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Current Topic: Science

When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modeling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection
Topic: Science 8:17 am EDT, Aug 19, 2009

Philip Munz, et al:

Zombies are a popular figure in pop culture/entertainment and they are usually portrayed as being brought about through an outbreak or epidemic. Consequently, we model a zombie attack, using biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies. We introduce a basic model for zombie infection, determine equilibria and their stability, and illustrate the outcome with numerical solutions. We then refine the model to introduce a latent period of zombification, whereby humans are infected, but not infectious, before becoming undead. We then modify the model to include the effects of possible quarantine or a cure. Finally, we examine the impact of regular, impulsive reductions in the number of zombies and derive conditions under which eradication can occur. We show that only quick, aggressive attacks can stave off the doomsday scenario: the collapse of society as zombies overtake us all.


I hope to see more of this type of thing ... taking literature and "livening" it up a bit with some zombie action!!

Dateline Austin, Texas:

If you're driving in Austin, you can rest assured: There are no zombies ahead.


Like a lot of monsters, zombies have their roots in folklore and -- according to some researchers -- in real events in Haiti.

From the archive:

We should probably tell you that the full title of this game is Zombies! Apocalypse - Massive Multiplayer Online Zombies Massacre, even though that's basically given away the point of it all.

When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modeling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection

Edge Master Class 2009
Topic: Science 7:57 am EDT, Aug  3, 2009

George Dyson:

Approaching Beverly Hills along Sunset Boulevard from Santa Monica, the first indications that you are nearing the destination are people encamped at the side of the road announcing "Star Maps" for sale. Beverly Hills is a surprisingly diverse community of interwoven lives, families, and livelihoods, and a Star Map offers only a rough approximation of where a few select people have their homes.

Synthetic Genomics is still at the Star Map stage. But it is becoming Google Earth much faster than most people think.

Raymond Chandler, in 1949:

Los Angeles was just a big dry sunny place with ugly homes and no style, but good-hearted and peaceful. It had the climate they yap about now. People used to sleep out on porches. Little groups who thought they were intellectual used to call it the Athens of America.

Freeman Dyson:

Now, after some three billion years, the Darwinian era is over.

From the archive:

Oh! I feel it. I feel the cosmos!

From The World in 2009:

Someone once accused Craig Venter of playing God.

His reply was, "We're not playing."

Martin Schwartz:

Science makes me feel stupid too. It's just that I've gotten used to it.

Edge Master Class 2009

The nature of temptation
Topic: Science 7:01 am EDT, Jul  8, 2009

Drake Bennett:

Rather than a guide to a properly lived life, personal morality becomes a spur that grows out of guilt, or an after-the-fact story we tell ourselves about actions already decided on. And rather than a moral compass, what we may have is closer to a thermostat, stubbornly set to a comfortable moral mediocrity.

Scott Adams:

Imagine you could make fuel out of poor people.

Obviously using humans for fuel would be wrong and you wouldn't do it. But I'm not done confusing your moral compass.

Now let's say the people who are used as fuel are volunteers, of a sort.

Benedict Carey:

Studies of people who do unpalatable things, whether by choice, or for reasons of duty or economic necessity, find that people's moral codes are more flexible than generally understood.

Richard Sennett:

The evidence suggests that from an executive perspective, the most desirable employees may no longer necessarily be those with proven ability and judgment, but those who can be counted on to follow orders and be good "team players."

Atul Gawande:

Let us look for the positive deviants.

Guy Kawasaki:

Never ask anyone to do something that you wouldn't do.

The nature of temptation

Zero Gravity Water Bubble
Topic: Science 11:28 am EDT, Jun 14, 2009

Zero gravity water bubble and Alka Seltzer experiment

From a year ago:

American authorities may be deluding themselves into believing they can forestall the endgame of post-bubble adjustments.

Decius, in a prescient post from 2004:

Ever wanted to know what life was like in the 30s? You will.


I thought I was unlucky graduating into the tech bust. I had no idea.

From a few years back:

The United States government does not want billboards in space.

The Federal Aviation Administration proposed Thursday to amend its regulations to ensure that it can enforce a law that prohibits "obtrusive" advertising in zero gravity.

Keep your space-based advertising tasteful, folks. Think quaint New England hamlet ...

Zero Gravity Water Bubble

HOME, a Film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Topic: Science 8:24 am EDT, Jun 11, 2009

Yann Arthus-Bertrand:

HOME is an ode to the planet's beauty and its delicate harmony. Through the landscapes of 54 countries captured from above, Yann Arthus-Bertrand takes us on an unique journey all around the planet, to contemplate it and to understand it. But HOME is more than a documentary with a message, it is a magnificent movie in its own right. Every breathtaking shot shows the Earth - our Earth - as we have never seen it before. Every image shows the Earth's treasures we are destroying and all the wonders we can still preserve. "From the sky, there's less need for explanations". Our vision becomes more immediate, intuitive and emotional. HOME has an impact on anyone who sees it. It awakens in us the awareness that is needed to change the way we see the world. (HOME embraces the major ecological issues that confront us and shows how everything on our planet is interconnected.)

Surely by now you have seen Koyaanisqatsi?

A motion picture essay which takes a revealing and shocking look at modern life and its imbalances.

HOME, a Film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Colliding Particles
Topic: Science 8:24 am EDT, Jun 11, 2009

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN will look deeper into the nature of the universe than anything that has gone before, and its’ vast experiments are certain to change our understanding of the world around us. The scale of the engineering involved can sometimes obscure the fact that the project is designed and run by people - hundreds of teams of researchers and collaborators, all driven by the simple desire to increase our understanding of the universe we live in.

‘Colliding Particles’ is a series of films following just one of the teams of physicists involved in the research at the LHC. The project documents their work at the frontiers of particle physics, exploring the human stories behind the research and investigating the workings of the scientific process itself.

From a September 2008 letter to Harper's:

The Reading presents what appears to be a factual affidavit [from one Luis Sancho, about the chances that the earth will be destroyed should the Large Hadron Collider be activated]. Is this a misapprehension on my part? Is this an inside joke that is funny to the editors because you don't believe a word about the danger described? Is your magazine so sophisticated that you would simply report, without comment, the possibility of the careless destruction of the world by a group of scientific researchers?

According to the crack reportage of the Times:

Scientists say that is very unlikely — though they have done some checking just to make sure.

Have you heard The Large Hadron Collider Rap?

From last year at The Big Picture:

Here is a collection of photographs from CERN, showing various stages of completion of the LHC and several of its larger experiments (some over seven stories tall), over the past several years.

Just in case:

Has the Large Hadron Collider destroyed the world yet?

Colliding Particles

Who Can Name the Bigger Number?
Topic: Science 8:18 am EDT, Jun  4, 2009

Scott Aaronson:

A biggest number contest is clearly pointless when the contestants take turns. But what if the contestants write down their numbers simultaneously, neither aware of the other’s? To introduce a talk on "Big Numbers," I invite two audience volunteers to try exactly this.

Who can name the bigger number? Whoever has the deeper paradigm. Are you ready? Get set. Go.

Have you read Rucker's classic?

A captivating excursion through the mathematical approaches to the notions of infinity and the implications of that mathematics for the vexing questions on the mind, existence, and consciousness.

It is in the realm of infinity, he maintains, that mathematics, science, and logic merge with the fantastic. By closely examining the paradoxes that arise from this merging, we can learn a great deal about the human mind, its powers, and its limitations.

What about Penrose's The Road to Reality?

"What a joy it is to read a book that doesn't simplify (*), doesn't dodge the difficult questions, and doesn't always pretend to have answers."

Granted, it's not for everyone:

The film opens with her visiting a bookshop and fingering a copy of Roger Penrose's book, The Road to Reality. "Don't want to go there," she mutters to herself. Meanwhile, outside, her bicycle is being stolen.

(*) Ah, Lisa:

Grandma: I saw all your awards, Lisa. They're mighty impressive.

Lisa: Aw, I just keep them out to bug Bart, heh.

Grandma: [reproachful] Don't be bashful. When I was your age, kids made fun of me because I read at the ninth-grade level.

Lisa: Me too!

Grandma: You know, Lisa, I feel like I have an instant rapport with you.

Lisa: [gasps] You didn't dumb it down! You said "rapport".

Who Can Name the Bigger Number?

Maybe It Was The Box That Needed Fixing
Topic: Science 7:38 am EDT, Jun  1, 2009

Charles Graeber:

Like many exceedingly bright people, Marc Weber Tobias has the exhausted air of a know-it-all.

Michael Lopp:

You should pick a fight, because bright people often yell at each other.


It's a good feeling to team up with a group of smart people and produce something useful over the course of a weekend. More hacking less talking.

John Lanchester:

A common mistake of very smart people is to assume that other people’s minds work in the same way that theirs do.

Paul Graham:

Great programmers are sometimes said to be indifferent to money. This isn't quite true. It is true that all they really care about is doing interesting work. But if you make enough money, you get to work on whatever you want, and for that reason hackers are attracted by the idea of making really large amounts of money. But as long as they still have to show up for work every day, they care more about what they do there than how much they get paid for it.

Malcolm Gladwell:

They were there looking for people who had the talent to think outside the box. It never occurred to them that, if everyone had to think outside the box, maybe it was the box that needed fixing.

James Suroweicki:

The havoc on Wall Street following the collapse of the subprime-mortgage market boils down to a simple truth: for years, lots of very smart people took lots of very foolish risks, betting borrowed billions on dubious mortgage derivatives, and eventually the odds caught up with them. But behind that simple truth is a more surprising one: the financial whizzes made bad decisions in part because that’s what they were paid to do.

One lesson of the current market chaos, then, is that it’s hard to get incentives right.

Eric Schmidt:

The "smart people on the hill" method no longer works.

Galactic Center of Milky Way Rises over Texas
Topic: Science 10:19 am EDT, May 25, 2009

Time lapse video of night sky as it passes over the 2009 Texas Star Party in Fort Davis, Texas.

The galactic core of Milky Way is brightly displayed.

Images taken with 15mm fisheye lens.

From the archive:

Oh! I feel it. I feel the cosmos!

Galactic Center of Milky Way Rises over Texas

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
Topic: Science 7:51 am EDT, May 11, 2009

Publishers Weekly Starred Review of David Grann's new book:

In 1925, renowned British explorer Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett embarked on a much publicized search to find the city of Z, site of an ancient Amazonian civilization that may or may not have existed. Fawcett, along with his grown son Jack, never returned, but that didn't stop countless others, including actors, college professors and well-funded explorers from venturing into the jungle to find Fawcett or the city. Among the wannabe explorers is Grann, a staff writer for the New Yorker, who has bad eyes and a worse sense of direction. He became interested in Fawcett while researching another story, eventually venturing into the Amazon to satisfy his all-consuming curiosity about the explorer and his fatal mission. Largely about Fawcett, the book examines the stranglehold of passion as Grann's vigorous research mirrors Fawcett's obsession with uncovering the mysteries of the jungle. By interweaving the great story of Fawcett with his own investigative escapades in South America and Britain, Grann provides an in-depth, captivating character study that has the relentless energy of a classic adventure tale.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

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