New Math

From the three you then use one
To make ten ones…
(And you know why four plus minus one
Plus ten is fourteen minus one?
‘Cause addition is commutative, right.)
And so you have thirteen tens,
And you take away seven,
And that leaves five…

Well, six actually.
But the idea is the important thing.

Tom Lehrer, “New Math”

Let’s Get Rid of Zero!

What can we take from this introduction? Well, our author can’t be bothered to define basic arithmetic properly. What he really wants to say is, roughly, Peano arithmetic, with 0 removed. But my guess is that he has no idea what Peano arithmetic actually is, so he handwaves. The real question is, why did he bother to include this at all?

My own experience is primarily with physics crackpots and creationists, but there are obviously math cranks out there, too.

Being Wrong

The Key to Science (and Life) Is Being Wrong

“It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is,” Feynman proclaimed, gesticulating in wide, circular, somewhat flamboyant motions. “It doesn’t make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is. If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”

Feynman was absolutely right.

I agree with this; Feynman had quite a talent for being succinct. However, the converse of this is not true: just because a theory agrees with experiment is not sufficient to confirm that the theory is right — there’s the possibility that competing theories predict the same individual result in some experiment, especially if the prediction is vague. It’s one reason we like mathematical models, which give us specific predictions.

Bring Me the Passengers, I Want Them Alive!

Star Destroyer made from Cardboard. Just in case a full-scale Millennium Falcon is beyond your capabilities.

[T]he major benefit of using cardboard is that my little guy can lift up such a massive ship and play with it. Also, I used material that was all destined to be recycled or thrown out, and with the exception of white spray paint and styro-foam craft balls, I had everything on hand to make it. So, the basic structure is heavy corrugated cardboard, lighter cardboard for the detailing on the conning tower and ‘sandwich filler’ greeblies, a packing tube for the engine nozzles (sawed into three pieces), cereal box cardboard for lighter details, duct duct tape, masking tape, and a lot of carpenter glue. All told, it took about three days (including one very late night to do the detailing), and I now have templates worked out for the overall structure. It has an internal support structure (one center piece running down the middle with ‘ribs’ about every 5″), and the overall length is shy of three feet. As far as making ships of this scale, it was a relatively quick build-up and a great weekend project.

Templates not included in the link, unfortunately.

Remember to Drink Your Ovaltine

They Cracked This 250-Year-Old Code, and Found a Secret Society Inside

It was actually an accident that brought to light the symbolic “sight-restoring” ritual. The decoding effort started as a sort of game between two friends that eventually engulfed a team of experts in disciplines ranging from machine translation to intellectual history. Its significance goes far beyond the contents of a single cipher. Hidden within coded manuscripts like these is a secret history of how esoteric, often radical notions of science, politics, and religion spread underground. At least that’s what experts believe. The only way to know for sure is to break the codes.

Hello Molly

Funneling the sun’s energy

[Molybdenum disulfide] has a crucial characteristic, known as a bandgap, that allows it to be made into solar cells or integrated circuits. But unlike silicon, now used in most solar cells, placing the film under strain in the “solar energy funnel” configuration causes its bandgap to vary across the surface, so that different parts of it respond to different colors of light.

Trivia: Molybdenum disulfide also is used as a vacuum lubricant/anti-seizing agent (its use is critical if you have metal-on-metal contact if the metals are the same); it’s similar in effect to graphite, but has a vary low vapor pressure. There’s also the fun of it being very messy — it’ll be all over you in a flash, like a toddler playing in mud.

I Spy, With My Mannequin's Eye

Bionic Mannequins Spy on Shoppers to Boost Luxury Sales

“Any software that can help profile people while keeping their identities anonymous is fantastic,” said Uché Okonkwo, executive director of consultant Luxe Corp. It “could really enhance the shopping experience, the product assortment, and help brands better understand their customers.”

While some stores deploy similar technology to watch shoppers from overhead security cameras, the EyeSee provides better data because it stands at eye level and invites customer attention, Almax contends.

A few interesting peripheral observations about the concern that customers are being profiled and whether that constitutes an invasion of privacy. I think it’s similar to resistance to the photo-radar and red-light cameras I’ve seen here in the US: for some reason, when a person does it it’s acceptable but when a camera is involved, it becomes objectionable. People can observe you in stores, and it’s not like this information is private — anyone can estimate your age group, determine your gender (unless you’re Pat) and make a guess as to your racial makeup. (Though if you knew the greeter at the store was doing that and recording it, you’d probably find it to be creepy). So I wonder if there will be any formal objections, or if it will fall under the rubric of “irksome technology” mentioned at the end of the article.

I Didn't Recognize You With Those Glasses

Heroes of Science Action Figures

I like action figures. I have a small collection of them. I’ve noticed that you can buy Albert Einstein figures, Nikola Tesla bobble-heads and The Simpsons even brought out a Stephen Hawking figure based on his appearance in an episode. However, I thought it’d be really cool if there was an entire series of them, based on all of the people who’ve contributed to our understanding of the world and the universe it sits in.

The figures are all based on Star Trek: TNG and Star Trek: DS9 figures (primarily Odo from DS9, and Picard as Dixon Hill from TNG), and have been heavily modified in Photoshop using Liquify and a great deal of digital painting. Unfortunately, the figures aren’t real. I wish they were.

Aye, There's the Rub(io)

Why Doesn’t Florida Senator Marco Rubio Know How Old the Earth Is?

Rubio’s statement sounds to me to be standard politico-speak — trying not to say anything that might offend his base. It’s possible he knew the answer (bucking the trend, as it were); to state it would be troubling to those who think the answer can be expressed in five digits or fewer. But probably not, given the general state of things and his disconnect between science and the economy:

I got a chill when I read Rubio’s statements, “I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow.”

Perhaps Senator Rubio is unaware that science—and its sisters engineering and technology— are actually the very foundation of our country’s economy? All of our industry, all of our technology, everything that keeps our country functioning at all can be traced back to scientific research and a scientific understanding of the Universe.