Dude, Where's My Car?

I was playing around with Live Search Maps, typed in my mom’s address, and then the “bird’s eye view” option. Whoa. My car’s in the driveway. In one view — it’s gone when you rotate through the other angles. Which means it’s probably from Thanksgiving in the past few years, unless, OMG! That view is live! They’re outside right now!

(Nah. I was handed the creeping crud at the office in lieu of pay and didn’t make the trip this year)

Where do you Keep Your LEGOs?

In your LEGO® safe?

You would think that breaking into a Lego safe would just mean taking a few bricks off but this one is quite a bit more complex. The safe weighs 14 pounds for starters. It has a motion detecting alarm so it can’t be moved without alerting people in earshot. The lock require five double digit codes to open it, which results in over 305 billion different combinations.

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It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

It’s Thanksgiving, so why not stir the pot?

Larry Summers debacle, resurfaced over at incoherently scattered ponderings, (in response to a freakonomics blog post)

Do this simple experiment – go around and ask people to tell you in their words what was it that Summers said that got him in trouble. It’s an interesting Rorschach-test type question with a wide spectrum of answers. Then go to google and find the full transcript of his speech.

Political overtones aside, the question of whether there is a greater variance of certain skills in males or females is a legitimate scientific question, the one that can be answered with data, without all media hysteria. Since there are studies that show that males also vastly outnumber women on the low-IQ tail of the spectrum means that this hypothesis is not so outlandish after all. This may also be related to the fact that males are much more likely to be involved in risky (e.g. criminal) behavior.

Since I am not an expert in this field, I can’t take sides in this discussion, but the argument often presented by anti-Summers side that merely asking a hypothetical scientific question about origins of differences in cognitive abilities between genders is sexist seems very un-scientific and dangerous to me.

(edit: fixed link)

Name that Conundrum

I had a vague notion of the quandry, and now know that it has a name: the Napoleon Dynamite problem, and it’s throwing a monkey wrench into a Netflix competition to improve their recommendation engine, i.e. the algorithm that tells you if you likes movie X, then you should check out movie Y

“Napoleon Dynamite” is very weird and very polarizing. It contains a lot of arch, ironic humor, including a famously kooky dance performed by the titular teenage character to help his hapless friend win a student-council election. It’s the type of quirky entertainment that tends to be either loved or despised. The movie has been rated more than two million times in the Netflix database, and the ratings are disproportionately one or five stars.

Which means that there aren’t really reliable indicators to tell anyone of they’ll like the movie. I wonder if anyone has applied chaos theory to explain the bifurcation. Or maybe it’s just acausal.

(I couldn’t get through more than 15 minutes of N D — it’s not my brand of stupidfunny, or maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood)

via kottke

Idea Mine

Over at Science After Sunclipse, Blake has post discussing some Star Trek: TNG history, in which I happen to have some involvement.

Reverse the Baryon Flux Polarity!

The details involve the episode Starship Mine

In the annals of nitpickery, “Starship Mine” has a certain infamy. The “baryon sweep” which causes the evacuation of the ship is, we are told, a periodic maintenance procedure which must be performed in order to clear away “baryon particles” which build up when a starship travels using its warp drive. Any stickler for jargon accuracy will happily tell you that baryons are a class of subatomic particles which includes protons and neutrons, so that sweeping away the baryons would rip apart every atom in the Enterprise.

Here’s the backstory: I went to high school with one of the members of the Star Trek staff, Naren Shankar, and we kept in much better touch in those days — we still went home for the holidays and got together. He was the science consultant at the time this episode was written (he later joined the writing staff), and was looking for an excuse for the Enterprise to be in spacedock, devoid of personnel — he had in mind some kind of procedure analogous to degaussing a submarine, and bounced the idea off of me. Rather than suggest some new, made-up particle, I suggested a more generic “exotic-antibaryon sweep;” the idea being that there were some long-lived particles, unknown to us in the 20th century, that could be picked up by the spaceship. However, that was shortened to “Baryon sweep” at some point in the script-polishing process.

Blake considers this as a possibility.

However! We are told that the “baryons” which must be removed build up when a starship is travelling at warp speed. When you move through warp space, you travel at the speed of plot: the laws of physics are those which make for convenient storytelling. Who’s to say that quark combinations which fall apart in ordinary space can’t endure in warp or subspace? As it happens, in the sixth-season episode “Schisms”, a substance called “sonalagen” is trotted out which is said to be stable only in subspace, so within the framework of the show there’s precedent for this kind of dodge. The name of the “baryon sweep” would then be understood as a shortened form of, say, “residual exotic baryon sweep”, said elliptically for convenience’s sake even though the short version carries an unfortunate connotation if read naïvely. Inconvenient notations and awkward jargon held onto for “historical reasons” are common enough that this could well count as unexpected realism!

And what Blake figured out, a lot of Trek fans didn’t. As I recall, the discussion following the show on the USENET Star Trek board was pretty damning, along the lines of OMG, they’d destroy all the neutrons and protons! What idiots!, except that while all neutrons and protons are Baryons, not all Baryons are protons or neutrons, so even in the abbreviated form, the phrase isn’t wrong from a physics point of view, just easily misinterpreted. Of course, had I or someone else suggested a yet another new particle, there would have been fans that complained about that.

Starship Mine isn’t the only episode on which I had some influence. I tried to kill Wesley Crusher once (unsuccessfully, obviously), and there are a lot of names in shows that are references to people I know or have met. In fact, in the third-season episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” the Klingon outpost planet’s name, “Narendra III,” is a reference to Naren, from someone he knew on the staff.