Sunday, June 25, 2017

Light Posting Notice

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

DIY Artifiical Pancreas

"This Woman Designed -- And Texts -- Her Own Pancreas"

Underappreciated Medical Inventions

"What Is the Most Underappreciated Medical Invention in History?"

DHS Or Eye Of Sauron?

"DHS Is Starting to Scan Americans’ Faces Before They Get on International Flights":
For certain international flights from Atlanta and New York, DHS has partnered with Delta to bring mandatory face recognition scans to the boarding gate. The Delta system checks a passenger is supposed to be on the plane by comparing her face, captured by a kiosk at the boarding gate, to passenger manifest photos from State Department databases. It also checks passengers’ citizenship or immigration status. Meanwhile, in Boston, DHS has partnered with JetBlue to roll out a voluntary face recognition system for travelers flying to Aruba. In JetBlue’s case, you can actually get your face scanned instead of using a physical ticket.

While these systems differ in details, they have two things in common. First, they are laying the groundwork for a much broader, mandatory deployment of Biometric Exit across the country. Second, they scan the faces of everyone -- including American citizens.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Typewriter Revival

"Typewriters attracting new generation of fans"

Tactile Map

"Inuit Tactile Maps of Greenland":
[T]hese maps represent the contours of the coastline in a continuous line up one side of the wood and down the other. The contours of the land are highly exaggerated, allowing users to navigate entirely by feel. The navigator would often carry them under his mittens and feel the contours with his fingers to discern patterns in the coastline. Being made of wood, they are buoyant, so they float if accidentally dropped and could be easily retrieved.

Interviewing Coders

"What if companies interviewed translators the way they interview coders?"

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tesla Fatality Update

"Tesla Driver In Fatal Florida Crash Got Numerous Warnings To Take Control Back From Autopilot"

AI Generated Metal Band Names

"Metal band names invented by neural network":
I gave the dataset to an open-source neural network framework that I’ve previously trained to generate recipes, Pokemon, knock-knock jokes, pick up lines, and D&D spells. As usual the instructions were only to learn what the dataset is like and try to make more of the same. With over 100,000 entries to chew on, the neural network managed to produce results that were… well, surprisingly metal.
I like the AI use of umlauts.

Falling Technique

"How to Fall Down"

Monday, June 19, 2017

AIs Learn Deception

"Facebook Let Its A.I. Negotiate, and the Lying Started Right Away"

Why Amazon Bought Whole Foods

"Why Amazon Bought Whole Foods".  Get used to the concept of the "life bundle":
After today’s announcement, several people on Twitter joked that between Prime and Whole Foods, Amazon may now account for a majority of some urban Millennials’ discretionary spending.

What’s not a joke, however, is that Amazon’s life bundle, like TV’s cable bundle, is fundamentally about the merchandizing of convenience, which is often indistinguishable from sheer human laziness. Driving to the movies and parking is a pain, and cable offered several cineplexes worth of video offerings on the couch.

Similarly, driving to the grocery store, finding parking, seeking out the produce section, and waiting several minutes in Line 6 is a pain. What’s not a pain? Lying on your couch, watching Downton Abbey on Prime Video, and shouting to your Amazon daemon, “Alexa, I need six heirloom tomatoes and a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil for tomorrow’s delivery.”

Changing NYC Street View

"How Google Street View documents a changing New York City"

Friday, June 16, 2017

Groundhog Day Time Loop

"How long was Bill Murray's character (Phil Davis) supposed to be in a time loop in the film 'Groundhog Day'?" (Via C.M.)

Don't Steal These

Items that should be pretty high on your list of "Things not to steal":
1) GPS tracking devices.

Not Just For Young People

"The Octogenarians Who Love Amazon's Alexa"

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Giving Sight To The Blind

WSJ: "What the Blind See (and Don't) When Given Sight".

Medical science answers a previously abstract philosophical question. (Via A.A.)

Subway-Style Map Of Roman Roads

"A subway-style diagram of the major Roman roads, based on the Empire of ca. 125 AD"

AI Video Game Milestone

Alex Knapp: "Microsoft Researchers Developed An AI That Got A Perfect Score On 'Ms. Pac-Man'"

This is super cool:
Using deep learning to develop programs that can defeat video games isn't a new feat, but this accomplishment is notable for several reasons.

First of all, it's notable because of the type of game chosen. The old 1980s arcade games weren't designed to be beaten - they were designed to keep people pumping in quarters. And when Ms. Pac-Man was developed, it was actually programmed to be less predictable than the original Pac-Man, so that it would be tougher for players to beat it.

The second and perhaps most notable aspect of this accomplishment, though, is the approach that the researchers took to solve Ms. Pac-Man. Rather than develop a single intelligent agent to learn the game, as other researchers have done, this team instead used a number of simpler intelligent agents to learn a single aspect of the game. For example, there are agents learning about ghost behavior, about fruit behavior, about pellet behavior, etc.

Each individual agent (there's over 100), develops a course of action it thinks Ms. Pac-Man should follow based on the small part of the game it's focused on. Those decisions are then aggregated, and the program moves Ms. Pac-Man based on the weighted average of preferences from the individual agents....

Monday, June 12, 2017

Cat Physicist

"The Secret History of the Cat Who Authored a Physics Paper"

Jupiter's Moons

"With two newly discovered satellites, Jupiter now has 69 moons."

Eureka Moments

"How 'Eureka' Moments in Science Happen"

Friday, June 09, 2017

Hidden Prison Computers

"Inmates built computers hidden in ceiling, connected them to prison network".

This is astounding:
Inmates at a medium-security Ohio prison secretly assembled two functioning computers, hid them in the ceiling, and connected them to the Marion Correctional Institution's network. The hard drives were loaded with pornography, a Windows proxy server, VPN, VOIP and anti-virus software, the Tor browser, password hacking and e-mail spamming tools, and the open source packet analyzer Wireshark...

A forensic analysis of the hard drives found that they were loaded with "malicious" software and that inmates used the computers to apply for credit cards, research tax-refund fraud, search inmate records, and obtain prison access passes for restricted areas. "Additionally, articles about making home-made drugs, plastics, explosives, and credit cards were discovered," according to the report.

The inspector general's report found that inmates "took two computers that should have been disassembled, placed hard drives into the computers, installed a network card, transported the computers across the institution for approximately 1,100 feet, through the security check point without being searched or challenged by staff, accessed an elevator to the third floor and placed the two computers in the ceiling of the P3 training room." The report added that "they also ran wire, cable, and power cords to connect the devices undetected onto the ODRC (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction) network."
Via Bruce Schneier.

Onion And Economics

"Onion articles that illustrate economic themes". (Via Marginal Revolution.)

Earth From ISS

"Stunning Photos of Earth from the International Space Station"

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Not Back To The Future

"Man Receives Ticket After Hitting 88 mph In His DeLorean"

Knitting And Spying

Knitting and spying during wartime.

Manslaughter By Texting?

"Can you commit manslaughter by sending texts? We're about to find out"

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Googled Diseases

"The 20 most-Googled diseases"

Marvel Art

"I Recreated Famous Works Of Art Using Marvel Toys".

My favorite:

Feynman On Trains

A Richard Feynman video classic: "How the train stays on the wheels"

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Google Vs Apple Maps After One Year

Interesting: "A Year of Google & Apple Maps". (Via J.W.)

Private Moon Landing

"First Private Moon Landing Gears Up for Launch by Year's End"

Body Armor Update

"Air Force cadet creates bulletproof breakthrough". (Via H.R.)

Monday, June 05, 2017

Haggling and Game Theory

"What's the best way to haggle?"

Flamingo Stability

"Flamingos are more stable on one leg than two"

Quiet Place

BBC: "Inside the quietest place on Earth"
The specially constructed chamber is hidden in the depths of Building 87 at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, where the firm’s hardware laboratories are based. Products like the Surface computers, Xbox and Hololens have all been developed here. Microsoft’s engineers built the room – known as an anechoic chamber – to help them test new equipment they were developing and in 2015 it set the official world record for silence when the background noise level inside was measured at an ear-straining -20.6 decibels.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Artemis, Chapter 1

The first chapter of Andy Weir's new book Artemis is now viewable for free online.

Data Protection Across Borders

"Introducing Travel Mode: Protect your data when crossing borders"
Travel Mode is a new feature we’re making available to everyone with a 1Password membership. It protects your 1Password data from unwarranted searches when you travel. When you turn on Travel Mode, every vault will be removed from your devices except for the ones marked “safe for travel.” All it takes is a single click to travel with confidence.

CRISPR Explained At 5 Levels

"A biologist explains CRISPR to people at five different levels of knowledge"

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Ninja Shortage

"Japan is suffering from a ninja shortage"

First Fire

"Who Started the First Fire?"

"Forgotten" Password Defense

"Is 'I forget' a valid defense when court orders demand a smartphone password?"

If this judge has his way, the answer is "no".  (Note: I disagree with the analogy of password as providing a physical key to a lockbox, and instead consider it a form of self-incrimination.)

Anker Success

"How Anker is beating Apple and Samsung at their own accessory game"

Monday, May 29, 2017

Friday, May 26, 2017

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Legal Definitions Of Sandwich

"5 Ways to Define a Sandwich, According to the Law"

Naming Diseases

The convoluted politics of naming new diseases.

Retro Phone

"Good call: The Nokia 3310 returns".

Counterpoint: Ars Technica doesn't like it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dinosaur Killer Update

"Why these researchers think dinosaurs were minutes away from surviving extinction"

Weakening Consent Requirements for Human Research

NYT: "Some Social Scientists Are Tired of Asking for Permission".

I totally get that asking permission and jumping through IRB hoops is a pain in the butt. OTOH, I'm also wary of researchers adopting the attitude of, "My work is so important, and 'the knowledge gain is precious' that I don't need no stinkin' consent from subjects."

Secrets Categorized

"What kinds of secrets does the average person keep?"

Monday, May 22, 2017

New Hottest Chili

"Hottest chilli pepper in the world accidentally created by Welsh farmer".

From the article:
Originally intended to be a thing of beauty rather than a sensory beast, the peppers measure a formidable 2.48 million on the Scoville heat scale, ahead of the 2.2 million achieved by the Carolina Reaper...

Experts believe that anyone who attempted to swallow one of the chilli peppers would be at risk of death from  anaphylactic shock.

AI Paint Color Names

"An AI invented a bunch of new paint colors that are hilariously wrong". (Via H.R.)

Google AI Chip

"Google Reveals a Powerful New AI Chip and Supercomputer"

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Free Wolfram

"Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science is now available online for free"

3D-Printed Ovaries

"Mice With 3D-Printed Ovaries Successfully Give Birth"

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Light Posting Notice

Admin note: Posting may be lighter than usual the rest of the week because of external obligations.

da Vinci Instrument

"After 500 years, Leonardo da Vinci's music machine is brought to life". More info here. (Via H.R.)


"The ability of attackers to exert malicious control over brain implants ("brainjacking") has unique challenges that we address in this review, with particular focus on deep brain stimulation implants..."

Monday, May 15, 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017

Leaked Miltary Code-Breaking Project

"NYU Accidentally Exposed Military Code-breaking Computer Project to Entire Internet"

Smart Contact Lens

"Smart Contact Lens Detects Diabetes and Glaucoma":
To detect intraocular pressure, a dielectric layer is sandwiched between two hybrid films. In this arrangement, the films now become a capacitor that responds to intraocular pressure. At high intraocular pressure, the thickness of the dielectric layer decreases, resulting in the increased capacitance. High intraocular pressure also increases the inductance of the antenna coil by bi-axial lateral expansion.

For detecting glucose, the top hybrid film layer is exposed to tears and detects glucose. In a selected region of the film, the researchers removed the nanowires so only graphene remained. The surface of graphene was then coated with an enzyme that binds selectively to glucose. This binding changes the resistance of the graphene.

The changes of resistance, inductance and capacitance in these two detection modes can be monitored wirelessly in real-time...
(Via H.R.)


"David Lloyd Gyms have launched a new health and fitness class which is essentially a bunch of people taking a nap for 45 minutes."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

ARTEMIS By Andy Weir

"Here's What Andy Weir's New Book ARTEMIS is All About (Exclusive)"

Intelligent Intersection

"The intelligent intersection could banish traffic lights forever". (Via H.R.)


"Rise of the Robolawyers"

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Two Factor Flaw

"Hackers Beat Two-Factor to Rob Bank Accounts"

Clock Vindication

"Clockmaker John Harrison vindicated 250 years after 'absurd' claims". (Via H.R.)

Game Of Thrones Spinoffs

"Game of Thrones forever: HBO developing 4 different spinoffs"

Friday, May 05, 2017

Sarcasm Database

"A Large Self-Annotated Corpus for Sarcasm". (Via Marginal Revolution.)

Life After NFL

"Life After FootballThe Surprising New Second Careers of Former Players":
The success story of former Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Myron Rolle, who started a neurosurgery residency at Harvard, has prompted many to think there is more to an NFL athlete than the number of touchdowns he makes or endorsement deals he secures. And more and more Black players — who make up about 70 percent of the league — are taking steps toward STEM careers...

Dumb Appliances

"Why You Should Buy the Dumbest Appliances You Can Find". (Via Rand Simberg.)

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Is Every Speed Limit Too Low?

"Is Every Speed Limit Too Low?"

Short answer, "yes".

Texting Metamessages

"The (Sometimes Unintentional) Subtext of Digital Conversations"

Twin Prime Update

Numberphile: "Twin Prime Conjecture"

Monday, May 01, 2017

Hsieh Forbes Column: "AI In Medicine: Rise Of The Machines"

My new Forbes column is out: "AI In Medicine: Rise Of The Machines"

Sexbot Update

"The race to build the world's first sex robot". (Via H.R.)

New Scrabble Words = Higher Average Scores

"How 'Qi' And 'Za' Changed Scrabble"

Eclipse Tips

"How to Survive the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017".

One important point I hadn't thought about:

Twelve million people live along the path of totality, and another 25 million live within one day's drive, Rao said. But people from all over the U.S. will be flocking to the centerline to experience the rare and amazing celestial event that is totality. As with most crowds of people heading to a major event, there will be traffic — lots and lots of traffic.
"State departments of transportation and police are expecting hurricane evacuation-like traffic," Reynolds said. So if you're planning on taking a small road trip the day of the event, give yourself plenty of time to get to the path of totality. Don't get stuck watching a partial eclipse in standstill traffic on your way to the centerline. Allot at least a few extra hours of driving, or seek lodging the night before.
(Via Gus Van Horn.)

Friday, April 28, 2017

3-D Printing With Metal

"The 3-D Printer That Could Finally Change Manufacturing". (Via H.R.)

Restaurant Markup Analysis

"Should You Get the Guacamole on Your Burrito? A Price Analysis of Your Favorite Foods"

Big Planet

"What's The Largest Planet In The Universe?"

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Set Photos from "The Last Jedi"

"See Rian Johnson's Stunning 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Photos"

Shipping Container Architecture

"Shipping container architecture -- in pictures"

Fitbit Data Helps Catch Accused Murderer

"A Fitbit Helped Police Arrest A Man For His Wife's Murder: The fitness tracker recorded the woman moving around her house for an hour after her husband told police she was shot by a home invader."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Jimmy Wales and the Wikimedia Foundation are launching an interesting new kind of news site, Wikitribune:
Wikitribune is a news platform that brings journalists and a community of volunteers together. We want to make sure that you read fact-based articles that have a real impact in both local and global events. And that stories can be easily verified and improved.
I will be super-interested to see if this endeavour succeeds!

Doing Math Without A License?

"Lawsuit Challenges Oregon Law Prohibiting Mathematical Criticism Without a License".

Citizens should totally be able to publicly criticize the state's math without an engineering license. I'm glad the Institute for Justice is taking the state to court and I'm glad to be a financial supporter of IJ.

AI Radiology Update

"Artificial Intelligence May Help Diagnose Tuberculosis in Remote Areas".

I, for one, welcome my new x-ray-interpreting robotic overlords that will put me out of a job.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Friday, April 21, 2017

DNA Testing For Identical Twin

Not-a-soap-opera-story: Judge rules on whether special DNA test allowed to distinguish which identical twin committed rape.

Short answer: No, the test is considered too experimental still.

NASA Images Galore

"Finally, NASA has its universe of images in one happy, searchable place". (Via H.R.)

Cheap Wine

"The Science Behind Your Cheap Wine".

Of course, if you don't want to look like a loser you can always order the "Second Cheapest Wine":

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ornery Landowners

"The World's Most Stubborn Real Estate Holdouts"

Amazon Disrupts Literary Translation Market

"Amazon expands its literary horizons, making big imprint in translation niche"

Can Criminal Intent Be Measured With Neuroimaging?

"Predicting the knowledge–recklessness distinction in the human brain".

I'm always a little bit cautious about stories discussing neuroimaging and the law. But this preliminary research looks intriguing:
This study uses neuroimaging and machine-learning techniques to reveal different brain activities correlated with these two mental states. Moreover, the study provides a proof of principle that brain imaging can determine, with high accuracy, on which side of a legally defined boundary a person's mental state lies.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

AI Medicine Update

"Self-taught artificial intelligence beats doctors at predicting heart attacks"

Russian Doomsday Device

"The Soviets Made A Real Doomsday Device In The '80s And The Russians Still Have It Today".

Curiously, the USSR "Dead Hand" doomsday system may have been for the Soviet nuclear commanders' benefit:
Dead Hand, it turns out, may not have been primarily a deterrent against the Americans launching a nuclear attack against the Soviets, but rather was a Soviet-built safeguard to prevent themselves from launching a nuclear attack unnecessarily.

Science of Smiles

"There are 19 types of smile but only six are for happiness"

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Genetically Modified Astronauts?

"Engineering the Perfect Astronaut"

Smart Glasses

"These Smart Glasses Automatically Adjust to Your Eyes". (Via H.R.)

Underrated Places

"The Most Underrated Place in Every State"

Monday, April 17, 2017

21st Century Annoyance

"Burger King launches TV ad that triggers Google Home"
On Wednesday, a Burger King television ad likely became the first ever to intentionally trigger smart devices like Google Home and Android phones. In the commercial, an actor faces the camera and clearly enunciates the phrase, "Okay, Google. What is the Whopper burger?" at the end of the advertisement.

Around the country, the audio clip prompted a response on a number of devices, with phones and smart speakers listing off the ingredients in the burger from the Whopper's information page on Wikipedia.

The new ad, however, was not well received by all...
This would seriously piss me off.

Existential Craigslist Furniture Ads

"These Existential Craigslist Furniture Ads Are The Best"


"Move Over Spintronics, Here Comes Magnonics to the Rescue of Electronics". (Via H.R.)

Friday, April 14, 2017

X-Prize "Tricorder" Winner Announced

"Self-funded team led by an ER doctor wins 'Star Trek'-inspired competition":
Harris and his team built the 65 kits required for testing with a trio of 3-D printers in his home office, each plastic part taking as long as 24 hours to fabricate and with his three children, ages 11 to 15, often overseeing sanding and wiring. HTC produced the models for Peng’s team...

The competition’s tricorder, weighing five pounds or less, has the potential to revolutionize home health care. It can tell a person whether he or she has pneumonia or diabetes or other conditions, while monitoring blood pressure, heart rate and other health vitals. Additionally, it can share real-time information with medical professionals and could help millions of patients in medically underserved communities.

The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI

MIT Technology Review: "The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI".

Shoelace Science

"Scientists can at last explain why shoelaces come undone"

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reliability of Drunk Witnesses

"Is a Drunk Witness a Bad Witness?"

Maybe not:
Most experimental research (like this study and this study and this study) has found that intoxicated eyewitnesses are actually no different from sober eyewitnesses in their account accuracy or vulnerability to distortions. One study published this year even found that consuming alcohol after witnessing a crime made witnesses more reliable, by making them less likely to accept false details given to them by the researcher...

AI Poker Update

"A Top Poker-Playing Algorithm Is Cleaning Up in China"

When Pixels Collide

Spontaneous art order: "When Pixels Collide":
For April Fool's Day, Reddit launched a little experiment. It gave its users, who are all anonymous, a blank canvas called Place.

The rules were simple. Each user could choose one pixel from 16 colors to place anywhere on the canvas. They could place as many pixels of as many colors as they wanted, but they had to wait a few minutes between placing each one.

Over the following 72 hours, what emerged was nothing short of miraculous. A collaborative artwork that shocked even its inventors...
Fascinating story of spontaneous disorder/order. (Via J.A.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Overbooking Stats

"Don’t Blame Overbooking for This United Mess"

Inaccurate Fitness Trackers

"Your fitness tracker can count your steps, but it's not that good at monitoring your heart rate"

3 Genetic Parents Update

"A Baby With 3 Genetic Parents Seems Healthy, But Questions Remain"

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Walk Out Groceries

"How Amazon Go (probably) makes 'just walk out' groceries a reality". (Via H.R.)

Gruber On Mac Pro

John Gruber (aka Daring Fireball): "The Mac Pro Lives"

Here's the opening:
Let’s not beat around the bush. I have great news to share:

Apple is currently hard at work on a “completely rethought” Mac Pro, with a modular design that can accommodate high-end CPUs and big honking hot-running GPUs, and which should make it easier for Apple to update with new components on a regular basis. They’re also working on Apple-branded pro displays to go with them.

I also have not-so-great news:

These next-gen Mac Pros and pro displays “will not ship this year”. (I hope that means “next year”, but all Apple said was “not this year”.) In the meantime, Apple is today releasing meager speed-bump updates to the existing Mac Pros...

If High School and College Textbooks Were Honest

Honest Ads: "If High School and College Textbooks Were Honest"

Monday, April 10, 2017

Vacation Foods

"Why new foods taste better when you're on vacation"

Adidas 3-D Printed Sneakers

"Adidas wants to sell 100,000 3-D printed sneakers: 'A personalized shoe that can "adjust the strength, durability, and the shape."'"

94-Year-Old Genius

NYT: "To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year-Old"

(Link was broken, fixed now!)

Friday, April 07, 2017

Self-Healing Material

"Groundbreaking new material can repair itself like human skin". (Via H.R.)

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Riemann Update

"A New Approach To The Riemann Hypothesis Could Be Worth $1,000,000"

Transistor Density

"Intel Now Packs 100 Million Transistors in Each Square Millimeter". (Via H.R.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Monday, April 03, 2017

[Off Topic] Hsieh Forbes Column: Doctors Should Not Record Immigration Status Nor Gun Ownership

[Off-topic] My latest Forbes column came out last Friday: "Doctors Should Not Record Immigration Status Nor Gun Ownership In Patient Charts".

Patients routinely disclose sensitive personal data to their physicians. Doctors can and should be mindful of information that might someday be used against their patients by unscrupulous government authorities.

In particular, with increasing use of electronic medical records that can be data-mined by those with access, physicians can help protect the doctor-patient relationship by leaving some information out of the records.

Related earlier piece, “Why Doctors Should Not Ask Their Patients About Guns.”

Circumventing Laptop Ban

"Airlines Sidestep Electronics Ban, Offer Passengers Free In-Flight Laptops and Wi-Fi"

SF, Cool War and Civil War

David Brin: "Science Fiction, Cool War and Civil War"

Friday, March 31, 2017

Light Posting Notice

Admin note: Posting may be lighter than usual next week because of external obligations.

Way Overdue Book

"Case of the purloined library book solved 35 years later"

Math Quiz

"Would You Rather Get $1 Million or $5000 a Month for Retirement?"

Of course, the correct answer depends on assumptions about rate of return. But it's a reasonable starting point for analysis.

Space Elevator Variant

"A 20-mile long 'spacescraper' dangling from an asteroid: Could it work? "

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Brain-Machine Interface Update

"Elon Musk is setting up a company that will link brains and computers".

Personally, I'm looking forward to that "I know kung-fu!" moment.

Musk Vs. AI

"Elon Musk's Billion-Dollar Crusade to Stop the A.I. Apocalypse"

Leaf Scaffold For Heart Tissue

"Spinach Leaf Transformed Into Beating Human Heart Tissue"

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bitcoin and Venezuela

"Venezuela has a serious food shortage, but electricity is subsidized. People are mining bitcoins because it's worthwhile to use bitcoins to buy food across the border. Bitcoin is a way for Brazillians to get around currency controls and tarriffs." (Via Metafilter.)

Chatbots That Read Your Facial Expressions

"Customer Service Chatbots Are About to Become Frighteningly Realistic"

Skateboarding on Frozen Sand

Video: "Skateboarding on frozen sand"

Monday, March 27, 2017

Surgery While Awake

"More surgery is being performed with the patient awake and looking on, for both financial and medical reasons. But as surgical patients are electing to keep their eyes wide open, doctor-patient protocol has not kept pace with the new practice."

Mars Rocket

"These Scientists Sent a Rocket to Mars for Less Than It Cost to Make 'The Martian'

Big Mammals

"How Big Can a Land Animal Get?"

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cooking At Your Desk

"Watch This Chinese Woman Make the Most Insane Desk Lunch Ever"


"Researchers are using Darwin's theories to evolve AI, so only the strongest algorithms survive"

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Aristotle And Computers

"How Aristotle Created the Computer":
The history of computers is often told as a history of objects, from the abacus to the Babbage engine up through the code-breaking machines of World War II. In fact, it is better understood as a history of ideas, mainly ideas that emerged from mathematical logic, an obscure and cult-like discipline that first developed in the 19th century. Mathematical logic was pioneered by philosopher-mathematicians, most notably George Boole and Gottlob Frege, who were themselves inspired by Leibniz’s dream of a universal “concept language,” and the ancient logical system of Aristotle...

Pandemic Prep

NPR: "How To Prepare For A Pandemic"

Monday, March 20, 2017

Light Posting Notice

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

Test For Hidden Hearing Loss

"How well can you hear in a noisy background? Try it here":
You will be asked to repeat a series of sentences. The exercise begins in quiet, but then it will introduce background noise. The noise comes in six levels, faint at first but eventually louder than the words.

People with hearing loss start to have some trouble understanding the words at the second or third level, according to Robert Fifer, director of audiology and speech pathology at the center. That doesn’t mean that they can’t understand anything, but they show increasing difficulty understanding accurately what is said compared to someone with normal hearing abilities, he said...

Fake Friends Market

"Japanese company offers fake friends photo service to help customers look popular on social media".

The article notes:
However, there’s one weakness to such schemes that’s pretty glaring. If you don’t have enough friends to get together for a birthday party, is anyone really paying attention to your social media posts? However, Family Romance is also billing its Real Appeal service as a way to affect a specific group or individual’s perception of you. If you want your coworkers to think you’re a more sociable person than you appear to be under normal working conditions, or if you’re romantically interested in an acquaintance with whom you’ve got an online connection and want to present yourself as someone who’s fun to be around, Family Romance can help you craft images that make it look like you’re having an absolute blast on the weekends.

The Scientific Way to Cut a Cake

Numberphile: "The Scientific Way to Cut a Cake"

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Numberphile on Terry Tao

Numberphile has a great profile of legendary UCLA math professor Terry Tao.

CIA Board Games

"The CIA uses board games to train officers -- and I got to play them"

Spider Silk Update

"In the Future, We'll All Wear Spider Silk"

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

When The Wife Likes Ikea But The Husband Doesn't

Photo gallery: "My wife and I visit IKEA again and I try to figure out why".

My favorite line: "Our other measuring spoons do not strike me as structurally unsound."

(Make sure you click the "Load 11 more images" button to see the full saga.)

DNA Computing Update

"A DNA computer has a trillion siblings and replicates itself to make a decision"

Dogs Are Good Liars

"Trick or Treat: Conniving Behavior Discovered in Dogs"

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Monday, March 13, 2017


"The American wealthy have been redefining social status through a practice known as 'countersignaling'".

FWIW, I was wearing crappy clothing before it was cool.

Film Projection Tech

Peter Suderman: "On the fascinating history of film projection, and why it matters to your cinematic experience"


"Your old CD-ROMs are probably rotting"

Friday, March 10, 2017

Digital Privacy at the U.S Border

"Digital Privacy at the U.S Border: A New How-To Guide from EFF"

Reverse Turing Test Update

"Google's reCAPTCHA turns 'invisible,' will separate bots from people without challenges". (Via J.J.)

Simpler Ikea

"IKEA is going to save your relationship with new furniture that simply snaps together".

No more fighting over who lost the hex wrench!

Thursday, March 09, 2017

More TSA Gropings

"U.S. Airport Pat-Downs Are About to Get More Invasive".

Basically, the TSA has determined it doesn't do a very good job looking for contraband with the x-ray machines, so it needs to do more aggressive groping of travelers.

Also from the article, "TSA officials didn’t immediately address whether the new universal pat-down protocol will mandate touching of passenger genitals."

I feel much safer now.

Chocolate Replacement?

"This Little-Known Waste Product Could Provide A Chocolate Replacement".

They can have my chocolate when they pry it from my cold dead gooey-brown covered hands.

Bad Science Reporting

"Reports Of Medical Breakthroughs Often Don't Prove Out". Key quote:
Only about half of the medical findings reported in 199 English-language newspapers actually turn out to hold up when tested in further studies, the study found. And sorry, dear reader, you're not likely to hear about those refutations.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Monday, March 06, 2017

Amazon Shipping To Moon?

"Amazon boss Jeff Bezos wants to start delivering packages to the Moon."

If I have Amazon Prime, will it be free and within 2 days?

Glass Battery Technology

"Will a New Glass Battery Accelerate the End of Oil?" (Via H.R.)

Plasma Rocket Engine

"NASA's longshot bet on a revolutionary rocket may be about to pay off". (Via H.R.)

Human Echolocation

"Humans' Hidden Ability to Navigate the World With Tongue Clicks"

Friday, March 03, 2017

Fake WW2 Radio Show

"The Fake British Radio Show That Helped Defeat the Nazis"

Flying Cars

Flying cars are now for sale. Only $400k from Dutch company PAL-V.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Measuring Pee

"Just How Much Pee Is In That Pool?"
But up until now, just how much urine has been difficult to measure, says chemist Xing-Fang Li of the University of Alberta. Li and her colleagues report they can now tell roughly how much pee is in a pool by measuring the artificial sweeteners carried in most people's urine. Certain sweeteners can be a good proxy for pee, she says, because they're designed to "go right through you" and don't break down readily in pool water.

The scientists calculated that one 220,000-gallon, commercial-size swimming pool contained almost 20 gallons of urine. In a residential pool (20-by-40-foot, five-feet deep), that would translate to about two gallons of pee. It's only about one-hundredth of a percent, but any urine in a swimming pool can be a health concern for some people, not to mention that smell that never quite goes away...

Artificial Blood

"The quest for one of science's holy grails: artificial blood"

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

[Off Topic] Hsieh Forbes Column: Three Paradoxes Of Health And Human Behavior

[Off topic] My latest Forbes column is now out, "People Confound Experts: Three Paradoxes Of Health And Human Behavior".

I discuss three counter-intuitive or paradoxical results from recent health policy research, in which patients don't respond in the way that experts might have predicted.

For example: If you have a serious heart problem, you might do better if the top cardiologists are out of town.

For more details, see the full piece, "People Confound Experts: Three Paradoxes Of Health And Human Behavior"!

Superhuman Location AI

"Google Unveils Neural Network with 'Superhuman' Ability to Determine the Location of Almost Any Image"

New Blood

"Scientists rejuvenate blood by reprogramming cells"

Friday, February 24, 2017

Light Posting

Admin note: Posting may be lighter than usual next week due to external obligations.

Lost Whitman

"A Graduate Student Just Discovered a Lost Work of Fiction by Walt Whitman"


"Identity and Origins of the Nazgûl"

Texts For Exes

"There's a spreadsheet where people are putting texts they want to send their exes." (Via GMSV.)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fitness Tracker Privacy

"Do fitness trackers pose a privacy risk?"

Paying To Join Mile High Club

"Business is booming for private flights catering to couples trying to join the mile-high club"

Eponymous Laws

"Eponymous Laws as Persuasion Tools and Other Tricks for Robbing Walmart"

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Every Best Animated Feature Oscar Winner

"Every Best Animated Feature Oscar winner"

Tricorder Update

"With $10 million at stake, scientists compete to build a Star Trek-style medical tricorder"

Space Poop Challenge

"Air Force doctor wins NASA 'Space Poop Challenge'". (Via H.R.)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Woolly Mammoth De-Extinction Update

The Guardian: "Woolly mammoth on verge of resurrection, scientists reveal".

I, for one, look forward to trying mammoth burgers!

Fibonacci Straw

"McDonald's Re-Engineers Straw Using Fibonacci Formula To Let You Enjoy Shamrock Shake More". (Via H.R.)

How to Use a Password Manager

"How to Use a Password Manager"

Friday, February 17, 2017

iPhone Privacy Tips

"The Privacy Enthusiast's Guide to Using an iPhone"

Academia And Exploitation

"How the humanities survive on exploitation"


"This Ain't Your Grandma's SETI".

Call me paranoid, but I think humanity should talk less and listen more when it comes to SETI.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Expensive Cup Of Coffee

"Why the Most Expensive Cup of Coffee in the US Costs So Much".

Based on the description, I don't think I'd like it very much.

No More Overdue Book Fines

"Why public libraries are finally eliminating the late-return fine"

Best Fight Scenes of the 21st Century

"The 27 Best Fight Scenes of the 21st Century So Far, Ranked"

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Extreme Swinging

"Inside the High-Flying World of Estonian Extreme Swinging".

Basically, "kiiking" = swinging so that you perform a 360 around the swing:
Before you assume that just vigorously swinging like an insane school kid will get you over the top, Laansalu says that you’d better be in top physical form if you want to be competitive, citing footballers, rowers, and roller-skaters (because Estonia is delightful) as prime candidates for the sport. It takes a lot of arm and leg strength, as well as solid technique to master the perfect timing of when to stand, when to sit, and when to thrust to complete a 360...

Devising Drug Names

"The creative science of coining drug names"

Favorite Fictional Object

"What fictional object would you most like to own?"

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Monday, February 13, 2017

Indoor Skydiving Dance

"We Should Definitely Replace the Olympics With These Badass Indoor Skydiving Wind Games":
The clip... features Poland’s 16-year old Maja Kuczyńska, who looks like she was born and raised in zero gravity. Most people who step into an indoor skydiving wind tunnel just struggle to remain level flight. But Maja performs an entire graceful routine spinning and soaring to the roof of the enclosure, and then plummeting back down like she’s part sparrow.
Beautiful performance! (Via H.R.)


"Nanorods Emit and Detect Light, Could Lead to Displays That Communicate via Li-Fi". (Via H.R.)

Ice Instruments

"Playing Music on Ice Instruments"

Friday, February 10, 2017

Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory

"Total recall: The people who never forget"

Crab Fight

"Watch pom-pom crabs fight over tiny anemones, which they hold like boxing gloves".

Reminder: The first rule of Pom Pom Crab Fight Club is that you do not talk about Pom Pom Crab Fight Club.

Computers For Venus

"We finally have a computer that can survive the surface of Venus"

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Rethinking Outer Space and Antarctica Treaties?

"The Antarctic and Outer Space Treaties after the Cold War: Are They Still Valid?" (Via Rand Simberg.)

Helium Compound

Helium can form a compound with other elements:
We report the discovery of a thermodynamically stable compound of helium and sodium, Na2He, which has a fluorite-type structure and is stable at pressures >113 GPa...
Reference: "A stable compound of helium and sodium at high pressure", Nature Chemistry

Exploiting Flaw In Slot Machine Pseudorandom Number Generator

Wired: "Russians Engineer a Brilliant Slot Machine Cheat -- And Casinos Have No Fix"

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Destroyer Of Worlds Podcast

I just finished listening to the latest "Dan Carlin: Hardcore History" podcast, "Destroyer of Worlds".

It was on the history of US nuclear weapons policy, including a chilling/gripping recounting of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

One theme that kept coming up was how close to peril we were back then (and still are). And how enormous consequences can flow from the individual decisions made by one or two key people. So we had better hope that those making those decisions have the suitable knowledge and temperament to be handling that responsibility.

I was especially interested in the discussions of crisis management -- and how easily things can spin out of control in directions nobody wants them to. There were also interesting insights into Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and their relationships to their military advisors (who were not always giving them the best advice and who did not always respect the civilian leadership over military issues.)

It's a long-ish podcast, almost 6 hours -- more like an audiobook. But definitely worthwhile for friends interested in such things. The podcast can be downloaded for free at this link.

Carlin also noted later on Twitter, "For those who think the last history show was specifically about Trump, we started working on it in early August…so, really it couldn't be."

Of course, people can draw various parallels and lessons to today's curren
t situation. 

I, for one, am just glad that Russian President Boris Yeltsin didn't decide to "push the button" during the 1995 Norwegian crisis. (which I hadn't heard of until the podcast.)


Taxonomy From Fiction

Economist: "At least as strange as fiction: taxonomy"
...Most recently Severus Snape, a teacher and double-agent in the “Harry Potter” franchise, inspired Harryplax severus, a crab that also eluded discovery (after 20 years, it was just recognised as a new species). Some names have been less considered. The Spongiforma squarepantsii is a rubbery orange fungus that lives above ground—not “in a pineapple under the sea”, as the eponymous cartoon character does. All this livens up the textbooks, at least.

Untranslatable Emotions

BBC: "The 'untranslatable' emotions you never knew you had.

A couple of favorites:
Desbundar (Portuguese) – to shed one’s inhibitions in having fun

Gigil (Tagalog) – the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because they are loved or cherished

Natsukashii (Japanese) – a nostalgic longing for the past, with happiness for the fond memory, yet sadness that it is no longer

Monday, February 06, 2017

New Dune Movie Adaptation

"Arrival's Denis Villeneuve Is Officially the Latest Director to Attempt a Dune Adaptation"

IKEA Product Names

"How IKEA names its products: The curious taxonomy behind Billy, Poäng, Malm, Kallax and Rens".  Some basics:
  • Bathroom articles = Names of Swedish lakes and bodies of water
  • Bed textiles = Flowers and plants
  • Beds, wardrobes, hall furniture = Norwegian place names
  • Bookcases = Professions, Scandinavian boy’s names
  • Bowls, vases, candle and candle holders = Swedish place names, adjectives, spices, herbs, fruits and berries
  • Boxes, wall decoration, pictures and frames, clocks = Swedish slang expressions, Swedish place names
  • Children’s products = Mammals, birds, adjectives
  • Desks, chairs and swivel chairs = Scandinavian boy’s names
  • Fabrics, curtains = Scandinavian girl’s names
  • Garden furniture = Scandinavian islands
  • Kitchen accessories = Fish, mushrooms and adjectives
  • Lighting = Units of measurement, seasons, months, days, shipping and nautical terms, Swedish place names
  • Rugs = Danish place names
  • Sofas, armchairs, chairs and dining tables = Swedish place names

Humans And Booze

"Our 9,000-Year Love Affair With Booze"

Friday, February 03, 2017

Gel Robot

"Watch this invisible robot grab a fish out of the blue". (Via J.W.)

Stubborn Cold?

"7 Reasons You Can't Shake That Cold"

Blockchain Basics

Bernard Marr: "A Complete Beginner's Guide To Blockchain".

Update: Link was broken, now fixed!

Update #2: Reader GB has concerns about the quality of the article. But does recommend this: "Mastering Bitcoin" from O'Reilly.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Unusual Conductor

"Physicists have found a metal that conducts electricity but not heat.

According to lead researcher Junqiao Wu: "It shows a drastic breakdown of a textbook law that has been known to be robust for conventional conductors."

I guess this material didn't read the textbook. (Via H.R.)

Best NYC Dumplings

"A map of the best dumplings in NYC"

Smart Glasses

"Engineers develop 'smart glasses' that automatically focus on what wearer sees"

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

[Off Topic] Hsieh Forbes Column: Health Freedom For Everyone, Not Just Women

[Off-topic] My latest Forbes column is now out, "Health Freedom For Everyone, Not Just Women".

My basic theme is that free-market reforms (not government-run health care) will best protect our medical freedoms.

From the article:
I support abortion rights and reproductive freedom rights. I love that many participants in the marches don’t want the government dictating which medical procedures women may or may not receive.

I also hope that people recognize that government-run health care will inevitably mean government controlling which medical procedures patients may or may not receive. Whenever “somebody else” pays for your health care, inevitably “somebody else” will decide what health care you do (or do not) receive.
For more details, see the full text of "Health Freedom For Everyone, Not Just Women".

Chinese Markets In Fake Girlfriends

"China girlfriend rental app popularity increases as people look to avoid pressure from family during New Year". (Via Marginal Revolution.)

Dogs Prefer Reggae

BBC: "Dogs 'prefer reggae and soft rock' to other music genres"

First Cat In Space

"The Secret History of the First Cat in Space"

Monday, January 30, 2017

Metallic Hydrogen

"Scientists finally turn hydrogen into a metal". (Via H.R.)

Alexa Woes

"Amazon's voice-controlled personal assistant is creating chaos for people called Alexis, Alex and Alexa"

Viral Marketing Success of Instant Pot

NPR: "Not Just A Crock: The Viral Word-Of-Mouth Success Of Instant Pot".

I own one, and I love it. I also heard about it via word-of-mouth from multiple sources. Then when I saw the Black Friday sale on Amazon, I decided to go for it. One of the best decisions I ever made. I'm not very skilled in the kitchen, but I've made several excellent stews and main courses with this, with minimal expertise and effort.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Thursday, January 26, 2017

SMOD Update

"A 466-million-year-old space collision is still raining shrapnel on Earth":
[T]he debris from that 466-million-year-old breakup continued to fall. And fall. And fall. Even now, they make up the largest group of meteorites that land on Earth.

“That collision cascade” — the series of smaller smashes and crashes that followed the initial breakup — “had consequences that are still felt today,” said Philipp Heck, a cosmochemist at the University of Chicago and curator of meteorites for the Field Museum.