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All 106 Posts in the Category: Science & Technology

8
Jul 13
Mon

Startup Valley: A compilation of articles about Silicon Valley

Startup Valley is a collection of articles about the Silicon Valley ecosystem. I’ve been collecting various articles and books about the Valley for a while now, and I decided it might be nice to compile them into one site.

I’ve split the site up into numerous sections that examine various aspects of the Valley – the startup life cycle and various players that make up the whole ecosystem.

I have a lot of articles and book excerpts I still want to add, but it takes a bit of time to reformat the articles for the site, so new content will appear in dribs and drabs.  I’ve tried to format the site in a way that makes it easy to take your favorite e-reader and save the pages for offline reading. Hopefully it’ll be interesting material to some, and useful material to others. Feedback welcome.

30
Mar 13
Sat

Pretty abysmal customer service

In Thailand, one well known scam is that men are lured into a bar by a local girl and invited to have a drink. You order the drink, and when you leave you get charged something like $300 for it. $300 for a beer. If you refuse, the bar proprietors start to get threatening. Most people will just cough up the money because otherwise you’re in for a world of hurt.

A recent Time cover story entitled “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us” was one of the most scary articles I’ve read in a long time.

It details how the medical industry routinely engages in what is essentially extortion – charging patients outrageous prices for services, medicines, and medical supplies that bear no resemblance to reality. Patients who are cured of life threatening illnesses are summarily crippled financially by hundred-page bills that many uninsured and underinsured patients have no hope of paying off in full.

Hospitals bill patients off a “chargemaster” sheet which feature obscene markups on everything from basic medical supplies and advanced medical services. Despite the fact that a visit can run up a bill that ranges from several hundred dollars to several hundreds of thousands of dollars, no one ever discloses the costs to you upfront. Health care professionals don’t tell you that as soon as you sit down in the doctor’s office, that’s $300 for a 15 minute consult. You just get a bill in the mail several weeks after you leave, and if you’re not insured, well… just bend over and take it, because that’s what it feels like. You think lawyers are terrible money-grubbers? The medical profession in America is several orders of magnitude worse.

In preparation for a trip to India, I went to a travel clinic at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation to get vaccinated. Travel medicine is generally not covered by insurance, so I was going to have to pay full freight. At no point was I told how much the visit and medicines were going to cost me.

When I asked to see the schedule of fees, they had to rifle through a stack of folders (it wasn’t readily available) and the guy behind the counter produced a sheet which had a list of products, prices, and a big label which said: “DO NOT COPY – PRICES SUBJECT TO CHANGE”

So you couldn’t even take a copy of the fee schedule. It turns out that the four vaccines I needed would set me back about $500, plus another undisclosed sum for the consultation itself.

To add insult to injury, the doctor that saw me was the surliest human being that I’ve dealt with all year. I’m not going to mince words – she was a complete asshole. I don’t have my immunization records handy because my dad is a physician and he’s traditionally taken care of my health. He’s in Australia so I don’t have any medical records available in America. I instead got him to email me with what immunizations I’ve had and when I had them.

When the doctor received me, she asked whether I had brought my immunization history with me. I explained that I did not have one available because they’re all in Australia, but I had an email which described what I’ve had. She read about one paragraph from the email and then shot back acerbically, “This isn’t an immunization history.”

I repeated what I had just said, but it was like she wasn’t listening. “What am I supposed to do now? I don’t know what to do.” She threw up her hands and scoffed at me. Loudly. What the fuck? I almost lost my cool right there. You’re the doctor, lady, you should know.

I told her what I thought she should do. “Why don’t you tell me what vaccines I need for India and I will tell you if I’ve had them before? Anyway, it’s all on the sheet.”

“But I don’t know if they are still active.”
“What?”
“I don’t know if they are still active.”
“What do you mean.”
“I don’t know if the vaccines you took are still good.”
“Well then, why don’t you tell me how long the vaccines I need last for, and I’ll tell you when I had them, and then you can tell me if I need another one.”

She scoffed again like I was stupid and useless. It certainly made me feel that way. I’m no doctor, but I know I’m neither stupid nor useless. I stood my ground.

I told her that no one had told me to bring my immunization history. I certainly wasn’t told when I made the appointment.

“Who did you speak to?” she shot back at me.
“Excuse me?”
“Who did you speak to on the phone?”
“When I made my appointment?”
“Yes.”
“I don’t know.”
“Well then how am I supposed to tell them?”
“What?”

Why the hell would I get the name of the person who took my appointment? When you call in to make a reservation at a restaurant do you ask for the name of the person who answers the phone?

After a very painful experience, we worked it out and I got my vaccines. I am never going back there again, except that I need to get another follow up treatment in six months.

If I’m going to drop over $500 in the course of 20 minutes, I expect to be treated, at the least, with professionalism, courtesy and dignity. I expect to know how much I am going to be charged with at the time. I don’t expect to be ambushed with a bill several weeks later. (To make matters worse, I checked the Stanford travel clinic, which does publish their vaccine fee schedule online and it is literally HALF the price. These are the same drugs and there is a price difference of 2x between clinics that are literally one kilometer away from each other!)

The power/knowledge differential in health care is huge between service provider and customer. And the customer is often at his or her most vulnerable when they go to seek health care. Given this you would think that bedside manner and customer service (or patient service, rather) would be paramount. I have no doubt that most doctors are, but it amazes me that there are any at all like this woman.

When I deal with immigration matters in my workplace, the employee can often be in a very precarious and vulnerable situation. They are navigating a confusing area of law and their right to stay in the country may be at stake (along with their and their family’s livelihoods). I ensure that when I deal with these matters, I approach them super sensitively because they can make a massive difference to the lives of individuals and their families.

The way the medical industry works in this country is ridiculous. I haven’t looked at it from a legal perspective, but I’m amazed that there aren’t more problems with consumer protection and the FTC, problems with antitrust law, and problems with basic contract law. How can you have consent to paying a bill when you have no knowledge of what you’re going to pay beforehand? In Australia, lawyers are by law required to give fee estimates before starting to work for clients.

The cost of medical treatment here are so egregious that if I were to get anything more than a minor procedure done, and I wasn’t sufficiently insured, it would be far cheaper for me to jump on a plane right back to Sydney and get the treatment done there.

The American medical system is so fucked up.

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4
Oct 12
Thu

Bloomberg interview with Selina

(Selina heads SurveyMonkey’s Product and Engineering team.)

  8:11pm  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
11
May 12
Fri

Social Jet Lag

An article on “social jet lag“, an interesting way of looking at the jet lag caused by different sleep schedules on weekends vs weekdays:

Roenneberg, who coined the term, says social jet lag is brought on by the shift in sleep schedule that many people experience on their days off, compared to work days. He estimates that it affects about two-thirds of the population.

It goes like this: You don’t have to get up for work so you don’t bother setting the alarm. That means you get up an hour or two later than you might during the work week. You may also push your bedtime back so you can go out with friends.

As a result, many people get more sleep on their days off than they do during the week, and they sleep on a slightly different schedule — a schedule that is closer to their body’s natural rhythms.

Roenneberg explains that switching sleep schedules this way feels like changing time zones.

"The behavior looks like if most people on a Friday evening fly from Paris to New York or Los Angeles to Tokyo and on Monday they fly back. Since this looks like almost a travel jet lag situation, we called it social jet lag," he says.

A key difference between travel jet lag and social jet lag, however, is light. When you arrive in a different place, the sun is coming up and setting at a different time, and your body can reset its own clock to match.

  12:43am  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
27
Oct 11
Thu

Deep Intellect: Inside the mind of the octopus

An interesting article in Orion Magazine about octopus intelligence:

Occasionally an octopus takes a dislike to someone. One of Athena’s predecessors at the aquarium, Truman, felt this way about a female volunteer. Using his funnel, the siphon near the side of the head used to jet through the sea, Truman would shoot a soaking stream of salt water at this young woman whenever he got a chance. Later, she quit her volunteer position for college. But when she returned to visit several months later, Truman, who hadn’t squirted anyone in the meanwhile, took one look at her and instantly soaked her again.

  12:37am  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
10
Jul 11
Sun

Willow Garage

Willow Road is one of the roads that I take to get back home from the 101 highway that runs up the San Francisco peninsula. It twists its way through a large residential area in Menlo Park and is lined with houses and quiet side streets. But there, literally in the middle of suburbia, is a company called Willow Garage. I’ve passed it many times without knowing it was there.

The name is misleading. It is not a garage in the classical start-up sense of the word, à la Microsoft’s or Apple’s origins. It’s one large lab, and they do robots.

I attended a research study there as a participant. I can’t write about the study, but an intern there did give me a tour of the facilities. Willow designs and manufactures the hardware and software for a range of robots – from tiny ones resembling large Roombas, to large human sized ones.

I stepped into a lab which contained four or five PR2-model robots. The PR2 robot is essentially a 200 kilo box on wheels, on which is mounted two articulated arms, a computer, and a panoply of visual sensors (including a Kinect unit, to give it depth perception). The arms weigh around 50 kilos each and have been specially weighted so they don’t drop and pulverize whatever is beneath them if the robot loses power. One of Willow’s goals is to ensure that robots working in a human-rich environment don’t start maiming humans unintentionally (or intentionally… but they don’t have to worry about that just yet). Robotics are used extensively in manufacturing and factory environments, but when you start to use them in common everyday places, the approach has to be a bit different. Oh yeah, and I should mention that the price tag for each PR2 is a cool $400,000. I got to touch it.

Outside the lab was the largest flowchart I’ve ever seen in my life. Someone had printed out what seemed to be 100 sheets of paper and stuck them together on the wall of a long corridor. On each page was tens of tiny boxes with schematic diagrams in each one, all linked by a bewildering array of arrows. My guide told me that these were blueprints on how to put together a PR2.

Willow pumps out about 4-5 PR2s each month, and ships them off around the world, mostly to universities for robotics research. They also are building a Robot OS, which is in its infancy given that they still need to figure out what type of robots work best around humans. This summer, they have more than a dozen interns working for them, so a garage it is not.

Willow Garage was founded by Scott Hassan, a robotics enthusiast who made his millions after his start-up eGroups was bought by Yahoo! during the dot com boom, and then again after he joined Google. The company is almost 5 years old, but the impression I got was that this was a field still in its infancy. Based on what I saw, which looked like it was on the cutting edge, I doubt we’ll see robots become a part of household life for at least another decade or two. The costs are so high, the technology is still experimental, and there’s still a lot of work to be done on both the hardware and software sides.

Until then, we’ll have to make do with dinky little robots who bump into walls and furniture as they attempt to suck up the dirt and dust off our floors. But even so, there’s still progress to be made, as one Finnish person found out. In an infamous tweet, he wrote:

Perkele!!! Our dog had made a big poo on the floor during the day. Next, our iRobot did its 90-min daily sweep! Yes, it is Everywhere.

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31
Dec 10
Fri

The Joy of Stats

This is a fantastic documentary – highly recommended to watch. I love stats!

  1:44pm  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
28
Dec 10
Tue

Reddit talks about what it was like growing up in the 70s & 80s

Some samples from an intriguing Ask Me thread:

• No cell phone, pagers, texting, voicemail, or answering machines. If you wanted to meet up with someone, you had to call them until they were home and picked up, and then make plans. If you ended up at a party, that was usually it. No “hey I’m over at this address, swing by” or anything like that.
• No Facebook or email. Long distance calling was expensive. When I left for college, I wouldn’t hear from friends for months, unless one of us bothered to write a letter and mail it. You would just lose track of people.
• Sundays were the days to call family and friends, because rates were cheaper.
• If you went to study abroad, or if you joined the Peace Corps, you were really isolated from friends and family, pre-Internet. You might send or receive letters on very thin airmail paper, but imagine 2 years not speaking to, or seeing your friends and family, except for an occasional snapshot.
• If you ran out of film, no more pictures. You would be very selective about what to take a picture of.
• There is no film or video of me (or most of my friends) throughout our childhoods. Super-8 had died off, and VHS wasn’t yet available. I have no idea what I acted or sounded like, or how poorly I played soccer.
• You had to book all travel through a travel agent (or call the airline, but go to the airport to get the ticket).
• You could buy a plane ticket with cash and just walk onto the plane.
• If you wanted to know something, there was no Google or Wikipedia. You might be able to find out a basic fact if you had a set of encyclopedias. But most information, from important stuff to basic trivia (“who was in that movie?”) was not available unless you had a reference book or went to the library and really searched.
• if you really liked someone, as a rite of courtship you would make them a mix tape. you needed a dual-tape deck, or possibly a boom box. it had a cassette “player” on the left and a cassette “recorder” on the right. you’d put a blank tape in the recorder, and then cue up sixteen to twenty audio cassettes in the player — using the fast-forward and rewind buttons over and over until you got to the start of the song you liked on each one. you pressed the “play” button on the cassette player on the left and the “record” button on the cassette player on the right at the same time, and the blank tape would gradually get a (hissy, degraded, second- or third- generation) copy of each song added to it. 90 minute blank tapes were standard, so you had 45 minutes on each side. you only ever had a vague idea of how much space was left on the tape.
• Playgrounds were covered in wood chips. These were meant to break your fall off of the giant rusted steel playground structures that had large bolts and lugnuts sticking out everywhere. There was no such thing as soft padding anywhere. Playgrounds were made of steel, wood, and blood stains.
• Kids born in the 90s and even the early 2000s have no fucking idea what it’s like to grow up [or just live] without constant access to media and information. Their heads would explode if they had to live the first 15-20 years of their life with [at most] 14.4 access to the outside world and no cell phone.

Oh man, I’m part of that generation… even though it was the tail end, that is still somewhat depressing. I think the difference between kids growing up in my parents’ generation and my generation is nothing compared to the difference between life for my generation and the next (i.e. the kids who were born just after the turn of the century).

One of my childhood memories: after school (year 1 or 2), I’d hang around my parents’ workplace, waiting for them to finish up for the day. I would spend the afternoon hanging out at the nearby coin-op laundry watching cigarette-smoking teenagers play a Galaga machine, climbing trees, getting ice blocks at the local milkbar, and getting into general mischief with a couple of friends. Hours of fun. And then at home I would play RPGs like Shadowkeep, Wizardry and Bard’s Tale and classics like Lode Runner, Choplifter, Dig Dug and Robotron.

  11:18pm  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Comments (1)  • 
20
Sep 10
Mon

A bird’s back view

A doco crew stuck a camera on the back of a peregrine falcon and watched it pull a 250kph dive with a 10g turn at the end. Then they watched a goshawk speed through a forest like the speeder bike scene in Return of the Jedi.

Very cool footage – I think when we look at birds flying through the air we probably underestimate their speed because there’s no audio cue, like the roar of an engine on a plane (which is why they also have to simulate engine noise on electric vehicles).

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31
Aug 10
Tue

The strange thing about bedbugs

The NY Times had an article on bedbugs today which made the “Most Viewed” list. Bedbugs actually disappeared for most of last century, and then reappeared in the 90s.

But bedbugs, despite the ick factor, are clean.

Actually it is safer to say that no one has proved they aren’t, said Jerome Goddard, a Mississippi State entomologist.

But not for lack of trying. South African researchers have fed them blood with the AIDS virus, but the virus died. They have shown that bugs can retain hepatitis B virus for weeks, but when they bite chimpanzees, the infection does not take. Brazilian researchers have come closest, getting bedbugs to transfer the Chagas parasite from a wild mouse to lab mice.

“Someday, somebody may come along with a better experiment,” Dr. Goddard said.

  7:38pm  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
26
Jun 10
Sat

You are what you can say

It’s known that language shapes the way people think, but the development of a new form of sign language in Nicaragua has allowed scientists to examine this in a more controlled way. They gave two groups of signers a spatial test. The first group were older, and had learned a less evolved version of the sign language when they were growing up which lacked some spatially-related concepts which developed in the language later on.

Pyers explains, “The first-cohort signers find these tasks challenging because they do not have the language to encode the relevant aspects of the environment that would help them solve the spatial problem.” She added, “[They] did not have a consistent linguistic means to encode ‘left of’.”

This is a fascinating result, especially since the first group of adults were older and had been signing for a longer time. It’s clear evidence that our spatial reasoning skills depend, to an extent, on consistent spatial language. If we lack the right words, our mental abilities are limited in a way that extra life experience can’t fully compensate for. Even 30 years of navigating through the world won’t do the trick. And they may never catch up, even though the language they invented has advanced – after all, some studies with American Sign Language suggest that people who learn spatial terms later on in life never master them.

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17
Jun 10
Thu

The Velluvial Matrix

Atul Gawande, who Charlie Munger sent $20,000 to for an article he wrote on healthcare in the New Yorker, gave Stanford Med School’s Commencement speech this year. In it, he talked about the shift in the medical profession as the field has grown over the last century:

You come into medicine and science at a time of radical transition. You have met the older doctors and scientists who tell the pollsters that they wouldn’t choose their profession if they were given the choice all over again. But you are the generation that was wise enough to ignore them: for what you are hearing is the pain of people experiencing an utter transformation of their world. Doctors and scientists are now being asked to accept a new understanding of what great medicine requires. It is not just the focus of an individual artisan-specialist, however skilled and caring. And it is not just the discovery of a new drug or operation, however effective it may seem in an isolated trial. Great medicine requires the innovation of entire packages of care—with medicines and technologies and clinicians designed to fit together seamlessly, monitored carefully, adjusted perpetually, and shown to produce ever better service and results for people at the lowest possible cost for society.

  9:34pm  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
11
May 10
Tue

The effect of petrol prices on vehicle mileage

Driving habits are slow to change. This is a great way to display the information conveyed in this graph by the NY Times:

5
May 10
Wed

Stephen Hawking on how to build a time machine

Hawkin has written a very accessible article on two ways to time travel (but only into the future, not the past):

To approach the speed of light means circling the Earth pretty fast. Seven times a second. But no matter how much power the train has, it can never quite reach the speed of light, since the laws of physics forbid it. Instead, let’s say it gets close, just shy of that ultimate speed. Now something extraordinary happens. Time starts flowing slowly on board relative to the rest of the world, just like near the black hole, only more so. Everything on the train is in slow motion.

This happens to protect the speed limit, and it’s not hard to see why. Imagine a child running forwards up the train. Her forward speed is added to the speed of the train, so couldn’t she break the speed limit simply by accident? The answer is no. The laws of nature prevent the possibility by slowing down time onboard.

  7:58pm  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
5
Apr 10
Mon

Barefoot running

It seems that running barefoot changes the way you run into something that’s more natural and less damaging:

Scientists have found that those who run barefoot, or in minimal footwear, tend to avoid “heel-striking,” and instead land on the ball of the foot or the middle of the foot. In so doing, these runners use the architecture of the foot and leg and some clever Newtonian physics to avoid hurtful and potentially damaging impacts, equivalent to two to three times body weight, that shod heel-strikers repeatedly experience.

Science Daily article.

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1
Apr 10
Thu

How your brain works when shopping at Costco

It seems that making buying decisions when shopping is more an emotional exercise than a logical one.

I’m pretty focused when it comes to shopping at Costco. I like to buy orange juice and movie vouchers from there. The last time I went, I walked out with a 4-pack of Tropicana and a pack of dried mangoes. The dude at the exit who checks receipts looked up at me and said, “Whoaaaa! Two items! It’s a miracle!!!” which struck me as a little odd, but then I looked around and realized that everyone had a full trolley. And you know those Costco trolleys are jumbo-sized trolleys.

From Kottke.

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6
Mar 10
Sat

A lesson in probability using World of Warcraft

Cal Henderson explains the maths behind his WoW addon, which calculates the “drop chances” of game items. The maths is not particularly complicated, but it’s a novel way of explaining some probability concepts. He uses the 0.01% drop rate of the game’s rarest pet, the Hyacinth Macaw to deliver some of his examples. Incidentally, the Macaw goes for an average price of about 7,000 gold pieces in the auction house, which is about US$50. Apparently, it’s been bought for as much as 75,000 gp (US$500). A real Hyacinth Macaw costs somewhere in the region of $10,000.

The thing which governs this is called Probabilistic Independence – the fact that whether one mob dropped the loot or not, this has no bearing on whether a second mob will drop the loot. By extension, having looted 1000 consecutive mobs which did not drop the loot has no effect on the next mob you loot. If the drop chance is 1 in 100, there will still be a 1 in 100 chance that the next mob you loot will drop the item.

But if you use BunnyHunter and loot 1000 mobs that drop the Azure Whelp [with a 1 in 1000 drop rate], it wont say 100%; it’ll say 63.2%. The reason we can come up with any number at all, is because we can derive the probability that a piece of loot will drop at least once in a given sequence of lootings.

From Waxy.

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27
Feb 10
Sat

Jesse Schnell on gaming today

This is a fascinating, wonderful, entertaining presentation about the gaming industry: about the unexpected successes that have come out of it recently (such as Farmville, the Facebook app, which has more user accounts than Twitter, and the Wii Fit, a peripheral which generates a billion bucks for Nintendo), why they were successful, and where gaming will be headed. Well worth the 28 minutes.

So, back to these things. [Shows picture of a lot of different consumer electronic devices.] Now, well you might say that, “Well now wait a minute. Y’know, I’m not sure I’m buying all that authenticity stuff. It may very well be that technology is actually going to fix this through unification because we all know technologies converge.” There’s a bunch of crazy things going on here. But convergence is happening. Facebook is coming to the X-box … there’s gonna be one happy box, ahhh. Just like we used to have it in the old days. Remember when there was one happy box and we made games for it and that’s how it was? And because technological convergence will take us there and all this stuff is right now is just a temporary blip and we’re going to have technological convergence. And I am here to tell you that technological convergence is total bullshit. That is not how the world works. Technology is the opposite. Technologies diverge, they do not converge. They diverge like species in the Galapagos Islands. They branch out and branch out and branch out. Your VCR wasn’t able to record radio programs, and your Tivo can’t record stuff off the internet. I just got a Flip video thing and I’m like, “How do I take pictures?” and they’re like, “No, no, video only.” And I’m like, “Oh, okay.” Because that’s what technologies do – they diverge, they diverge, they diverge. So we’re going to have all this divergence …

And you might say, “Wait, wait, wait a minute. That’s not true: I have an iPhone. I have an iPhone and it’s convergence all over because it’s a phone, it’s a camera, it’s got a zillion little apps, it’s a game thing.” And I’ll say, “Okay you got me.” You got me but only because of the pocket exception. Pockets turn the law of divergence inside out… not the pocket, but the law. And this is not the first time, right? Remember the Swiss Army Knife, right? All the iPhone is is a modern digital Swiss Army Knife, right? And the Swiss Army Knife is really useful in the pocket – look at all that stuff converged in there. But if I got you one for your kitchen, you’s think that was the stupidest thing ever, because it doesn’t fit in your pocket. And this is why everyone hates the iPad. It’s a giant digital Swiss Army Knife, which is just stupid.

… and here’s the follow-up from Ctrl-Alt-Del.

  1:10am  •  Computing  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Comments (1)  • 
21
Feb 10
Sun

Chatroulolz

Chat Roulette has been getting a lot of coverage lately. There’s also a Tumblr site called Chatroulolz (sometimes NSFW) which is capturing strange pictures from the surreal, weird, but often amusing world of Chat Roulette. Reddit also has their own version.

This concept would have made a great sci-fi story in the past… but now it’s 2010 and it’s real and it’s too late.

It’s worth checking it out for the sheer curiosity factor, but be prepared to see a lot of dicks (in all senses of the word). There’s also a Chat Roulette drinking game. (I notice you have to drink a fair bit if you spot an Aussie on there.)

Update (2/22): Penny Arcade weighs in.

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2
Feb 10
Tue

Video roundup

A few miscellaneous videos to entertain you.

View from a rocket booster on Discovery
Real-time footage from a camera mounted on Discovery’s rocket booster. The booster is jettisoned after about 90 seconds (by which time the rocket is maybe 30km high), and it floats back down to the ocean.

 

Sir Patrick Stewart talks about Twitter

I don’t tweet. I’ve never Twittered. And, it’s not that I’m resisting it, but, I see no reason to have it in my life. To reduce life to — how many? — 140… just seems to me to be a little bit simplistic.

But he has a laptop and an iPhone (which he notes is “an extension of whom I am”). And he loves emails. What a legend.

 

Stop motion flipbook-style video
Another one of those videos where you say, “That’s really cool, but how long did that take to make?!” There were over 6500 frames.

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21
Jan 10
Thu

The Mpemba effect

Can hot water freeze more quickly than cold water? Of course, when you pose a question as absurd on its face as that, the answer is going to turn out to be yes.


 

This phenomenon is called the Mpemba Effect, after the Tanzanian high school student who observed it.

In the demonstration video above, I thought that the near-boiling water froze more rapidly because when it was thrown up in the air, it dispersed into smaller particles of steam or vapour (I’m not sure why this happens, but there are videos showing people emptying containers of boiling water in Antarctica, only to have the water go up in vapour before any of it hits the ground). Despite having a higher initial temperature, these smaller particles are much easier to freeze due to the greater overall surface area to volume ratio. On the other hand, the cold water comes out as one body of water.

While that was probably one contributing factor, the same effect is achieved if you place two containers of hot and cold water into a freezer without disturbing them. So, it turns out that the answer is not quite so simple.  Wikipedia says:

According to an article by Monwhea Jeng: “Analysis of the situation is now quite complex, since we are no longer considering a single parameter, but a scalar function, and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) is notoriously difficult.”
This effect is a heat transfer problem, and therefore well suited to be studied from a transport phenomena viewpoint, based on continuum mechanics. When heat transfer is analyzed in terms of partial differential equations, whose solutions depend on a number of conditions, it becomes clear that measuring only a few lumped parameters, such as the water average temperature is generally insufficient to define the system behaviour, since conditions such as geometry, fluid properties and temperature and flow fields play an important role. The counterintuitiveness of the effect, if analyzed only in terms of simplified thermodynamics illustrates the need to include all the relevant variables and use the best available theoretical tools when approaching a physical problem.
  5:25pm  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
18
Dec 09
Fri

Cetera Audio Positioning Algorithm

The Cetera Algorithm is a sound algorithm that faithfully reproduces 3D positioning with stereo earphones or headphones. Although originally designed for use with hearing aids, if you have some earphones handy, you can hear some sample audio tracks (the barbershop one is great). The 3D positioning is pinpoint sharp and pretty startling. It doesn’t seem to be able to locate sounds in front of you though.

“Current hearing aids are miniature PA systems. They mainly amplify sound,” said Jerry Ruzicka, president, Starkey Labs. “However, while making sound louder, because of their physical presence in the ear canal, they obscure the clues needed by the brain to process sound. The results is that most hearing aids aren’t able to give the brain the data it needs to filter out background noise, to locate where the sound is coming from or to favor one voice over another in a crowded room.”

The algorithm is not new, but this is the first I’ve heard of it. I feel like getting a haircut now.

  4:35pm  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Comments (2)  • 

A sense of scale in the universe

Recently, there have been a lot of videos showing the relative sizes of interstellar objects like this one, and this one. Documentaries have also made similar videos. There’s even a video which brands itself as the “Ultimate Universe Objects Size Comparison“. Unfortunately, it’s been produced with spelling mistakes and trite comments.

This one, called “The Known Universe” was produced by the American Museum of Natural History (embedded at bottom of post). It’s easily the best one that I’ve seen. But can anybody explain to me why the image of the “galaxies we have mapped so far” covers two conic areas, instead of a more even distribution?

These renderings remind of a poster I had on my wall as a kid. When I was really young, my dad used to subscribe to National Geographic, and the issues often came with nice glossy posters of various things. One of the posters, published in 1983, was entitled “Journey into the Universe Through Time and Space” and dad stuck it on my bedroom wall. I loved that poster. It showed a 3D depiction of our inner solar system, and then zoomed out by orders of magnitude to show our local group of stars, then our galaxy, then our local group of galaxies, our supercluster of galaxies, and then the known universe projected on a 2D plane. I remember staring at it, being amazed, and trying to imagine the sheer scale of it all.

Nat Geo has since produced an updated poster called The Universe (which looks fantastic), but I found some people who are selling their copies of the old version that I had. I also had this poster of Earth on my bedroom wall.

My dad was, and still is, an astronomy buff, and those things rubbed off onto me. Even though I was only 4 years old at the time, I vividly remember him taking me outside in 1986 to look at Halley’s Comet through some binoculars. I remember him showing me the landmarks of the night sky – Orion’s Belt, the Southern Cross, Sirius and Canopus (the two brightest stars), Venus (the brightest object in the night sky other than the moon, distinguishable from the stars as an non-twinkling reddish point of light), and the band of haze that stretched across the sky, from horizon to horizon like a cloud: a side-on view of our Milky Way. We used to drive out into the paddocks, far away from the town light, and lie on the car bonnet with binoculars, or set up a telescope in the field, and he’d point out the Pleiades, the Jewel Box, and Jupiter and its moons. He was a pretty hardcore amateur astronomer too. Back in the 80s, without the help of a computer, he’d pore through charts looking for obscure stellar phenomena. He’d calculate where and when they would appear in the sky, and then go out and find them. It was definitely under his influence that I developed my interest in astronomy.

Continuing on with the theme of this post, here are Discover Magazine’s Top 10 Astronomy Photos of 2009.

  12:06am  •  Science & Technology  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
28
Jun 09
Sun

The Train Problem

What keeps train wheels on a track? When a train rounds a bend, the outer wheels have to travel a further distance than the inner wheels, and therefore the outer wheels have to spin at a quicker rate to cover that distance than the inner wheels cover. The problem is that pairs of wheels on a train are connected by a solid metal axle, so the wheels can’t spin at different rates. So, how does it work?

Richard Feynman explains.

24
Jun 08
Tue

Now, a diamond is for everyone

Diamond-making technology is now at the point where synthetics are virtually indistinguishable from the real deal. “Cultured” diamonds, though, are still not cheap. A Smithsonian Magazine article reports on the diamond manufacturing industry.

Five years ago, I linked to this Wired article and this Atlantic article from 1982 on the same topic.

19
Feb 08
Tue

The second media standards war

The Betamax vs VHS war of our generation is over, with Toshiba bowing out of the race. With HD DVD now effectively obsolete, Sony’s Blu-ray is free to cover the field. Regardless of who turned out to be the loser, I can’t say that I would have felt much sympathy for them. You’d think the industry would’ve learnt from its past mistakes instead of plunging headlong into another winner-take-all hundreds of millions of dollars bet. At least we consumers can now rest easy and only worry about one standard.

17
Jun 04
Thu

Second star to the right…

A company called Scaled Composites is going to launch, if successful, what would be the first privately-developed manned craft into space on June 21. It’s been solely sponsored by Paul Allen (ex-Microsoft). Although this flight will be done solo, the ship fits three people which makes it eligible to run for the Ansari X-Prize, a US$10m prize to the first team that does what Scaled Composites is doing, but carries three people and performs two successful launches within two weeks with the same ship.

Heavens Above

Laputan Logic has had a spate of interesting astronomically related posts recently, such as on the Cassini-Huygens probe which is beaming back some marvellous photos of Saturn and its moons. Saturn has a lot of moons, and some of them are very interesting. (Star Wars fans are always interested to hear about Mimas.)

I’ve also uploaded a small gallery of the astrophotography that Dad’s been taking of the night sky. The photos look best when zoomed in to their normal size.

8
Jun 04
Tue

Transit of Venus

Dad took this terrific picture of Venus “crossing” the Sun about half an hour ago:

Transit of Venus (8/6/04 5.43pm)
Transit of Venus
5.43pm, f/22, 1/4000s

21
Nov 03
Fri

Savantism

Another great Wired article. This one’s on autism and prodigious savants. Interesting observations on the link between music and maths, and between tonal languages and perfect pitch (what they call “absolute pitch”). A friend back in high school had perfect pitch – he also got his piano LMus in Year 11 or so. We’d hum notes to him and he’d immediately tell us what note we were humming. He was also an incredible thespian and debater who could come up with intricately structured speeches at the drop of a hat without ever needing palm cards or notes of any kind. There was one occasion, I am told, where, during a play, he had finished reciting a few lines that were in verse/rhyme. There was a mishap backstage, which resulted in a delay in the next actor appearing… so to stall for time and without skipping a beat, he ad libbed a few more lines in verse so much so that the audience didn’t realise that he was actually improvising. Scary stuff. How much normality would you trade for a “dash” of autism?

9
Oct 03
Thu
6
Aug 03
Wed

Fog Screen

Fog Screen technology. From what I gather it’s an area with fog particles suspended in a special “laminar” airflow which is non-turbulent and fairly uniform, so much so that you can project an image onto it. The image can be translucent or opaque. Imagine the applications! I can see these things popping up in clubs and bars all over town; curtains; opaque, but insubstantial doors! (Thanks Vic)

25
Jun 03
Wed

Agent-based Modelling

Pete sent me an intriguing article about emergent phenomena and agent-based modelling:

“Adding new lanes to a highway often makes rush-hour traffic jams far worse – a result known as Braess’s paradox after the German operations research engineer who discovered it in 1968…”

http://www.afrboss.com.au/magarticle.asp?doc_id=19120&listed_months=12

It’d really make for an interesting field of IS research. Thanks Pete!

24
Jun 03
Tue

Prince Charles and the Attack of the Grey Goo

Shish writes:

This paragraph really jumps out at you, it’s a bit of a non-sequitur…

The Prince of Wales recently prompted the Government to launch an independent investigation into the benefits and risks of nanotechnology after he voiced fears that tiny robots could one day reduce the planet to a “grey goo”: http://smh.com.au/articles/2003/06/25/1056449287990.html

The reference to the Prince of Wales is over a fear of grey goo instilled into him by dodgy environmentalists. Read a Telegraph article where the heir to the British throne wants to start an inquiry about the dangers of nanotechnology.

29
Mar 03
Sat

Will Hunting was gay

Big brothers may make your boys gay. Quite an intriguing bit of research. And pretty darn wierd thing to be researching too :)

26
Feb 03
Wed

Operation KFC

Amusing – US troops are placing chicken coops atop their hummers and using chickens as chemical detectors. And it’s an article from Time, not The Onion.

7
Oct 02
Mon

Pi

Proof that pi is irrational on one compact page. I didn’t bother working through it, brain hurts enough just looking at it.

In other news, it’s not yet Summer and the temperature hit 35 today. Bring it on!

14
Aug 02
Wed

Bionic Eye

Wired magazine article on the Bionic Eye. A machine physically wired into a human’s brain, incredible. While I was reading this article I kept asking myself whether this was perhaps a fictional piece of work – a sci-fi author’s vision of the future… but with time, it gradually sank in that this was not fiction, this was reality. It’s pretty surreal. Actually, this month’s issue of Wired has a bunch of interesting articles, have a read.

8
Aug 02
Thu

Satellite Watching

Do you live in a part of the world not saturated by light pollution such that you can actually see stars at night? Heavens Above is a site that helps you watch satellites go overhead at night. The ISS is probably the easiest to track. It’s big and it’s bright.

7
Aug 02
Wed

Vulcan BB Gun

Just on that arms race… Fuzzy, forget your bow, you need one of these.

1
Aug 02
Thu

Anti-gravity

Some current developments in anti-grav tech. Thanks Vic.

11
Jul 02
Thu

Modafinil

“With a pill called Modafinil, you can go 40 hours without sleep.” The ramifications are astounding.

But then Edgar drops the bomb.

“The next generation of wake-performing therapeutics will be more effective. You’ll be able to stay awake for X amount of time and not add sleep debt. Ideally, it means being able to be up all day, all night, and all the next day and not have incremental increase in sleepiness or in sleep debt. It would be medication that gives you an interest-free loan.

“It could change the world. A complete paradigm shift. I’m not trying to plug my company. But we are in the forefront. We could see this being a reality, starting to become available, in about five years.”

Medical science is beginning to enter the realm of what was sci-fi only last decade.

20
Jun 02
Thu

Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem

An intriguing theorem:

In 1931, the Czech-born mathematician Kurt Gödel demonstrated that within any given branch of mathematics, there would always be some propositions that couldn’t be proven either true or false using the rules and axioms … of that mathematical branch itself. You might be able to prove every conceivable statement about numbers within a system by going outside the system in order to come up with new rules an axioms, but by doing so you’ll only create a larger system with its own unprovable statements. The implication is that all logical system of any complexity are, by definition, incomplete; each of them contains, at any given time, more true statements than it can possibly prove according to its own defining set of rules.

Gödel’s Theorem has been used to argue that a computer can never be as smart as a human being because the extent of its knowledge is limited by a fixed set of axioms, whereas people can discover unexpected truths … It plays a part in modern linguistic theories, which emphasize the power of language to come up with new ways to express ideas. And it has been taken to imply that you’ll never entirely understand yourself, since your mind, like any other closed system, can only be sure of what it knows about itself by relying on what it knows about itself.

5
Mar 02
Tue

Mini Rail Cannon

A backyard diy gauss rifle. Actually the site has a few cool devices on it.

28
Feb 02
Thu

Eclipse 2002

I think the start of December is a good time for a road trip to South Australia: Solar Eclipse. Time to make plans. Unfortunately it’s not the optimal eclipse to see (2 mins of totality, and during dusk in Australia), but it’s an eclipse nonetheless. More information.

24
Jan 02
Thu

Nanochips

HP has taken out a few patents related to nanochip manufacturing techniques. For us, it means smaller chips for the future.

20
Jan 02
Sun

Materials

Ultrastrong spider’s silk no longer a huge stretch. Replicating spider silk is something that has eluded scientists for decades.

29
Nov 01
Thu

Cloning

A large site regarding cloning, and all the opinions surrounding it. I believe human cloning (as opposed to therapeutic cloning) is not a good thing, and should be outlawed. There are valid reasons wither way, but I think that the issue of cloning “devaluing” human lives (as an irreplaceable resource) is a big reason why it should not occur.

25
Nov 01
Sun

Cloning

First human embyro cloned. The goal is therapeutic cloning (cell generation), as opposed to reproductive cloning. Meanwhile, Australian scientists are looking at bringing back the Tasmanian tiger.

14
Nov 01
Wed

Clockless Processing

Interesting article about asynchronous CPUs that covers both technical and economical issues. {src: /.}

11
Nov 01
Sun

Brain Museum

Brainmuseum.org:

“This web site provides browsers with images and information from one of the world’s largest collection of well-preserved, sectioned and stained brains of mammals. Viewers can see and download photographs of brains of over 100 different species of mammals (including humans) representing 17 mammalian orders.”

5
Nov 01
Mon

Learning Genes

New Scientist: Academic prowess seems to be linked to genes. IQ is hereditary? I can believe that. Physical stature tends to be hereditary, so why not intelligence (in an academic, IQ, sense)? Sure, environment affects development in both, but genes still play some sort of role.

23
Oct 01
Tue

Ball Lightning

An explanation of the phenomenon of Ball Lightning. Lightning that can hang around for minutes? That’s gotta be a sight.

20
Oct 01
Sat

Augmented Surfaces

A Spatially Continuous Workspace for Hybrid Computing Environments. This is a cool concept – extend your virtual desktop onto your real desktop and connect them. The research work is from 1999. Thanks Pete.

18
Oct 01
Thu

Solar Eclipses

I came across an interesting map that tracks the paths of solar eclipses (240kB) that will happen over the next couple of decades. There’s one in South Australia in December 2002. Dad and I are planning to take a trip to SA to watch it next year. A solar eclipse is something I just have to experience at least once in my life.

3
Oct 01
Wed

Nukes

The Nuclear Weapons FAQ. All you ever wanted to know about The Bomb.

10
Aug 01
Fri

Celestial Art

This guy wants to paint a big red dot onto the moon by shining millions of laser pointers at it. The web site calls upon people in America to aim their pointers at the moon for a five minute period. Unfortunately, the guy’s right when he said that he is not a scientist. While laser light does stay coherent and is highly directable, the light still attenuates – especially through the earth’s atmosphere. Strictly speaking, although the light never really becomes “invisible”, it does diminish in intensity out of the range of human sight – invisible to us, in other words. Most household laser pointers have a visible range of, at most, a couple kilometres. The moon is a fair bit further than that. Additionally, the area of the moon that would have to be lit up to be visible to the human eye would be impractically large. I think in Australia, there is also some law that prohibits general-use laser pointers over a certain power (1 milliwatt I think). The US probably has similar laws relating to safety regulations and lasers. It’s a quaint sentiment overall, but one unlikely to work.

26
Jun 01
Tue

Display Tech

Organic LEDs – cheaper, clearer, smaller and require less power than LCDs. Perhaps the future of display technology?

14
May 01
Mon

JustLink

Ever wondered how anti-buffer-underrun technologies like JustLink and BurnProof work? Quite logical, really. Apparently the second generation of these technologies is meant to leave a zero-width gap upon burn resumption (after a buffer gets too low).

6
Apr 01
Fri

Party Tricks

Not strictly “party tricks” but it’s a long list of cool phenomena.

31
Mar 01
Sat

Tomorrow is April Fools Day

The Moon Landing was a hoax! Not. (I have a friend who seriously believes that…)

22
Mar 01
Thu

MIR

Lives for a couple more hours only – track its descent.

13
Mar 01
Tue

Glow In The Dark Watches

You know how some watches have glow-in-the-dark hands and dials? Until recently, watch companies have been using fluorescent paint mixed with radioactive Tritium. (And before that, Radium, until they found it wasn’t too good for one’s health.) Watches that have tritium in them are marked with two “T”s on the dial. Read about it. Tritium, as a pure beta-emitter does not have very much penetrating power and thus is not a health threat. However, Tritium does have half-life that means its effectiveness in making the paint glow decreases over time. Companies like Omega now use other non-radioactive compounds which do not degrade over time.

15
Nov 00
Wed

ISS

The first of the International Space Station astronauts/cosmonauts are up there. They made it! Interesting write up here.

16
Jul 00
Sun

Lunar Eclipse

Tonight, all over Australia, Aussies will be able to see the longest lunar eclipse to occur in around 150 years. Starting about 10pm tonight, EST, the Earth’s shadow will begin to eat the moon, before turning it a blood red (caused by light refracted by the earth’s atmosphere) for a full 100 minutes. Should be over by 2am tomorrow. I’m taking photos. The next time an eclipse this long will happen will be next millennium

Astronomy

While we’re on the topic of the heavens, here’s a page that explains Why is the sky dark at night? The answer is not as obvious, from a scientific point of view, as you think.

In 1826, the astronomer Heinrich Olbers asked, “Why is the sky dark at night?” By his time, physicists had learned enough to realize that, in a stable, infinite universe with an even distribution of stars, the entire universe should gradually heat up.

Think about it — if there are stars generating energy throughout the universe (energy sources), and if there is no way ultimately to dispose of that energy (energy sinks), then all the objects in the universe must rise in temperature, in time achieving the temperature of the stars themselves.

5
Jul 00
Wed

Sleep Project Results

Some stats from this:

• Of the total participants in the survey 43% were male and 57% female.
• The overall average sleep over 24 hours was 8 hours 1 minute. Men, on average slept for 7 hours and 59 minutes while women slept, on average, 8 hours and 3 minutes.
• According to the survey, Northern Territorians get the most sleep (8 hrs 16 mins) matched at the other end of the country by Tasmanians who come close (8 hrs 14 mins) and South Australians (8 hrs 10 mins).
• Those in the ACT, Queensland and NSW all get less than 8 hours (7 hrs 57 mins; 7 hrs 56 mins; 7 hrs 58 mins)
• West Australians (8 hrs 2 mins) and Victorians (8 hrs 5 mins) are closest to the overall average.
• Of course averages are only averages. (A person with their head in the oven and their feet in the freezer could still overall have an ‘average’ body temperature).
• I averaged about 6 hours a night including naps on the train.

12
Jun 00
Mon

Memory

This article tells how loss of memory often isn’t. It’s psychological, in many cases.

Mapping DNA

Finally, Celera Genomics completed mapping the human DNA.

6
Jun 00
Tue
3
May 00
Wed

More On Sleep

This is an interesting article on sleep – always a fascinating topic. It it it links to this site, which is researching sleep and getting people to submit to them a “sleep diary”. Also on that site is “40 facts about sleep”, including things like: the World Record for staying awake is over 18 days (during which the person experienced hallucinations etc.) and going 17 hours without sleep affects you the same way as having a 0.05 blood alcohol content (hey that’s me today… woke at 6am, drove home at 10.30pm). Really interesting.

27
Apr 00
Thu

Mysteries of Sleep

Seems that hormones are responsible for our quality of sleep.

23
Apr 00
Sun

DNA Computing

An informative, if technical, article about biological computing from Ars Technica.

28
Mar 00
Tue

Levitating Frogs and Sumo Wrestlers

Behold, the floating Sumo Wrestler. And here’s an article about the levitating frog (which is mentioned on the same page as the Sumo).

18
Mar 00
Sat

Sleep Deprivation

This article, about extended periods of no sleep, makes a lot of sense.

21
Feb 00
Mon

Brain Activity

This comes from an article where scientists are culturing neurons and recording and analysing the signals they generate. It’s a pretty incredible statistic:

In the meantime, his virtual-rat project faces a number of technical challenges, such as how exactly he’s going to pull patterns out of data streaming in from his dish of neurons at 2.3 Mbytes per second, per channel – enough to max out a multigig hard disk in one afternoon. If you were using the same technology to record input from every neuron in a human brain, you’d get 150 million Gbytes of data per minute – enough to fill a 194-mile-high stack of CD-ROMs in 60 seconds.

That’s 1 Exabyte every 400 seconds (6.5 minutes).

18
Feb 00
Fri

Data Storage

Fluorescent Multi-layered Disc ROMS (FMD-ROMs) promise to hold up to 140 GB of data onboard a 10-layered disc that looks like a transparent CD. Second and third generations of these technologies are slated to hold up to a spanking Terabyte of data. This company developed the technology. Yahoo article.

8
Feb 00
Tue

Cyborgs In Our Lifetime

Here’s a very interesting read in Wired. It’s about a cybernetics experiment, attaching an implant to a nerve bundle which records and can “play back” nerve signals. The theory is interesting – if you play back “artificial” electrical impulses, will the brain interpret them in the same way? Will you be able to transmit emotions and thoughts through the air like we do with data nowadays? Later in the article it starts to get philosophical about a society of cyborgs. Now that to me is just plain scary. Not only because he talks like a science-fiction writer would in a novel, but because he has the scientific knowledge that makes such a scenario a possibility, and not just a dream (or nightmare, depending on your point of view). I mean, scientists just discovered a chemical or gene that inhibits neural re-growth (like how your spine will not regenerate itself if broken). They’ve managed to re-enable it, and consequently, spines in lab rats have reformed and restored motor capabilities. Incredible stuff. However, when you move out of the realm of medical applications (like injury recovery) and into worlds where speech is almost obsolete, that gets worrying. Or am I just old-fashioned, already? What’s your take on the article? How would a society of cyborgs make you feel?

1
Feb 00
Tue

The Fifth Taste

Bitter, sour, sweet and salty. And MSG. Yes, scientists do believe there are tastebuds for MSG.

6
Dec 99
Mon

Crash!

NASA’s Mars Polar Lander appears to be uncontactable now. Another fault regarding Mars-bound craft? (the last was the Climate Orbiter which was “lost”). I wonder if SGI is regretting their attempts to up-play the importance of their role in the Polar Lander mission. Even though SGI computers probably weren’t controlling the navigation stuff, it still seems to give them bad publicity :).

8
Oct 99
Fri

Laser Surgery

Time has a front page story on laser-corrective surgery for the eye. Sounds a lot like a lottery. 70% get near perfect vision, but that’s 3 people in 10 which don’t. Psychologically, 30% feels very threatening. But medical procedures get better in time, and in a decade, it’s reckoned the sucess rate will move to 90%. It’s a gamble, either way, and the stakes are pretty damn high (your lifetime’s eyesight and the $5000 it takes to get the surgery done… quite steep for a 15 minute procedure).

IO & Galileo

Nasa opened up a site tracking the Galileo probe’s flybys of IO, Jupiter’s active volcanoes moon.

22
Sep 99
Wed

Turing level AI 2 decades?

There’s this columnist in Tuesday’s Sydney Morning Herald called Graham Phillipson. He isn’t the most insightful of people, and most of his columns don’t go anywhere. Among his past columns, he’s cited how Linux will go nowhere (a view which he later retracted, a few months down the track). Last Tuesday he wrote about AI. He reckons there will be Turing level AI in 20 years. He reckons that there will be 2 sentient species on this planet. Then he launches into a melodramatic spiel on how “There exists a very real possibility that human supremacy on this planet – and perhaps the universe, given the lack of proof of the existence of life anywhere else – will come to an end, and that the machine age will replace the organic age.” I’m surprised he didn’t mention The Matrix. I don’t think he understands the complexities of intelligence. As far as sentience goes, how are you going to make a computer self-aware? Computers aren’t dynamic. They are quite specialised. One human can perform many tasks, but a machine can’t. You know Robocup? Where they use those $2000 Japanese Aibo robotic dogs to play a soccer game? They estimate it will take 50 more years to create a team of robots that will be able to play a real game of soccer against a human team. And this is still far from achieving real Turing-level AI. 20 years? I don’t think so, Phillipson.

14
Sep 99
Tue

SkyCar

It’s stuff like this that really gets everyone excited. Moller International is a firm that are developing what they’ve called the Skycar, a vehicle capable of VTOL (vert takeoff and landing, like Harrier Jets – in fact it’s basically a mini Harrier). The thing is, it’s not something that’s decades and decades off. They plan to have it on the market within 5 years, and have working prototypes.

Their 4-seater model, the M400 is powered by 8 engines (some redundant), 3 computers (2 redundant), has a range of over 1000km and top speed of over 600km/h. It takes regular unleaded fuel (car fuel) and will have an initial price tag of US $1 million. But once the vehicle hits mass production, the price is slated to drop to about US $60,000, which is reasonable. Right now, the thing can only be flown by licensed pilots. Nonetheless, it’s exciting stuff.

14
Aug 99
Sat

Eclipse

In typical geek fashion I caught the eclipse over RealVideo. Very nice to watch… the connection cut off about 10 seconds after totality, and i spent about 2 minutes trying to reconnect (friggin Net) but the connection came back and i got the last 10 seconds. It was linked to audio and it was funny hearing the crowd gasp, go silent and cheer periodically.

8
Aug 99
Sun

Eclipse

As you know there’s a solar eclipse that passes over most of Europe coming. CNN has coverage of it. I wonder when one will occur over Australian soil? I’ve gotta see a total eclipse at least once in my life. From what I’ve heard, it’s an experience of a lifetime. The stars come out, the temperature drops noticeably, birds stop singing…

28
Jul 99
Wed

Lunar Eclipse

The final eclipse this century occurs in about two hours – a partial lunar eclipse. But Sydney in particular always happens to be overcast when there’s a lunar eclipse. This time is no exception – it’s like the fourth time it’s happened.

25
Jun 99
Fri
17
Jun 99
Thu

When Galaxies Collide

Literally. This is what it looks like. Our galaxy is going to “collide” (sorta… they’ll actually slide through each other) with another in a couple billion years, but I don’t think we need to worry. The picture was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

15
May 99
Sat

Seti At Home

A few months ago I made a post on the Seti at Home program. Well, the Windows Platform version is out. What’s Seti at Home? Click Here.

21
Mar 99
Sun

Bandwidth of a Nerve Cell

Slashdot has a nice section called, “Ask Slashdot” where you write in to ask a question and everyone answers. One such question was submitted by someone trying to determine the bandwidth of a nerve cell.

12
Mar 99
Fri

SETI@Home

The latest in “hey that’s neat!” geekware. The University of California is enlisting the help of computers across the world in processing radio signals collected by the Arecibo radio telescope that’s part of the SETI program, monitoring the radio waves for any sign of intelligent life. The program will act as a screensaver, downloading raw data from Arecibo to a computer, and as your computer analyses the data, a frequency graph is displayed. Allegedly, a quarter million people have already signed up for it. Go here to find out more.

23
Feb 99
Tue

Y2K Compliancy

Wow are people that paranoid about the millennium bug? I guess so. The latest objects to have been deemed “Y2K Compliant” are a bread slicer, and a can opener. Uhm. See Sanyo for details.

No! My bread slicer spontaneously combusted on 1/1/00!
The Bread Slicer that won’t spontaneously combust come New Year’s Day, 2000

22
Feb 99
Mon

A Lan in Space

This news is a little old, but there’s this article on CNN.com that talks about how the USS are going to be setting up a LAN on the International Space Station. What’s interesting is that they’re not using any custom built stuff. No, just Windows NT Server and… Windows 95?? While the ISS shouldn’t crash, Win95 certainly will. At least they’re using UNIX based systems to run ths Station.

To that end, the U.S. portion of the space station’s LAN will be equipped with four IBM ThinkPad 760 laptops: three clients running Windows 95 and one NT server.

“It’s a little less power than I would have liked, but it will do,” Woodbury says. “We’re only talking five clients when [everything is complete,] not like most systems with hundreds of users.”

15
Feb 99
Mon

Solar Eclipse

Seems like today marks the last annular (not a total, but “98% total”) solar eclipse this century. It’s happening in Australia, albeit all the way over in Perth. Read about it. I would really like to see just one solar eclipse in my lifetime…

10
Dec 98
Thu

More Astronomy-related stuff

You can keep track of the ISS’ (“mankind’s greatest feat of engineering”) status through NASA’s nice looking site : http://station.nasa.gov/.

5
Dec 98
Sat

Geminid Meteor showers

I wasn’t happy that I missed the Leonid Meteor showers due to the clouds. Apparently someone in Perth stayed up outside to watch it (where it was reputed to be cloud-free), but it ended up raining at 2am, which is even worse. Anyway, at December 13, the peak of another meteor shower is forecasted to take place. Less spectacular, but 120 meteors per hour are predicted, nonetheless (compared to 600/hour of the Leonid one). Look around the Gemini constellation during the night of Dec 13 or early morning of Dec 14. I’m not sure about these dates – I think they are American, but I’m sure there’ll be something in the papers about it. More info here if you’re interested.

This NASA Site, Space Science News, is also a brilliant site if you happen to be interested in astronomy as I am (but who isn’t at least a little bit interested?).

19
May 98
Tue

Diamond the size of Earth

In the papers yesterday, it was reported that scientists discovered a diamond the size of the earth only a matter of 17 light years away. I think they said it was formed after a star collapsed to become a white dwarf, and the carbon the star contained was compressed to the crystalline structure of diamond (giant covalent network solid :). Well, Arthur C. Clarke was sort of a visionary – his 2001 series mentioned Jupiter having a core of diamond. This is the next best thing I guess :). BTW, the gravity on a white star is heaps strong (another understatement), so it’s near impossible to land on it… that’s assuming you can actually reach a place 17 light years distant, of course.

6
May 98
Wed

Explosion

Wow. CNN’s news network is just so much larger than any Aussie network… Anyway scientists found an explosion that occurred 12 billion light years away (hence 12 billion years ago)…

Astronomers are mystified by the most powerful explosion ever witnessed, an enormous burst of gamma ray energy 12 billion light years from Earth that in one second released almost as much energy as all the stars of the universe.

and…

Woosley said the energy released was equal to about 5 billion supernovae, the explosion of dying stars that, until this explosion, had provided the most powerful documented sudden releases of energy.

In visible light alone, Woosley said, the gamma ray burst energy was equal to about 1,000 supernovae. By some calculations, the gamma ray burst release equaled as much energy in one second as all of the 10 billion trillion stars in the universe combined.

Woosley said it is difficult to relate the power in common terms.

For instance, he said, if all of the nuclear weapons ever made were exploded at once, the energy released would equal about 1/100,000 of a second of the energy from Earth’s sun. Yet over its 10 billion-year history, Woosley said, the sun will produce only about 1 percent of the energy of the explosion.
[Source: CNN.com]

Link here. That is an awesome amount of energy… and “awesome” is an awesome understatement… it’s bloody well ludricrously unimaginable.



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