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.

AI Creating Malware

"AI quickly cooks malware that anti-viral software can't spot"

Splitting Water

"Scientists produce robust catalyst to split water into hydrogen, oxygen". (Via H.R.)

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The Case for Cursing

The NYT publishes "The Case for Cursing", doesn't use any actual profanity.

Challenges Of Zero-G Surgery

"Zero-G Blood and the Many Horrors of Space Surgery"

Mathematical Paintings Of Crockett Johnson

"Mathematical Paintings of Crockett Johnson"

Monday, July 31, 2017

Quantum Alternatives

"A brief history of quantum alternatives"

What You'll See On Eclipse Day

Cool app, just enter your zip code: "A solar eclipse is coming to America. Here's what you'll see where you live."

Subway-Style Map Of Roman Roads In Britain

"A subway-style map of the Roman roads of Britain"

Friday, July 28, 2017

Monday, July 24, 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Husband Storage Pods

"[T]he Global Harbour mall in Shanghai has erected a number of glass pods for wives to leave any disgruntled husbands that don't want to be dragged around the shops. Inside each individual pod is a chair, monitor, computer and gamepad, and men can sit and play retro 1990s games."

Google Glass Enterprise

"Google Glass rises again -- at work"

Hypnotic Illustrations

"The hypnotic illustrations of Visoth Kakvei"

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Star Wars Hotel

"At an upcoming Star Wars-themed hotel in Disney World in Orlando, Florida, employees will stay in costume and in character at all times."

Gecko Feet For Space

"NASA looked to gecko feet for its latest space innovation"

Musk On AI

"Elon Musk Says Artificial Intelligence Is the 'Greatest Risk We Face as a Civilization'". He made this latest warning in a speech to the National Governors Association on July 15, 2017.

Of course, if the US imposes unilateral restrictions on AI research, other countries will less regulation and/or less concern for AI safety will gladly take the lead: "China may match or beat America in AI".

Monday, July 17, 2017

History Of Boozing

"Ancient Humans Liked Getting Tipsy, Too"

Facial Recognition At Airports

"If You Get Your Face Scanned the Next Time You Fly, Here's What You Should Know"

Greatest Props

"The 100 Greatest Props in Movie History, and the Stories Behind Them".

I completely approve of their choice for #1.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Eclipse Chasers

 "How Eclipse Chasers Are Putting a Small Kentucky Town on the Map"

I know several friends who will be enjoying the eclipse! And I liked this quote from astronomer Tyler Nordgren:
Make no mistake. The difference between whether you're inside the path of totality or outside it is literally the difference between night and day. No other experience comes close to the multisensory strangeness of this most unnatural of natural events.

Insecure Two-Factor Systems

"Two-factor authentication is a mess"

Font Could Decide Corruption Case

A corruption case in Pakistan could hinge on a font.

One side is claiming a key document is a forgery because it was printed in the Calibri font, which wasn't available at the time.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Bought For 100 Euros, Sold For 45,000 Euros

"A 100 euros typewriter has sold for 45,000 euros ($51,500) at auction, after it was discovered it was actually a German Wehrmacht Enigma I":
Cristian Gavrila, the collectible consignment manager at Artmark, told Reuters: "The collector bought it from a flea market. He's a cryptography professor and... he knew very well what he was buying."

My Kind Of Startup

"This startup will fight your traffic ticket for you"

Sex Robot Update

Nature: "Let's talk about sex robots". (Via A.A.)

Great Red Spot

"The Closest-Ever Shot of the Great Red Spot"

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

New Raphael

"Unknown Raphael Paintings Discovered in the Vatican"

Internet Cat Simulator

"The Internet cat simulator (you can set parameters for meowing and purring)"

What Could Go Wrong?

Time sink of the day: "What Could Go Wrong?

BTW, some of these can be disturbing, as indicated by the NSFL tag. #OMG. #HoldMyBeer

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

More Robo-Journalism

"Google funds robot-written news":
The aim: to crank out up to 30,000 stories a month that will be distributed by the Press Association to hundreds of news outlets in the U.K. and Ireland. The stories will be automated with the help of artificial intelligence — and a handful of human journalists.

“Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process, but Radar allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually,” Peter Clifton, editor-in-chief of the Press Association, told the Guardian. Radar stands for Reporters and Data and Robots.

History Of Equals Sign

"The strange and righteous history of the equals sign". (Via H.R.)

Asteroid Panic

"Would you kill to stop an asteroid panic?"

My own opinions:

1) This sounds like a great premise for a TV show.

2) This sort of truth should absolutely be told to the public. Hiding it (and killing people who know) goes against core principles of openness and respect for truth. Governments should tell the people and let them decide the consequences.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Emergency Alerts Explained

"Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) explained: AMBER alerts and what the heck is a Severe Alert vs. an Extreme Alert and how do I turn them off?!?"

Computer-Generated Art

"Machine Creativity Beats Some Modern Art".

The link includes an art version of the "Turing Test", where you can guess which artwork was generated by a computer and which by a human.

You Can Now Drink Coffee From A Horn

"Your greatest dream of drinking coffee from a horn has come true"

Saturday, July 08, 2017

[Off Topic] Charlie Gard Case In 30 Words

[Off topic]: My latest in Forbes: "Charlie Gard Case, Summarized In 30 Words".

Plus a glimmer of hope for the family.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Defining Blackmail

Eugene Volokh: "Blackmail is surprisingly hard to define"

Light-Fuelled Wave Machine

Via "Stat News": "A crawling caterpillar made of polymers"
Scientists have created a new material that can dance better than most of us. They created a polymer strip that’s about as big as a paperclip and moves about as fast as a caterpillar. The material — which contracts in reaction to light — works by casting a shadow on itself.

Researchers shine a light on one side of the strip, which starts to curl up and casts a shadow onto the next part of the strip. That section comes into light and starts to change shape, creating a continual wave that propels the paper forward. Study author Anne Helene Gelebart tells me the material might one day be used to transport small devices to tricky-to-reach places during surgery.  

Name The Missing Word

Quiz: "Name the Missing Word in Each Book Title"

Thursday, July 06, 2017

John Urschel Profile

"From the NFL to MIT: The Double Life of John Urschel".

Nice profile of Urschel, who is both a PhD student in math at MIT and an active NFL offensive lineman.

Pentagonal Tilings

"There Are Only 15 Pentagonal Tilings (Probably)"

Neural Repair With Carbon Nanotubules

"Carbon Nanotubes Found to Be a Safe Bet For Reconnecting Neurons". (Via H.R.)

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Why You Should Nap At Work

NYT: "Take Naps at Work. Apologize to No One." The science is settled.

Frogs Aided By Dinosaur Killer

"Frog evolution linked to dinosaur asteroid strike"

AI Vs. Kangaroo

"Volvo admits its self-driving cars are confused by kangaroos".
Volvo’s detection system was designed in Sweden, where it was tested in areas populated with moose, before trials at a nature reserve in Canberra revealed the problem with kangaroos. Kangaroos cause more accidents than any other animal in Australia – the marsupials are responsible for about 90% of collisions between vehicles and animals...
(Via Dave Jilk.)

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Independence Day Hiatus

Admin note: In honor of the US Independence Day, there will be no posts today. Regular posting will resume tomorrow. Happy July 4th!

Monday, July 03, 2017


NYT: "Greetings, E.T. (Please Don't Murder Us)". Lengthy discussion of SETI/METI, including technical issues and the should-we-even-be-broadcasting issue.

The article also quotes Seth Shostak, "No, if we want to broadcast a message from Earth, I propose that we just feed the Google servers into the transmitter. Send the aliens the World Wide Web."

Sure, if you want to get endless unsolicited promotional e-mails from friggn' alien spammers as well. Tailored to your personal shopping habits, of course.

Nanotube Transistors

"Carbon Nanotubes Reduce Transistor Footprint to Forty Nanometers". (Via H.R.)

Giant Black Holes

"Watching The Dance Of Giant Black Holes"

Friday, June 30, 2017

Hsieh Forbes Column: "Three Novel Health Care Innovations"

My latest Forbes column: "Three Novel Health Care Innovations"

Drones! Photosynthesis! AI!

Read more details at "Three Novel Health Care Innovations".

From one linked article:
"This medical drone can deliver an automated external defibrillator to a patient who has suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. In tests, the drone arrived more than 16 minutes faster than an ambulance had."

Won't Get Out Of Jail Free

Minnesota Man tries to use Monopoly "Get Out Of Jail Free" card to get out of jail. Innovative legal strategy does not work.

New From Hans Schantz

If you liked Hans Schantz' "The Hidden Truth", you might also enjoy his sequel, "A Rambling Wreck".

Thursday, June 29, 2017

5 Types Of Tap on iOS 11

"iOS 11 brings 5 different types of tap, but don’t panic":
[O]n an iPad running iOS 11 there are at least five “taps:”
  1. Tap.
  2. Long tap to drag and drop.
  3. Longer tap to delete/move apps.
  4. Special half-long tap to pop up a dock-extra menu.
  5. Press-tap (or long tap) in notifications to access extras.
This last one is the iPad’s stab at 3D Touch. If you use 3D Touch on your iPhone, you’ll be familiar with the feeling of trying to 3D Touch something on your iPad, only to have nothing happen. In iOS 11, if you press as if you were doing a 3D Touch, the gesture works. It pops open a preview of a notification (allowing you to reply to a message, for instance). It also works in apps, popping up an info card in Maps. It works a lot like 3D Touch on the iPhone, only it does it without a pressure-sensitive screen.

No. 2 in the list — drag and drop — is a new kind of touch interaction in iOS 11. Functionally it’s like the old press-and-hold to rearrange icons that dates back to the original iPhone, but it activates more quickly. It’s timed so you don’t really feel like you have to pause, and you’ll know when the touch has activated because the icon darkens and inflates a little...

Bread In Space

"Soon Astronauts May Be Able to Enjoy Fresh Baked Bread in Space":
This story starts back in 1965 during NASA’s Gemini 3 mission when pilot John Young pulled out a corned beef on rye that he’d smuggled aboard the spacecraft and shared it with Gus Grissom, the mission’s commander. But with the first bite Grissom realized there was a problem.

“I took a bite, but crumbs of rye bread started floating all around the cabin,” Grissom told a life Life magazine reporter after the mission.

The worry was that in the weightless conditions, the tiny crumbs could slip behind the control panels and wreak havoc on the sensitive equipment, or end up in an astronaut’s eye or lungs. The corned beef incident was so serious that it led to a Congressional investigation, which helped put the kibosh on bread in space and made tortillas the go-to for space travel. And while there’s nothing wrong with flat bread, sometimes you just want an old-fashioned sandwich on sliced bread. 

The German company Bake In Space is behind a project to develop a special dough for low-crumb bread and an oven in which to bake it on the ISS. According to Sebastian Marco, the CEO of Bake in Space, there a lot of challenges to both creating a tasty bread without crumbs and to baking in a low-gravity environment...

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Monday, June 26, 2017

Hacking Tinder To Sway UK Election

NYT: Hacking Tinder to sway the UK election:
[W]e designed a chatbot, a smart computer program that deployed an adaptable script. In the two days ahead of the election earlier this month, the chatbot struck up conversations with thousands of young people between 18 and 25 years old on Tinder. The chatbot talked about politics, with the aim of getting voters to help oust the Conservative government. The results were amazing. Over 30,000 messages reached young people in key constituencies.
You know we'll see something like this in the US very very soon.

Big Printer

"GE Plans World's Largest Laser-Powered 3D Printer":
The prototype Atlas printer, announced on Wednesday, can print objects up to one meter long using titanium, aluminum, and other metals instead of the plastics, resins, and filaments that many commercial and consumer 3D printers use. That means it could print an entire engine block for a car or truck, for example, replacing the specialized machines and tooling that are currently required to make those types of products in a factory.
(Via Rand Simberg.) 

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? "