Friday, December 30, 2016

[Off Topic] Hsieh Forbes Column: No, The Government Should Not Provide Health Insurance For All Americans

[Off topic] My last Forbes piece for 2016 came out yesterday, "No, The Government Should Not Provide Health Insurance For All Americans".

I discuss a proposal from conservative health policy analyst James Capretta in which he argues, "The GOP Should Provide Health Insurance for All Americans". And I propose some alternative free-market approaches that we can start implementing in 2017.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Holiday Hiatus

Admin note: Again, GeekPress will take a holiday hiatus until after the New Year. See you all in 2017!

Furiosa’s Cat Feeder

Human barely outwits cat: "Furiosa's Cat Feeder"

AirPod Review

Ars Techncia Review: "The AirPods are fine wireless headphones for a certain type of person". (Via H.R.)

'Toilet Paper' For Smartphones

Not-an-Onion headline: "Swipe right? 'Toilet paper' for smartphones trialled in Japanese airport bathrooms"

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Ransomware Twist

"Ransomware Gives Free Decryption Keys to Victims Who Infect Others".  This is both brilliant and evil:
Infected victims of the ransomware known as Popcorn Time, have the option to either pay up, or they can opt to infect two others using a referral link. If the two new ransomware targets pay the ransom, the original target receives a free key to unlock files on their PC...

(Via S.L. and A.B.)

Legal Perils Of Pointing A Laser At A Helicopter

Ars Technica: "A three-second laser strike cost Barry Bowser everything"

Following A Stolen Phone

"Dutch Filmmaker Intentionally Lets His Phone Get Stolen In Order to Follow Its Path Through Spyware".

Here's the video (21 minutes):

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Greatest Spirographs

"Behold the greatest spirographs in the world". (Via H.R.)

One nice example:

French Mail Drones

"France is going to let drones start delivering the mail". (Via MR.)

SC Porn Law

South Carolina is considering a bill to require all computers sold in the state to come with porn filters. Users could pay a $20 fee to disable the filter.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Holiday Hiatus

Admin note: GeekPress will take a break until December 27, 2016. Merry Christmas!

Letters To Santa

"23 Funny Historical Letters to Santa"

2016 Media Corrections

"Best of media corrections, 2016 edition".

Two of my favorites are both from the New York Times:

NYT, 5/10/2016: "Because of an editing error, an article on Monday about a theological battle being fought by Muslim imams and scholars in the West against the Islamic State misstated the Snapchat handle used by Suhaib Webb, one of Muslim leaders speaking out. It is imamsuhaibwebb, not Pimpin4Paradise786."

NYT, 4/10/2016:  "An article on March 20 about wave piloting in the Marshall Islands misstated the number of possible paths that could be navigated without instruments among the 34 islands and atolls of the Marshall Islands. It is 561, not a trillion trillion."

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ikea On Acid

"People Try To Build IKEA Furniture While On Acid"

When Do You Outgrow IKEA?

"When Do You Outgrow IKEA?".

Short answer: Age 34.

OLED Update

"Deep blacks, bright future -- where OLED screens go from here". (Via H.R.)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016

SMBC: The Talk

SMBC: "The Talk"

Humans And Cats

"Humans and Cats Have a Strange, Complicated History"

Fake Meat Update

"The Revolution Has Begun: Beyond Meat".

I still enjoy meat, but vegetarian friends might find this interesting.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Economics Of Kidnapping

"Kidnapping for ransom works like a market. How it is organized is surprising." (Via Tyler Cowen.)

Emoji Translator Job

"A company in London has advertised for an emoji translator in what is thought to be the first such job worldwide":
The role will involve explaining cross-cultural misunderstandings in the use of the mini pictures, and compiling a monthly trends report. Agency boss Jurga Zilinskiene said emojis were a "potential growth area" as "inconsistencies" had developed in their use.
 One example of a potential misunderstanding included:

Waving hand - You might think this emoji is waving hello or goodbye. Well in China, it has a very specific meaning, along the lines of "bye, you're not my friend any more". Like a middle finger in Europe.

North America’s Lost Medieval City

"Cahokia was North America's biggest city -- then it was completely abandoned". (Via H.R.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts

"How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts"

The Japanese Museum of Rocks That Look Like Faces

"The Japanese Museum of Rocks That Look Like Faces".

Here's their "Elvis Presley" rock:

New Pictures of Saturn

"Check Out New Pictures of Saturn From Cassini’s Latest Orbit"

Monday, December 12, 2016

Space Tether

"Japan Testing 'Space Tether' to Knock Junk Out of Orbit"

Austria’s Word of the Year

"Austria's Word of the Year Has 52 Letters":
Bundespraesidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung. To an English speaker, it may seem like a meaningless, even endless assortment of letters, but it turns out that it’s an award-winning German word. As the Associated Press reports, a survey of 10,000 Austrians has chosen the lengthy noun as its word of the year.

Roughly translated, the word means “postponement of the repeat runoff of the presidential election.” The super-long word was coined this year in response to a similarly drawn-out presidential election in Austria.

Fake News And The Law

Eugene Volokh: "Fake news and the law, from 1798 to now"

Evolution In Action

"A giant Petri dish chock-full of superbugs shows evolution as it happens"

Friday, December 09, 2016

Caesareans And Evolution

BBC: "Caesarean births 'affecting human evolution'"

Sex Vs. Cybersecurity

"Although the question of whether you would give up sex for a year in return for total cybersecurity seems like an odd question, it is one that was posed to 2,000 adults in a poll recently taken by Harris. The response to the question was startling. According to the poll, 39% of Americans are so fearful of their cybersecurity that they said yes."

The 2016 Hater’s Guide To The Williams-Sonoma Catalog

A Holiday Tradition!: "The 2016 Hater’s Guide To The Williams-Sonoma Catalog"

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

False Positive Breathalyzer

"Hand Sanitizer Can Cause a False Positive Breathalyzer Test".

I foresee a gold mine for defense lawyers arguing against DUI charges...

Remote Justice

"BMW Remotely Locks Stolen Car With Alleged Thief Still Inside"

Reconstructing Destroyed Map

"Watch a Destroyed 17th Century Map Get Painstakingly Restored". (Via H.R.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Life As A Bee

"You're a Bee. This Is What It Feels Like."

Tesla Gun

"This Handmade Tesla Gun Is Shockingly Cool". (Via H.R.)

Finding Tech Props

"How Hollywood Gets Its Old-School Tech". (Via H.R.)

Monday, December 05, 2016

Fahrenheit >> Celsius

"In Defense of Fahrenheit: A lot of scientific thought went into developing the United States' stubbornly-held temperature system"

AI Medicine Update

 "Google is using its deep learning tech to diagnose disease":
If you give a computer enough photos and the right algorithm, it can learn to see. And if the photos show damaged eyes, the computer can learn to diagnose eye disease even better than humans can.
Here's the JAMA article: "Development and Validation of a Deep Learning Algorithm for Detection of Diabetic Retinopathy in Retinal Fundus Photographs".

A lot of what human physicians do now will likely be performed by machines in the future. In particular, pattern-recognition diagnoses will be ripe for machine learning. As a radiologist, I don't expect my job will exist in its current form in 20 years. (Maybe not in 10!)

What Happened To The Only Person Ever Hit By A Meteorite

"For the Only Person Ever Hit by a Meteorite, the Real Trouble Began Later".

Update: Link was broken earlier; now fixed!

Friday, December 02, 2016

Short Hiatus

Admin note: Due to external obligations, I will take a short hiatus for the rest of the week.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Allied Accuracy

"How Accurate Is the Movie 'Allied'?"

Short answer: It's fiction.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Colonizing Titan

"The idea of a human colony on Titan, a moon of Saturn, might sound crazy."

The Deadly Boston Molasses Disaster

"The Sticky Science Behind the Deadly Boston Molasses Disaster"

Diamond Batteries

"Diamonds turn nuclear waste into nuclear batteries". (Via H.R.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

[Off Topic] Hsieh Forbes Column on Aneurysm Deaths In UK vs US

[Off topic] My latest Forbes piece is now out: "Patients With Aortic Aneurysms More Likely To Die In The UK Than The US".

I discuss a recent New England Journal of Medicine study which showed that if you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm (aka "AAA") in the US vs the UK, the UK patients have to wait longer for surgery, and the aneurysms don't get repaired until they are larger (and more at risk of rupture.)

The researchers conclude: "Rates of aneurysm rupture and aneurysm-related death were significantly higher in England than in the United States".

I also cover three natural follow-up questions:

1) Were US surgeons jeopardizing their patients by operating more aggressively than UK surgeons?

2) Did the UK nationalized health system contribute to the lower rates of appropriate surgery in the UK?

3) Will US government policies incentivize American surgeons towards more — or less — appropriate treatments?

For more details, read the full text of "Patients With Aortic Aneurysms More Likely To Die In The UK Than The US".

Google AI Secret Internal Language

"Google's AI translation tool seems to have invented its own secret internal language"

World Map Of Tourism Slogans

"A site called FamilyBreakFinder produced a world map with every country’s tourism slogan on it."

A few fun ones:
Netherlands: The original cool
Colombia: Colombia is magical realism
El Salvador: The 45 minute country
Slovenia: I feel sLOVEnia
Cape Verde: No stress
Spain: #spainindetail
Morocco: Much mor
Bhutan: Happiness is a place
India: Incredible !ndia
Via Jason Kottke, who also notes: "Some of these countries should ask their ad agencies for their money back."

(Click on image below to see full-size version)

Head Transplant Update

"Head Transplant Patient Will Use Virtual Reality to Smooth Transition to New Body".

Again, I wish they would call it a "body transplant", not a "head transplant".

Monday, November 28, 2016

Telling Kids About Santa

Now that Thanksgiving is over, we can move onto arguing over what to tell kids about Santa Claus!

The article kindly notes: "CAUTION: this article contains sensitive information concerning the existence of Santa Claus."

NASA EM Drive Skepticism

"NASA's EM-drive still a WTF-thruster: New paper generates more noise than experimental thrust".

New Semiconductor

"Indium Selenide Takes on the Mantle of the New Wonder Material". (Via H.R.)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Hiatus

Admin note: I won't be posting anything until after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Unconventional Magnets

"3D printers promise better, cheaper and more powerful magnets"

Chipotle Lawsuit

"Los Angeles Residents Sue Chipotle Because Their Burritos Contained More Than 300 Calories".

My favorite line from the article: "Better yet, stop paying attention to calorie counts at all and just pay attention to your body’s hunger and satiety signals."


"Crocodile Mummy Found Packed With Dozens of Smaller Crocodile Mummies"

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Programming Ethics

"Programmers are having a huge discussion about the unethical and illegal things they've been asked to do"

GM Mosquitoes

"Field trial of genetically modified mosquitoes gets approval in Florida"

Fork Vs. Sword

BBC: "Woman with plastic fork chased sword-wielding robber".

As they say, "Never bring a sword to a fork fight."
Or is it, "Never bring a fork to sword fight"?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Product 19

"The Long Death of Product 19, the Most Beloved Cereal You've Never Heard Of"

Coffee Lawsuit

"How A Lawsuit Over Hot Coffee Helped Erode the 7th Amendment"

Virtual Brothels

"Virtual Brothels: How Teledildonics Is Revolutionizing Sex Work"

Friday, November 18, 2016

Zeptosecond Physics

"Researchers at the Max Plank Institute in Germany finally measured minute changes within an atom on the zeptosecond scale.

A zeptosecond is 10^-21 second.

Photo Subjects 40 Years Later

"Photographer Tracks Down People He Photographed Nearly 40 Years Earlier For A Reshoot"

Polygraph Reliability

"Do Polygraph Tests Actually Work?"

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Calendar Synesthesia

What people with "calendar synesthesia" reveal about how our minds deal with time

Cultural History Of The Mirror

"The Mirror Effect: How the rise of mirrors in the fifteenth century shaped our idea of the individual"

Phones Sending Data To China

NYT: "Secret Back Door in Some U.S. Phones Sent Data to China, Analysts Say".

This mostly affects users of disposable/prepaid phones. But the exact scope of the problem is still unclear.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

DST Twin Paradox

"Riddle of the day: Samuel was born first, but his twin brother Ronan is older. How is that possible?"

Answer: Samuel was born at 1:39 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6 and by the time Ronan was born 31 minutes later, #DaylightSavingsTime had ended for the year and the time fell back by an hour, making Ronan’s official time of birth 1:10 a.m. Samuel and Ronan were born at Cape Cod Hospital to parents Emily and Seth Peterson of West Barnstable.

Political Spam Warning

"The election is over but spammers aren't conceding".

Please be wary of politically-themed spam and/or malware vectors. Spammers are counting on heated emotions to lower your guard.

Self-Driving Scooter

"Self-Driving Scooter Helps Liberate Elderly and Disabled"

Monday, November 14, 2016

Real Life Trolley Problem

Real life trolley problem from Evansville, IN (via Marginal Revolution):
Deputies say the driver of a red Pontiac Grand Prix exited a curve and noticed the school bus stopped in the opposing lane when he veered into the front of the bus to avoid hitting the children crossing the street.

We're told there were about 35 students on the bus at the time of the crash. Thankfully, no one was reported hurt on the scene.

Facebook Buying Black Market Passwords

"How Facebook buying black market passwords keeps you safe"

Morphing Wings

"New 'Morphing' Wing Could Enable More Efficient Plane Flight". (Via H.R.)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Hacking Elections

Bruce Schneier: "American Elections Will Be Hacked"

Fastest Rubik Cube Robot

"Robot claims fastest Rubik's Cube solving time".

Time = 0.637 seconds (!) Click through to see video.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Monday, November 07, 2016

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Bad Betting Strategies

Even smart people do badly when they get to bet on a coin toss, where they know in advance it's biased to land 60% heads:
The paper invited 61 people, a combination of college-age students in finance and economics and some young professionals at finance firms (including 14 who worked for fund managers), to take a test. They were each given a stake of $25 and then asked to bet on a coin that would land heads 60% of the time. The prizes were real, although capped at $250.
Remarkably, 28% of the participants went bust, and the average payout was just $91. Only 21% of the participants reached the maximum. 18 of the 61 participants bet everything on one toss, while two-thirds gambled on tails at some stage in the experiment. Neither approach is in the least bit optimal.
More details: "Rational Decision-Making under Uncertainty: Observed Betting Patterns on a Biased Coin".

Mental Accounting Foibles

"This classic thought experiment explains the weird decisions we make about spending money".

6.25 Gigabytes From 3 Billion Miles Away

"How NASA Got Every Last Piece of Pluto Data Down From New Horizons"

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

New MacBook Pro Reviews

Ars Technica: "The $1,499 2016 MacBook Pro is an expensive MacBook Air on the inside".

Related iFixit: "New MacBook Pros are unsurprisingly difficult to repair and upgrade". (Links via H.R.)

Realistic Phishing E-mails

"Would You Click on These Fake Gmail Alerts?"

Some of these look pretty realistic. Another good reason to turn on 2-factor authentication.

Friendship Topologies

"When striking up new connections, people are either 'tight-knitters,' 'compartmentalizers,' or 'samplers,' according to Dartmouth sociology professor Janice McCabe"

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Ideal Cycling Speed

The ideal cycling speed is 8-9 mph, if your goal is to minimize inhaling pollution.

GPS Satellite Woes

"Swarm reveals why GPS satellites lose track over the equator between Africa and South America". (Via H.R.)

Probably more accurate than my other favorite theory:

Jesus Tomb

"Researchers open what they think may have been Jesus’ tomb"

Monday, October 31, 2016

Placebo Update

Placebos can still work even when you know you're getting a placebo.

Remote Drone Takedown

"There’s a new way to take down drones, and it doesn’t involve shotguns"

Brain Training

"Want to 'train your brain'? Forget apps, learn a musical instrument". (Via C.B.)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Google Insecurity

"Adding a phone number to your Google account can make it LESS secure".

Or if you do so, at least employ 2-factor security. (Via Gus Van Horn.)

Entertainment Pills?

"A Matrix-like hallucinogenic pill may be the future of entertainment, says Netflix’s CEO"

Rotisserie Chicken Economics

"Are Rotisserie Chickens a Bargain?"

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Mercedes Self-Driving Car Ethics

"Mercedes says its self-driving cars will kill pedestrians instead of drivers":
When they crash, self-driving Mercedes will be programmed to save the driver, and not the person or people they hit. That's the design decision behind the Mercedes Benz's future Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous cars, according to the company's manager of driverless car safety, Christoph von Hugo. Instead of worrying about troublesome details like ethics, Mercedes will just program its cars to save the driver and the car's occupants, in every situation.

One of the biggest debates about driverless cars concerns the moral choices made when programming a car's algorithms. Say the car is spinning out of control, and on course to hit a crowd queuing at a bus stop. It can correct its course, but in doing so, it'll kill a cyclist for sure. What does it do? Mercedes's answer to this take on the classic Trolley Problem is to hit whichever one is least likely to hurt the people inside its cars. If that means taking out a crowd of kids waiting for the bus, then so be it...

Modern Cars Are Freaking Out In Car Washes

"Modern Cars Are Freaking Out In Car Washes". (Via H.R.)
The issue is that the sensory safety systems that help to prevent crashes on the road also often prevent cars from thinking the enclosure full of spraying water and spinning brushes is a good place to be, causing the systems to overload and essentially disable the vehicle. 

The Science Of Holding Your Breath

"What’s the Longest You Can Hold Your Breath?"

Facial Expressions Not Universal?

"Facial expressions -- including fear -- may not be as universal as we thought"

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

[Off Topic] Hsieh Forbes Column: How Your Doctor's Politics Affects Your Health Care

[Off topic] My latest Forbes piece is now out, "How Your Doctor's Politics Affects Your Health Care -- And What You Can Do About It".

I discuss the latest research indicating the doctors' own personal political biases can affect the advice they give patients in three areas -- abortion, gun ownership, and marijuana use. And strategies that patients and doctors can adopt to minimize inappropriate physician bias in the exam room.

New Internet Attacks

"The Mirai botnet’s internet takedown opens up a new market for attackers and defenders"

Sensor Threads

"The next frontier in medical sensing: Threads coated in nanomaterials". (Via H.R.)

Driverless Beer Truck

"'Driverless' beer run; Bud makes shipment with self-driving truck":
Anheuser-Busch hauled a trailer loaded with beer 120 miles in an autonomous-drive truck, completing what's believed to be the first commercial shipment by a self-driving vehicle.

The trip happened last week in Colorado as Anheuser-Busch, collaborated with Otto, a subsidiary of Uber that is developing self-driving truck technology. The semi drove autonomously on the highway between Fort Collins, Colorado and Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Plus: Self-driving beer truck! In Colorado!
Minus: Bud ?!?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Boaty McBoatface Update

"Boaty McBoatface Is Training for an Historic Arctic Journey"

Political Handshakes

"The Strange World of Political Handshakes"

Human Google

"The Public Librarians Who Serve as Human Google"

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Secret Nazi Base

"Secret Nazi military base discovered by Russian scientists in the Arctic".

The only thing missing is the frozen clone of Adolf Hitler ready to be re-animated and take over the world!

Inside Witness Protection

"What Happens When You Enter the Witness Protection Program?"

New Internet Attacks

Krebs: "Hacked Cameras, DVRs Powered Today’s Massive Internet Outage".

Related warning from Bruce Schneier from before the attacks: "Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet" (9/13/2016).

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Magnus Carlsen Playing Chess Hustlers in Washington Square Park

"Magnus Carlsen Playing Chess Hustlers in Washington Square Park".

"Norwegian grandmaster and world champion Magnus Carlsen was in New York and went to watch the old guys playing chess in the park. One of them beat his manager pretty badly, so Carlsen sat down and proceeded to checkmate in ten moves. The old guys play so many people they don’t look too closely at them, so it was a surprise..."

Brain Implant Update

NPR: "Brain Implant Restores Sense Of Touch To Paralyzed Man"

Assault With a Deadly Tweet?

When does a tweet constitute assault?

Winning The Oreo Twistoff Game

"Aerospace engineers found a way to predict with 100% accuracy where the cream ends up when you twist an Oreo".

Great way to win a bar bet.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Airline Food Critic

"What’s the deal with airline food? An in-flight dining critic explains."

Driverless Cars In UK

"Public trial for driverless cars beginning in Milton Keynes"

Smartphone Microscope

"This Smartphone Microscope Lets You Play Games With Microbes"

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Tinder For Sperm

The London Sperm Bank "just released a Tinder-esque mobile app that lets women filter potential sperm donors based on traits like ethnicity, occupation, personality type, eye color, and more."

Informative Photon

"Single Photon Carries 10 Bits of Information"

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

World's Largest Dinosaur Footprint

"World's Largest Dinosaur Footprint Found In Mongolian Desert"

Bubbles And Beer

"This Technology Is About to Revolutionize Beer-Making":
The secret sauce in their new method is cavitation, the formation of small bubbles of vapor within a liquid and their subsequent collapse. This is usually done by reducing the pressure within a liquid so that it boils and then increasing it again so that the vapor condenses.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Stripper Economics

"How Strippers Get Paid". (Via Tyler Cowen.)

Weir On Musk

"The Martian's Andy Weir talks to Ars about the science of Musk's Mars vision". (Via H.R.)

Monday, October 03, 2016

World's Strongest Coffee

"The 'Strongest Coffee in the World' Has the Same Amount of Caffeine as 80 Regular Cups of Joe"

Auto-Tune Math

"The Mathematical Genius of Auto-Tune"

Sunday, October 02, 2016

58 Waters

"A Guide to the 58 Crazy Different Terms for 'Water'"

Hawking And Space

Stephen Hawking: "I think the human race has no future if it doesn't go to space".

Krebs Attacked

"Digital attack on journalist raises specter of online censorship".

(Minor quibble: I would reserve the use of the term "censorship" for government actions to restrict speech, not criminals seeking to limit speech.)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Don't Do This To Your iPhone 7

Satirical video explains how to drill a hole in your iPhone 7 to make a headphone jack. Some users take it seriously and become upset that their new iPhones don't work anymore.

I especially liked this comment:

Direct link to video:


"Napoleon Harris III — entrepreneur, state senator and former NFL linebacker — delivers pizza, fights off bad guys, helps solve a murder".

Related story.

Clever NYC AirBnB

NYT: "Where to Stay for $39 a Night in New York City? In a Yellow Cab"

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

3-Parent Baby

"World's first baby born with new '3 parent' technique"

Bionic Spine

Ars Technica: "Building a bionic spine". (Via H.R.)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Light Posting Notice

Admin note: Due to external obligations, posting may be lighter than usual this week and next week.

The Invention Of The Arnold Palmer

"How Arnold Palmer Hit A Hole In One With His Signature Drink"

21st Century Warning Sign

Spotted at a trailhead in Boulder, CO:

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Welcome Home Apollo 12

AetherCzar: "Welcome Home Apollo 12"

Deblurring Update

"None of your pixelated or blurred information will stay safe on the internet"

MacOS Sierra Review

"MacOS 10.12 Sierra: The Ars Technica review". (Via H.R.)

Eko Core Digital Stethoscope

"Review: Eko Core Digital Stethoscope".

I wish I had had one of these back when I was in medical school!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Book Train

"New York Public Library installs high-tech, wall-climbing book-train"

Bad Forensic Science

"Forensic techniques sending people to prison may not be scientifically valid"

Fighting Wikipedia Bots

"The Growing Problem of Bots That Fight Online":
In particular, [Oxford researcher Taha] Yasseri and co focus on whether bots disagree with one another. One way to measure this on Wikipedia is by reverts—edits that change an article back to the way it was before a previous change.

Over a 10-year period, humans reverted each other about three times on average. But bots were much more active. “Over the 10-year period, bots on English Wikipedia reverted another bot on average 105 times,” say Yasseri and co...

Cataloging Smells

"Meet the Woman Who Is Preserving the Smell of History"

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Robopolicing Update

"Los Angeles police use a robot to take away a murder suspect's gun"

Smart Candle

"The World's First Smart Candle Can Be Lit and Extinguished From Your Smartphone".

Note: This is a real flame, not an LED light. (Via H.R.)

Long Trail

"At almost 15,000 miles, the world's longest trail goes all across Canada — and can be enjoyed by cyclists, hikers, skiers and more."

To be completed in 2017. (Via GMSV.)

Apple AirPods Strategy

AirPods: "Few have realized that Apple just unveiled its second wearables platform"

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Garmin's Recovery

Alex Knapp: "How Garmin Mapped Out A New Direction With Fitness Wearables"

In Praise Of American Cheese

"American Cheese Is Perfect"

Schneier: Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet

Bruce Schneier: "Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet"
Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down. We don't know who is doing this, but it feels like a large a large nation state. China or Russia would be my first guesses...

Kids Getting To School

"How Kids Around the World Get to School"

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Shakespeare Flowchart

"Which Shakespeare Play Should I See? An Illustrated Flowchart"

Ars Technica Likes iOS 10

Ars Technica: "iOS 10 reviewed: There’s no reason not to update". (Via H.R.)

Negative Blood Types

"Why are there so many crazy theories about negative blood types?"

Robot Car Update

"Uber’s Pittsburgh Project Is a Crucial Test for Self-Driving Cars":
Uber will offer customers rides in robotic taxis within a matter of weeks or days. The company has been developing the technology for the past year and has been testing it on the streets of Pittsburgh. It will launch with about a dozen taxis, with the expectation of having 100 on the road by the end of the year. The taxis will have drivers who can take control in an emergency.

Pittsburgh was chosen as the location for Uber’s automated driving project because of its proximity to the renowned robotics research hub at CMU. The city also offers challenging roads and environmental conditions.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Relative Pain of Beestings

"Which body part hurts the most when stung by a bee? A scientist put himself through a torturous experiment to find out".

Short answer:
Perhaps surprisingly — unless you've been stung in one of these spots — the nostril and upper lip beat out even those locations especially painful for men. (Smith is the only one who has conducted such an experiment, so we don't have data for women. Any volunteers?) 

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

Self-Driving Cars Can Learn a Lot by Playing Grand Theft Auto

"Self-Driving Cars Can Learn a Lot by Playing Grand Theft Auto".

What could possibly go wrong?

Optimizing Supermarket Line Choice

NYT: "How to Pick the Fastest Line at the Supermarket". (Via D.M.)

Bezos And Space

"Why Bezos' rocket is unprecedented -- and worth taking seriously". (Via H.R.)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Amazing Triple Spiral Of Dominoes

"The Amazing Triple Spiral".  Spectacular arrangement of 15,000 dominoes!

5 Second Rule Debunked

"It’s official: The five-second rule is down for the count". (Via H.R.)

Launching The Nukes

"To Launch a Nuclear Strike, Clinton or Trump Would Follow These Steps"


"No Waves? No Problem, If You're Dronesurfing". (H.R.)

Thursday, September 08, 2016

The Science of Hiccups

"Here's What's Happening When You Hiccup":
Cameron explains that the hiccups are caused when your diaphragm contracts—initiating an intake of air—while, at the same time, your vocal cords close, stopping the air from getting to your lungs. The closure of your vocal cords is, according to Cameron, what’s causing that annoying hiccup sound. Cameron also notes that scientists have diverging theories on why humans hiccup: Some believe it helps nursing babies keep milk out of their lungs, while others think hiccups got their start millions of years ago, before animals even made the transition from water to land. Whatever the cause, Cameron makes one thing very clear: There’s still no known cure.
Direct link to video:

Eight Unusual Libraries

"Every book lover will want to visit these unusual libraries from around the world".

Love the Biblioburros!

Teenager Repellent

"New Zealand library uses 'mosquito' noise device to keep youths away"

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

In Favor Of The Headphone Jack

"No, really, the headphone jack is more useful than you think!"

Schrödinger Crossword Puzzle

Schrödinger crossword puzzle.
Tausig’s crossword is a so-called Schrödinger puzzle, named for the physicist’s hypothetical cat that is at once both alive and dead. In a Schrödinger puzzle, select squares have more than one correct letter answer: They exist in two states at once. “Black Halloween animal,” for example, could be both BAT or CAT, yielding two different but perfectly correct puzzles. Only 10 such puzzles have now been published in Times history.

Fair Cake Cutting

"How Do Mathematicians Cut Cake?"

Monday, September 05, 2016

Faking Everest

"Couple Banned From Climbing in Nepal After Faking Everest Ascent"

Soft Robot

"SEAS Engineers 3D Print the First Autonomous, Entirely Soft Robot". (Via H.R.)

Less Bouncy Droplets

"MIT Researchers Help Reduce Runoff Pollution by Making Spray Droplets Less Bouncy". (Via H.R.)

Predicting A Bestseller

WSJ: "An Algorithm to Predict a Bestseller"

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Light Posting Notice

Admin note: Posting may be irregular or lighter than usual this week due to external obligations.

How Sea Urchins Reproduce

"Weirder Than Science Fiction: How Sea Urchins Reproduce".

Short answer: They turn themselves inside out.

History Of Chairs

"A brief history of chairs"

Film Disclaimers

"The Strange Reason Nearly Every Film Ends by Saying It’s Fiction (You Guessed It: Rasputin!)"

Thursday, September 01, 2016

How To Hold A Coffee Mug

Um, no: "Scientists Have Found The Most Efficient Way to Hold a Coffee Mug"
Holding a mug by the top may not make it the easiest to drink from and could result in burns from the steam, but it does keep the mug’s center of gravity relatively stable in a normal walking motion. [Physicist Jiwon] Han also found a similar stabilizing effect came when he had his subjects walk backwards while holding the mug by the handle.

“Since the magnitude of acceleration in the claw-hand model is significantly smaller, the claw-hand posture is less likely to spill coffee,” Han writes. “Since we are not accustomed to backwards walking, our motion in the walking direction becomes irregular, and our body starts to heavily rely on sideways swinging motion in order to keep balance.”

Jobs For 2030

"5 strange jobs that could exist by 2030"

New Tor?

"Building a new Tor that can resist next-generation state surveillance". (Via H.R.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

"Don't Talk To The Police"

"Innocent? Don't talk to the police." (Via T.M.)


"What is 3D NAND, and when can I get a 10TB SSD in my laptop?"

Did Americans Know FDR Couldn't Walk?

"Did Americans know FDR couldn't walk?"

[Off Topic] Hsieh Forbes Column: How Government Quality Guidelines Hurt Transplant Patients

[Off topic] My latest Forbes piece is now up: "How Government Quality Guidelines Hurt Transplant Patients".

I discuss how federal government "quality guidelines" created perverse incentives to deny medical care to the sickest patients.

In particular, many transplant centers started dropping the sickest patients from their transplant waiting lists in order to keep their success rates up. Plus many hospitals rejected less-than-perfect organs out of fear of harming their federal government score cards.

As transplant surgeon Dr. Adel Bozorgzadeh said:
“If you have young guy who has a 100 percent chance of dying, but only a 30 percent chance of dying with a transplant, you would say, ‘What the hell, give the guy a chance,’” even if the operation might be risky, he said. “But if I make an argument like that, I will be under pressure from all these other stakeholders who would penalize me.”
The federal guidelines created a conflict of interest for hospitals, caught between their government paymasters and the patients they were supposed to care for.

For more details, read the full text of "How Government Quality Guidelines Hurt Transplant Patients". (Related piece: "Doctor ‘Report Cards’ May Be Hazardous To Your Health.")

(See related piece: “Doctor ‘Report Cards’ May Be Hazardous To Your Health.”)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Mars Simulation Ends

"Mars scientists leave dome on Hawaii mountain after year in isolation"

Robot Lawyer Update

"This lawsuit-financing startup uses algorithms to find cases that could earn big bucks"

Ancient Library Wars

"The Fierce, Forgotten Library Wars of the Ancient World"

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Bad Internet Predictions

"25 years on, here are the worst ever predictions about the internet"

Bog Snorkelling

"Murky affairs: Bog-snorkelling"
Held annually in Wales, the competition attracts athletes from around the world, who must swim two 55m lengths through a trench of murky, leech-filled water. American swimmer extraordinaire Michael Phelps, should he fancy a dip, might struggle: entrants must not use conventional strokes and can only propel themselves with flippered feet. Impressive, then, that the world record, held by Briton Kirsty Johnson, is just 83 seconds. Mr Phelps’s 100m butterfly record, set with the benefit of using his arms, is a shade under 50 seconds...
This is close to the top of the list of "Sports I'm Not Interested In Trying".

USSR Moonshot

"Why Didn't Russia Ever Make It to the Moon?"

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Flight Attendant Lingo

"The secret language of flight attendants".

Longest Glass Bridge

"Gulp: The World's Highest, Longest Glass Bridge Opens in China".

The article also notes, "Stiletto heels are not allowed."  I think I'll wait and see how some of the "early adopters" fare.

Pileus Clouds

"Clouds are a glimpse into the mighty power of fluid dynamics, complicated equations made real and actual and gorgeous, painted across the sky."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fermi Paradox Revisited

"What If We Haven't Found Aliens Because Humans Came First?"

And "Relative Likelihood for Life as a Function of Cosmic Time". (Links via J.R.W.)

Excerpt: possible explanation for the classic Fermi paradox: Have we struck out in our attempts to detect alien intelligence simply because we are the first example of it to show up to the cosmic party? 
 ...implying that life around low mass stars in the distant future is much more likely than terrestrial life around the Sun today. 
If we insist that life near the Sun is typical and not premature, ... then we must conclude that the physical environments of low-mass stars are hazardous to life. 
Although our result puts the probability of finding ourselves at the current cosmic time within the 0.1% level, rare events do happen.

Pokémon Gone

"People are quickly losing interest in Pokémon Go"

Bagpipe Lung

Another hazard of playing the bagpipes: "Bagpipe lung" from the fungus and mold growing inside the apparatus.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Fingerprint Cloner

"$500 Fingerprint Clone Unlocked Murder Victim's Samsung S6 -- It Can Hack iPhones Too"

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Spectrum Auction Economics

"The Spectrum Auction: How Economists Saved the Day"

Real Vs. Bogus Physics Papers

Can you spot the real-vs-bogus physics papers? Test your skills at arXiv vs. snarXiv.

Trailers Vs. Previews

"Why Are They Called 'Trailers' If They're Shown Before the Film?"

Smart Tattoos

"Microsoft Research and MIT unveil DuoSkin, the latest in smart tattoos"

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

How Big Is A Fart?

"How Big Is A Fart? Somewhere Between A Bottle Of Nail Polish And A Can Of Soda". (Via A.A.)

Olympic Gold

"How Much Is an Olympic Gold Medal Really Worth?"


The Omnicopter has 8 rotors, "that maximizes the vehicle's agility in all directions. The resulting vehicle possesses full force and torque authority in all three dimensions, allowing it to fly novel maneuvers."

Doggie MRI

"Cutest MRI ever shows that most dogs prefer praise over food". (Via Debby Witt.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Kyle MacLachlan Explains Dune Using Only Emojis

"Kyle MacLachlan gives a summation of Dune in one tweet using only emojis."


Squirrel takes GoPro camera, gives great footage of running along the treetops:

Awesome Chromebooks

"Attention, College Students: Chromebooks Are About to Get Awesome"

10 New Ways to Use Drones

"10 New Ways to Use Drones"

Monday, August 15, 2016

Lottery Jackpot Psychology

NYT: "The Billion-Dollar Jackpot: Engineered to Drain Your Wallet"
If you’ve noticed that colossal lottery winnings are becoming almost common this year, it’s no accident. Four of the 10 biggest jackpots in United States history have already occurred in 2016, an engineered outcome intended to generate mind-bogglingly big winners.

That’s thrilling if you are the rare winner of hundreds of millions of dollars. But whether it’s a good thing for scores of millions of other people who play government-sponsored lottery games is highly questionable, as a close look at the numbers reveals.

Rogue One Trailer

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Trailer (Official).  This could be really good.

Stronger Carbon Composites

"MIT Aerospace Engineers Develop Carbon Nanotube 'Stitches' to Strengthen Composites". (Via H.R.)

After The Asteroid

"What Happened in the Seconds, Hours, Weeks After the Dino-Killing Asteroid Hit Earth?"

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Snow White and LOTR

"Snow White Is A LOTR Sequel: A Mind-Blowing Theory". (Via Gus Van Horn.)

Argentine Ants

"Meet the worst ants in the world". (Via H.R.)

The Infamous Collatz Conjecture 

"The infamous Collatz Conjecture":
David Eisenbud explains the Collatz Conjecture, a math problem that is very easy to understand but has an entire book devoted to it and led famous mathematician Paul Erdős to say "this is a problem for which mathematics is perhaps not ready".

The problem is easily stated: start with any positive integer and if it is even, divide it by 2 and if odd multiply it by 3 and add 1. Repeat the process indefinitely. Where do the numbers end up? Infinity? 1? Loneliness? Somewhere in-between?

Roomba Vs. Dog Poop.

When the Roomba runs over dog poop.