55 Articles


7 years Ago

Sean Carroll on Physics and Death

Published by marco on

This is a video by the always-interesting and funny Sean Carroll on physics (naturally) and on things that we know about life, death, entropy and the afterlife. It’s a really interesting talk that is very technically deep while still being more accessible than other, similar talks.

Emperor Has No Clothes Award Acceptance Speech by Sean Carroll (YouTube)

Near the beginning, he addresses heaven and the afterlife and the explanations that non-scientists have embraced.

What to make of the evidence for an afterlife?

Some ill-defined metaphysical substance, not... [More]

8 years Ago

Big data ignores lessons learned

Published by marco on

The article Big data: are we making a big mistake? (Financial Times) bursts the bubble of the wide-eyed, overconfident and underinformed techies who think that their giant piles of data will fix everything. The article contains many interesting examples, some of which are touched on in the conclusion, cited below:

“Uncanny accuracy is easy to overrate if we simply ignore false positives, […] The claim that causation has been “knocked off its pedestal” is fine if we are making predictions in a stable... [More]”

On the nature of addiction

Published by marco on

Perhaps uncharacteristically, this post will consist mostly of citations of other articles about the nature of addiction. I have relatively little contact with addiction, but the truth of what these ex-users write is evident to anyone of a rational bent who is reasonably informed about the world.

The article Philip Seymour Hoffman is another victim of extremely stupid drug laws by Russell Brand (Guardian) writes,

“People are going to use drugs; no self-respecting drug addict is even remotely deterred by prohibition.”

... [More]

Is Fukushima radiation polluting the entire Pacific Ocean?

Published by marco on

Take a deep breath. Step back. Does that sound plausible? Is the mighty power of the atom, harnessed by decades-old technology, likely to be able to effect such mighty change?

Because the Pacific Ocean is huge. Like, really gigantic. It has 16 times as much surface area as the entire United States of America. Hell, there’s a Pacific Garbage Patch whose estimated size is about the surface area of the US of A and we can barely even tell it’s there.

The article True facts about Ocean Radiation... [More] by Kim Martini (Deep Sea News)

Dara Ó Briain: a comedian…for science

Published by marco on

Dara Ó Briain is London-based Irish comedian with a show on BBC2 called Dara Ó Briain’s Science Club. His act is a good deal bawdier on stage though the focus remains on promulgating a pro-science agenda. In the segment below, he discusses a show he did with physicist Brian Cox in which the topic of astrology just happened to arise.

Some choice tidbits from this segment:

“The astrologers get going on Twitter and write, ‘if you were really a scientist, then you’d be more open-minded.‘ And I... [More]”

Radiation is everywhere! (And we’re all gonna die.)

Published by marco on

A story of Fukushima radiation is making the rounds, reported variously as Navy sailors have radiation sickness after Japan rescue by Laura Italiano and Kerry Murtha (NY Post) and 70+ USS Ronald Reagan Crew Members, Half Suffering From Cancer, to Sue TEPCO For Fukushima Radiation Poisoning by Brandon Baker (EcoWatch) (with a re-post at AlterNet). Other source cited in the articles are the Washington Times and FOX News, paragons of journalistic integrity.

The user comments on the article are uniformly horrible and make you despair for mankind. They are a cornucopia... [More]

Modern nature documentaries

Published by marco on

I was recently sent this link, presumably because I enjoy short nature documentaries.

Man vs. Wild − Eating Giant Larva by Bear Grylls (YouTube)

Some thoughts:

  • Do larvae really get bigger the older they get? Isn’t a larva a limited stage of development? How is it that some are so much larger than others? Isn’t it more likely to be related to food intake rather than age?[1]
  • People are weird. If Bear were to eat fluffy baby animals (say chicks) rather than slimy ones (larvae in this case), he would be drummed off the air.
  • Bear Grylls: Allergic to Bees... [More]

Remaining reserves

Published by marco on

The article NASA’s Plutonium Problem Could End Deep-Space Exploration by Dave Mosher (Wired) discusses a resource shortage that will be hard to address: plutonium.

Plutonium was produced in much larger quantities during the nuclear-arms race of the mid to late 20th century. Though the arms race was morally reprehensible and fantastically expensive, a byproduct was that there was more plutonium available for scientific endeavor. Pound for pound, it is unparalleled as a long-lasting energy source. As of the end of... [More]

9 years Ago

The Mantis Shrimp

Published by marco on

 A little while back, I read about the mantis shrimp (Wikipedia) in a comic called Why the mantis shrimp is my new favorite animal (The Oatmeal). The comic is both amusing and informative, describing and depicting the shrimp’s unbelievable visual organs (here, citing Wikipedia):

“The midband region of the mantis shrimp’s eye is made up of six rows of specialized ommatidia. Four rows carry 16 differing sorts of photoreceptor pigments, 12 for colour sensitivity, others for colour filtering. The mantis shrimp has such good... [More]”

10 years Ago

New boson confirmed at around 126GeV

Published by marco on

NB: Don’t worry if you don’t understand this introductory paragraph; feel free to blow right through it and see how you fare with the alternate explanations and analogies below.

The news so far is that the scientists at CERN have announced that they have consistently been able to generate bosons at around 126GeV with a certainty of 5 sigmas. The Standard Model of physics predicts that this energy level is sufficient to generate the long–sought-after Higgs boson, which is the only predicted... [More]

11 years Ago

Nuclear Roundup

Published by marco on

The Fukushima I Nuclear Accidents (Wikipedia) page is quite good and the “Reactor status summary” somewhere in the middle of the page is updated often.

 Wikipedia Reactor Status Summary

In addition to the reactor status information, there is a crowdsourced map of microsievert values from 215 Geiger counters across Japan. These are (ostensibly) real-life readings, but it’s hard to know whether to believe it or not. They certainly look legitimate, but it’s the Internet, so take it with a grain of salt.

 Status as of March 27th, 2011

Rounding out the images is a the... [More]

Atomic Updates from Cringely & Palast

Published by marco on

Two articles drifted down my news-pipe today that caught my eye: Is anything nuclear ever really super safe small and simple? by Robert Cringely and The no-BS info on Japan’s disastrous nuclear operators by Greg Palast.

We’ll start with Palast, who was formerly employed as a “lead investigator in several government nuclear plant fraud and racketeering investigations”. He’s also the guy who proved that Bush & Co. stole the election in 2000 and who’s been working in England almost exclusively because no one will hire him in the... [More]

Calm Down; The Japanese Are Not Trying to Kill You

Published by marco on

Seriously, calm down. Stop babbling about how the Japanese are a closed society that would rather immolate our whole planet, taking us all down with them as they refuse to admit any mistakes made in an effort to avoid losing face.

It’s all bullshit, just like all such blanket statements about millions of people are.

I’m going to put this right here: Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors by Dr Josef Oehmen.

Read it. It explains pretty well why a small explosion on top of a cooling tower in no... [More]

12 years Ago

Bad Day at the Beach

Published by marco on

The Gulf of Mexico fills with oil. This disaster is short-term insoluble, even for highly-advanced, 21st-century, western nations. Medium- to long-term, there is likely to be a solution. There always is. The cleanup process will be long and painstaking, but it will be out-of-sight for most people. Once the problem is solved and years have passed, the shortness of human memory will serve to help us forget what happened—and to be surprised the next time it happens.

Petroleum is intrinsic to... [More]

CO2: Getting to 0%

Published by marco on

Bill Gates is the world’s most generous philanthropist and has made curing malaria and combating viruses of all kinds his new goal in life (see Mosquitoes, Malaria and Education by Bill Gates (TED) for the video). However, he’s changed his focus to climate change because, though preventing disease is a huge concern for the third world, rampaging climate change will make many more things far worse for the world’s poor. As he put it in his talk, Innovating to zero! by Bill Gates (TED):

“But energy and climate are extremely important to... [More]”

Quantum Computing

Published by marco on

If you’ve been looking for an introduction to Quantum Computing and how it surpasses our current binary computing, the article A tale of two qubits: how quantum computers work by Joseph B. Altepeter (Ars Technica) is a great place to start. The language is about as accessible as it’s going to get and there are helpful diagrams sprinkled throughout. For example, the engine of a quantum computer—entanglement, and its result: “action at a distance”—is analogized thusly:

“Imagine if someone showed you a pair of coins, claiming that... [More]”

Mencken & Dawkins

Published by marco on

Though it sometimes seems that religion always has the upper hand in public debate, there is usually at least one crusader per generation willing to come out strongly in favor of the Enlightenment and against superstition. The article Mencken, Islam, and Political Correctness (Capitalism Magazine) cites the early 20th-century journalist H.L. Mencken on the subject of religion and other closely related superstitions.

“What the World’s contention amounts to, at bottom, is simply the doctrine that a man engaged in... [More]”

Linguistics: The Hardest Languages

Published by marco on

In search of the world’s hardest language (The Economist) is an interesting read, proposing candidates based on number of sounds, number of genders or genres, number of individual sounds, number of difficult-to-make sounds, number of consonants, consistency of spelling (adherence to consistent phonetic rules) or agglutination (combining of words to express concepts).

So, for example, spelling in French and English are not particularly predictive, so that makes them difficult to write error-free without a... [More]

Space Exploration

Published by marco on

 Human Space Exploration Map Saturn at Equinox (75 exposures) Hubble's final servicing missionWith recent rumblings from NASA as to the successor to the aged and mostly retired space shuttle fleet, National Geographic published the lovely graphic of human space exploration seen to the left. Also very recently, NASA has been trumpeting their images of Saturn as sent back over the years by the Cassini probe. The second image to the left is from the photo essay, Saturn at equinox (Big Picture/ The final image on the bottom is from another photo-essay called Hubble’s final servicing mission (Big Picture/ Click the... [More]

13 years Ago

Opinion-Based Reality

Published by marco on

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Arthur C. Clarke

Though the phrase above was originally intended to apply to technological gadgets, it applies equally well to any concept of sufficient complexity. The trick is often used to get people to believe things that are wrong or that they would not believe in were they mentally equipped to follow the reasoning. Instead of simply reserving judgment because they don’t know enough, most people will elect to bluff and simply agree with... [More]

Cheap Glasses for Everyone

Published by marco on

Compared to the problems caused in the first world, third world problems can generally be solved relatively cheaply. It costs well north of a trillion to even make it look like you’re doing something about saving the U.S. economy, but it takes a few paltry tens of billions to feed everyone in Africa. How much is that? A couple of months in Iraq? We can spend our money on blowing things up, but not on feeding people or controlling disease. While building a military machine to grind the world... [More]

14 years Ago

LHC Almost Online

Published by marco on

 Silicon Tracking DetectorThe LHC (Large Hadron[1] Collider) is located in France and Switzerland at CERN[2]; the first experiments begin in early August 2008 and a full test of all 27km of track is planned in September. Project members expect to be analyzing the first collisions by the end of the year. The entire track will be cooled to just 1.75ºC shy of absolute zero (to -271.25ºC) and will be in-use for decades. The big expectation is that the long-sought Higgs Boson[3] makes an appearance.

The article Large Hadron... [More] (Big Picture)

Peer Review

Published by marco on

Just as governments seek to justify everything they do—regardless of how violent or fascist—as being in the name of democracy or the greater good or for moral reasons, other dubious ideas have glommed onto the idea of portraying themselves as science in order to accumulate more than their fair share of respect. It seems that the cloak of science is just the spoonful of sugar the media needs to make any crackpot idea go down without a hiccup. Two areas in particular are swirling with boasts... [More]

15 years Ago

Levels of Abstraction

Published by marco on

The universe is, apparently, quite big. This is made all the more amazing in light of how small its constituent components are, since it clearly takes quite a lot of them to make up something so mind-bogglingly huge as the universe. Brian Cox at LIFT Conference (LIFT07) gave a brilliant talked aimed at the layperson—if the lay-person happened to be versed in the basics of particle physics. Dr. Brian Cox explains nuclear physics is another, wider-shot video of the same event, on which you can... [More]

Measuring Body Fat

Published by marco on

The BMI, or Body-Mass–Index, has been in the news a lot lately. Whether because of runway models, whose BMIs are dangerously low, or because of kids in first-world countries, whose BMIs are dangerously high. The BMI myth by Peta Bee (The Guardian) takes a look at the utility of this measurement in determining health. As usual, now that the public (as well as insurance companies and government agencies) has glommed on to this statistic as the final say in health, scientists have taken a look at it and found it wanting.

Calculating... [More]