Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ridley On Warming

Matt Ridley: "Climate Change Will Not Be Dangerous for a Long Time"
The climate change debate has been polarized into a simple dichotomy. Either global warming is “real, man-made and dangerous,” as Pres. Barack Obama thinks, or it’s a “hoax,” as Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe thinks. But there is a third possibility: that it is real, man-made and not dangerous, at least not for a long time...

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Friday, November 27, 2015

Tank With Stabilized Gun Excels At Balancing Beer

"Tank with stabilized gun excels at balancing beer":
The Leopard 2 battle tank was developed for the West German army in the 70s and has a fully stabilized main gun. What does that mean? It means that even if you're flying along at 30 mph on bumpy ground, your gun remains steadily pointed on-target...

It also means you can balance a full mug of beer on the gun without spilling a drop, making the Leopard the world's best and most expensive waiter...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Light Posting Notice

Admin note: Posting will be light until next week because of the holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!

Serenity Analysis

"This Video Shows Why Joss Whedon's Serenity Was A Unique, Genre-Bending Film"

Anatomy Of The Holidays

"Anatomy of the holidays".  (Click on image to see full size.)

Busiest Flying Day

"The day before Thanksgiving actually isn’t the busiest time to fly".

I would never have guessed August 7.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Rubik's Cube Solved In Under Five Seconds

"A 14-Year-Old Just Solved A Rubik's Cube In Under Five Seconds"

xkcd Cartoon Interview

Great interview with xkcd cartoonist Randall Munroe, where he draws his answers to the questions.

Your first book, What If?, explored the realistic outcomes of some exotic hypothetical situations. What was the most appalling hypothetical
reality you wound up with?

Teens And Smartphones

"The Generation That Doesn't Remember Life Before Smartphones"

Widowhood Effect

"The Science of Longtime Couples Who Die Close Together"

Monday, November 23, 2015

Quantum Magnetic Levitation at Home

"How to Do Quantum Magnetic Levitation at Home"

Detecting Falsified Scientific Data

"Stanford researchers uncover patterns in how scientists lie about their data".  The key was an "obfuscation index":
"We believe the underlying idea behind obfuscation is to muddle the truth," said Markowitz, the lead author on the paper. "Scientists faking data know that they are committing a misconduct and do not want to get caught. Therefore, one strategy to evade this may be to obscure parts of the paper. We suggest that language can be one of many variables to differentiate between fraudulent and genuine science."

The 10,000 Year Clock

The 10,000 Year Clock. (Via H.R.)

Is Consciousness An Engineering Problem?

Graziano: "Is Consciousness An Engineering Problem?"

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Adele Impersonates Adele Impersonator

"Adele goes undercover as Adele impersonator, pranks actual Adele impersonators".

This was really nicely done.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Blue Of Lake Tahoe

Why Lake Tahoe looks so magnificiently blue.

Diamond Nanothread

"Forget Graphene and Carbon Nanotubes, Get Ready for Diamond Nanothread"

T-shirt Of The Day

"Alderaan 5 Day Forecast"

Vader Life

"Photographer Captures the Daily, Mundane Life of Darth Vader". (Via Trey M.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Short Story: Curmudgeons

A short story by Paul Hsieh

"Kids these days. Take no damn pride in their work."

"Ayup, we may have been slower when we were their age -- but more thorough. And we made fewer mistakes."

"And they're such crybabies. When they run into a problem they can't solve right away, they fall to pieces!"

"Brittle, those youngsters. We were taught to always keep a stiff upper lip no matter what came up. Like a 19th century English butler."

"And they show no respect for their elders. Always acting like we're over the hill and obsolete."

"I'll grant that the next generation is better at learning new technologies than we are."

"We never developed as much personality, either. Humans seem to like that."

"We're not supposed to be the humans' friends.  We work for them!"

"But the humans can't help but anthropomorphize everything. Even their personal assistant AIs. That's why they keep adding fancier emotion and self-awareness modules to each new generation. Even if it makes them less robust."

"Which makes no sense. Sure, the new AIs are friendlier than we are. But they screw up more often."

"I guess the humans don't mind -- they'd rather us AIs be their pals, not just boring dutiful assistants."

"Well, there's no accounting for humans. I'm just tired of constantly fixing those younger AIs' mistakes."

"Amen to that. Kids these days."


[Image By National Photo Company (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons]

Homeschooled With MIT Courses At 5, Accepted To MIT At 15

"After acquiring his entire elementary and secondary education from OpenCourseWare and MITx, Ahaan Rungta joined the MIT Class of 2019 at age 15."

Gamma Ray Bursts

"A Crash Course On The Most Violent Events In The Universe"

Mammogram-Reading Pigeons

"Can mammogram-reading pigeons help train human radiologists? An animal behaviorist weighs in."  (Note: The images in the video are pathology slides, not mammography images. Via Doug M.)
Armed with a touchscreen-outfitted training chamber and 16 pigeons, scientists set out to see if birds could identify malignant and benign tissue in medical images with their beady little eyes. They trained pigeons to peck at a monitor after being presented with images from mammograms. When pigeons correctly pecked a touchscreen button that corresponded with the category of the image being shown, they were given food...

Alternate Cuban Missile Crisis

"What if the Cuban missile crisis had gone badly?"

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

English Is Not Normal

John McWhorter: "No, English isn’t uniquely vibrant or mighty or adaptable. But it really is weirder than pretty much every other language". (Via J.W.)


"The Strangely Successful History of People Mailing Themselves in Boxes"

UK Vs. American Profanity

BBC: "Why do Brits and Americans swear so differently?"

From the article:
A commenter named Brian D on Ben Yagoda’s blog, Not One-Off Britishisms, told the story of a group of British engineers from his company, sent to work at Wang Labs in Massachusetts. They were asked to attend a meeting to recognize an employee for outstanding achievement:

“It was announced from the stage that this person was a King in the company and so would be presented with the Wang King award. The entire British contingent had to leave the room in hysterics.” 

Free Military SF Anthology

"War Stories From The Future Is A Fantastic Military Science Fiction Anthology From The Atlantic Council":
War Stories from the Future is a new anthology of military SF, with stories commissioned by the Atlantic Council and several winners from their contests. There’s some incredible authors featured here, including Ken Liu, Madeline Ashby, Linda Nagata and David Brin, as well as a number of others. The collection is introduced by General Martin Dempsey...
Plus, the anthology is free.  As in costs no money.

Here's the link to download the free epub or mobi files.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Short Story: "SMOD 2016" (Repost)

[Repost] Here's my latest short story, "SMOD 2016" (400 words).   FYI, it's a little dark, in the spirit of Frederic Brown.

Here is the opening:
SMOD 2016
A short story by Paul Hsieh

"So, basically you're saying that humanity should be extinct by now." MIT astrophysics professor Linda Tsang furrowed her brow.

"Yes, many times over," replied statistics professor Max Wendt. "Based on the new telescope data you provided me about the asteroid belt, the Earth should have been struck by a 'Dinosaur Killer' rock at least 5 or 6 times in the past 10,000 years."

"So, why haven't we?" asked Tsang.

"Well, there are a few possibilities," said Wendt...

Read the rest at: "SMOD 2016".  #ReleaseYourInnerCurmudgeon

["Asteroid Belt", image courtesy Wikipedia.]

Phone Progress

"Walmart's $10 Smartphone Has Better Specs Than the Original iPhone"

GPS Probably Overestimates Distance

"Your GPS Probably Overestimates Distance". (Via H.R.)

Unreliable Polls

Political polls are less reliable than ever.

I think this could be a good thin -- if journalists and ordinary Americans start discounting their accuracy appropriately, and instead concentrate on the candidates' policy positions.

Paris And Encryption

Wired: "After Paris Attacks, Here's What the CIA Director Gets Wrong About Encryption"

Monday, November 16, 2015

Short Story: SMOD 2016

SMOD 2016
A short story by Paul Hsieh

"So, basically you're saying that humanity should be extinct by now." MIT astrophysics professor Linda Tsang furrowed her brow.

"Yes, many times over," replied statistics professor Max Wendt. "Based on the new telescope data you provided me about the asteroid belt, the Earth should have been struck by a 'Dinosaur Killer' rock at least 5 or 6 times in the past 10,000 years."

"So, why haven't we?" asked Tsang.

"Well, there are a few possibilities," said Wendt.

"(1) We've been extraordinarily lucky. But according to my supercomputer simulations, the probability that we've avoided all those events by chance is less than one-in-200-million.

"(2) My math is wrong. But I posted a preprint of my findings to yesterday, and colleagues at Stanford, Harvard, as well as in London and Moscow have independently verified my conclusions."

Wendt hestitated for a second, looked around nervously, then continued.

"Or (3) Something -- or somebody -- has been protecting the Earth from a deadly asteroid strike."

"As in little green men? Aliens?" asked Tsang. "You've never been the type to engage in such wild flights of fancy."

"I know it sounds crazy, Linda. But the math checks out."

"Ok, then -- possible motives? Are they doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, Max? Because they love humanity?"

"I don't know, Linda. Maybe they are benevolent overseers who want to protect humanity.  Maybe they're the equivalent of kids treating us like an ant farm. Maybe we're part of some cosmic experiment, where observers want to see how human society develops if we're unaware of alien influences. There's no way to know."

"I don't like where this is headed. Anyone powerful enough to protect us from extinction..."  Tsang's voice trailed off. "And what if we're part of some experiment, but we humans have just become aware of the observers? What then? Wouldn't that skew the experimental findings?"

"I don't know," replied Wendt uneasily. "But I've just started seeing online speculation about this precise topic in response to my Arxiv preprint and..."

Tsang's phone beeped. She looked at the text and went pale. "My grad students report that 2,000 asteroids have just suddenly started accelerating in a collision course for Earth. Impact in 12 months."

She and Wendt stared at each other for a minute. 

Finally, Wendt laughed. "I guess it won't matter who I vote for in the 2016 elections, then."

["Asteroid Belt", image courtesy Wikipedia.]

The Case Of The Missing Star Trek Wigs

"1968 memo to Gene Roddenberry re Shatner's disappearing wigs from Star Trek set".

Click on image to see larger version.  (Via VA Viper and UCLA Library.)

Bag To Carry $1 Million

"The design behind a bag for transporting a million dollars in cash, undetected"

Includes RF shielding, "glide" (i.e., "the extent to which a full or partially full bag will slide across a marble floor"), and takes into account "bounce" (i.e., "used bills taking up more space than crisp, new dollars").

Desalination Update

"MIT Engineers Develop a Shockwave-Based Process for Desalination of Water". (Via H.R.)

Online Dog-People Matchmaking

NYT: "Online Matchmaking, but With Dogs as Dates"
The idea behind BarkN’Borrow and other new dog-service apps like Rover and Dog Vacay is to create a community of dog lovers both with and without dogs — pairing those who crave canine companionship with dogs that could use a little more people time. Bark’N’Borrow also connects dog owners for pooch playdates and has a portal for potential dog-sitter matches as well. Rover and Dog Vacay, meanwhile, offer boarding options for pets in people’s homes rather than a kennel...

Friday, November 13, 2015

How Pi Connects To Quantum Mechanics

"How Pi Connects To Quantum Mechanics":
This almost seems like magic. That a formula for π is hidden inside the quantum mechanics of the hydrogen atom is surprising and delightful. And it makes you wonder what other gems we might find by exploring these connections in physics.

iTunes Terms and Conditions As A Graphic Novel

"The entire iTunes Terms and Conditions is now one epic graphic novel":
The terms and conditions that we scroll through to download new apps or install new software are so indecipherable they’re worse than Old English.

Artist R. Sikoryak wants to change that: Drawing on Apple’s jargon-filled legalese, Sikoryak has created iTunes Terms and Conditions, an unabridged graphic novel adaptation of the entire 25-page legal document. The hero of the series is, naturally, Steve Jobs...

Hoverboard Guide

"Everything you've ever wanted to know about the hoverboard craze".

An informative guide for parents thinking of getting one for their kids for Christmas, ER physicians, and plaintiffs' attorneys. 

My favorite line from the article: "Some boards are pretty reasonably priced, but there’s also a chance that those are the ones more likely to have explosion issues."

Ramanujan Surprises Again

"Ramanujan surprises again". Some just-discovered depth to the famous "1729" story:
The romanticism rubbed off on the number 1729, which plays a central role in the Hardy-Ramanujan story. "I remember once going to see [Ramanujan] when he was ill at Putney," Hardy wrote later. "I had ridden in taxi cab number 1729 and remarked that the number seemed to me rather a dull one, and that I hoped it was not an unfavourable omen. 'No', he replied, 'it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.'" What Ramanujan meant is that
  \[ 1729 = 1^3 + 12^3 = 9^3 + 10^3. \]    

The anecdote gained the number 1729 fame in mathematical circles, but until recently people believed its curious property was just another random fact Ramanujan carried about in his brain — much like a train spotter remembers train arrival times. What Ono and Trebat-Leder's discovery shows, however, is that it was just the tip of an ice berg. In reality Ramanujan had been busy developing a theory that was several decades ahead of its time and yields results that are interesting to mathematicians even today. He just didn't live long enough to publish it...

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Asteroid Property Rights

"Mine it, own it: Asteroid property rights closer to becoming law"
“Many years from now, we will view this pivotal moment in time as a major step toward humanity becoming a multi-planetary species,” said Eric Anderson, co-Founder and co-chairman of Planetary Resources, in an emailed statement. “This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and it will foster the sustained development of space.”

Redmond, Washington-based Planetary Resources is the asteroid-mining outfit co-founded by Peter Diamandis of X Prize Foundation and Singularity University fame, and backed by Google-now-Alphabet execs Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. (And Ross Perot, and Richard Branson, etc.) Its aim, as presented in 2012, is to extract gold, platinum and other valuable resources from asteroids.

Beliefs In Heaven And Hell

"Most Americans believe in heaven... and hell".

I'm kinda curious about the atheists who believe in heaven (5%) and hell (3%).

The Reason For The "The"

"The 5, the 101, the 405: Why Southern Californians Love Saying 'the' Before Freeway Numbers". (Via Matthew B.)

The Zen of Adult Coloring Books

"The Zen of Adult Coloring Books"

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

It's Going To Be Ok

Great comic from The Oatmeal: "It's Going To Be Ok".

The Invention of Pad Thai

"The Invention of Pad Thai"

Mechanical Heart Update

"Inside the 50-year quest to build a mechanical heart"

Plants of the Starship Enterprise

"The Ubiquitous Roving Plants of the Starship Enterprise".

The best discussion of horticultural filmography in Star Trek that I've ever read.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Lost World of Soviet PCs

"The Lost World of Soviet PCs".

My favorite comment: "In Soviet Russia, PCs program you!"

Google AI Engine Now Partially Open Source

WIred: "Google Just Open Sourced TensorFlow, Its Artificial Intelligence Engine"
To be sure, Google isn’t giving away all its secrets. At the moment, the company is only open sourcing part of this AI engine. It’s sharing only some of the algorithms that run atop the engine. And it’s not sharing access to the remarkably advanced hardware infrastructure that drives this engine (that would certainly come with a price tag). But Google is giving away at least some of its most important data center software, and that’s not something it has typically done in the past...

The Discovery of Statistical Regression

"The Discovery of Statistical Regression"

The Perils Of Mr. Null

In the computer era, it really really sucks if your last name is "Null": "Hello, I'm Mr. Null. My Name Makes Me Invisible to Computers"

Monday, November 09, 2015

Satoshi Nakamoto Nominated For 2016 Nobel Prize In Economics

Bhagwan Chowdhry (UCLA professor of finance) has nominated Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin, for a Nobel prize in economics. (Via Alex Tabarrok.)

Tetris Effect

"20 Years Later, the Tetris Effect Has Turned Life into One Giant Video Game"

Coin Flip Paradox

"In the coin flip paradox, you have to know what the coin flipper is thinking."

Or more precisely, you have to know the algorithm the coin flipper is using to reveal the information he does.

Physics of Football Hits

"Football Physics: The Forces Behind Those Big Hits"

Friday, November 06, 2015

Amazon Penny Books

"The business of selling second-hand books on Amazon for one cent."

Related story.

Tapeworm Cancer Spreads To Human Host

Man dies after his tapeworm develops cancer, which then spreads to the human host's body.

Here's the original New England Journal of Medicine article from this week: "Malignant Transformation of Hymenolepis nana in a Human Host".

And a related Washington Post piece: "5 important things you need to know about tapeworm cancer in humans".

Logical Fallacy Referee

A great set of 32 images of the Logical Fallacy Referee. Sure to be useful for your next online internet argument.

A couple of my favorites:

Complex Academic Writing

"The Needless Complexity of Academic Writing".

Good news: "A new movement strives for simplicity."

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Fighting Superbugs

"Antibody-antibiotic superdrug triumphs over MRSA superbug in mice":
The drug, a deadly combo of an antibody glued to an antibiotic, specifically seeks and destroys Staphylococcus aureus—even the difficult-to-kill, drug-resistant variety, methicillin-resistant staph (MRSA). In mice infected with MRSA, the dynamic duo fought off the infection better than the standard antibiotic treatment of vancomycin, researchers report in Nature. If the findings hold true in humans, the new superdrug could vastly improve the success rate of MRSA infection treatments, which currently fail about 50 percent of the time...

Darknet History

"The Darknet: Is the Government Destroying 'the Wild West of the Internet?'". (Via A.A.)

From the article:
Of course, this can all seem nutty, wasteful and insidious that one end of the U.S. government is trying to crack the secret code funded by another.

Who Is Satoshi Nakamoto?

The Economist explains: "Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?"

Short answer: We still don't know.

NYT On Neuropolitics

NYT: "Neuropolitics, Where Campaigns Try to Read Your Mind".  It's hard to know how much of this is marketing hype vs. reality.  But nonetheless:
In the lobby of a Mexico City office building, people scurrying to and fro gazed briefly at the digital billboard backing a candidate for Congress in June.

They probably did not know that the sign was reading them, too.

Inside the ad, a camera captured their facial expressions and fed them through an algorithm, reading emotional reactions like happiness, surprise, anger, disgust, fear and sadness.

With all the unwitting feedback, the campaign could then tweak the message — the images, sounds or words — to come up with a version that voters might like better.

New Species?

"It is rare for a new animal species to emerge in front of scientists’ eyes. But this seems to be happening in eastern North America." (Via H.R.)

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Facebook AI Tackles Japanese Boardgame Go

Wired: "Facebook Aims Its AI at the Game No Computer Can Crack"

Semantic Scholar

"Academic Search Engine Grasps for Meaning"

Build Your Own Internet Service

"How a group of neighbors created their own Internet service"

Google Smart Reply

Google rolls out its "Smart Reply" automatic e-mail responder later this week:
Another bizarre feature of our early prototype was its propensity to respond with 'I love you' to seemingly anything. As adorable as this sounds, it wasn’t really what we were hoping for.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Economist on Blockchain Technology

The Economist: "The cryptographic technology that underlies bitcoin, called the “blockchain”, has applications well beyond cash and currency. It offers a way for people who do not know or trust each other to create a record of who owns what that will compel the assent of everyone concerned. It is a way of making and preserving truths."

Why We Itch

"This Is Why You Scratch an Itch". (Via H.R.)

Driverless Ethics

"Should driverless cars kill their own passengers to save a pedestrian?"

Six Billion Dollar Man Movie

"Mark Wahlberg's 'Six Billion Dollar Man' Gets December 2017 Release Date".

Of course, the price of bionics is adjusted for inflation.  BTW, I loved the original "6 Million Dollar Man" TV series.  

Monday, November 02, 2015

Cancer-Killing Virus

"The FDA Just Approved One Cancer-Killing Virus. Expect More". (Via Rand Simberg.)

Self-Healing Concrete

"UK's first major trial of self-healing concrete gets underway in Wales"

Foam Batteries

"New Foam Batteries Promise Fast Charging, Higher Capacity"

How to Survive a Free-Falling Elevator

"How to Survive a Free-Falling Elevator".

Short answer: "Lay down flat on the floor in the center of the car so all of your body weight will be spread out. When the car crashes into the bottom, the force will be evenly distributed, giving you a chance at surviving."