Cool Links

Unless it's a child of Jenny McCarthy or the anti-vaccine, anti-GMO, anti-science demographic that listens to her, kids of today who are reading classic fiction may not understand the world characters of the past lived in. Cholera? Scarlet Fever? Jungle Fever? 

A lot of great books written today simply lack a plot, unless the emotional anchors for The Velveteen Rabbit and Little Women could be transformed into worries about global warming and how much water should be in a toilet flush.

At Discover, Elizabeth Preston outlines a whole bunch of great books that kids read and that revolved around medical facts of the day. Want to know what Tiny Tim had and how he was likely cured? You have to go read the article.
Someone asked me one time if I had an easy explanation for evolution and I told them I have a three-word one: "hair and milk".

Nothing shows how much we have in common (descent) with other mammals than those three words. When a baby is hungry the baby knows what to do.

Or not. Apparently the mechanism of suckling is up for debate. It sounds funny but I like that science is out to understand the mysteries of obvious, common-sense things about nature, like how a baby extracts milk.

Alex Berezow at Real Clear Science has all of the juicy details.


Cosmologically speaking, 'near' does not mean what it means colloquially. After last week's "Cosmos" show, astronomers were chuckling at the representation that space was some sort of asteroid-laced minefield. In reality, you are less likely to get hit by an asteroid in space than you are on Earth - because space is that big.

So when astronomers stated scientifically that Asteroid 2003 QQ47 would pass 'near' us, they were speaking the language of science but the language of doomsday prognosticators is another thing entirely.

12 million miles is 'near' to astronomers but to you and me that is 50 times farther away than the Moon...and therefore nothing to fear. 
Jonathan Eisen and Darlene Cavalier get a nice shout-out in the Sacramento Bee today, for their work gathering microbes for an experiment in space.
Stonyfield Farm wants to be environmentally conscious -and they want to sell expensive organic yogurt but not saddle customers with a lot of liberal guilt about a container.

They may have done it with Stonyfield Frozen Yogurt Pearls, which is being tested in a few Whole Foods stores. The organic vanilla or chocolate frozen yogurt is encased in an edible skin flavored like peach or banana or coconut or strawberry.

Co-founder Gary Hirshberg says the edible, protective skin is bound via molecular interactions between its two key ingredients, organic fruit and natural ions, whatever that means. Grapes figured this out without a lot of gibberish and there has never been anything 'organic' about them, they have been genetically modified for millenia.
In the mid-1800s an American plant lice made its way to Europe. It wasn't Native Americans returning the disease favor but the sap-sucking aphids still did a number on France, killing the rebounding post-French Revolution, post-Napoleon economy.

The obnoxious little grape phylloxera were the result of mad science experiments - but since it was old-timey, random experimentation a lot of environmental activists would regard it as far superior to precise, controlled modification.
 
40 percent of the ruined vineyards later, and the damage was done.This inforgraphic,presented by: Mocavo - Genealogy Search, has the details.
There are a lot of conferences out there. If you are in science, or even science media, you have gotten emails soliciting papers. The benefit for them is you pay a big registration fee, the presumed benefit for the contributor is you get to say you did a paper at a conference.

Likely inspired by the Sokal affair, where a hippie physicist got tired of hippie, anti-science nonsense in philosophy and created a paper stuffed full of postmodernist gibberish that was immediately accepted by because it was by a physicist and lauded the weakness of physics compared to philosophy, a group at MIT knew they could get all kinds of papers accepted at science conferences the same way.
Duct tape, or duck tape if you are old school (1), can fix anything, according to the public. Well, according to men in the public who are often too lazy to do it right.

But it has to have limits and engineers love to find out where things go from linear to nonlinear.

So if you give engineers the same amount of duct/duck tape, who could make their friends stick to the wall the longest?  The answer, found a Lockheed team, is about 15 minutes. Team "Ron Made Us Do It" won. Naturally, they suspended a systems engineer, because 15 minutes of wasted time there makes little difference (I kid, I kid).
At a young age, I gave up on trying to master the latest high-fives, hand signs and generally trying to be cool. 

I couldn't do the math.

But math geeks can, and Ben Orlin at Math With Bad Drawings is apparently the coolest. He can show you how all of the various high fives relate to math.

Just one sample, since I put germaphobes in the title:



The Asymptote. This representation of one of the coolest behaviors a function can have is also good for germaphobes afraid of physical contact.

And he has 13 more!
In the early part of the 13th (XIII) century, Europe was still using Roman numerals. You can imagine what that did to advance math education.

Fibonacci is famous for the number sequence that bears his name today (I am not certain, but I believe the first program I wrote in Fortran on a Univac 1100/60 was for Fibonacci squares) but the Plus magazine team says he would be surprised by that; rather being famous for the famous sequence 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, ... he might expect to be remembered for helping to popularize a modern number system in a Latin-speaking world.
How would you do homework at night if you don't have electricity? 

As much as one fifth of the world may not have regular access to electricity but 16-year-old Ann Makosinski of Victoria, Canada may have helped solve part of the problem; she created a flashlight that is powered solely from hand heat.
RIP Perl?

RIP Perl?

Feb 26 2014 | 0 comment(s)

Perl or Python? It used to be that you could learn as much about a computer programmer asking that question about scripting languages preferences as I could learn by asking a racing fan if they liked Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson.

Not any more. Perl, which was regarded as really good for 'non-programmers' has lost a lot of ground, while Python is still popular.  Python, which had once been kind of an also-ran, except for cutting-edge female programmers (no, I am not kidding - women embraced Python well before men), stole the show.
When I was a young guy, there were predictions of doom based on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. 

Weirdly, it is still discussed in media reports every single day, even though it doesn't tell us anything at all about peoples' lives.

Do most Americans feel like the economy is doing well, even though the DJIA has gone up a lot? The president certainly claims the economy is better now than when he came into office, even though outside government, unemployment is still really high, and if we factor in the full-time jobs that are now part-time and people no longer on unemployment because they have been on it too long, things look really bad.
Do you know the difference between throughput and speed?

If you don't, you certainly would not after reading TechCrunch (the deal “may be legally outside of the traditional net neutrality rules”) or NPR or plenty of other places, who are rushing to use jargon like peering, capacity and transit all wrong.

Oh, and cost. It isn't going to cost you more, notes Dan Rayburn at Streaming Media

Bandwidth exchanges, confusing speed and throughput, they get a lot wrong. But Rayburn gets it right, so that's where you should go.
Teach For America is a national group that recruits recent college graduates to teach in poorer public schools. Presumably the students would be better served than they would be by regular substitute teachers in those areas.

But it is never going to be an easy process. Evangelism is just that, for a college student it would mean being a true believer, the same way an intern for a politician or Sierra Club would be. 
If you have talked with a left-wing person who is against food science, vaccines or energy, or a right-wing person who is against climate science or evolution, you may have thought they learned just enough science to be wrong. They seem to bookmark talking points that affirm their confirmation bias and just rehash them over and over.

But in business, the saying goes that the best way to learn about the flaws of your product is to find out what competitors say about it. So skeptical claims have some value, they tell scientists what weaknesses in context are involved in their results discussions.
Recently, it was claimed that all of the big questions in science had been answered and it was now just about filling in the details.

It isn't the first time the concept has taken hold; Lord Kelvin said the same thing about physics and then a few years later a young man named Einstein turned the world upside down: General relativity was special, special relativity was general and we found out that gravity doesn't work the way it should for the very large and the very small, and those concepts are the engine of physics today.

But what about science overall? 
Sorry sociologists, playing Everquest is not science. And OK Cupid knows everything they need to know about their audience, that is what they do, so you spending NSF money to sift through some data and making weak observational claims isn't really a valid use of research funding.
Every parent has an idea of where there child is on a normal growth chart. It's an easy barometer for knowing if there are developmental problems because so much about normal range of height, weight, and head circumference across age is known for kids.

Is a similar tool for cognitive and emotional development or for the development of select brain pathways on the horizon?
Since its discovery in the early 1990s, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) contrast has become the mainstay of human brain imaging. Today, the BOLD fMRI) signal is a widely-accepted marker of brain activity.