Results tagged “science” from kwc blog

Super-Kamiokande

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[image pulled (see below)]

In the battle against Neutrinos, Japan first constructed Kamiokande. Kamiokande II was stronger, able to fight Solar Neutrinos sent by SN 1987A of the Tarantula Nebula. The Japanese scientists were pleased with their nucleon decay experiment but worried about proton-decay weaponry slipping through the defenses. They conceived of Super-Kamiokande: ten times more water, ten times more detectors.

The Neutrinos penetrated Super-K's defenses on November 12, 2001: 6,600 of the detectors imploded in a massive chain reaction. Super-K was hobbled; it's lesser form, Super-Kamiokande II, redistributed the remaining detectors and added acrylic shells to shield it from another strike. In 2006, Super-Kamiokande III rose from the shattered glass, returning Super-K to full strength in the Neutrino warfare.

Update: The Super-K folks don't appreciate my sense of humor. I wrote the above entry after I stumbled across the beautiful images of the facility for perhaps the second or third time (it's been around since 1996). The name of the facility conjured up memories of Godzilla films -- some of you have witnessed me re-enacting faux Godzilla battles in response to Ikea furniture naming (Markor vs. Ramvik). Even though I met all their listed conditions for using their images, including notifying them of the use, it was this notification that was my undoing:

We basically do not provide our image for personal web page.
Additionally, your article seems to be scientifically incorrect.

:)

Bacon Math

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Update: honeyfields sends me a link to bacon band-aids

New York Times' London Journal

Should it be slithery or scrunchy, glutinous or grilled? The answer, British scientists say, may be divined by a formula: N = C + {fb(cm) · fb(tc)} + fb(Ts) + fc · ta.

That is the scientific answer to the question: what makes the perfect bacon sandwich?

via Scalzi

And while we're talking about the nytimes and food:

You can take the sugar out of soft drinks and the fat from junk food. But eliminate the pungent odor from what may be the world’s smelliest fruit and brace for a major international controversy.

The durian, a spiky fruit native to Southeast Asia, has been variously described by its detractors as smelling like garbage, moldy cheese or rotting fish. It is banned from many hotels, airlines and the Singapore subway. But durian lovers — and there are many, at least in Asia — are convinced that like fine French cheeses, the worse the smell, the better the taste.

The Eye of Helix watches us

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spitzer.helix%20nebula.jpg

The Spitzer Space Telescope caught this awesome image of comets colliding in the Helix Nebula (the red is the comet dust). It would fit well with BSG mythology.

via SpaceWriter Ramblings

The Giant Squids Are Coming

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squidIf they were pissed when we ripped off one of their tentacles, imagine how angry they'll be now that we caught and killed one of them. And if you're not afraid yet, let me quote the article:

[Researcher Kubodera] also said that, judging by the number of whales that feed on them, there may be many more giant squid than previously thought.

They're Pissed, and there's lots of them.

They call it, 'MagnaView'

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I'm starting to get addicted to United Nuclear. First it was aerogel, now it's magnets. Two of them items that caught my eye were the MagnaView fluid and the small neodymium magnets. The 'supermagnets' that can crush fingers also caught my eye, but that's about the last thing I want in my electronics-laden household.

I've wanted MagnaView fluid ever since I saw videos of it from SIGGRAPH. The small magnets were interesting because I want to make a traffic light trigger for my bike shoes. As it turns out, the small magnets are a little too weak: too weak to make a traffic light trigger and too weak to make the super spikes you see in on the United Nuclear page and in the SIGGRAPH ferrofluid sculpture.

The MagnaView fluid and small neodymium magnets are still fun to play with, but I'm definitely going to have to upgrade to a bigger magnet. My own manipulation of the fluid pales in comparison to the ferrofluid sculpture, but I've uploaded it to YouTube anyway in case you're interested.

Dry Ice-3 Dry Ice-6

The Exploratorium is as much fun for my camera as it is for me. The optical effects and cool experiments that are candy for your eyes are just as fun to get on film. They have a table there that small bits of dry ice get dropped on every couple minutes. There is a small amount of liquid on the table, so the pieces of dry ice dance around the table and create little miniature hurricanes. You can checkout some more tiny dry ice swirl and other Exporatorium exhibit photos on Flickr.

Exporatorium-4 Exporatorium-3 Exporatorium-2 Exploratorium-1

I also got some more photos of Liz Hickok's San Francisco in Jello-O. This time around, she had done a model of the Palace of Fine Arts and Marina.

Jello SF 2-2 Jello SF 2-5 Jello SF 2-3

Brain scanned

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I had an fMRI brain scan tonight. The computer scanned me doing several rounds of simple addition and subtraction and was about to move onto a more complex series of problems, at which point it crashed. First, it refused to show me the actual problems -- they were appearing almost fully offscreen. Then it start to flash alternating black and white screens at me while the MRI machine buzzed away. The experimenters were forced to shut it down and only showed me Spongebob thereafter. I think it was afraid.

Aerogel

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paul and I ordered some aerogel from United Nuclear, fine purveyors of radioactive materials, super strong magnets, and other fine materials. I've long wanted aerogel ever since I saw ghostly pictures of this substance, which holds the Guinness world record for lowest-density solid, best insulator, and thirteen other records. I received two dime-sized pieces. They aren't as cool as an entire brick of aerogel, but at $40 for even these small bits, a brick is rather out of the question.

Aerogel-1

The aerogel feels like you're handling an impossibly light and miniaturized piece of pumice and it's just as prone to shedding little bits of itself. It's 90-99.8% air and the edges of the pieces seem barely defined. When the aerogel is placed against a dark background it's like blue smoke that comes out of a tailpipe when a transmission has gone awry. Against a white background it nearly disappears into a faint outline -- a lot of what you're seeing for the clear piece in the photo is little bits of the blue velvet from the packaging stuck to it. The blue smoke/clear effect is due to Rayleigh scattering -- the scattering of light by particles smaller than the light's wavelength. It's an extremely strong dessicant as it's essentially the same chemical makeup as the silica gel dessicant packets you sometimes get in packaging. You have to be careful holding it as it will suck all the moisture out of your hands. You also have to be careful as it isn't very difficult to crush it into smaller bits.

Making aerogel seems a bit out of the question for my resources. Either one must be able to make alcohol a supercritical fluid (280 C/1800 lbs per sq inch), hard and also highly explosive, or you need access to liquid carbon dioxide and make it a supercritical fluid (600-800 lbs per sq inch). (History of aerogel and description of how to make).

One of the questions people seem to have about our pieces is, "What are we going to do with them?" Well, we probably won't use it to catch comet samples, and I don't think I'll be using it as a microchip insulator. For now I think I'll blowtorch one of the pieces and then keep the other on my shelf :).

Book: Quicksilver

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It took me two years, four months to finish this book. It's huge. So huge that I have to read it on weekends in coffee shops because it's too big to carry in my backpack. I can hardly remember the beginning as there's been many dozens of books I've read since I read the first page of this book and I can barely remember going to Stephenson's Quicksilver talk where I bought it. And it's not like I'm actually finished. I still have two thousand pages to go with Confusion and System of the World. Stephenson actually divides the Baroque Cycle into eight books, which I wish his publisher did because I might have been able to psychologically deal with its heft better.

I would feel more satisified if I felt that Quicksilver were anything more than exposition for the rest of the series. I can't actually call it exposition because I have not read the other two books, so I am not certain yet that Stephenson has a plot in mind. As far as I can tell, Quicksilver takes a thousand pages to explain the first chapter. I think it could have been done in fewer.

Quicksilver was fun, otherwise I would have abandoned mid-course. Jack Shaftoe's entry into the series helped pace things forward. But next time I'm buying the paperback edition and cutting it into three smaller books.

Book: Birth of the Mind

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Birth of the Mind addresses the relationship between DNA and the development of the brain. Most of the ideas in the book are fairly simple and easy to understand:

  • It's both nature and nurture. We start with an initial structure that is highly adaptable. You can transplant a third eye onto a creature and it's brain will create the necessary processing structures for it.
  • Genes designate structure coarsely and relatively. One more more beacons draw certain types of cells towards them along channels. The stronger the beacon, the stronger the pull. If you move the beacon, you can change the location of where something develops.
  • The same genes get reused in different parts of the body like building blocks. Very few genes are unique to the brain. This is perhaps why there are so few genes in the human genome.

You won't get too much insight into how the brain works. Birth of the Mind is more akin to civil engineering than architecture, dealing with the materials of construction rather than the function of what is constructed. Birth of the Mind is deceptively short (< 200 pages), so you shouldn't have any problem pairing it with another pop-sci brain book to fill in some of the gaps in this book.

The brevity of Birth of the Mind sways my overall review of it. The writing is mostly clear but isn't clever, the analogies are rather bland (mostly computer programming analogies), the footnotes don't provide that much additional detail, and most of the writing is an exercise in aggregation rather than drawing a clear thread through a backdrop of works. But it's short. It's short enough that I see it as a good (re)introduction for future pop-sci neuroscience readings. The Amazon reviews are almost entirely glowing, so it would appear that a lot of the readership appreciated the material within.

Someone in the future will write a better version of this book, mostly because neuroscience/cognitive science is still making important discoveries on the nature of the mind and how it is formed. I'm awaiting an author to come along in Hofstadter-like fashion and pull together all the loose threads and unify our picture of the brain, from genes all the way up to consciousness. Having listened to how Hofstadter and Marcus both emphasized chunking/recursion, perhaps someone will be able to come along and draw analogies between the way we build our complex brain out of simple building blocks and the way we build complex concepts out of simple words. Maybe this book already exists and I just don' t know about it.

Reconsidered Materials at the Exploratorium

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Reconsidered Materials-Silk waves Reconsidered Materials-01 Reconsidered Materials-Exodus

Reconsidered Materials Styrofoam Hummer Reconsidered Materials-Fossil Fueled Reconsidered Materials - Rubber Horses-1 Reconsidered Materials-Quilt

There's something about an art show at the Exploratorium that just works really well. Perhaps it's the fact that it's hard to tell the difference between the art pieces and the Exploratorium exhibits (hint: the art pieces came wtih pink labels). Perhaps it's the fact that a mostly adult crowd gets unleashed in a children-oriented museum to play. Whatever the reason, I hope that there are more shows at the Exploratorium. At least this year, while I'm a member.

I became a member as a result of the very, very long line out front. I don't know if it was the Jello SF posting on BoingBoing, a summoning of the Burning Man crowd, or what, but there were a lot of people at the Reconsidered Materials exhibit. Far more than the Exploratorium planned for. They were offering memberships as a way to get to the front of the hour long line, but I resisted as there was no way to get all three of us in on one membership. Or at least I didn't think there was until I talked to the possibly inebriated museum staff. It was a good night for the Exploratorium.

Jello SF was the reason I was there and it didn't disappoint, though we were surprised by how small it was. I guess we didn't take time to think that the artist was doing SF piece-by-piece. The piece that she made for the exhibition was in the Twin Peaks neighborhood and was at a slightly smaller scale than the downtown model. The artist's mom was there to hold a container of dry ice fog over the entire model while it was regularly given earthquake simulations.

There were eighteen installations and I particularly enjoyed the full-size styrofoam Humvee (American Detritus), the blanket pigeons (Exodus), the quilted tea bags (The Quilt), and the Rubber Horses, all of which you'll find photos of in the flickr photoset. I also liked Arp Forms and Strobe Flower, which I've posted movies of below (I forgot to take a movie of Jello SF). Arp Forms was a mixture of corn starch inside of a vibrating cup that caused the corn starch to congeal up into a blobular, dancing form. Strobe Flower was a plastic bag hooked up to a variable speed motor and a strobe -- you could put your finger into it to push it into different forms. click on the photos to access the movies, apologies for rotated strobe flower movie:

Reconsidered Materials-Arp Forms Reconsidered Materials-Strobe Flower

See also: horizonline's and m's posts from the exhibition

Talk: Simon Singh, The Big Bang

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Simon Singh Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe www.simonsingh.net

Singh gave a great talk on his book, The Big Bang. It was very easy to see how he could be so successful in writing popular science books. Who would have thought to use a backwards Led Zeppelin clip to explain how two competing scientific theories might both find support within a set of empirical data? Singh had a great ability throughout the talk to take a history and a scientific theory which are both dry and complicated, and make them both humorous and understandable, whether it be by analogy or by finding that Willow-esque nerd humor -- in discussing Fritz Zwicky's tired light theory, he brought up Zwicky's favorite insult: 'spherical bastard' (looks like a bastard no matter what direction you look at him). I appreciate that anecdote enough that you shouldn't be surprised if I refer to you as a 'spherical bastard' the next time you see me.

More notes in the extended.

Talk: A Theory of Neocortex

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A Theory of Neocortex and its Implications for Machine Intelligence Jeff Hawkins Founder Palm Computing, Handspring Director, Redwood Neurosciences Institute Author of On Intelligence http://www.onintelligence.org

Bioscanning

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It looks like the PARC-Scripps partnership is finally out in the open. If there was a previous announcement, I missed it. One of the higher-ups at Scripps gave a forum at PARC where he showed off some of the cool stuff they were doing, such as adding new codons + base pairs + tRNA, growing ears on the backs of mice, etc... (though he spoke with such glee that seemed a complete rejection of any social or moral implications of what they were doing). PARC has now been working with Scripps to figure out how to wonderful world of Xerox technology (printers, scanners, etc...) can be merged with the world of biotech to create interesting, and medically useful technologies. This CNET article talks about how PARC is working on tagging cancer cells and then using lasers to try and scan for them in the blood.

BTW - I think it's funny that CNET has to lead there article with "Xerox Palo Alto Research Center," followed in the next paragraph with, "The research center, known as PARC."

NYTimes on autism

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Interesting reading, considering that a higher-than-normal percentage of the Bay Area is autistic, and that percentage will likely continue to increase:
- Lifting the Veils of Autism, One by One by One

Book: Doctor Faustus

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I just finished reading Marlowe's Doctor Faustus play. I felt compelled to read it, as Faust was an underlying theme of The Game we did a year ago. I liked the positioning of the book on the boundary of religion and science. Faustus denys God's existence and instead covets scientific knowledge, which he quickly parts with his soul to obtain. Strangely enough, he rejects the notion of hell even though it is hell's agents that provide him with his farcical powers. Also, it is the deadly sin of Pride, which he is introduced to in material form, that ensures his damnation.

Below I've posted links to an online version of the play (not the version I read), as well as nice summary and analysis from MonkeyNotes. The MonkeyNotes were nice to go through, as they reaffirmed/clarified what I read, as it becomes a slight chore to constantly have to translate the old English text. I imagine I would find the text more clever if it didn't rely on mythology and language that is very unfamiliar to me. Maybe an actual performance would be even more engaging.
- MonkeyNotes-Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe-Free Book notes/Chapter Summary
- Online text of The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus - Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

Cat see, monkey do

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wu-tang reminded me of this article and was even nice enough to send along the link.
BBC News | Sci/Tech | Looking through cats' eyes

Oh my aching hands

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Maybe this is responsible for my RSI. I hate my asian half
CNN.com - Study: Chopsticks may cause arthritis - Oct. 25, 2003

MIT researchers are coming up with new ways of growing tissue, including building 3-D scaffolds to encourage specialization.
ScienceDaily News Release: MIT Engineers Report New Approach To Tissue Engineering

(via Ars Technica: The PC enthusiast's resource)

Coldest temperature ever

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Thai King Pursuing Deification

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Now all he needs is a earthquake machine and locust breeder: Thai king to receive rain-making patent. 27/05/2003. ABC News Online

(posted for Amanda's benefit)