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Current Topic: Science

Life Size Mousetrap at Maker Faire Austin
Topic: Science 11:17 am EDT, May 14, 2008

Life Size Mousetrap at Maker Faire Austin

The LIFE SIZE MOUSETRAP is a fantastically hand crafted,
16 piece 50,000-lb. interactive KINETIC SCULPTURE set atop a 6,500-square-foot,
2,000-lb GAME BOARD.

This giant Rube Goldberg style contraption comes complete with
a VAUDEVILLIAN style show, original MUSICAL SCORE by The one woman band
Esmerelda Strange, Sexy Mice CAN-CAN DANCERS, Clown workers, acrobatic HI
JINKS, and other SPECTACULAR SCENES dedicated to the pursuit of spectacle
laden FUN!

All I can say is WOW! :P

[Agreed... that's awesome. -k]

Life Size Mousetrap at Maker Faire Austin

RE: Does Rail Transit Save Energy or Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
Topic: Science 12:33 pm EDT, May  5, 2008

While most rail transit uses less energy than buses, rail transit does not operate in a vacuum: transit agencies supplement it with extensive feeder bus operations. Those feeder buses tend to have low ridership, so they have high energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile.

In other words, "Because no one rides public transit, we should not make efforts to improve the utility of said public transit."

People don't ride buses largely because they're often not complemented by a decent train system, or because it's too much of a pain in the ass due to shitty design (I'm looking at you MARTA). In the US, I've used the Chicago bus system to good effect, and in Fukuoka, Japan, we never even got on the train because their bus system is well designed and efficient (and inexpensive).

If you build it (correctly), they will come.

Even where rail transit operations save a little energy, the construction of rail transit lines consumes huge amounts of energy and emits large volumes of greenhouse gases. In most cases, many decades of energy savings would be needed to repay the energy cost of construction.

Whereas road building has none of those ill effects, I'm sure. Not to mention the often overlooked secondary effects of car culture, namely, sprawl, which begets deforestation, more construction of energy inefficient and likewise environmentally damaging home and strip mall construction.

Rail transit attempts to improve the environment by changing people's behavior so that they drive less. Such behavioral efforts have been far less successful than technical solutions to toxic air pollution and other environmental problems associated with automobiles.

Again, "People didn't seem to change their minds about driving when we put in this crappy bus line from one place to one other place, so why should we put in more?"

* Powering buses with hybrid-electric motors, biofuels, and—where it comes from nonfossil fuel sources—electricity;
* Concentrating bus service on heavily used routes and using smaller buses during offpeak periods and in areas with low demand for transit service;

Good ideas, and should be included in any new transit planning.

* Encouraging people to purchase more fuel-efficient cars. Getting 1 percent of commuters to switch to hybrid-electric cars will cost less and do more to save energy than getting 1 percent to switch to public transit.

Reasonable, but neglects secondary effects, and also probably not as easy as it sounds. Market effects have encouraged hybrid ownership, but far less than one would expect.

* Building new roads, using variable toll systems, and coordinating traffic signals to relieve the highway congestion that wastes nearly 3 billion gallons of fuel each year;

Of course, we need more roads. I'm ok with variable toll systems, though I think there are issues to be worked out. I'm very curious to see how Atlanta's highway on-ramp traffic light system will fare once it's operational. I've read nothing about it, but they've been installing the signals for months and months now. I'll reserve judgement until I know more.

If oil is truly scarce, rising prices will lead people to buy more fuel-efficient cars. But states and locales that want to save even more energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions will find the above alternatives far superior to rail transit.

RE: Does Rail Transit Save Energy or Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

Annals of Anthropology: Vengeance Is Ours: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker
Topic: Science 11:03 am EDT, Apr 25, 2008

In the Highlands of New Guinea, rival clans have often fought wars lasting decades, in which each killing provokes another.

I haven't read it, but given the author and the subject I'm sure it is interesting.

[ Very interesting. Dovetails into the Matt Ridley book I just finished - The Origins of Virtue. If this sort of thing interests you, I recommend it... talks a great deal about the genetic and social imperatives behind cooperation or non-cooperation and the evolution (and optimization, less convincingly) of powerful, cooperating social groups.

Annals of Anthropology: Vengeance Is Ours: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker

Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything - Telegraph
Topic: Science 3:40 pm EST, Nov 30, 2007

While most of this is over my head. Is it possible that this could become the Grand Unified Theory we are all looking forward to?

Even if it isn't the pdf is very interesting.

[ Yeah, my physics degree really is just for show at this point... the math here is well beyond my capacity.

I very much look forward to hearing the what people who DO have the math think about all this... it's a fascinating, if opaque. -k]

Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything - Telegraph

Study finds left-wing brain, right-wing brain - Los Angeles Times
Topic: Science 10:36 am EDT, Sep 10, 2007

Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M.

In other words, liberals are not as big a bunch of fuck-ups as conservatives. Case closed.

[Meh. I don't see this experiment as compelling at all, and I'm sure it's not terribly helpful. Do I believe that conservatives are more rigid thinkers than liberals? Yes, of course, but I don't need an EEG for that... I just need to look at their actions.

Also, there's no mention of this in the article, but was "W" picked on purpose? It is just because M and W are nearly (and in many typefaces exactly) mirror images of each other? Because I think the external associations to the letter W might skew the results somewhat. As in, a lot. Without knowing if they considered this (I'm sure they must have, but how?), I call shenanigans. -k]

Study finds left-wing brain, right-wing brain - Los Angeles Times

A Defence of the Book
Topic: Science 12:11 am EDT, Aug 16, 2007

This particular enthusiast for all things speedy, simultaneous and multi-tasking, anything that flashed and bleeped and interfaced, appeared to have no interest whatsoever in what I in my quaintness still call knowledge and learning. He was a representative of that new and potent ideology which claims that it is not the internalisation of knowledge that should be the aim of education, simply the acquisition of techniques for effectively accessing it. In other words, the skills do not have to be ‘learnt’, simply located, downloaded, then stored for future use. As long as a student can find where the knowledge lies, and process it for the task presently in hand, then that, it would appear, is acceptable. This is cant, and dangerous cant too. I would like to explain why.

Great article... at the risk of seeming too self-promotional i'm going to include my (somewhat longwinded) comment on the article below. i genuinely do find this a compelling debate on a number of levels.

I find this a fascinating discussion. I come from a mixed background, in which I voraciously read anything I could get my hands on throughout my youth, excelled in my English courses and then chose a different path for my career, majoring in Physics and Computer Science at University.

I have a troubled relationship with both books and technology. That is, I've seen technology do wonderful things, but remain skeptical of it's vaunted universal curative properties. As for books, I love them deeply, but have long had difficulty with the very concern you illustrate; I often find it difficult or impossible to absorb much of the material. I find I can read a book, enjoy it immensely and within weeks forget much of what I had found so wonderful. This must be a failure in my method, or else a flaw in my brain, but the end result is that I must acquire new information (I won't call it knowledge) if not on a Just-In-Time basis, at least shortly in advance of when I will require it practically. For non-practical reading (by which I mean, I suppose, anything not related to my work or some specific short-term task), I often retain only general impressions, or images of particular scenes, but seldom actual passages or, say, the philosophies of each character.

I have considered that there are ways in which technology might assist someone like me in absorbing what I read, apart from trolling Google and the various news groups for discussions relevant to the book, or accessing scholarly works dissecting or examining the work, neither of which are particularly convenient from my easy chair. Perhaps my use of the word "convenient" has already demolished any hope I have of convincing Professors of English that my arguments have merit, but I can't help but feel there must be a compromise, that it ought not be required of me to read each book at my desk, with my notebook and references at hand.

In my pursuit of solutions, I've fo... [ Read More (0.5k in body) ]

A Defence of the Book

Wellington Grey -- Articles -- A physics teacher begs for his subject back: An open letter to the AQA board and the UK Department for Education
Topic: Science 2:17 pm EDT, Jun  8, 2007

I am a young and once-enthusiastic physics teacher. I despair at what I am forced to teach. I have potentially thirty years of lessons to give, but I didn’t sign up for this — and the business world still calls. There I won’t have to endure the pain of trying to animate a crippled subject. The rigorous of physics been torn down and replaced with impotent science media studies.

[ Stunning and extremely disturbing. I begin wondering about the politics behind this change, because I can see no other likely cause... -k]

Wellington Grey -- Articles -- A physics teacher begs for his subject back: An open letter to the AQA board and the UK Department for Education

Invention: 'Diamond'-coated gadgets - Yahoo! News UK
Topic: Science 2:40 pm EST, Jan 23, 2007

Portable gizmos such as phones, handheld computers and mp3 players can easily get scuffed, dirty and sticky.

Bulky covers are one option, but Nokia in Finland has been experimenting with plastic casings coated with a diamond-like material made from coal. The material is more protective and grime resistant, as well as cheap and bio-degradable.

To make the material electric current is fed through coal graphite. This creates plasma, which is directed towards a plastic casing by high-voltage

electrodes. The coal ions penetrate the surface and bond to form an amorphous, diamond-like coating less than 100 nanometres thick. The process works at room temperature, meaning even cheap plastics can be coated this way.

The coating is very tough, but also smooth to the touch. It is also conductive and therefore antistatic, so does not attract dirt easily. Furthermore, the surface reflects and diffracts light in a similar way to shiny metal. And, when the owner has grown tired of the gismo and binned it, the thin layer of coal will eventually degrade naturally.

Very cool... I'm all for anything that keeps my devices looking and working better for a longer period of time...

Invention: 'Diamond'-coated gadgets - Yahoo! News UK

Cosmic Log : 'Lost in Space' missions
Topic: Science 9:30 am EST, Nov 16, 2006

Park said sending DSCOVR to the L1 gravitational balance point is "the most important thing we could be doing in space right now."

Park pressed for the mission to proceed in a New York Times op-ed piece earlier this year, and several other articles have bemoaned DSCOVR's descent into limbo.


The entire approach america takes to space research needs to be retooled. It's broken. NASA's broken. The appropriations process is broken.

I'd say the private sector offers some hope of salvation, but it's minimal... there's not much value in sending up climate satellites to a private firm.

And reading some of these articles, even advancements in launch technology that reduce it's cost tremendously wouldn't really mean much. We won't even let other countries launch the thing for FREE.

Granted, the last 6 years, under W and a Republican't controlled congress with a bullshit war on, have been among the worst for anything to do with basic science and far more so if there's a hint of politicality to it. Has "global warming" ever shown up in any document discussing this project? Scrap it.

I'm so used to it, even the outrage has dimmed.

Cosmic Log : 'Lost in Space' missions

Plutons, planets and dwarves
Topic: Science 11:46 am EDT, Aug 22, 2006

"This would be like if botanists had found something between trees and bushes and invented the word 'animal' to describe it."

If you've ever spent days^h^h^h^hweeks on end arguing with people about the definition of a word, you'll find this article both comforting and hilarious. If not, you might find it hard to understand how anyone couuld get so worked up about such a thing.

[ I'm total agreement with the geologist's point of view. The word exists and is in common use in it's field. Hijacking it doesn't make sense, particularly when the whole intent behind the "creation" of the term is to create an entirely novel classification. Come up with something novel, or go generic and use "dwarf planet," which is perfectly comprehensible, if not particularly exciting.

And don't get me started on this astronomer's assertion that the extent of their fact checking was the built in dictionaries in Word and WordPerfect. Aside from reinforcing the stereotype that science geeks are disdainful of the humanities, it's just lazy. I know *someone* at that conference has, or knows someone who has, a decent dictionary, or access to one. Major universities often have a full 20 volume OED or the next best thing, the Shorter Oxford, which is only about $100, and is extremely comprehensive. Someone could've identified this issue. -k ]

Plutons, planets and dwarves

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