Archive for June, 2011

Passing Forward, Ever Forward, Until We Run Out of Bounds

“It’s A Simple Matter Of Physics!”

[I]t appears that people are puzzling on how a person who is running forward, then makes a pass backward, can result in a ball that is still moving “forward”.

The story is in reference to rugby but this is an issue in gridiron football as well. A runner laterals the ball, and there is a question of whether it was a forward pass. A debate ensues, and it’s really a matter of whose reference frame is to be used: the runner’s or the ground’s. I’d like to cite the NFL rules on this, but I can’t find them online — the site has a “Digest of Rules” but I don’t want some pre-chewed interpretation. I’d like to see the actual wording to see if they define what a forward pass is.

I Think Thermodynamics Still Wins

Potatoes bad, nuts good for staying slim, Harvard study finds

The findings add to the growing body of evidence that getting heavier is not just a matter of “calories in, calories out,” and that the mantra: “Eat less and exercise more” is far too simplistic. Although calories remain crucial, some foods clearly cause people to put on more weight than others, perhaps because of their chemical makeup and how our bodies process them. This understanding may help explain the dizzying, often seemingly contradictory nutritional advice from one dietary study to the next.

Every time I read a study where they imply that energy isn’t conserved, it seems that they sneak in a caveat, like this:

Although the study did not evaluate why potatoes would be particularly fattening, other research shows that starches and refined carbohydrates such as potatoes cause blood sugar and insulin to surge, which makes people feel less satisfied and eat more as a result, Mozaffarian said.

Eating more = more calories consumed.

You See What Your Knowledge Tells You You’re Seeing

But it doesn’t move!

Another take on one of my favorite passages from James Burke’s intro to The Day the Universe Changed, which goes like this

Somebody apparently once went up the the great philosopher Wittgenstein and said “What a lot of morons people back in the Middle Ages must have been to have looked every morning at what’s going on behind me now, the dawn, and to have thought that what they were seeing was the sun going around the Earth, when as every schoolkid knows the Earth goes around the sun and it doesn’t take too many brains to understand that.”

To which Wittgenstein replied, “Yeah, but I wonder what it would have looked like if the Sun had been going around the Earth.”

Point being, of course, is that it would have looked exactly the same.

You see what your knowledge tells you you’re seeing.

Copy … Riiiight

I’ve read a few articles and blog posts in the past couple of days about a measure in the senate that would modify copyright laws. Senate Bill 978 is a turd — vague and overbearing (a felony? For ten downloads?), that attempts to criminalize unauthorized performances, rather than have them simply be covered under the civil part of copyright law, and it arguably affects embedding videos, even if you weren’t the one who uploaded them. So it’s bad.

But something that also bothers me is are some of the arguments used in the debate — embedding videos is being discussed as a “free speech” issue, and I don’t think this has anything to do with free speech rights. One of the pieces was on Starts With a Bang, a blog I read regularly, and got several links and tweets.

First, here’s a primer I ran across recently: Understanding Copyright And Licenses.*

Ethan (and others offer a similar sentiment) offers this view:

Don’t let them bully you out of your right to say what you want to say, and to say it how you want to say it.

The argument that copyright takes away your right to say what you want is a bunch of bull. If you are using a copyrighted piece of work, they aren’t your words, so any kind of protections for the originator of those words doesn’t stop you from saying what you want to or the way that you want to. An upload of someone else’s performance isn’t your expression. This is an issue of fair use and what constitutes infringement, not of free speech. The creator of an artistic/literary work has certain rights. It doesn’t matter if they might benefit from the exposure you might give them by uploading a video of their work — if you don’t have permission to do so, you aren’t allowed to do it!

I’ve had people use cartoons I’ve drawn without permission. Sometimes they strip the attribution from the work. I’ve even seen one instance, at an Institution that teaches Technology in Massachusetts, where they claimed it was “by permission” but they never asked. Those are the people who should have to pay a (small) price. It’s not worth it to me to pursue these people in court; I’m not bothered to the point of action (I rarely turn anyone down who asks), and since the cartoons in question are not registered with the copyright office I would have to show lost income, which would be basically zilch. (Were they registered there would be statutory damages I could try and recover, as well as legal fees). But that doesn’t make them right, or turn my cartoons into their speech. The bottom line is that these are my works, and I get to decide who uses them, in situations not covered by fair use.

But this bill ignores things. If someone uploads something to youtube for which they did not have the right or permission to do so, they are the ones who should be held accountable; if they lie about owning the copyright, there should be some appropriate punishment. Embedding a video, on the other hand, for which permission has been granted, should not be a crime should it turn out that the one who uploaded it disregarded or lied about owning the copyright. That’s one of my main beefs about this bill. But one has to use a little common sense. It bothers me when I see someone say that you should watch the video right away, because it will be taken down soon. You suspect (or know) that it’s a violation, but you link to it anyway?

So yes, fight this bill. But fight it for the right reason, and not some misguided free-speech notion that what’s yours is yours and what’s mine is yours. ‘Tain’t so.
*pay attention to the section at the end. If you use online services like Twitter, Flickr and others, chances are you sign away all of your rights to your uploads as part of the service agreement.

It Can be Corrected, Even if Otto Messes it Up

Lytro Camera Lets You Focus Pictures After Taking Them

When you take a picture, light is reflecting off various surfaces in various directions. A standard camera takes a ’shapshot’ of what it sees, recording the light that’s reflecting, but nothing about the direction. That gives you a standard photo. Light field pictures, however, also record information about the direction of the light, resulting in a picture that is more similar to a digital replica of the scene than a traditional ‘picture’ is. That is what lets you refocus.

This Too Can Evolve


Here then is the beta version of my strip about evolution. This is a chapter of the book Science Stories which will be out from Myriad Editions next spring. I’m sure there’ll be mistakes here, so do feel free to point them out, so that I can make the necessary changes. Thank you.

I'm an Introvert, and I Approved This Message

Top Ten Myths About Introverts

These feel pretty accurate.

Myth #3 – Introverts are rude.
Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting.

When a Body Meets N-1 Bodies, a-Comin' Through the Rye

N-body problem simulation from Stanford protovis

Those Who Do not Learn Chemistry are Doomed to … Fail Chemistry

Portland Reservoir Gets Drained After Man Urinates In It

Plenty of pee-pee jokes, too, in case you’re going through withdrawal after that Weiner^2 thing.

The coverage covers the right scientific issues.

“It’s inappropriate behavior. But how many animals are doing that or birds?” he said. “I don’t want to second-guess the city, but I can’t think of anything chemically that would have me be concerned.”

Dr. Gary Oxman, the Multnomah County health officer who advises the city on infectious disease issues, also explained to the The Oregonian that the typical bladder holds a mere 6-8 ounces of water, which should quickly dilute in the reservoir and pose negligible health risks. That news should relieve Portland residents.

A city official claimed that science doesn’t matter

Shaff said the Water Bureau regularly finds dead animals in the same drinking supply but doesn’t dump the water. “This is different,” he said.

“Do you want to drink pee?” he asked bluntly.

When questioned about scientific data and the small amount of urine in such a large reservoir, he interjected: “Answer the question. It has nothing to do with scientifically.

“Most people,” he added, “are gonna be pretty damn squeamish about that.”

But you are already drinking pee. Much of the water in the reservoir was inside of an animal at one time or another. Tell the people that it gets treated, for crying out loud!

h/t to PhDwannabe

Here Be Dragons

More of my fascination with dragonflies, captured in slow-motion. Got some to hover for me at Burke Lake Park. (Also nabbed a whole bunch of geocaches. It was a good day)

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video


The lower resolution at 420 fps is a little frustrating, as is how it’s further degraded by youtube compression. 210 fps didn’t turn out too badly:


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