April 13, 2009
[science] Go Watch: What happens when you drop a cannon ball in a bath of mercury? [via Kottke]
April 1, 2009
[lists] The 10 Biggest Intellectual Fights Of All Time … On Galileo vs. The Church: ‘…in 1632 he published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems and quickly found himself summoned to appear before the Inquisition on charges of heresy. Galileo was forced to recant his support for the Copernican model and spent the rest of his life under house arrest, though with rather lenient travel and visitation allowances. His works were finally dropped from the Index of prohibited books in 1835. In 1992 Pope John Paul II expressed regret for how the “Galileo Affair” was handled, officially conceding on the part of the church that the earth is not stationary and that the planets orbit the sun.’
February 9, 2009
[knowledge] Clive Thompson on How More Info Leads to Less Knowledge‘Normally, we expect society to progress, amassing deeper scientific understanding and basic facts every year. Knowledge only increases, right? Robert Proctor doesn’t think so. A historian of science at Stanford, Proctor points out that when it comes to many contentious subjects, our usual relationship to information is reversed: Ignorance increases. He has developed a word inspired by this trend: agnotology. Derived from the Greek root agnosis, it is “the study of culturally constructed ignorance.” As Proctor argues, when society doesn’t know something, it’s often because special interests work hard to create confusion…’
September 26, 2008
[dawkins] Richard Dawkins Hate Mail

September 12, 2008
[science] Large Hadron Collider Webcams … watch closely – you can see the Collider energise every 42 Tachyon loops.
June 17, 2008
[twitter] It turns out it was Fake Richard Dawkins on Twitter … That said, Fake Richard Dawkins doesn’t seem all bad:

‘While I still have 1700 of you paying attention, I just wanted to say: Whatever you believe, respect others beliefs. It’s not wrong to be kind to people who don’t believe the same as you. You don’t have to be militant atheists. People who claim to be Christians can be hypocrites, but they’re just people, and all people make mistakes. Try to be good to one another. That is my message of peace to all of you. Love one another. It’s ok. Consider that being hostile towards others has never won any followers. Richard Dawkins is just an old man trying to leave behind a legacy. Just like I, a Chrisitan do not follow Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, don’t be mislead by someone just because they share your belief system. It’s easy to be against people who are different than you, but try not to be like that. Take the high road, unlike RD. Thanks for listening and following along. Have a nice day.’

June 13, 2008
[twitter] Richard Dawkins has a Twitter‘Hello all, and thank you joining me here. I hope this will open a new avenue of communication for atheists and non-believers on the web.’
April 30, 2008
[dna] My 23andMe DNA Results … Michael Arrington has his DNA analysed and blogs the results … ‘Some of the information is just for fun – I have “wet earwax,” for example, and don’t have the “alcohol flush” gene that turns people’s faces red when they drink. I don’t detect odors as well as some people.’
February 18, 2008
[wwrfd] What would Richard Feynman Do?‘Is there a bongo drum around?’ [via Interconnected]
January 31, 2008
[food] Dip Once or Dip Twice — a food microbiologist examines double dipping at parties as practiced by George in Seinfeld … ‘On average, the students found that three to six double dips transferred about 10,000 bacteria from the eater’s mouth to the remaining dip. Each cracker picked up between one and two grams of dip. That means that sporadic double dipping in a cup of dip would transfer at least 50 to 100 bacteria from one mouth to another with every bite.’ [via Kottke]
November 26, 2007
[comics] Scans_Daily: Science says you’re Wrong if you Believe That

science says you're wrong if you believe that

November 17, 2007
[dna] 23AndMe Will Decode Your DNA for $1,000. Welcome to the Age of Genomics — from Wired‘We will, counterintuitively, face even more pressure to conduct our lives carefully, strictly, and cautiously; we’ll practice the art of predictive diagnosis and receive a demanding roster of things to avoid, things to do, and treatments to receive — long before there’s any physical evidence of disease. And, yes, we will know whether our children are predisposed to certain traits or talents — athletics or music or languages — and encourage them to pursue certain paths. In short, life will become a little more like a game of strategy, where we’re always playing the percentages, trying to optimize our outcomes.’
August 3, 2007
[science] The Social Norm Of Leaving The Toilet Seat Down: A Game Theoretic Analysis‘In this paper, we internalize the cost of yelling and model the conflict as a non-cooperative game between two species, males and females.We find that the social norm of leaving the toilet seat down is inefficient. However, to our dismay, we also find that the social norm of always leaving the toilet seat down after use is not only a Nash equilibrium in pure strategies but is also trembling-hand perfect. So, we can complain all we like, but this norm is not likely to go away. All hope is not lost though…’ [via Sore Eyes]
July 27, 2007
[web] Blackle — try some energy saving Google searches … ‘In January 2007 a blog post titled Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year proposed the theory that a black version of the Google search engine would save a fair bit of energy due to the popularity of the search engine.’ [via Blackbeltjones]
July 8, 2007
[science] Perpetual truths — Bad Science on Perpetual Motion … ‘I should therefore like to posit the first law of bullshit dynamics, which I suspect this invention may well obey, as follows: “there is no imaginable proposition so absurd that you cannot find at least one person, somewhere in the world, with a PhD or professional post, who is happy to endorse it.”’
June 30, 2007
[science] Yes, the universe looks like a fix. But that doesn’t mean that a god fixed it‘The impression of design is illusory: our universe has simply hit the jackpot in a gigantic cosmic lottery. The multiverse theory certainly cuts the ground from beneath intelligent design, but it falls short of a complete explanation of existence. For a start, there has to be a physical mechanism to make all those universes and allocate bylaws to them. This process demands its own laws, or meta-laws. Where do they come from?’
June 16, 2007
[science] Bad Science — a blog from the Guardian columnist Ben Goldacre.
June 6, 2007
[lolcats] Schrodinger’s Lolcat‘in ur quantum box… maybe’ [via Minor 9th]
May 29, 2007
[comics] The Truth About Wireless Devices

cartoon about wifi

March 13, 2007
[history] Mrs Darwin’s Diaries Go Online‘The 6,000-plus pages contain brief comments about the weather, family life and Darwin’s health. The couple regularly held dinner parties for the great and the good of Victorian science. But alongside this Emma recorded his blackouts, retching and flatulence that were features of his mystery illness. Her matter-of-fact style is perhaps most movingly evident in her entry on April 18 1882, the day of his death. She wrote simply: “Fatal attack at 12.”‘
March 7, 2007
[funny] 100% of SCIENCE!: How Pikey is The Dorchester?‘The experiment comprises the depositing of a small denomination coin in the gentlemen’s urinal of said carefully chosen establishment, and measuring how much time passes before the coin is removed.’
February 17, 2007
[religion] Amusing Science vs. Faith Flowchart. [via]
May 8, 2006
[film] Top 10 Sci-fi Films — voted by a panel of scientists. Aubrey Manning on 2001: ‘…the brilliance of the simulations – still never done better despite all the modern computer graphics. The brilliance of using Brazilian tapirs as ‘prehistoric animals’. The brilliance of the cut from the stick as club, to the space shuttle. Kubrick declaring that once tool use begins – the rest is inevitable. Hal: the first of the super computers with its honeyed East-Coast-Establishment voice.’
April 18, 2006
[comics] The Mathematical Cartoons of Larry Gonick … [via Neilalien]

panels from a larry gonick comic about lumps and chaotic mixing...
(Gonick on Lumps and Chaotic Mixing)
March 7, 2006
[science] Operation Manky Garden — I’m not going to explain this link. Just go read… ‘This is a genuine scientific experiment in botany, biology and, of course, scatology; and the more participants the better. Just don’t let your significant other catch you crapping in the garden without a reasonable excuse. “Some chap on the internet told me to” is not a reasonable excuse. I know.’
December 22, 2005
[survival] Important Question of the Day: Is it a good idea to drink your own urine?‘Dr Stroud says there is just one situation where urine might be useful – if, just as your ship sinks, you happen to be completely drunk. “Like you just had eight pints of lager and you were peeing like crazy,” he says. “Arguably, the first couple of urines, if you kept those, might just possibly give you more water than salt.” As for non-emergency situations, Stroud dismisses those who believe urine could be beneficial…’
December 11, 2005
[quote] “The Church says that the Earth is flat, but I know that it is round. For I have seen the shadow of the earth on the moon and I have more faith in the Shadow than in the Church.”Ferdinand Magellan
November 22, 2005
[science] An Appraisal of the Utility of a Chocolate Teapot‘Events started to diverge from the course expected of a standard teapot in a very short timescale. The first evidence of loss of containment was observed at approximately T+5s, in the form of a major leak in the vicinity of the handle. By T+10s major structural failure was clearly in progress…’
July 7, 2005
[numbers] 100,000 Digits of Pi — if you stare at that page of numbers long enough you see the Secret of the Universe … ‘3.141592’
May 25, 2005
[brains] How to Pack a Brain for Shipping‘Recommended items to pack a fresh brain: Two clean, dry ziploc plastic bags (about 22.0 x 30.0 cm), Plastic bucket with tightly fitting lid (about 4.0 liters), Large plastic bag (about 40.0 x 50.0 cm), Envelope for documents, Thermosafe polyfoam container (38.0 x 33.0 x 31.0 cm), Two refrigerant packs (17.0 x 10.0 cm), Wet ice (about 1.0 kg)’
April 2, 2005
[science] 13 things that do not make Sense — from the New Scientist … ‘IF YOU travel out to the far edge of the solar system, into the frigid wastes beyond Pluto, you’ll see something strange. Suddenly, after passing through the Kuiper belt, a region of space teeming with icy rocks, there’s nothing. Astronomers call this boundary the Kuiper cliff, because the density of space rocks drops off so steeply. What caused it? The only answer seems to be a 10th planet. We’re not talking about Quaoar or Sedna: this is a massive object, as big as Earth or Mars, that has swept the area clean of debris…’
September 6, 2004
[books] The Science of Fiction — Philip Pullman on science and fiction … ‘There’s no abstract human who will always behave in the same way – except in economics, where every human being is assumed to be rational and selfish to exactly the same degree as every other. No wonder it was called the Dismal Science.’
April 30, 2004
[film] Forgetfulness Of Things Past — Steven Rose on the possibility of erasing memories. ‘…an animal was taught a particular task, and then days later was reminded of it by being put in the same context, the memory became labile once more – that means it could be disrupted by protein synthesis inhibitors. It was as if the reminder not only reactivated the old memory, but resulted in an entirely new memory being formed on top of it. Of course, we can intuitively recognise this; when we recall a past event, we are not recalling the event per se, but our memory of it from the last time we recalled it. This is why our autobiographical memories are being reshaped as we go through life.’ [Related: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind]
April 16, 2004
[books] Clearing Up The Confusion — Neal Stephenson on his new book The Confusion. On Isaac Newton: ‘…the gist of it seems to be that Newton was trying to achieve some specific goals with alchemy. Some of those goals might have been religious, but many were clearly scientific. As a scientist, he knew that he could only explain so much with the tools that he was using, and that to advance beyond that point he was going to need a different toolbox. He recognized that a lot of alchemy was nonsense, but he thought that by going about it in a systematic and rational way he’d be able to solve some scientific problems. He would have rejected the label of magician because it might have had dark connotations to him.’ [via yoz]
June 16, 2003
[books] Excerpt from Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Everything

‘…experts believe there may have been many other big bangs, perhaps trillions and trillions of them, spread through the mighty span of eternity, and that the reason we exist in this particular one is that this is one we could exist in. As Edward P. Tryon of Columbia University once put it: “In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.”‘

June 12, 2003
[books] A Beautiful Mind — profile / interview of science writer Paul Broks (“the new Oliver Sacks”) …

‘What would he tell a stranger the book is about? “Without putting them off?” he asks with an uncertain smile. “That’s the difficult thing. Well it’s about how personal identity is fragile, and how at one level we’re basically meat and at another level we’re basically fiction – human beings are storytelling machines, and the self is a story, and we tell a story about ourselves, and we just pick up on the story.” He stops, defeated…’

November 20, 2002
[universe] God Is the Machine — Kevin Kelly wonders if the Universe is a computer … ‘If the universe is a computer, where is it running? Fredkin says that all this work happens on the “Other.” The Other, he says, could be another universe, another dimension, another something. It’s just not in this universe, and so he doesn’t care too much about it. In other words, he punts. David Deutsch has a different theory. “The universality of computation is the most profound thing in the universe,” he says. Since computation is absolutely independent of the “hardware” it runs on, studying it can tell us nothing about the nature or existence of that platform. Deutsch concludes it does not exist: “The universe is not a program running somewhere else. It is a universal computer, and there is nothing outside of it.”‘ [via Haddock]
October 29, 2002
[dna] DNA as Destiny — a Wired writer gets his DNA scanned for problems. ‘…the string of genetic letters from my mtDNA readout that indicates I’m mostly Celtic, which makes sense. But other bits of code reveal traces of Southeast Asian DNA, and even a smidgen of Native American and African. This doesn’t quite have the impact of discovering that I’m likely to die of a heart attack. Nor am I surprised about the African and Indian DNA, since my mother’s family has lived in the American South since the 17th century. But Southeast Asian? Sykes laughs. “We are all mutts,” he says. “There is no ethnic purity. Somewhere over the years, one of the thousands of ancestors who contributed to your DNA had a child with someone from Southeast Asia.”‘
October 17, 2002
[science] You Ask The Questions — Robert Winston‘Q: Is it true that your new series, ‘Human Instinct’, is going to explain — scientifically — why men have the urge to cheat on their partners? A: Well, the accompanying book goes into more detail. It’s because a woman’s egg is much more precious — she only produces one so it’s a huge investment. While the man produces millions of sperm that he can spread around. In the programme, we go round a university quad with a male and a female wearing a hidden camera asking the students whether they’ll sleep with them that night. All the women shy off immediately. And all the men look at their watches and say, “Yes, I’m free at 8.30”! It’s quite an important scientific point.’
June 26, 2002
[science] Professor Brainstorm — another profile of Oliver Sacks… On Chemistry and School: ‘When I first saw the periodic table it filled me with a sense of revelation. These were the building blocks of the universe, and they have a wonderful mathematical order. Comforting? Immensely after the chaos, caprice and cruelty of boarding school. Human behaviour seemed to be very unpredictable, whereas chemistry was the opposite.’
May 31, 2002
[tech] A couple of interesting articles from Steven Levy [thanks Kabir] …

Great Minds, Great Ideas — Levy on Stephen Wolfram and Dean Kamen‘“A New Kind of Science” is encyclopedic, a “Ulysses”-like text that applies Wolfram’s ideas to a wide range of subjects: physics, math, philosophy, robotics, economics, logic, even theology. One reason it took him so long is that he kept unearthing new discoveries in various fields. It became a joke among his assistants. “So you’re going to figure out some big thing in this field in the next couple of days?” they’d ask. And Wolfram would say, “Yes, that’s what I’m going to do.” And proceed to do it, at least on his terms.Some scientists aren’t exactly thrilled. “There’s a tradition of scientists approaching senility to come up with grand, improbable theories,” says physicist Freeman Dyson. “Wolfram is unusual in that he’s doing this in his 40s.”’

Will the Blogs Kill Old Media? — Levy on Blogs. ‘…once you’ve created your blog and filled it with links to news accounts of the Pim Fortuyn assassination, snarky criticisms of Bill O’Reilly and witty rants about airport security, how do you get visitors? Judging from the top blogs, the answer seems to be working hard, filling a niche, winning a reputation for accuracy, developing sources and writing felicitously. This sounds a lot like the formula to succeed as a journalist inside the Big Media leviathan. With the difference that traditional journalists uh, get paid. What makes blogs attractive — their immediacy, their personality and, these days, their hipness — just about ensures that Old Media, instead of being toppled by them, will successfully co-opt them. You might argue that it’s happened already.’
May 25, 2002
[film] Dinomania — Review of Jurassic Park from Stephen Jay Gould in 1993 … ‘…the mantle of carnivorous heroism has clearly passed to the much smaller Velociraptor, Henry Fairfield Osborn’s Mongolian jewel. Downsizing and diversity are in; constrained hugeness has become a tragic flaw. Velociraptor is everything that modern corporate life values in a tough competitor—mean, lean, lithe, and intelligent. They hunt in packs, using a fine military technique of feinting by one beast in front, followed by attack from the side by a co-conspirator. In the film’s best moment of wry parody of its own inventions, the wonderfully stereotyped stiff-upper-lip-British-hunter Muldoon gets the center beast in his gun’s sight, only to realize too late that the side-hunting companion is a few inches from his head. He looks at the side beast, says “Clever girl” in a tone of true admiration (all of Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs are engineered to be female in another ultimately failed attempt to control their reproduction), and then gets gobbled to death.’ [via Robot Wisdom]
May 23, 2002
[science] The Man Who Cracked The Code to EverythingSteven Levy on Stephen Wolfram. ‘…he’s saying that all we hold dear – our minds, if not our souls – is a computational consequence of a simple rule. “It’s a very negative conclusion about the human condition,” he admits. “You know, consider those gas clouds in the universe that are doing a lot of complicated stuff. What’s the difference [computationally] between what they’re doing and what we’re doing? It’s not easy to see.”‘
May 22, 2002
[rip] Stephen Jay Gould Obit‘Stephen Jay Gould will be missed: he was a one-off and nobody can even try to fill his shoes. He was always there, ready to foment a revolution or challenge a cherished belief. He was a scientist, historian and populariser of his time’
May 21, 2002
[science] MC Hawkings CribFuck the Creationists [lyrics] …

‘Fuck the damn creationists, those bunch of dumb-ass bitches,
every time I think of them my trigger finger itches.
They want to have their bullshit, taught in public class,
Stephen J. Gould should put his foot right up their ass.’

[rip] Stephen Jay Gould is dead … Two quotes:

‘We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a ‘higher’ answer – but none exists.’

‘Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one. The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people. Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the “ordinary” efforts of a vast majority.’

[Related: Metafilter, BBC News, Guardian, Slashdot ]
May 13, 2002
[schooldays] Sacks appeal — interview with Oliver Sacks‘[He did not know] as a very young child, that chemistry would end up saving his sanity. But in September 1939, with war breaking out, his London school was evacuated wholesale to the Northamptonshire village of Braefield, and he and Michael became boarders, while the school became, by his account, a jaw-droppingly brutal institution even by the standards of the time. He was repeatedly beaten by a headmaster “unhinged by his own power”, who once hit him so hard that his cane broke. The cost of replacing it was added to the Sacks family’s tuition bill.’
May 2, 2002
[quotes] Physics Quotes‘I do not like Quantum Mechanics, and I am sorry I ever had anything to do with it.’ — Erwin Schrödinger.
April 19, 2002
[clones] Tears of a Clone — update on Dolly the Sheep and cloning in general … ‘Like most stars, she isn’t the size you expect from her pictures. In Dolly’s case, she’s a lot bulkier than she looks on the page or the screen, although the weight problem that dogged the early days of her celebrity status is behind her. Habituated to human attention, she is friendly and gentle, and convincingly feigns interest in the affairs of strangers. These are star qualities. Most stars don’t have bits of dung and straw in their hair, of course. Nor do they break off in the middle of a photoshoot and, with an expression of utter serenity, pee on the grass.’
April 17, 2002
[science] The Time Lord — profile of Stephen Jay Gould‘…in 1974, Gould – now with Harvard University – began writing a monthly column on ‘This View of Life’ (a phrase borrowed from Darwin’s The Origin of Species) for the US journal Natural History. It became a Western publishing phenomenon. For the next 26 years – he always vowed he would stop writing them in 2001 – Gould produced a stream of 10,000-word essays, uninterrupted even when he needed intense treatment for abdominal cancer, on subjects that have ranged from snails to the evolution of typewriters, from dinosaurs to Antoine Lavoisier, and from space travel to, of course, baseball. All were written with authority and verve, and very often an engaging dry wit. One, on the evolution of human sexual organs, he even tried to call ‘Clits and Tits’ but was blocked by his publishers.’