Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Twitter Selling Old Tweets

Twitter is selling your 2-year old Tweets to market research firms.

Just remember, if you're receiving a service like Twitter or Facebook for free, you're probably the product not the customer.

IBM Paves The Way Towards Scalable Quantum Computing

Alex Knapp: "IBM Paves The Way Towards Scalable Quantum Computing"

Leap Day Babies Relish Their Unique Birthdays

"Leap Day Babies Relish Their Unique Birthdays"

And the messy math of Leap Years.

How to Transmit News Photos by Wire -- In 1937

"How to Transmit News Photos by Wire -- in 1937".

The video is actually pretty cool for its time:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wine Tasting Fallacies

This recent Freakonomics podcast discusses how much our perception of a wine's quality is biased by our (correct or incorrect) belief about its price.

A tidbit from one of the blind taste tests:
Levitt used four decanters. Into the first decanter, he poured one of the expensive bottles of wine. The other expensive wine went into decanter number two. In the third decanter, he poured the cheap wine, which cost around $8. In the fourth decanter, he repeated one of the expensive wines...

LEVITT: The data could not have cooperated more completely with my hypothesis. So for starters the four wines received almost identical ratings on average. Although there were a wide spread among individuals, on average, tallied up, people did not prefer the expensive wines to the cheap wine.

On top of that, and this was the thing that I was hoping for and dreaming of but didn’t believe would actually come true: It turned out among individuals if you compared how differently they rated any two of the wines that they had, it turned out that by a small margin, people actually rated the same wine from the same bottle but presented in a different decanter as being the most different among the two wines.

So the two wines that were absolutely identical, when you looked at the gap between the ratings that an individual gave to those wines, the gap was bigger than they did between the other wines, which actually were different.
(If you don't want to listen to the MP3 file, you can click on the button at the bottom of the page marked "Audio Transcript".)

Classy Turtledove

Author Harry Turtledove tells terminally-ill fan how his book series will end and sends him advance copy of the latest volume in the series.

Nomadic Planets?

Is the galaxy teeming with nomadic planets (planets that don’t actually orbit any star)?

Image Of Single Molecule Electrical Charge

"Single molecule's electric charges seen in first image". (Via V.G.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Superconductivity Update

"Iron-Based Crystal Superconductor Breaks High-Temperature Record"

Making Sudafed From Meth

Tweet of the day: "US crackdown on crystal meth means Sudafed is hard to buy. But meth is easy to buy; here's how to make Sudafed from it"

Direct link to article (PDF): "A Simple and Convenient Synthesis of Pseudoephedrine From N-Methylamphetamine"

Teller Reveals His Secrets

Teller (of Penn & Teller) writes about how magicians manipulate the human mind.

Police Search Tips

"5 Reasons You Should Never Agree to a Police Search (Even if You Have Nothing to Hide)"

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fifth Amendment Protects Suspects from Having to Decrypt Hard Drives

WSJ: "Fifth Amendment Protects Suspects from Having to Decrypt Hard Drives"

From the article:
The Fifth Amendment privilege isn't triggered when the government merely compels some physical act, like unlocking a safe-deposit box, the court said. But the amendment protects testimony in which a person is forced to use "the contents of his own mind" to state a fact.

"We conclude that the decryption and production would be tantamount to testimony by Doe of his knowledge of the existence and location of potentially incriminating files; of his possession, control, and access to the encrypted portions of the drives; and of his capability to decrypt the files," wrote Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat...
On the other hand, we have this story from a similar Colorado case: "Ruling Stands: Defendant Must Decrypt Laptop"

The Myth of the Eight-Hour Sleep

Humans used to sleep in two separate 4-hour chunks separated by 1-2 hours of wakefulness rather than a single 8-hour block.

Visualizing the Paths of 10,000 Taxi Rides Across Manhattan

"Visualizing the Paths of 10,000 Taxi Rides Across Manhattan":

20 iPhone Tips and Tricks

"20 iPhone tips and tricks everyone should know".

I'll have to see if I like the British or Australian-accented Siri better than the standard American version.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Successful Elements of Online Dating Profiles

"5 research based tips for creating an online dating profile that gets results"

Regional Names For Dust Bunnies

Ryan Sager notes there are "at least 174 names by which Americans call these bits of fluff, including bunny tails, frog hair, cussywop, woofinpoofs and -- perhaps most evocatively -- ghost manure."

Ice Age Plant Brought Back To Life

"Ice age plant brought back to life -- mammals next?"

Robot Boxing X-Prize?

Michael Williams likes the idea of a Robot Boxing X-Prize.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Advances in Robot Dinosaur Technology

"Scientists Are Building Robot Dinosaurs Out Of 3-D Printed Fossils"

$900 USB-powered DNA Sequencer

"$900 USB-powered DNA sequencer on sale this year". (Via David Jilk.)

Turing On Tiger Stripes

"Scientists confirm Alan Turing’s 60-year-old theory for why tigers have stripes"

Asian Cinema's 20 Greatest Fight Scenes

"Asian Cinema's 20 Greatest Fight Scenes". (Via @debbywitt.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Mathematical Equation That Caused the Banks to Crash

"The mathematical equation that caused the banks to crash".

I found the article informative, but the title a bit misleading. As the article notes, the problem was not the Black-Scholes equation per se, but rather how it was misused when inappropriate to circumstances. (Something true for many tools, such as guns or computers.)

Update: Reader B.E. pointed me towards this article arguing that, "Black-Scholes Didn't Cause the Financial Crash".

Update: Reader C.S. pointed me towards companion information about the Nova story, "Trillion Dollar Bet". One could reasonably infer a position somewhere between the two sources cited above.

Scientists Target Cancer With DNA Robots

"Scientists Target Cancer With DNA Robots"

Internet On, Inhibitions Off: Why We Tell All

Matt Ridley: "Internet On, Inhibitions Off: Why We Tell All". (Via Ryan Sager.)

Biologically Enhanced Soldiers?

"More Than Human? The Ethics of Biologically Enhancing Soldiers"

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Customer Reviews of Relaxman Relaxation Capsule

The customer reviews of the "Relaxman Relaxation Capsule" are hysterical. (Via Rand Simberg.)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

1989 Radio Shack Cell Phone Commercial

1989 Radio Shack cell phone commercial. OMG, that thing was enormous:



(H/T: Mark Perry, who notes, "In today's dollars, the $799 sale price would be about $1,450, and the full price of $1,139 would be more than $2,000.")

Cancer Breath Test Enters Clinical Trials

"Cancer Breath Test Enters Clinical Trials"

Chemist Uses Google Algorithm to Determine Molecular Structures

"A Chemist Uses Google's Algorithm to Determine the Structure of Molecules"

The Economist on Audio Compression

The Economist has a nice article on lossy vs. lossless audio compression algorithms.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Gyroscopic Self-Leveling Pool Table on a Ship

"Gyroscopic Self-Leveling Pool Table on a Ship":

'Invisibility' Cloak Could Protect Buildings from Earthquakes

"'Invisibility' Cloak Could Protect Buildings from Earthquakes".

This is adapting the technique to elastic waves in solid media, as opposed to light waves. (Via Z.B.)

Every Odd Integer Larger Than 1 is the Sum of At Most Five Primes

New number theory result from UCLA math professor Terence Tao: "Every odd integer larger than 1 is the sum of at most five primes".

Here's the ArXiv link. (Via @reidatcheson.)

Are Zebra Stripes Just An Elaborate Insect Repellent?

Are zebra stripes just an elaborate insect repellent?

Update: Link was missing -- now fixed!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Supermodel Economics

Supermodel economics.

Spray-On Antenna

Spray-On Antenna.

Can You Do This with Your Bic Pen?

"Can You Do This with Your Bic Pen?"

Awesome drawings done with nothing but a classic Bic Pen. It's the artist, not the tool.

Charge Your Phone (and Your Car) from Afar

"Charge Your Phone (and Your Car) from Afar"

Monday, February 13, 2012

Are Scientists Trying to Clone a Woolly Mammoth?

"Are scientists trying to clone a woolly mammoth?"

WSJ: A Car That Tweets

"Don't Look Now: A Car That Tweets" (Wall Street Journal, 2/10/2012).

I like progress as much as the next person, but I must confessed to a mixed reaction to cars that allow you to do hands-free Twitter and Facebook at 65 mph. From the article:
Customers say they love the electronics. "I like the way it looks," said Jamie Kaye Walters, 38, a television production company executive who recently bought a 2012 Ford with the Sync system. "It's a little bit distracting, but it kind of allows me to do work while I am driving without having to look down at my phone. I can do the whole thing with voice activation."
Um, if doing your work is "distracting", maybe you shouldn't be doing it while driving...

Retinal Implant Brings Eyesight To The Blind

"Retinal Implant Brings Eyesight To The Blind"

How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy

"How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy".

Or not.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Nerdiest Sports Handshake

What happens when a Stanford grad and a Harvard grad become teammates in the NBA? The nerdiest handshake in pro sports:



(Via Buzzfeed.)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Burglar Unclear On the Concept

"Man breaks into South Bend home, vacuums and folds laundry".

Or as his fellow inmates will likely explain to him, "You're doing it wrong". (Via @mcgroarty.)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

"Rise in student plagiarism cases attributed to blurred lines of digital world".

I think some of the plagiarism can be explained by students not understanding principles of proper attribution. But a lot also seems due to willful misconduct, such as:
It was a beautiful piece. But with a stunning lack of originality, the student titled it "Imagine."

"It was the song by John Lennon," [English teacher Steve] Schriener recalls. "I said, 'Honestly, I was born in 1957; do you think I don't know the Beatles?'

"He just said, 'I was hoping you didn't.'"
If you're an evil Middle Eastern dictator, don't use "12345" as your e-mail password.

Unless, of course, you want to emulate "Spaceballs".

3D Printer Produces New Jaw For Woman

"3D printer produces new jaw for woman". (Via Desiree D.)

Here's the video:

When is it Okay to Use GPS Trackers?

When is it legally okay to use GPS trackers? A quick summary:
Tracking a vehicle you own yourself is usually but not always legal

Phone tracking for public employees is fair game

New technology means law is still unsettled as to what constitutes normal expectations of privacy
Read the full piece for more details. (Via @internetcases.)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Straight Dope Discusses Light Bulb Ban

"Why are eco-fascists trying to ban incandescent bulbs?"

I'm pleasantly surprised that Cecil Adams made the point that the ban was a "pointless intrusion" of his individual rights (in addition to having negligible "green" benefit for those who value such things).

Army’s New Standard Issue Individual First Aid Kit

"Army's New Standard Issue Individual First Aid Kit"

How One Man Played 'Moneyball' With 'Jeopardy!'

"How One Man Played 'Moneyball' With 'Jeopardy!'". (Via Eric Barker.)

Rapid Nerve Repair

"New procedure repairs severed nerves in minutes, restoring limb use in days or weeks"

Monday, February 06, 2012

Sunday, February 05, 2012

What Happens to the Losing Team’s Championship Shirts?

"What Happens to the Losing Team's Championship Shirts?"

Short answer: They are donated to a charity that sends them overseas to various Third World countries. (I must admit, it would be cool to own 4 consecutive years worth of "Buffalo Bills Super Bowl Champions" t-shirts.)

Saturday, February 04, 2012

How I See Things vs. How My Cat Sees Things

"How I See Things vs. How My Cat Sees Things". (Click on image to see full size.)

Friday, February 03, 2012

Sex On First Date More Likely For Android Users

"Sex on first date more likely for Android users".

Sure, but you're also more likely to get some sort of "malware" as well... (Via @debbywitt.)

Wahl on iDoneThis

Blogger Daniel Wahl gives a big thumbs-up to the iDoneThis app.

Marco Arment on the App Economy

NPR's "Planet Money" podcast had a good interview with Instapaper founder Marco Arment on the App Economy.

Arment has a very simple and effective business model -- he sells stuff to people for more than it costs him. And he does "very well" with this approach!

Pop Can Stay-on Tab

The clever design of the "Pop Can Stay-on Tab"

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

HP Calculators in 2025, As Predicted In 1978

In 1978, the HP Calculator Journal published a cute short story by science fiction writer Gordon Dickson entitled, "Thank You, Beep!"

It described a day in the life of a business traveler in the year 2025, armed with his trusty "HP XX-2050" handheld computer (which he nicknames "Beep"), capable of storing personal data, functioning as an "auto secretary" to make appointments, and interfacing with other machines through various "computer nets".

In retrospect, the predicted 1 GB of memory seems small by modern standards but was of course enormous by the standards of 1978.

The related article, "Smartphone futures -- Thank You, Beep...!" does a nice job comparing some of Dickson's other fictional predictions with current day reality.

The fictional HP XX-2050 is a bit chunkier than current smartphones:


But overall, Dickson did a pretty good job for someone writing in 1978.

I remember reading "Thank You, Beep!" when it was originally published, thinking how cool it would be to see something like that in real-life. Today's smartphones aren't quite there yet, but they're astonishingly close. And if current progress continues, they may well exceed Dickson's predictions by the time 2025 rolls around.

Alien Brain Hemorrhage Cocktail Recipe

Cocktail recipe for a "Alien Brain Hemorrhage" drink.


Instructions: To make an alien brain hemorrhage cocktail, fill a shot glass halfway with peach schnapps. Gently pour Bailey's Irish Cream on top. After the shot is almost full, carefully add a small amount of blue curacao. After it settles, add a few drops of grenadine syrup. (Via Neatorama.)

A Swarm of Nano Quadrotors

"A Swarm of Nano Quadrotors". (Via @SupaTrey.)

Password Sharing Among American Teenagers

"Password Sharing Among American Teenagers"