Thursday, March 31, 2016

Canadian Sperm Crisis

[Mildly off topic] My latest Forbes piece is now up: "The Market Solution To The Great Canadian Sperm Crisis".

A couple of facts:

* There is an enormous shortage of donated sperm in Canada, such that infertile couples have to rely on (gasp) imported sperm from the US.

* The Canadian government outlaws paying Canadian sperm donors for their product.

Hmm....  Could there possibly be any connection between these two facts?

For more details, read the full text of "The Market Solution To The Great Canadian Sperm Crisis".

[Cross-posted from my health care blog.]


Stem Cells And Spinal Cord Repair

"Scientists regenerate spinal cord in injured rats with stem cells"

Zen Magnets Update

Zen Magnets has won a partial but important legal victory against the regulators of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). (Via H.R.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Light Posting Notice

Admin note: Posting will be much lighter than usual (or non-existent) the rest of this week due to external obligations.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rolling Stone on AI

Rolling Stone (yes, that Rolling Stone) has lengthy two part article on the rise of artificial intelligence:

"Inside the Artificial Intelligence Revolution: A Special Report, Pt. 1"
"Inside the Artificial Intelligence Revolution: A Special Report, Pt. 2"

New Typosquatting Danger

"Be Careful. Mistyping a Website URL Could Expose You to Malware."

Apple Robot

"Watch Apple's new robot break down an iPhone for recycling"

Egg Peeling Tricks

"I Tested Out Popular Tricks To Make Hard-Boiled Eggs Easier To Peel: Here's what worked and what (definitely) didn't". (Via DMB.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Economics of Animated Movies

"The two scariest words for Hollywood studios in 2016: Animated movie"
An executive producer who wants to cut costs has only two choice curbs: water and hair. Those are the most expensive things to replicate accurately via animation. It’s no mistake that the characters in Minions, the most profitable movie ever made by Universal, are virtually bald and don’t seem to spend much time in the pool.
Animation, as with all formulaic and saccharine film genres, tends to bring out Hollywood’s blockbuster gambling addiction. The perverse incentives of the format means that fortune favours the spendthrift — the bigger the budget, the bigger the windfall.
“In some ways, a $90 million movie is more risky than a $150 million one,” Creutz said.
This means that when animated films flop, they flop hard. In fourth quarter 2013, DreamWorks took an $87 million writedown on Rise of the Guardians. Without the charge, the studio would have posted a small profit in the period, rather than an $83 million loss. A few months later, it had to take a $57 million writedown on Mr. Peabody and Sherman, a film that cost $145 million to make and far more to market.
- See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2016/03/the-economics-of-animated-movies.html#sthash.IN3v4US6.dpuf
An executive producer who wants to cut costs has only two choice curbs: water and hair. Those are the most expensive things to replicate accurately via animation. It’s no mistake that the characters in Minions, the most profitable movie ever made by Universal, are virtually bald and don’t seem to spend much time in the pool.

Animation, as with all formulaic and saccharine film genres, tends to bring out Hollywood’s blockbuster gambling addiction. The perverse incentives of the format means that fortune favours the spendthrift — the bigger the budget, the bigger the windfall. 
“In some ways, a $90 million movie is more risky than a $150 million one,” Creutz said.
(Via Marginal Revolution.)

An executive producer who wants to cut costs has only two choice curbs: water and hair. Those are the most expensive things to replicate accurately via animation. It’s no mistake that the characters in Minions, the most profitable movie ever made by Universal, are virtually bald and don’t seem to spend much time in the pool.
Animation, as with all formulaic and saccharine film genres, tends to bring out Hollywood’s blockbuster gambling addiction. The perverse incentives of the format means that fortune favours the spendthrift — the bigger the budget, the bigger the windfall.
“In some ways, a $90 million movie is more risky than a $150 million one,” Creutz said.
This means that when animated films flop, they flop hard. In fourth quarter 2013, DreamWorks took an $87 million writedown on Rise of the Guardians. Without the charge, the studio would have posted a small profit in the period, rather than an $83 million loss. A few months later, it had to take a $57 million writedown on Mr. Peabody and Sherman, a film that cost $145 million to make and far more to market.
- See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2016/03/the-economics-of-animated-movies.html#sthash.IN3v4US6.dpuf
An executive producer who wants to cut costs has only two choice curbs: water and hair. Those are the most expensive things to replicate accurately via animation. It’s no mistake that the characters in Minions, the most profitable movie ever made by Universal, are virtually bald and don’t seem to spend much time in the pool.
Animation, as with all formulaic and saccharine film genres, tends to bring out Hollywood’s blockbuster gambling addiction. The perverse incentives of the format means that fortune favours the spendthrift — the bigger the budget, the bigger the windfall.
“In some ways, a $90 million movie is more risky than a $150 million one,” Creutz said.
This means that when animated films flop, they flop hard. In fourth quarter 2013, DreamWorks took an $87 million writedown on Rise of the Guardians. Without the charge, the studio would have posted a small profit in the period, rather than an $83 million loss. A few months later, it had to take a $57 million writedown on Mr. Peabody and Sherman, a film that cost $145 million to make and far more to market.
- See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2016/03/the-economics-of-animated-movies.html#sthash.IN3v4US6.dpuf

Invisibility Cloak Update

"We're getting closer to real invisibility cloaks"

Human-Like Robots

CNBC: "Could you fall in love with this robot?"  And watch the associated video.

They are definitely getting close to crossing the "uncanny valley". (Via J.L.)

Noise Pollution Update

"The Future Will Be Quiet"

Monday, March 21, 2016

Find That Movie

"Forget the name of a movie? Just describe it and this scary-accurate site will find it". (Via H.R.)

I want the name of that James Bond movie where he gets into a bunch of dangerous situations, sleeps with a hot woman, uses clever gadgets and quick thinking to get out of trouble, while defeating the twisted villain.

Deep Learning And New Economics

"Deep Learning Is Going to Teach Us All the Lesson of Our Lives: Jobs Are for Machines".

I don't necessarily agree with everything in this article. But I think we're due for some very "interesting" economic times. In particular, I think my current job as a physician will likely not exist in 10-20 years (perhaps sooner.)

Link via Dave Jilk, who also adds this commentary:
You may not agree with everything in this article, from the prognostications to the prescriptions. Regardless of the details, though, a transition of this kind seems increasingly inevitable.

One thing that the author misses is that people work for more than just income - they work for dignity and a sense of accomplishment. Part of any future vision needs to include the mechanisms for people to obtain these values as well. My suggestion/prediction is a sort of "craft-everything gift economy." What if you occupied your time competing for bragging rights as the maker of the best custom X in your neighborhood, and you *gave it away*?

History of Robot Law

"A Brief History of Robot Law".

Direct link to Calo's paper.

UAV With Underwater Capacity

"Flying Drone Can Hide Underwater For Months Like a Nuclear Submarine". 
A submarine’s periscope is a useful reconnaissance tool, but it puts the vessel at risk since it can only be used when the sub surfaces. As an alternative, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have created a waterproof drone that can float up from the murky depths and then take to the skies to provide an aerial view.

Named the CRACUNS (Corrosion Resistant Aerial Covert Unmanned Nautical System) the waterproof drone could be mounted to the outside of a submarine and only deployed as needed for additional intelligence gathering—without putting the billion dollar vessel at risk.
Somebody worked pretty hard to make the acronym work.  (Via H.R.)

Friday, March 18, 2016

Google Self-Driving Car Update

"I rode in Google’s self-driving car. This is what impressed me the most":
Google's self-driving car knows how to run yellow lights.

But unlike regular humans, it doesn't have to guess whether it'll beat the countdown. Instead, it turns what for many of us is a split-second decision based on experience and guts into a heavily calculated dance of probability, speed and trajectory. Roughly 230 feet before it hits an intersection, it scans the light with its cameras and, based on the thousands of other data points it's tracking in its surroundings, the car will make the right call.

Master Timekeeper

"Meet the Guy Whose Software Keeps the World's Clocks in Sync". (Via H.R.)

Good New Free Science Fiction

"Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors"
This anthology includes 120 authors—who contributed 230 works totaling approximately 1.1 MILLION words of fiction. These pieces all originally appeared in 2014, 2015, or 2016 from writers who are new professionals to the SFF field, and they represent a breathtaking range of work from the next generation of speculative storytelling.

All of these authors are eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2016. We hope you’ll use this anthology as a guide in nominating for that award as well as a way of exploring many vibrant new voices in the genre.
Click through to get the free download link.  (Available for free until March 31, 2016.)

Secret Chamber In King Tut's Tomb

"New Scans Made a Surprising Discovery in King Tut’s Tomb"
Late last year, radar scans at King Tut’s tomb revealed the possible presence of a secret chamber. A more detailed analysis of this data shows not just the presence of a hidden room—but also unidentified objects that are comprised of metal and organic materials. 

As reported in National Geographic, the announcement was made earlier today at a press conference in Cairo, where Egyptian antiquities minister Mamdouh Eldamaty said, “It could be the discovery of the century.”
 I'm hoping it's the Lost Ark!  (Via H.R.)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Tiny Robots Pulling A Car

NYT: "Modeled After Ants, Teams of Tiny Robots Can Move 2-Ton Car" (Via H.R.)
[A] team of six microrobots, weighing just 3.5 ounces in total, could pull a car weighing 3,900 pounds... Their new demonstration is the functional equivalent of a team of six humans moving a weight equivalent to that of an Eiffel Tower and three Statues of Liberty, Mr. Christensen said. The car is the one he uses for commuting to campus. Part of the magic is the use of a special adhesive that was inspired by gecko toes.
Demonstration video:

GPS Art

"Canadian Cyclist Rides His Bike around Town to Create Artistic GPS Doodles". (Via H.R.)

Roman Tavern Unearthed

"2,100-Year-Old Roman Tavern Unearthed, Empty Cups and All"

Cashless Korea

"Korea shifting to cashless society". (Via Tyler Cowen.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

5 Key Words In English Language History

"The history of English can be explained in five words"

Rise Of Tyrannosaurs

"Newly Discovered Dinosaur Helps Explain Rise Of Tyrannosaurs"

fMRI and Orgasms

"Are You Orgasming Without Even Knowing It?: I was, until I masturbated for science"

Solder Without Heat

"These Liquid Metal Spheres Can Solder Without Heat"

Monday, March 14, 2016

Win Free Pizza On Pi Day

Win 3.14 years of free pizza on Pi Day by solving 3 math problems:
Pizza Hut is partnering with acclaimed mathematical genius John H. Conway, distinguished professor of pure and applied mathematics emeritus, Princeton University.

Conway has channeled his mathematical genius into writing three math problems varying in level of difficulty from high school to Ph.D. level. These word problems will be released right here on the Hut Life Blog on National Pi Day, Monday, March 14th, 2016. The problems will be up by 8 am Eastern Time, and all of the great minds of the Internet will have the chance to solve them and the chance to win 3.14 years of FREE pizza (awarded in Pizza Hut® gift cards).

“Pi may be irrational, but free pizza is anything but,” added Conway, who is profiled in the 2015 book, Genius at Play: The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway. “I’m eager to challenge America with these problems and find the next great pizza-loving mathematician that can solve them.”

Touch Sensing Prosthetic

"First bionic fingertip implant delivers sensational results". (Via H.R.)

Predicting Police Misconduct

"We Now Have Algorithms To Predict Police Misconduct"

Encryption and Law Update

"Encrypted WhatsApp messages frustrate new court-ordered wiretap"

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Friday, March 11, 2016

Transplant Medicine Update

NYT: "New Procedure Allows Kidney Transplants From Any Donor".

This could be huge.

Blue Origin Tour

"Behind the curtain: Ars goes inside Blue Origin's secretive rocket factory".  (Via H.R.)

Strange DST History

"The Strange and Surprising History of Daylight Saving Time".

My favorite story:
[A]nother young American had better luck during the U.S. Selective Service System's Vietnam War draft lottery, according to Prerau.

Each birth date was randomly selected and assigned a draft order in which young men were called to service... “Based on the day this guy was born, he had a low number and was very likely to be drafted,” Prerau says. 

“But he was born just after midnight. So he went to court claiming that in his state he was born under standard time, which would have been an hour earlier. That would mean his birth occurred before midnight and on a different day—which just happened to have a much higher lottery number. The courts agreed that he was right and he actually managed to avoid the draft in that way.”
 And don't forget to watch the classic snarky CGP Grey video:




Selling The Eiffel Tower

"The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower. Twice."

(Update: Link was broken, now fixed.)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Wolfram On AI

A Conversation With Stephen Wolfram: "AI & The Future Of Civilization"

The Trouble with Transporters

CGP Grey: "The Trouble with Transporters". Sleep well tonight...

Fooling Fingerprint Sensors

"All You Need to Dupe a Fingerprint Sensor Is Paper, Conductive Ink, and an Inkjet Printer"

History of Twin Studies

"A Brief History of Twin Studies"

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Chladni Figures

"Random couscous snaps into beautiful patterns". More on Chladni figures. (Via M.W. and J.W.)

Skyscraper Slide

"A Restored Skyscraper in LA Will Feature a Terrifying Glass Slide:
[The] downtown’s U.S. Bank Tower—the tallest building on the West Coast—will soon feature a glass slide that takes daredevil patrons from the 70th to the 69th floor. The slide, appropriately named "Skyslide," will be suspended 1,000 feet above the city and will cost $8 a pop.



Bad Doors

"Bad doors are everywhere"

Quantum Computing Update

MIT Technology Review: "The beginning of the end for encryption schemes?"

Monday, March 07, 2016

Bridge Cheating Scandal

"Dirty Hands: A cheating scandal in the world of professional bridge"
Expert poker players often take advantage of a skill they call table feel: an ability to read the facial expressions and other unconscious “tells” exhibited by their opponents. Bridge players rely on table feel, too, but in bridge not all tells can be exploited legally by all players. If one of my opponents hesitates during the bidding or the play, I’m allowed to draw conclusions from the hesitation—but if my partner hesitates I’m not.

What’s more, if I seem to have taken advantage of information that I wasn’t authorized to know, my opponents can summon the tournament director and seek an adjusted result for the hand we just played.

Principled players do their best to ignore their partner and play at a consistent tempo, in order to avoid exchanging unauthorized information—and, if they do end up noticing something they shouldn’t have noticed, they go out of their way not to exploit it. Unprincipled players consciously take advantage of such information. And, occasionally, they go a great deal further than that...

Mechanical Computers

"This 1953 Film Perfectly Explains How Mechanical Computers Worked Before We Had Microchips". (Via H.R.)

Chocolate And The Brain

Washington Post: "The magical thing eating chocolate does to your brain".

The science may not be fully settled. But it's probably best not to take any chances.

Crossword Plagiarism Scandal

"A Plagiarism Scandal Is Unfolding In The Crossword World". (Via Marginal Revolution.)

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Wisdom From Maine

Wisdom: "Disorderly conduct is a mistress that tends to show up with her own six-pack."

(From the Bangor Maine Police Department Facebook page.)


Friday, March 04, 2016

Canadian Science Experiment!

"Kathleen Wynne photo-op with 'pink blob' creates online stir: The pink volcano appeared to resemble something else, many pointed out":
A photo-op with Premier Kathleen Wynne at a Toronto high school Tuesday morning is creating quite a social media stir — and it only takes a quick glance to figure out why.

Wynne was at Jarvis Collegiate Institute with Reza Moridi, minister of training, colleges and universities, to talk about the province's plan to offer a new grant for low-income college and university students.

But a quick photo-op with science students running an experiment involving dish soap didn't end up with the best results....

Unmanned Food Store

"In Sweden's 1st unmanned food store, all you need is a phone"

Stopping Killer Asteroids

"Stopping killer asteroids costs less than you think". (Via A.B.)

A Complete History of the Millennium Falcon

"A Complete History of the Millennium Falcon"

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Images of Earth From a Year in Space

"Images of Earth From a Year in Space." Some of the best pics taken by astronaut Scott Kelly during his year (!) on the ISS.

Trust A Robot In Emergencies?

Should you trust a robot in emergencies?: "Subjects show blind obedience to a broken-down robot in a experiment with a mock fire"

Dog Vs. Robot Dog

"Fido vs Spot -- Animal vs Robot"

Hospital Wastewater

"What happens to hospital wastewater?"

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Life after the Ashley Madison affair

"It's six months since hackers leaked the names of 30 million people who had used the infidelity website Ashley Madison. Resignations, divorces and suicides followed."

The Chemistry In Lighting A Match

"The Chemistry Involved in Lighting a Match Is Surprisingly Awesome":
With amazing super slow-motion footage of a match head starting to burn as a backdrop, this video explains the chemical reactions involved in lighting a match.

3D Printed Building Maps

"3D Printed Maps Help Blind People Navigate Inside Buildings". More info here.

Robot Therapy Session

"Watch Carrie Fisher Lead a Group Therapy Session for Distressed Robots":
Carrie Fisher has been getting a lot more attention lately thanks to the return of Star Wars last year, and so far she’s been a total champ. On Friday IBM released a new Watson commercial starring Fisher as a robot therapist, and she's probably one of the only people who could make the sketch work.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Open Your Heart

Dr. Jordan Winkler: "10 Easy Steps to Open Your Heart".

Funny and informative. Really.  I'm really glad I live at time this is possible. Contains slightly NSFW language. (Via B.E.)

Falling Cranes

"Why Cranes Keep Falling". (Via H.R.)

"Tetraquark" Particle"?

"Physicists May Have Discovered a New 'Tetraquark' Particle"

Dazzling Flying Machines

Raffaello D'Andrea: "Meet the dazzling flying machines of the future". 

(If you want the short version, just skip to the final 3 minutes for the demo.)