Archive for December, 2009

New and Improved. Now with Lemon!

Uncertainty in Science: It’s a Feature, Not a Bug

People tend to think of scientific progress as always advancing in a straight line, with new facts being added permanently to our body of knowledge as they are discovered. “They do not understand that, instead, research is an ungainly mechanism that moves in fits and starts and that its ever-expanding path of knowledge is complicated by blind alleys and fruitless detours,” writes New York Times science reporter Cordelia Dean in her book, Am I Making Myself Clear? A Scientist’s Guide to Talking to the Public (2009). As a result, Dean says, revisions to a scientific consensus make people think that scientists don’t know what they’re talking about. NECSS panelist Dr. Massimo Pigliucci, chair of the philosophy department at City University of New York-Lehman College, has a favorite example of this mindset. In response to an editorial he penned on the science of evolution, a letter to the editor replied, “I don’t understand why people want to believe in science—science changes all the time.” Yet this, of course, is its strength; science adjusts its claims in response to new information.

On the Job

Best Man Rigs Newlyweds’ Bed To Tweet During Sex. Not Kidding.

Read the entire tweet stream from the bottom up if you want the full story. But basically, this guy was watching his friend’s house while they went on their honeymoon and he placed a device under their mattress. This device, which is similar to the one found here, is a pressure-sensitive pad that tweets out when sexual activity starts, when it ends, the force of the “action,” and a “frenzy” rating.

The twitter account

My Year in Cities

Did this last year: cities in which I spent at least one night while on travel

Niskayuna, NY
Dewittville, NY
Dover, MA
Charlottesville, VA

The Pink Nightmare

How to make the deranged Easter bunny costume from A Christmas Story


Want to know how many seconds are left in the year (presumably according to your computer clock)? Go to Google and click the “I’m feeling lucky” button.

Nature v Integers

A brief history of calendars

Q: “Once in a blue moon” is a rare event. But what does “blue moon” really mean?

Don’t fall for the trendy answer.

This was the final question last week at Pub Trivia, and our team won the evening with the same answer to this question that almost everyone else gave, probably the answer you’ve heard before: a blue moon means two full moons in one calendar month. This month, December 2009, has a blue moon on the 31, since it also had a full moon on the 2nd. But I had the nagging feeling that I’d read or heard somewhere (probably on QI) that the popular definition is wrong, that the real blue moon isn’t that straightforward. When I got home, Google confirmed it: We were wrong, quizmasters and all.

Bah, Humbug

No, that’s too strong
‘Cause it is my favorite holiday

After our recent snowstorm I spent more than an hour digging out my car, making sure I had a clear path behind me to back out of my parking spot. I even checked it on Monday afternoon, to make sure it was still clear. Then on Tuesday morning I go out … and find that someone had dumped a huge mound of snow behind and beside it, which had frozen overnight. Solid. Oh, F$^#@. My previous training as a naval officer came into play at this point, because I cursed a blue streak (true, the swear-training for the enlisted personnel is more thorough, but officers are expected to show initiative and work on it on their own)

So I got stuck as I tried to back out — couldn’t go back, couldn’t go forward, and my heels are sore from whacking away at the ice with my feet. I couldn’t even get out of the driver’s side door because of the new ice deposit, so I had to exit the passenger side. New tactics: hot water and a blunt instrument. The blunt doesn’t sound very good, it’s rarely used in symphonies, and I don’t play it often enough to be particularly good at it, but it can be very rewarding at times, especially when you are improvising and doing some vocal at the same time (see above). I eventually carved out a passable track, and re-exposed some pavement so I’d have traction as I backed out.

On one of my trips to refill the hot water jug I realized my iPod was missing from my pocket, so I had to search frantically for that, too, in addition to freeing my car from the ice. I finally got out — almost an hour after discovering I was blocked — and parked in a clear space and checked to see of there were tiny bits of iPod strewn about. Thankfully, no. I finally found it — it had fallen out of my pocket when I exited the car, and was under the passenger-side seat


Santa’s database has been hacked. Another Leak, the worst so far

You’re probably talking about this terrible security disaster already: the largest database leak ever. Arweena, a spokes-elf for Santa Claus, admitted a few hours ago that the database posted at WikiLeaks yesterday is indeed the comprehensive 2009 list of which kids have been naughty, and which were nice. The source of the leak is unclear. It may have come from a renegade reindeer, or it could be the work of a clever programmer in the Ukraine. Either way, it’s a terrible black eye for Santa. Arweena promised that in the future, access to this database would be restricted on a “need to know” basis. And you know who that means!

Browser Pong

No, that’s not a euphemism. Browser Pong.

One Ping Only, Please

Single light wave flashes out from fibre laser

The Konstanz researchers started with pulses from a single fibre laser and split them between two sets of fibres that contained atoms of the rare earth metal erbium to amplify the light waves. Each fibre then had a second stage that altered the light’s wavelength, one stretching it by about 40 per cent, the other shrinking it by a similar amount. The two fibres then converged again, causing the two light beams to interfere with one another in a way that cancelled out most of the waves to leave just a single wave cycle lasting just 4.3 femtoseconds.

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