't have any special medical conditions that make him or her more sensitive to radiation than the general public.

Finally, this discussion applies only to the "backscatter" type of TSA scanner, which uses ionizing x-ray radiation. The other type of whole body TSA scanner uses "millimeter wave" technology, which does not involve ionizing x-ray radiation and does not have the same type of carcinogenic effect. Otherwise, I don't have any specialized knowledge about that particular technology and thus can't comment about any other health effects.

Conclusion: From a radiation safety perspective, it's generally safe to go through the TSA "backscatter" x-ray scanner.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Detailed review of the MacBook Airs.
Scissors plus!
Neuroscientific basis behind the "they all look alike" effect?
"Entanglement loophole closed"
Elevator etiquette.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ian McKellen discusses filming the Balrog scene from Lord of the Rings:

More information here. Unfortunately, he can't comment on negotiations for the upcoming Hobbit movie. (Via BBspot.)
Violent galactic collision.
A bank that lends goats. No, really.
Hack of the day: Turn your elevator into an express elevator.

In the comments, one person says it works 30-40% of the time. (Via @garrytan.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

"NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has unveiled a previously unseen structure centered in the Milky Way -- a finding likened in terms of scale to the discovery of a new continent on Earth."
One of my favorite humor sites, SatireWire.com, has returned!
"A 'whiffletree' is a mechanical digital-to-analog converter. Brilliant..."

Includes links to two cool videos. (Via @Qwertz0.)
The difference between regular and decaf coffee.

(Via BBspot.)
iPod cat toy video:

Monday, November 08, 2010

"Scientists re-create Big Bang in lab"
Clever trick football play:

As a Michigan fan, I can sympathize with the other side...
Externally navigated capsule endoscope.
"Is radiation from the new airport security scanners endangering my health?"

In the answer, they note that the radiation risk is minimal, but there are genuine privacy concerns:
Let's be blunt: a full-body scan means whenever you pass through airport security, you're going to have a total stranger look at you naked. Millimeter-wave scans in particular are luridly detailed. True, faces are purposely blurred, the scan inspector is in a remote locked room, never sees you in person, and isn't allowed to carry a cell phone with a camera, and the images are discarded immediately after inspection.

But remember we're dealing here with the TSA, the outfit whose agents made a nursing mother drink her own breast milk, mistook a Congressional Medal of Honor for a ninja throwing star, and forced a woman to remove her nipple rings with pliers. In March of this year a British Aviation Authority employee got a harassment warning from police after he captured an image of a female colleague passing through a full-body scanner at Heathrow airport. In May a TSA employee in Miami took a baton to a coworker who'd made fun of his genitalia after he passed through a scanner.

You may think that's a small price to pay if it means bad guys can never sneak weapons onto planes. But scans don't guarantee that. They can't detect items concealed in body cavities or by folds of flesh. "These technologies can be evaded relatively easily," a radiation safety expert tells me. "It's a money-making invasion of privacy."

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Conjoined twins with partially fused brains:
Adding to the conundrum, of course, are their linked brains, and the mysterious hints of what passes between them. The family regularly sees evidence of it. The way their heads are joined, they have markedly different fields of view.

One child will look at a toy or a cup. The other can reach across and grab it, even though her own eyes couldn't possibly see its location. "They share thoughts, too," says Louise. "Nobody will be saying anything," adds Simms, "and Tati will just pipe up and say, 'Stop that!' And she'll smack her sister."

While their verbal development is delayed, it continues to get better. Their sentences are two or three words at most so far, and their enunciation is at first difficult to understand. Both the family, and researchers, anxiously await the children's explanation for what they are experiencing.
(Via Kottke.)
Ancient Roman multitool:

Taxonomy of logical fallacies.
Christopher Hitchens on cancer etiquette. (Via @debbywitt.)
If you own an iPhone, beware this DST glitch with recurrent alarms:
Apple says devices using the mobile operating system iOS 4.1 are likely to see have their preset alarms go off an hour late.

The company recommends turning off repeating alarms and setting them manually until Monday, when it's safe to set them to repeat again.

Apple is releasing an update of the software later this month to address the glitch.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Invisibility update:
Using tiny atoms that can interact with light, the St Andrews' researchers have developed a flexible new 'smart' material that could theoretically appear invisible to the naked eye.

It is the first practical breakthrough in a much-theorised area of physics that has inspired characters such as the Invisible Woman and Harry Potter...
"12-yo Girl Prevents Kidnapping By Pretending iPod Touch Is a Phone". (Via Instapundit.)
This soccer player is really fast:

I don't know if it's genuine or a fake. (Via Kottke.)
Magazine editor steals another writer's entire article on the grounds that "the web is considered 'public domain'". (Via Cynical-C.)
"In Quest for 'Legal High,' Chemists Outfox Law". (Via Maximizing Progress.)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Facebook knows when you'll break up. (Via Marginal Revolution.)
"If Apple Made Yachts, They Would Be Like This"
Holographic Telecommuting.
"Life aboard the International Space Station".

One tidbit:
Unsurprisingly, falling asleep can take some getting used to. Just as you are nodding off, you can feel as though you've fallen off a 10-storey building. People who look half asleep will suddenly throw their heads back with a start and fling out their arms. It gets easier with time. One Russian crew member is renowned for doing without a sleeping bag and falling asleep wherever he ends the day. Anyone still awake after bedtime would see his snoozing form drift by, slowly bouncing off the walls, his course set by the air currents that gently pushed and pulled him.
(Via Kottke.)
Off-topic: PajamasMedia has just published my latest OpEd, "GOP: Dance With The One Who Brung You".

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

"Researchers engineer miniature human livers in the lab". (Via SciTechDaily.)
"How digital technology gets the news out of North Korea". (Via Tyler Cowen.)
Cute video filmed entirely on Nokia cell phone. (Via R.B.)
"Apple's $51B cash hoard is greater than the GDP of Costa Rica." (Via @robconeybeer.)

Monday, November 01, 2010

"Are 'Patent Trolls' the Secret Heroes of the Tech World?"
"Israel has forbidden soldiers from using social networking sites (like Facebook) while on active duty."

Apparently too many soldiers have been posting details of ongoing (or future) military operations on their pages.
"2010 Election Watch: Security of Your Electronic Voting Machine". (Via Instapundit.)
The "John Galt" options trading strategy for coping with capital gains tax rate uncertainty. (Via @rndx.)