Monday, December 11, 2017

Speed Cubing

"Can You Solve A Rubik's Cube In Less Than Five Seconds?"

Click through to see the video.

Bacterial Computers

"MIT researchers are making computers out of live bacteria"

AlphaZero Learns Chess

"The future is here -- AlphaZero learns chess"

Friday, December 08, 2017


"Don't Buy Anyone an Echo":
I’m not here to be Tin Foil Hat Man and convince you that companies like Amazon are spying on your every move and compiling data sets based on your activity so that they can more effectively serve you ads or sell you products. I am here to say that smart speakers like the Echo do contain microphones that are always on, and every time you say something to the speaker, it sends data back to the server farm... For now, the companies that sell smart speakers say that those microphones only send recordings to the servers when you use the wake word. The same companies are less explicit about what they’re doing with all that data. They’re also vague about whether they might share voice recordings with developers in the future. Amazon, at least, seems open to the idea.

We do know that Amazon will hand over your Echo data if the gadget becomes involved in a homicide investigation. That very thing happened earlier this year, and while Amazon had previously refused to hand over customer data, the company didn’t argue with a subpoena in a murder case. It remains unclear how government agencies like the FBI, CIA, and NSA are treating smart speakers, too. The FBI, for one, would neither confirm nor deny wiretapping Amazon Echo devices when Gizmodo asked the agency about it last year.

Sinister ambitions of governments and multinational corporations aside, you should also worry about the threat of bugs and hackers going after smart speakers.

Facebook AI Suicide Prevention

"Facebook is using AI to try to prevent suicide".

I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to consider ways in which this could go wrong.

iPhone X Review

"iPhone X: A New Frontier"

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Algorithms And War

"Future wars may depend as much on algorithms as on ammunition, report says."

Dino Eggs

"Scientists find over 300 ‘incredibly well-preserved’ dinosaur eggs". (Via H.R.)

Uterus Transplant Success

"First baby from a uterus transplant in the U.S. born in Dallas"

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Pizza In Space

"Astronauts show how to make pizza in space"

Lightning Photography

"Transient": Spectacular lightning photography. (Via H.R.)

Smart Condoms

"This ‘smart condom’ will give insights into your sex life you probably didn’t want" :
The adjustable band measures number and velocity of thrusts, total duration of “sessions”, traditional fitness tracker information like calories burned, and is beta testing its tracking of positions used. And as if that wasn’t enough, all of the data is shareable.
Not sure this counts as "progress".

Friday, December 01, 2017

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Light Posting

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Detecting Phone Snoops

"Google can tell if someone is looking at your phone over your shoulder":
Google researchers Hee Jung Ryu and Florian Schroff will present a project they’re calling an electronic screen protector, where a Google Pixel phone uses its front-facing camera and eye-detecting artificial intelligence to detect whether more than one person is looking at the screen. An unlisted, but public video by Ryu shows the software interrupting a Google messaging app to display a camera view, with the peeking perpetrator identified and given a Snapchat-esque vomit rainbow.

The Last of the Iron Lungs

3 people in the United States still rely on "iron lungs" to breathe.

But for everyone else, polio is basically a thing of the past. Thanks to good science.

AI Detection Of Art Forgeries

AI's can now detect art forgeries with surprising reliabilty.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Hsieh Forbes Column: "Will Computers Be Reading Your Chest X-Ray?"

My latest Forbes column is now out: "Will Computers Be Reading Your Chest X-Ray?"

A team of researchers from Stanford University department of Computer Science and Stanford Medical School have now created an AI system capable of diagnosing pneumonia on chest x-rays more accurately than skilled human radiologists.

The future is coming quickly.

[Image below from the original article: "Our model, CheXNet, is a 121-layer convolutional neural network that inputs a chest X-ray image and outputs the probability of pneumonia along with a heatmap localizing the areas of the image most indicative of pneumonia."] 

After You Buy Expensive Art

"So You Just Bought a $450 Million Leonardo da Vinci Painting. Now What?"

Blockchain Scalability?

"Blockchains don't scale. Not today, at least. But there's hope."

Monday, November 27, 2017

Websites That Record All Your Keystrokes

BBC: "More than 480 web firms record 'every keystroke'"

Carbon Paper

"The Exciting History of Carbon Paper!"

Science Lesson

"This man is about to launch himself in his homemade rocket to prove the Earth is flat".

Someone is about the learn a good science lesson!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all my American readers: Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Nazis Loved Decaf

"Why the Nazi Party Loved Decaf Coffee"

Solar System Necklace

"Be the center of the solar system with this necklace".

I especially like that, "You can choose a necklace representing only the eight planets for $96.00, or you can add Pluto ($99.00) or all of the dwarf planets ($111.00)."

Monday, November 20, 2017

Light Posting Notice

Admin note: Posting will be lighter than usual this week because of the holidays and various external obligations. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Darkest Material on Earth

"Vantablack is so uncomfortably black the human eye can't quite decipher what it is seeing."

The material absorbs 99.96% of the light that hits its surface. Click through to see some interesting videos.

Elemental Haiku

Elemental Haiku.

Hover over the element on the chart to see the associated haiku. I especially liked the one for fluorine. (Via A.B.)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Big Telescope

"The Astounding Engineering Behind the World's Largest Optical Telescope"

Amazon Production of "Lord Of The Rings"

"Amazon is turning The Lord of the Rings into a TV show":
In the statement announcing the news, the company clarifies that the new show will “explore new storylines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring,” with a potential spin-off series also included as part of the deal. That means Amazon is going to be making a prequel to the classic tale of Frodo Baggins, offering Amazon plenty of leeway to create its own characters and take on the world. If Amazon is looking for an opportunity to add the sex, violence, and soap-opera drama that have made Game of Thrones so successful to Tolkien’s world, this kind of approach would certainly offer the opportunity.
I'm cringing just reading about this.

Seasteading Update

NYT: "Floating Cities, No Longer Science Fiction, Begin to Take Shape"
Long the stuff of science fiction, so-called “seasteading” has in recent years matured from pure fantasy into something approaching reality, and there are now companies, academics, architects and even a government working together on a prototype by 2020.
…Earlier this year, the government of French Polynesia agreed to let the Seasteading Institute begin testing in its waters. Construction could begin soon, and the first floating buildings — the nucleus of a city — might be inhabitable in just a few years.
“If you could have a floating city, it would essentially be a start-up country,” said Joe Quirk, president of the Seasteading Institute. “We can create a huge diversity of governments for a huge diversity of people.”
(Via Marginal Revolution.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

WikiTribune Update

Jimmy Wales: "Hello, world: this is WikiTribune"

NSA Breached

NYT: "Security Breach and Spilled Secrets Have Shaken the N.S.A. to Its Core".

The article is quite blunt in its assessment: "America’s largest and most secretive intelligence agency had been deeply infiltrated."

Poisoned Search Results

"The new, clever way hackers can get into your bank account".

Detailed technical info here.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Self-Driving Car Update

"A Dangerous Self-Driving Car Is Still Better Than a Human Driver"

Face ID Security

According to Apple, "The probability that a random person the population could look at your iPhone X and unlock it using Face ID is approximately 1 in 1,000,000 (versus 1 in 50,000 for Touch ID)."

I had never seen the 1-in-50,000 figure for Touch ID before.


"Facebook is going full steam ahead on a 'thought-to-typing' system to sense people’s brain waves, decipher the intended words, and type them."

This is both super-cool and super-creepy.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Cargo Ship Timelapse

"Beautiful 30-day time lapse of a cargo ship’s voyage". (Via G.F.)


"The International Space Station has an IT guy, and he just ordered an upgrade".

Finally, a new printer! (Via H.R.)

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Origins Of PowerPoint

"The Improbable Origins of PowerPoint"

Another Link Between The Heart And The...

"Cardiologists rarely examine the scrotum, and men with scrotal problems rarely consult cardiologists. There are times, however, when each should." (Note: This cardiology journal article does contain medical image of male anatomy.)

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Time Travel In Physics And Fiction

"The physics of time travel isn't just the stuff of science fiction".

Based on my reading of the article, it's still basically science fiction.

Worst Nightmares

Atlas Obscura asked readers to tell them their worst nightmares. Some of them are pretty chilling.

This one was classic:
I had a nightmare that William Shatner was stabbing me with a fire poker. We were in a big fancy home in a study type room with expensive furniture and I’m being stabbed to death by a fire poker while Shatner is laughing and smiling maniacally. I’m still terrified of the man.  -- Caitlin S.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Light Posting

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

Don't Order These Dishes

"Chefs reveal the foods you should never order at a restaurant"

Kitty Kneads Bread

Sometimes, you just need to watch a video of a kitty kneading bread.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Luke Skywalker Speaks

Lengthy NYT interview with Mark Hamill: "Luke Skywalker Speaks"

Bionic Eye Update

"French Regulators Approve Human Trial of a Bionic Eye"

Chess Hustling In 2017

"This chess hustler makes $400 a day"

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Hsieh Forbes Column: "Help Patients By Allowing More Telemedicine"

My latest Forbes piece is out: "Help Patients By Allowing More Telemedicine"

Google Blows Hamburger Emoji

"Google CEO makes fixing hamburger emoji his top priority":
Take a good hard look at the position of the ingredients in the emoji.... 

Apple's ordering of the lettuce, presumably a variant of iceberg sourced from an Italian quarry, is understandable as a mechanism for preventing the lower bun from getting soggy. It’s the same approach taken by the In-N-Out chain.

Google's positioning of the cheese is blasphemous, simultaneously defying both culinary physics (how do you cook it to drip down the bun like that?) and good taste (it’ll result in a soggy doughy mess). It's so egregious that Google CEO Sundar Pichai took notice and promised to "drop everything" and address on Monday if folks can agree on what the correct ordering should be.

Halloween Candy Rankings

"The Ultimate Halloween Candy Power Ranking".

Reese's products occupy 4 of the top 10 spots!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Anti-DST Movement Grows

"A new American revolution is starting in New England -- against Daylight Saving Time"

Cell As House

Derek Lowe: "Building A House, Building a Cell".

Fun analogy! (Via H.R.)

Friday, October 27, 2017


"This Special Edition of Fahrenheit 451 Can Only Be Read When It's Heated".

Evolving Bacteria

"Evolution experiment has now followed 68,000 generations of bacteria"

Northern Hospital

"Polar bear attacks and darkness: Inside a hospital at the top of the world"

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Universal Paperclips Game

I had a lot of fun playing "Universal Paperclips", a free online browser based game.

Here are a couple of good write-ups by Paul Tassi:
And I did succeed in converting the entire universe into paperclips! #GoodAI

Amazon Key

"Amazon Key is a new service that lets couriers unlock your front door".

Um, I think I'll let others be early adopters on this innovation.

New Ransomware

"New Ransomware Outbreak Spreads Through US, Russia and Ukraine"

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Distracted Walking

Honolulu will become "the first big American city to prohibit pedestrians from crossing the road while looking at phones or other gadgets."

Where Your Elements Came From

NASA: "Where Your Elements Came From".

Excellent version of the periodic table. (Via H.R.)

Sleep Science Update

"Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain"

Monday, October 23, 2017

Friday, October 20, 2017

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Butt Plug Hack

Newsweek: "Hacked Butt Plug Can Be Controlled 'From Anywhere'"
Researchers have discovered a serious security flaw with a Bluetooth-enabled butt plug that allows hackers to remotely take control of the vibrating sex toy.

Italian security researcher Giovanni Mellini published his findings in a blogpost on Tuesday, October 18, describing how he was able to send a vibrate command to a Hush butt plug from his laptop.

The Hush device, manufactured by Lovense, is designed to be a “long-distance love toy” and is described by the sex toy startup as “the world’s first teledildonic butt plug” that can be "controlled from anywhere."
In other words, a literal "back door" security hole.

Paperclips Game

"Get Sucked Into The Black Hole Of 'Paperclips,' A Hopelessly Addicting Browser Game"

Thin LEDs

"Researchers craft an LED just two atoms thick". (Via H.R.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Beware The Cute Robots

"Super cute home robots are coming, but think twice before you trust them"

Japanese Elevator Etiquette

"Elevator etiquette in Japan".

Rule #1: If you are the first to enter an empty elevator, you are the new elevator captain.

Creepy Book Covers

"40 of the Creepiest Book Covers of All Time"

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

AIs Taught To Program More AIs

"Google Taught AI How to Program More AI":
The company’s A.I. project, AutoML, has successfully taught machine-learning software how to program machine-learning software. In some cases, the machines programmed better A.I. software than even the Google researchers could design... 

RSA Crypto Library Flaw

"Millions of high-security crypto keys crippled by newly discovered flaw":
A crippling flaw in a widely used code library has fatally undermined the security of millions of encryption keys used in some of the highest-stakes settings, including national identity cards, software- and application-signing, and trusted platform modules protecting government and corporate computers.

The weakness allows attackers to calculate the private portion of any vulnerable key using nothing more than the corresponding public portion. Hackers can then use the private key to impersonate key owners, decrypt sensitive data, sneak malicious code into digitally signed software, and bypass protections that prevent accessing or tampering with stolen PCs. The five-year-old flaw is also troubling because it's located in code that complies with two internationally recognized security certification standards that are binding on many governments, contractors, and companies around the world. The code library was developed by German chipmaker Infineon and has been generating weak keys since 2012 at the latest...

A Bit Too Lucky

"Officials Sniffing Into How So Many People Win State Lotteries So Many Times".

Related: "The nation's 'luckiest' lottery players may not be as lucky as they seem", and "Ohio Lottery's frequent winners grab top prizes amid improbable odds".

Casino Hacked Via Fish Tank

Casino hacked via its fish tank:

Internet-enabled devices are so common, and so vulnerable, that hackers recently broke into a casino through its fish tank. The tank had internet-connected sensors measuring its temperature and cleanliness. The hackers got into the fish tank’s sensors and then to the computer used to control them, and from there to other parts of the casino’s network. The intruders were able to copy 10 gigabytes of data to somewhere in Finland.

(Via Gus Van Horn.)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Three-Body Orbit Solutions

"Scientists discover more than 600 new periodic orbits of the famous three-body problem":
In 1890, Poincare determined that trajectories of three-body systems are commonly non-periodic, i.e. not repeating. This can explain why it is so hard to obtain the periodic orbits of three-body systems. In the 300 years since the three-body problem was first recognized, only three families of periodic orbits had been found. In 2013, Suvakov and Dmitrasinovic [Phys. Rev. Lett. 110, 114301 (2013)] made a breakthrough, finding 13 new distinct periodic orbits belonging to 11 new families of the Newtonian planar three-body problem with equal mass and zero angular momentum.

Now, two scientists, XiaoMing Li and ShiJun Liao at Shanghai Jiaotong University, China, have successfully determined 695 families of periodic orbits of the same Newtonian planar three-body system using the TH-2 supercomputer at Guangzhou, China. Their results have been published in SCIENCE CHINA-Physics Mechanics & Astronomy...

These 695 periodic orbits include the well-known figure-eight family found by Moore in 1993, the 11 families found by Suvakov and Dmitrasinovic in 2013, and more than 600 new families reported for the first time.

UBI And Tyranny

"Universal Basic Income and the Threat of Tyranny"

Princess Bride Sword Fight

"How The Princess Bride Built Film's Most Beloved Sword Fight"

Friday, October 13, 2017

Hottest Chip

"We ate the world's spiciest chip, cried for 45 minutes, then wrote this article about it" (via R.S.):
[T]he Austin, Texas based tortilla chip company Paqui (rhymes with hockey) has what can only be described as a delicious form of torture in store for you. Their Carolina Reaper Madness Tortilla Chip is a savory mix of not one, but two of the world’s hottest peppers. It combines the aforementioned ghost pepper with the even hotter variety for which the chip gets its name; the Carolina Reaper. Chipotle pepper powder (which is essentially a dried and aged jalapeno pepper) is added for additional flavor. So for that very brief moment before the heat actually kicks in, your torture tortilla chip is pretty tasty. The company claims that it is the hottest tortilla chip in the world.

Names Of Things

"How it smells after it rains, the cardboard sleeve around your coffee cup and other things you didn’t know had names."

Software Apocalypse

"The Coming Software Apocalypse"

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Online Dating And Society

"First Evidence That Online Dating Is Changing the Nature of Society".

Specifically, it could be increasing the rates of inter-racial marriage. And possibly increasing the strength of marriages.

AI Magic Tricks

"How Artificial Intelligence Is Improving Magic Tricks"

Learn AI With Google Teachable Machine

"Google's new browser experiment lets you learn about basic AI"

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Missing Matter Found

"Half the universe's missing matter has just been finally found".

It was hiding between the seat cushions.

Last Jedi Trailer

The new trailer for "The Last Jedi"!

Glue For Wounds

"Injectable glue heals wounds in seconds". (Via H.R.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Monday, October 09, 2017

It's Hook-And-Loop

Video: "Don't Say Velcro". (Via S.L.)

The Horror Created By Early X-Rays

"The Existential Horror Created by the First X-Ray Images". (Via VA Viper.)

Wiffle Ball Physics

"The Contentious Physics of Wiffle Ball". (Via VA Viper.)

Friday, October 06, 2017

Are Replicants Human?

"Are Blade Runner's Replicants 'Human'? Descartes and Locke Have Some Thoughts"

AI Recognition Of Concealed Faces

"AI Will Soon Identify Protesters With Their Faces Partly Concealed":
[The deep learning system] can identify an individual even when part of their face is obscured. The system was able to correctly identify a person concealed by a scarf 67 percent of the time when they were photographed against a "complex" background, which better resembles real-world conditions...

The algorithm can still identify those angles even when part of a person's mug is obscured, by disguises including caps, scarves, and glasses... The research has troubling implications for protestors and other dissidents, who often work to make sure they aren't ID'd at protests and other demonstrations by covering their faces with scarves or by wearing sunglasses. "To be honest when I was trying to come up with this method, I was just trying to focus on criminals," Amarjot Singh, one of the researchers behind the paper and a Ph.D student at Cambridge University [said].

Picking Good Passwords

WSJ: "If ‘P@$$w0rd1’ Is So Simple to Figure Out, Then What Should You Do?"

That's why I just use "12345" for all my passwords.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Anne Frank Cold Case

"Ex-FBI agent opens cold case review into who betrayed Anne Frank"

No Love In That Granola

FDA warns bakery not to list "Love" as one of the ingredients in their granola.

Direct link to FDA letter:
Your Nashoba Granola label lists ingredient "Love". Ingredients required to be declared on the label or labeling of food must be listed by their common or usual name [21 CFR 101.4(a)(1). "Love" is not a common or usual name of an ingredient, and is considered to be intervening material because it is not part of the common or usual name of the ingredient.


Image of the day:

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Saudi King And Yoda

Not-an-Onion story: "Saudi Arabia accidentally prints textbook showing Yoda sitting next to the king":
The Saudi government is scrambling to withdraw a history textbook that accidentally included a doctored photograph of King Faisal sitting next to the little green Star Wars character.  

The picture was supposed to illustrate a section on the King’s rule but somehow the book’s editors used a version that showed Yoda perched next to the monarch as he signed the UN charter.

“The Ministry of Education regrets the inadvertent error,” said Ahmed al-Eissa, the Saudi education minister.
Of course, there's a response from The Onion

Navy Returns to Compasses and Pencils

NYT: "Navy Returns to Compasses and Pencils to Help Avoid Collisions at Sea"

The Monty Hall Problem Controversy

"The Time Everyone 'Corrected' the World's Smartest Woman".

She was right, but she took a lot of crap from people who didn't agree. 

Monday, October 02, 2017

Trash In Volcanoes

"This Is Why We Can't Throw All Our Trash Into Volcanoes".

Me, before reading the article: Never thought about throwing trash into a volcano.

Me, after reading the article: I don't care what the science says, now I totally want to throw some trash into a volcano!

Reality Behind Retro Ads

"What You Actually Got From Those Back-of-Magazine Ads"

Ars Technica On iPhone 8

Ars Technica reviews the iPhone 8 and 8S.

Friday, September 29, 2017


"Giant Rat That Fell From Sky Is New Species"

AI Deity

"Anthony Levandowski wants to create an AI god".

Related story from Wired.

Ars Technica Reviews High Sierra

Ars Technica on High Sierra Mac OS. (Via H.R.)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How To Identify That Light In The Sky

I'm disturbed by the lack of "Aliens" in this NASA flowchart.

#GottaBeACoverUp (Via H.R.)

Private NYC Pay Bathrooms

"Reserve private bathrooms across NYC with a new app".

From the article, "The app is reminiscent of George Costanza's fictional iToilet, though the founders say that wasn't part of their inspiration." (Via Tyler Cowen.)

Quants On Wall Street Update

WSJ: "The Quants Run Wall Street Now"

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hsieh Forbes Column: "Pagers, AI, And Google"

My latest Forbes piece is out: "Pagers, AI, And Google: 3 Tales Of Technology And Medicine".

I discuss how past, current, and future technologies can make health care more complicated in interesting (and sometimes) unpredictable ways.

'Firefly' At 15

"Firefly at 15: How a Canceled Show Became a Cult Favorite". (Via H.R.)

Robots Building Molecules

"Scientists create world’s first ‘molecular robot’ capable of building molecules". (Via H.R.)

Octopus City

Scientists have found an octopus city.

Monday, September 25, 2017

USAF Missileers

You can't become a nuclear missile launch officer "if you've been hypnotized even once in your life".

Excellent article including this:
"Our mission every day is to provide deterrence," offers [USAF Captain Amber] Moore. "Every day we try to make our enemies ask themselves the question, Does the benefit of attacking the U.S. outweigh the cost? Because they know that we're always prepared to fire back." Readiness is imperative. A missileer's day-to-day is a lot of maintenance, a lot of making sure each ICBM is in tip-top shape, able to sail over the arctic circle instantaneously. 
The article also notes, "It's all very sensical and comforting until you remember that the order to launch a nuclear missile can only come from the President of the United States, a man who should ostensibly be held to PRP [Personnel Reliability Program] standards...but seemingly is not."

I would say that the American people had ample opportunity to incorporate this concern into their votes and each voter made their own choice on this matter.

Certainly, candidate Clinton and multiple pundits raised the issue of command fitness for the US nuclear arsenal on multiple occasions -- so it's not like voters were never informed of this prior to casting their votes.

(Note: Link was bad, now fixed!) 

Flexible Cooling

"New Flexible Cooling Device Could Provide Efficient Cooling for Mobile Electronics". (Via H.R.)

The Language of the Dark Web

"The Language of the Dark Web"

Friday, September 22, 2017

Attempting An iPhone In 1957

Building an iPhone X equivalent in 1957 would have cost $150 trillion in today's dollars. And it would have been massive:
Consider the 256 GB memory iPhone X: Implemented in vacuum tubes in 1957, the transistors in an iPhoneX alone would have:
  • cost 150 trillion of today's dollars: one and a half times today's global annual product
  • taken up a hundred-story square building 300 meters high, and 3 kilometers long and wide
  • drawn 150 terawatts of power—30 times the world's current generating capacity

Bad Star Trek Fight Move

"How the 'Star Trek' Punch Became the Worst Fight Move on TV"

Algorithms Don't Care

"Amazon Is Suggesting 'Frequently Bought Together' Items That Can Make a Bomb".

Algorithms don't care what you'll do with your purchases.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Chocolate Bar Labels

"How to Read a Chocolate Bar Label to Buy the Best Chocolate"

Topology And The Brain

"Understanding the brain using topology: the Blue Brain project"

Ars Technica Reviews iOS 11

Ars Technica: "iOS 11, thoroughly reviewed". (Via H.R.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Chilling FOIA Requests

ABC News: "Governments turn tables by suing public records requesters".

As one person noted, "They are going to great lengths to protect themselves and their own mismanagement. This is retaliation."

Museum Twitter War

Museum Twitter war! :-)

Robo-Reporter Update

"The Washington Post's robot reporter has published 850 articles in the past year"

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017

New Form Of Water

"Gel-like ice is the lightest form of water ever discovered"

Tolkien Reads The Hobbit

"JRR Tolkien reads from The Hobbit":
In 1952, a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien showed him a tape recorder, which the author had never seen before. Delighted, Tolkien sat for his friend and read from The Hobbit for 30 minutes “in this one incredible take”. The audio is split between these two videos (with visuals and music added later)...

Given the circumstances, the clarity of this recording is pretty remarkable. Give it a listen for at least the first two minutes…hearing Tolkien do Smeagol/Gollum’s voice is really cool.
Audio part 1

Audio part 2

AI Password Cracking

"Artificial intelligence just made guessing your password a whole lot easier"

Friday, September 15, 2017

How to Talk Minnesotan

"How to Talk Minnesotan: The Power of the Negative"
This short video, taken from a longer documentary on How to Talk Minnesotan, demonstrates how a Minnesotan speaker uses negative words (e.g. bad, not, can’t, worse) to express positive feelings. For example, a translation of the phrase “I’m so excited, I can’t believe it!!” into Minnesotan yields:
A guy could almost be happy today if he wasn’t careful.

Face ID Quick Disable

"Face ID will have a quick-disable feature and work with most sunglasses".

According to Apple senior VP of software engineering Craig Federighi, "If you grip the buttons on both sides of the phone when you hand it over, it will temporarily disable FaceID".

Communicating With Comatose Patients

"How science found a way to help coma patients communicate"

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Drone Delivery Of Medical Samples

STAT news: "A drone flew dozens of blood samples 161 miles -- and kept them viable"

Johns Hopkins researchers say they’ve set a new record by flying a medical drone more than 160 miles across the Arizona desert with human blood samples safely in tow. In a new report, the pathologists say they were able to maintain the right temperature to keep the 84 samples viable for laboratory analysis once the drone arrived. The researchers ran common lab tests on those samples and comparison samples that weren’t flown by drone, and all of them showed similar results. Scientists say that adds to the evidence that in the future, medical drones could be a safe, efficient way to ferry samples between rural regions and far-off labs.

Here's a direct link to the academic article, "Drone Transport of Chemistry and Hematology Samples Over Long Distances" (American Journal of Clinical Pathology, 5 Sep 2017).

We Like Blue

"Why Blue Is the World’s Favorite Color"

Apple FaceID And The Law

"Can Cops Force You to Unlock Your Phone With Your Face?"

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

iPhone Privacy

"It's about to get tougher for cops, border agents to get at your iPhone's data". (Via T.V.)

Facial Recognition Update

"What machines can tell from your face".

Related: "Ever better and cheaper, face-recognition technology is spreading"

Apple AI Chip

"Everything you need to know about Apple's AI chip"

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

New Vonnegut

"The Atlantic has just put up a previously unpublished short story by Kurt Vonnegut, The Drone King. It’s about bees."

Sandwich Family Tree

"The Definitive Sandwich Family Tree"

Bouncing Photons

"Experiment reveals evidence for a previously unseen behaviour of light"

Monday, September 11, 2017

Random Number Generator Update

"A True Random-Number Generator Built From Carbon Nanotubes":
Those factors hinged on a phenomenon thought to be truly random—fluctuations in thermal noise, which is a type of atomic jitter intrinsic to circuits. 

Flag Of Mars

"The New (and Unofficial)Flag of Mars"

AI Gaydar

"New AI can guess whether you're gay or straight from a photograph"

Friday, September 08, 2017

Ruby Chocolate

"Barry Callebaut AG, the world’s largest cocoa processor, has come up with the first new natural color for chocolate since Nestle SA started making bars of white chocolate more than 80 years ago. While it has a pinkish hue and a fruity flavor, the Zurich-based company prefers to refer to it as 'ruby chocolate.'"

The beans used to make ruby chocolate come from Ivory Coast, Ecuador and Brazil and the unusual color comes from the powder extracted during processing, De Saint-Affrique said. No berries or colors are added. While other companies including Cargill Inc. already produce red cocoa powder, this is the first time natural reddish chocolate is produced.

High-Tech Modular Home

"This tiny modular home is 325 square feet of IoT heaven"

Medical AI and Watson

"IBM pitched its Watson supercomputer as a revolution in cancer care. It’s nowhere close"

Thursday, September 07, 2017

20 Years Difference

20 years difference. (Via Dave Jilk.)

Radiologists Nervous About AI

NPR: "Scanning The Future, Radiologists See Their Jobs At Risk".

Personally, I predict that some radiologists (and their practices) will thrive, whereas others will disappear -- depending on whether and how they embrace AI.

It's going to be super-interesting to see how this all shakes out, both as a radiologist and a prospective patient.

Congressional Vote On Self-Driving Cars

"House to vote on self-driving car legislation next week":
The U.S. House of Representatives will vote Wednesday on a sweeping proposal to speed the deployment of self-driving cars without human controls and bar states from blocking autonomous vehicles, congressional aides said.

The bill, which was passed unanimously by a House panel in July, would allow automakers to obtain exemptions to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year, a cap that would rise to 100,000 vehicles annually over three years.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Cat Physics

"How Can a Cat Survive a High-Rise Fall? Physics!"
But here's the weird part: Cats falling from super high floors can survive. A RadioLab episode on this falling cat issue states that cats falling between five and nine stories are the ones most likely to be injured. Fall from a higher story, though, and your odds of survival are better...

Free Classic Literature

"How to access free and legal copies of English and American classic literature online"


"Want a cold beer? Just pop it in this insane microwave". (Via H.R.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Obsolete Dictionary Words

"The complex process that dictionaries use to decide which words are obsolete"

Unbreakable Rubber Bands

"Unbreakable Rubber Bands That Are 200 Times Stronger Than Steel Are Coming Soon". (Via H.R.)

"Skunk In The Outfield" Baseball Play

"'Skunk in the outfield': How the most epic trick play in history broke baseball"

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Holiday Weekend Hiatus

Admin note: I'll be taking a short hiatus for the US Labor Day weekend. Posts will resume on Tuesday, September 5.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Crypto Gene Analysis

"Cryptographers and Geneticists Unite to Analyze Genomes They Can't See"

Tomato Fight

Images from La Tomatina, the world's largest annual tomato fight.

One example, lots more at the link:

The History of Tater Tots

"The Tater Tot Is American Ingenuity at Its Finest"

Thursday, August 31, 2017


"Burger King launches WhopperCoin crypto-cash in Russia".

I think I'll take a pass on this one.

Rocket Safety Update

"Here Is the Safety Trick That Will Help SpaceX Fly You to the Moon". (Via H.R.)

Fake Male Startup Co-Founder

"These Women Entrepreneurs Created A Fake Male Cofounder To Dodge Startup Sexism":
That’s when Gazin and Dwyer introduced a third cofounder: Keith Mann, an aptly named fictional character who could communicate with outsiders over email.

“It was like night and day,” says Dwyer. “It would take me days to get a response, but Keith could not only get a response and a status update, but also be asked if he wanted anything else or if there was anything else that Keith needed help with.”
 It's too bad that the supposedly hip and "enlightened" world of start-ups is still as sexist as it is.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hsieh Forbes Column: Changing Consent Rules For Organ Donation

My latest Forbes piece is now up: "Should The Government Require Your Consent To Be An Organ Donor?"

I discuss some controversial proposed changes to loosen the consent process for organ donation, including the pros and cons.  There are a lot of passionate advocates on both sides of this debate, and I tried my best to treat each position as fairly as possible (even though I do favor one side).

The Far Future

"Infographic of the fascinating timeline of the far future"

Robocall Hell

"Junk call nightmare flooded woman with hundreds of bizarre phone calls a day". (Via H.R.)

Related from NPR Planet Money podcast: "Robocall Invasion".

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Cooking With Lava

"Here's How To Actually Cook Food Over Lava". (Via Alex Knapp.)

No Anonymous Online Comments In China

"China to Ban Anonymous Online Comments, Blacklist Users"

How Google Broke The Internet In Japan

"Google takes blame for error that crashed the Net in Japan"

Monday, August 28, 2017

Accidental Medical Discoveries

"Accidental Discoveries that Revolutionized Medicine"

Ancient Math Table

"Mathematical secrets of ancient tablet unlocked after nearly a century of study":
The team from the University of New South Wales in Sydney believe that the four columns and 15 rows of cuneiform – wedge shaped indentations made in the wet clay – represent the world’s oldest and most accurate working trigonometric table, a working tool which could have been used in surveying, and in calculating how to construct temples, palaces and pyramids.

Fake Patients

"How retirees can make money as fake hospital patients".

I totally want this job when retire from the practice of medicine.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Flag Pillows

Gareth Soye: "Hmmmmmm"

Friday, August 25, 2017

Eclipse Vs. Porn

Heh: During the eclipse, porn traffic dropped 54% in WY, 42% in NE, and 39% in OR.

Designer Baby Update

Tyler Cowen: "The Drive for Perfect Children Gets a Little Scary".

In particular, "Mothers want extraversion over conscientiousness or intelligence for their children", at least within the sample studied.

QR In China

"16 Ways QR Codes are Being Used in China". (Via Marginal Revolution.)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Phone Hijacking Security Flaw

NYT: "Identity Thieves Hijack Cellphone Accounts to Go After Virtual Currency"

Better iPhone Security

"The Next iOS Update Has a Feature to Prevent Cops From Searching Your iPhone":
In the new iOS 11, if you quickly tap your home button five times, the phone reverts to a password-only screen lock (with an option to dial 911 if needed). Reverting to a password-only mode offers an extra layer of privacy protection from a police officer, or an abusive partner, or anyone else who may force or coerce a person into touching their iPhone to unlock it...

The new feature should be of particular interest to protesters or anyone else who would rather the police not read all their contacts and text messages. Currently, you have to navigate through settings and multiple screens to change how your phone is secured—which is difficult to do rapidly if you sense an impending arrest. With the update, if you think you might get approached by law enforcement, you can just reach into your pocket and tap the button five times.
This feature helps in jurisdictions where the police are allowed to compel you to touch a finger to the phone, but not allowed to compel you to disclose a password/passcode.

Pao On Sexism In Silicon Valley

Ellen Pao: "This Is How Sexism Works in Silicon Valley"

Assuming her account is accurate, here are my initial reactions:

1) She wasn't treated well by her business partners. Certainly, the male physician partners in my own medical practice would not treat a female partner this way.

2) She's obviously giving her version of events, so take that for what it's worth.

3) I guess some folks in the SF Bay area don't necessarily live up to the region's reputation of "progressive", we-value-tolerance-and-diversity culture.

4) Pao later became CEO of Reddit. But had to resign after she made some very unpopular decisions, including firing a much beloved (female) senior staff member. And thus sparking a huge internal revolt. Pao's tenure at Reddit doesn't have any bearing on the merits of her claim about her lawsuit. But it does show how thing turned out when she was given top authority in an organization.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

EFF On Free Speech

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) takes a strong stance in support of free speech, even for odious groups:
[T]he Electronic Frontier Foundation is warning of the dangers of censoring speech, no matter how horrendous or offensive.

'All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country,' the San Francisco-based online advocacy group said in a blog post Thursday. 'But we must also recognize that on the Internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with.'
Good for them!

Drug Drones

Drug cartels using heavy-duty industrial drones to smuggle drugs across the border.

Whiskey Better WIth Water

"Chemists Say You Should Add A Little Water To Your Whiskey. Here's Why"

Monday, August 21, 2017

Friday, August 18, 2017

Humans Love Blankets

"Why Do We Sleep Under Blankets, Even on the Hottest Nights?"

Campus Postmodernism

Scientific American: "The Unfortunate Fallout of Campus Postmodernism".

Take-home point: "If you teach students to be warriors against all power asymmetries, don't be surprised when they turn on their professors and administrators."

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Terminator Conundrum

"Earlier this month, the Russian weapons manufacturer Kalashnikov Group made a low-key announcement with frightening implications. The company revealed it had developed a range of combat robots that are fully automated and used artificial intelligence to identify targets and make independent decisions..."

"Known informally inside the corridors of the Pentagon as 'the Terminator conundrum,' the question being asked is whether stifling the development of these types of weapons would actually allow other less ethically minded countries to leap ahead? Or is it a greater danger to ultimately allow machines the ability to make life or death decisions?"

Secret Amazon Brands

"Amazon owns a whole collection of secret brands"

Old Fruitcake

"100-Year-Old Fruitcake Found in Antarctica Is 'Almost' Edible"

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Historical Reactions To Solar Eclipses

"A history of solar eclipses and bizarre responses to them"

Goldfish and Alcohol

"During the winter, goldfish and their relatives can have a blood-alcohol concentration beyond the legal limit for drink driving."

Dr. Smartphone

"The airplane had just taken off when one of the passengers lost consciousness."
Eric Topol pulled his smartphone out of his pocket and immediately performed an electrocardiogram (EKG) on the passenger. He used the device to do an ultrasound scan of the man's heart and measured oxygen levels in his blood. He was then able to give the all-clear and the plane could continue its journey. The man had lost consciousness merely due to a temporarily slowed heart rhythm.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Recipe Videos In The Style Of Famous Directors

"Hilarious recipe videos in the style of famous directors"

My favorite: "What if Tarantino made Spaghetti & Meatballs?"

Free Old Music

"Philly company digitizes 25,000 old records and they're free to download"

Russian Casino Hacker

"Meet Alex, the Russian Casino Hacker Who Makes Millions Targeting Slot Machines":
Alex defends his enterprise as cunning but by no means criminal. “We, in fact, do not meddle with the machines — there is no actual hacking taking place,” he says. “My agents are just gamers, like the rest of them. Only they are capable of making better predictions in their betting. Yes, that capability is gained through my technology, it’s true. But why should it be against the law? On the basic level, it’s like using a calculator for counting faster and more accurately, rather than relying on one’s natural capacity.”

Monday, August 14, 2017

Eclipses Feel Weird

"A Total Solar Eclipse Feels Really, Really Weird"

Parenting As Viewed Through Cartoons

"Changing Parenting Attitudes, as Seen Through New Yorker Cartoons"

Malicious Code In DNA

"In a mind-boggling world first, a team of biologists and security researchers have successfully infected a computer with a malicious program coded into a strand of DNA"

Friday, August 11, 2017

Bad Password Rules

"The Guy Who Invented Those Annoying Password Rules Now Regrets Wasting Your Time"

Underwater Post Office

"Whale Mail Is the New Snail Mail at the World’s First Underwater Post Office"

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Comeuppance In SF

"Rich SF residents get a shock: Someone bought their street"

AI-Generated Beer Names

"Artificial intelligence proves that craft beer names are total nonsense"

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebook

"Browse the British Library's online copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s 570-page notebook"

Fortune Cookie Math

"We Analyzed 1,000 Fortune Cookies To Unlock Their Secrets"

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Ikea Capes

"Game of Thrones uses cheap IKEA rugs as capes"

Tesla Model 3 Review

"Driving Tesla's Model 3 Changes Everything"

Monday, August 07, 2017

SR-71 Speed Check Story

"An SR-71 Blackbird Pilot Recounts His Infamous LA Speed Check Story".

As friend JRW notes, "Interesting story about flying the SR-71 — but go all the way to the end.  The last 60 seconds is hilarious."

Upgrading The Great Firewall

"China holds drill to shut down 'harmful' websites"

Friday, August 04, 2017

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Light Posting Notice

Admin note: Posting may be lighter than usual for the rest of this week and next week due to external obligations.

Gene Editing Update

NYT: "In Breakthrough, Scientists Edit a Dangerous Mutation From Genes in Human Embryos"

Cochlear Implant Upgrade For iOS

New cochlear sound processor allows users to directly stream music and voice from iOS device to the cochlear implant.

Robot Safecracking

"Watch a Homemade Robot Crack a Safe in Just 15 Minutes"

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Can You "Rape" A Sex Robot?

NYT: "The Trouble With Sex Robots".

The NYT author appears to think so, consistently using the term "rape" for males interacting with robots programmed to "reject" their sexual advances.

In contrast, this NPR story gets it right ("What's New In The World Of Robot Sex?"):
Today's robots are not conscious and thus "rape" is not the correct descriptor.

I want to be very clear about what I am saying here: The robots' lack of consciousness is fundamentally different from the state of a person who has lost consciousness or for some reason suffers from diminished mental acuity. For a person who has passed out, who is in a coma, or who is mentally compromised for any reason and is violently sexually assaulted, "rape" is absolutely the correct term.
I recognize that there is a potential issue of people acting towards robots that would otherwise be impermissible towards other humans. For instance, if I knew my next door neighbor got his jollies by engaging in mock serial killings of life-like robots, I'd be more than a little nervous. And it might be grounds for asking law enforcement to take a closer look at him. But you can't "murder" a robot any more than you can "rape" one.