Archive for March, 2012

Find Your Center Redux

Product placement version

A Day at the Mad Science Fair

“Teratogenic Effects of Pure Evil in Ursus Teddius Domesticus.”

Winning entry in the Mad Science Fair by Dr. Allison von Lonsdale of the Institute for Dangerous Research.

1. A sample of Pure Evil was obtained from the ruins o f an exploded toaster in the south of England.

2. Pure Evil was administered, via drinking water, to pregnant laboratory teddy bears for the duration of their pregnancy (4 months).

3. Dosage varied from 0 parts per million (ppm) to 1000ppm, titrating upwards by steps of 100pm.

4. Offspring were euthanized and mounted for display.

Did you get the Time Bandits reference?

Everything Old is New Again

Get the lead out: Have we already forgotten this lesson?

[R]egardless, the analysis has been done; lead remediation is still a screamingly good deal. Lead remains one of the most common and harmful pollutants in the country; it’s often present in old paint and settles into soil, particularly in urban areas. One comprehensive study concluded that “each dollar invested in lead paint hazard control results in a return of $17–$221.” And that study focused on current, laborious methods of lead remediation. As it happens, scientists have developed a new, cheaper method — mixing fish bones into soil (!) — to absorb lead and render it nontoxic. Pretty cool stuff. Imagine what more research and funding could do.

Instead, federal funding for lead-poisoning prevention programs has been brutally slashed

I’m hoping the anti-spending reflex can be excised from our politics and replaced by the recognition that investment is a good idea. When the return on the spending exceeds the spending, it is a wise thing to do.

The elimination of lead from gasoline is a paradigmatic triumph of American environmentalism. A danger to health was discovered by scientists. Public-health advocates and greens pushed and pushed for decades, often futilely, to get the government to take action. When EPA finally cranked up efforts to do something about it, the agency was viciously attacked. Industry shills said it was an agenda to control Americans’ lives, driven by scientists who wanted research money and a cabal of extreme environmentalists. They said there were no viable alternatives to lead and the regulations would raise gas prices and destroy the economy. They paid their own scientists to produce counter-evidence. They flooded politicians with money.

Gosh, sound familiar? The EPA prevailed, but these tactics no doubt delayed the result and increased the damage done.

Find Your Center

of mass

The Plane! The Plaaaane!

45-foot paper airplane glides over Arizona desert

The plane, dubbed Arturo’s Desert Eagle, was 45 feet long with a 24-foot wingspan and weighed in at a whopping 800 pounds.

It was built as part of the museum’s Giant Paper Airplane Project, designed to get kids psyched about aviation and engineering.

After a few false starts, the plane was towed into the sky above the Sonoran desert on Wednesday afternoon by a Sikorsky S58T helicopter.

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Check Out That Pecker!

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I’ve had trouble getting decent shots of woodpeckers before — they’ve had a tendency to move around to the other side of the tree or move along if I got close. This time I maxed out the optical zoom on my camera (advertised as 20X) and used the “digital zoom” (trading resolution for additional closeup) for about an extra factor of two and steadied myself against a tree. The bird wasn’t always in the frame for the whole shot as a result, but there’s a bit of footage from which to choose; at 210 fps, this clip represents only about 4 seconds of elapsed time.

Where Skewed Means Screwed

Central Tendency in Skewed Distributions: A Lesson in Social Justice

Implications of our skewed distribution of income.

Scamming the Tourists

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This has nothing to do with the earth rotation and the Coriolis force. It’s purely for the suckers.

Here’s the trick: notice how he pours the water into the basin on each attempt. You don’t see it for the original one; it’s been sitting there for a while and has settled while he does the little demo with the compass and probably some more lecture. But he pours the water off-center for the next two experiments, so there is already some rotation of the water, and the result is exactly the direction you’d expect from the pour. When he pours on the left side of center, it drains clockwise, and when he pours on the right side, it drains counter-clockwise.

One, of course, should do this with both pour techniques in the same location to be a real experiment.

This is Your Brain on Optical Illusions

If you let your eyes trace a circle, you may freak out a bit at this illusion.


THIS is why we invest in science. This.

There is no way you could’ve predicted beforehand that investing in NASA would have led to the creation of this specific innovation in life-saving technology. But it’s a rock-solid guarantee that investing in science always leads to innovations that have far-ranging and critical benefits to our lives.

This is true of all science. There is no way to know, ahead of time, what discoveries will be made in basic research, whether applied research will yield a useable result, or what other applications other smart people will find from such discoveries. The principle of unintended consequences isn’t always a negative.

Science research is an investment. Short-changing is short-sighted.

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