Cowboy Gil: Your Lower Intestine

Anatomically Correct Glass Sculptures

From the vascular system to brain and lung models, Farlow and his team of ten construct borosilicate glass structures representing the inner workings of the human body. With the addition of some tinted liquid being pumped through the translucent and hollowed out figures, one can even simulate blood flow or the passage of oxygen, making them ideal for teaching and learning.

Mesmerizing Glass Skeleton Radiates Krypton Light

The Portland-based sculptor took over 1,000 hours over the course of two years to complete this 78-inch tall glass replica of the human skeleton. Unlike a normal model of a skeletal frame, this structure is built out of a series of carefully crafted borosilicate glass tubes that are illuminated like one large anatomically shaped neon light when ionized krypton enters the hollow, transparent figure.

I Know What You Did Last Summer, Based on Isotopic Ratios in Your Hair and Fingernails

Stable Isotopes in Forensics

[L]et’s follow a raindrop from the Pacific Ocean to Saltair Sally’s strand of hair. When water evaporates from the ocean, the heavier molecules containing deuterium and tritium and oxygen-18 do not evaporate as readily and are left behind in greater numbers. As droplets gather into clouds and eventually fall as rain, the heavier molecules fall first. This means rainwater in regions closer to oceans and large lakes is isotopically enriched compared with regions farther inland. Isotope levels are again fractionated in drinking water depending on whether it is drawn from wells or reservoirs (lighter isotopes more easily evaporate from the surface of reservoirs). Currently, scientists are busily creating maps of various isotopes’ distributions to assist investigators.
If Saltair Sally had been in Salt Lake City in the weeks preceding her death, the hair closest to her scalp would reflect the isotopic signature of Salt Lake City’s local water supply. If she had been in, say, Seattle instead, her hair’s isotopic composition would be different, giving investigators a valuable clue.

Paradox: This Title is a Lie

I recently finished Paradox, The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics by Jim Al- Khalili (which I got for free! This honor was accorded me because of my character, charm, good looks, and because the medical department contributed four gallons of grain alcohol to the contest I have a blog and said I’d write up a review.)

This is a book, as the title implies, about so-called paradoxes in physics, but the opening of the book actually takes us through logical paradoxes (including the “this statement is a lie” paradox I’ve modified for the thread title) and mathematical puzzlers such as the Monty Hall paradox. The difference between the logical paradoxes and the remainder, as Jim explains, is that a logical paradox is a true paradox — something that cannot logically stand. The mathematical and physics paradoxes he discusses have a resolution, it’s just that the answer is not obvious because you tend to get different answers if you look at the problems in different ways and you aren’t careful enough in your assumptions and analysis.

It was the resolution of the Monty Hall problem that told me I was going to like this book. I had heard it before, but it’s a clear explanation that points out why it’s such a puzzler the way it is usually presented.

In light of “I’ve heard this before” I will offer up my standard disclaimer (standard in the sense that I’ve stated it once before): since I’m a physicist, I can’t tell you that this book made me understand any new bits of physics. All I can tell you is that I found the explanations to be pretty clear. Explaining physics of this sort without equations isn’t easy, and there are times where the explanation has to end up with a “trust me, this is what the math says,” in part because quantum mechanics and relativity are not intuitive.

Al-Khalili takes us through some ancient paradoxes from Zeno, some thermodynamics in discussing Maxwell’s Demon, several paradoxes in relativity owing to the difficulties in simultaneity, and the weirdness of length contraction and time dilation, and into quantum mechanics with Schrödinger’s cat. Also included are some cosmology issues from Olber’s paradox and Fermi’s question and he also covers Laplace’s demon.

In each of the discussions he explains the underlying physics, though you’ll have to be patient, as the paradox is set up and discussed before the physics discussion happens, and I suspect that in some chapters this might cause some confusion as to why there is a paradox. All I can say is to trust that you will get to your destination. However — and this is one of the really enjoyable things about the book — the path to the destination contains many side treks to metaphorical scenic overlooks and other interesting places to visit, and (in my opinion) there aren’t any tourist traps — all of his tangential discussion has some value to it, in explaining some physics or history of physics.

There are a couple of minor nits I’ll mention. A couple of the paradox resolutions weren’t completely satisfying to me (such as one of the time-travel arguments that ends up looking circular: paradoxes aren’t permitted, so there is no paradox), and some details that matter only to a physicist (gravitational time dilation depends on the potential though he says strength of gravity, which is at best ambiguous but I always take to mean the acceleration, g; he also implies that GPS signals go both directions between receiver to the satellite when it’s only a broadcast from the satellite) and one detail that only matters to someone in a job like mine, which is that he associates the famous Hafele-Keating clocks-on-a-plane experiment with the “United States Naval Research Observatory” which sounds like a hybrid of the Naval Observatory and Naval Research Labs. I’m sensitive to that because people mix us up, or think we’re the same place, all the time. Fortunately he gets the attribution correct later in the book.

But, as I said, those are minor things. Overall it was an enjoyable book to read. I definitely give it a “spin up” rating.

Science Article Cures Cancer!

5 Changes Consumers Want To See In Science News

1. Stop with sensationalist headlines. It was the top complaint, something one commenter described as “the worst offense” (although apparently, something else below requires the death penalty). Quit with the sensationalism already, they say. I know. That’s not gonna happen because headlines pull clicks and clicks drive revenue. So I’ll stick with my standing advice to readers: Skip the headline. You’ll note that my own undoubtedly attractive headline does not communicate that the “consumers” in this article were a self-selecting group nonscientifically polled from within my social media circle.

It should not be difficult to find several of my critiques of articles with headlines that overreach or are simply not supported by the article, so it’s a given that I agree with this sentiment, but also the reality that it won’t change because money.

Shuttle Xing

Endeavour’s ‘Shuttle Xing’ Signs on Sale as ‘Mission 26’ Memento

Many also took notice — and snapshots — of the 4 by 4 foot (1.2 by 1.2 meters) custom aluminum road signs that were placed along the space shuttle’s route. The reflective orange markers featured a black silhouette of the orbiter in profile and the words “Shuttle Xing,” or “Shuttle Crossing.”

“We love this road signage!” the California Science Center (CSC) wrote on Twitter, in response to a photo of one of the signs that was taken by outside of the airport.

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I've Got a Bad Good Feeling About This

The Full Scale Millennium Falcon Project

I own a secluded 88 acre tract of wooded land where we’ll be building. We have selected a site on the property that is low enough so that the top of the Falcon can be seen easily from several vantage points. A flat area roughly 400′ x 400′ is being cleared. And yes, I am aware that it will eventually show up on Google Earth and Google Maps. I’m counting on that.

Visa, Visa, Who's Got a Visa

I’ve linked to some articles on H-1B visas before and it’s fair to say I’m not a huge fan because it seems obvious to me that the system has morphed into a loophole for letting businesses hire cheap foreign labor and drive down wages under the pretense of the lack of domestic workers. I have a hard time reconciling the arguments that we have a scientist glut with the cries of businesses who can’t find STEM workers and need to import them.

Well, it seems that IBM is one of the more blatant abusers of the system

More Proof that Visa Abuse Is Instinctive at IBM

IBM: “The Cost Difference Is Too Great for the Business Not to Look for” H-1B Workers

Companies are willing to ignore available Americans even when they say they “urgently” need workers.

H-1B workers are cheaper than Americans — “and the cost difference is too great” for IBM not to look for foreign workers first. The H-1B statutes are designed to allow employers to legally pay H-1B workers less than Americans and IBM (and a lot of others) is taking full advantage.

The H-1B visa quotas are important — IBM would only hire Americans when “visa-ready resources” were not available. The quotas put in place a stopping point where employers can no longer ignore American applicants.

Coming Soon? To a CSI Near You

Pacemaker hacker says worm could possibly ‘commit mass murder’

There’s a conundrum of security vs access for medical devices that use WiFi access — you don’t want doctors being shut out because they don’t have the password, but no safeguards means that anyone can hack in and disrupt the hardware.

Besides reverse engineering a pacemaker to deliver a deadly shock from 30 – 50 feet away, he demonstrated how he could rewrite the devices’ onboard firmware. Jack also said it possible to upload malicious firmware to servers that would be capable of infecting pacemakers and ICDs. “We are potentially looking at a worm with the ability to commit mass murder,” Jack said. “It’s kind of scary.”

Can’t wait to see this as a TV plot, though.