January 10, 2004
The Future of NASA

Mark Kleiman reacts as one would expect to Karl Rove's convincing George W. Bush to further eviscerate NASA's science budget in order to build a moonbase: Mark A. R. Kleiman: A Moonbase? A MOONBASE?: Can anyone come up with a single thing to say in defense of the Bush plan? It looks to me like Jimmy Dean politics: pure pork. Bush wants to "go back to being a uniter, not a divider" (How can he "go back" to where he never was?) by enriching his home state and the aerospace contractors at the expense of the rest of us? And apparently in addition to wasting tons of additional money the Federal government doesn't have on the project, NASA is going to have to get rid of all the actual science it does to help pay for it. (The dollar hit another new low against the Euro today, suggesting that people with their own money on the table aren't as blase as Bush's economic yes-men about deficits stretching as far as the eye can see.) Of course Bush is grateful to the space program: What would he do without his precious Teflon coating? And obviously he can't afford to be cut...

Posted by DeLong at 10:01 AM

January 04, 2004
Spirit Is Down!

The Mars Rover Spirit appears to have successfully landed: Mars Exploration Rover Mission: The Mission: About 8:29 pm PST, one of the most challenging aspects of the mission begins. In only six minutes, the spacecraft will slow down from 12,000 to 0 miles per hour... Just think of what we could have done and would now know if we had had the Space Shuttle's budget to spend on something worthwhile for the past three decades. Everyone working for NASA has a lot of apologizing to do to Galileo Galilee and Isaac Newton. ("You spent how much money? On what!?!?")...

Posted by DeLong at 07:51 AM

December 12, 2003
Meanwhile, Over in Italy

Meanwhile, over in Italy my college roommate Robert Waldmann drives himself mad thinking about quantum mechanics: he begins raving about correlations greater than 100%, electrons spying on experimenters, the faster-than-light transmission of information without any energy flow, and so forth. Give it up, Robert. The many-worlds interpretation is the only way to go. Any attempt to interpret quantum mechanics in a way that requires the reduction of the wave packet leads to insanity. And Robert's mother Katherine Waldmann writes to reassure us that the WHO is omitting protease inhibitors from its planned three-drug-cocktail HIV pill not out of respect for intellectual property but because of logistical and other difficulties: "...problematic side effects--diabetes, lipodystrophy, high blood lipids. [PIs] are big capsules to take (not hydrophilic)... many a day.... Capsules don't keep well in heat and humidity. So I don't think it is only or even mainly the cost of PIs, but some of these other issues...." I don't even know what lipodystrophy is. I can guess that "high blood lipids" means huge globules of fat floating around in your arteries blocking them and causing you to drop dead of a heart attack. And I have no clue why protease inhibitors would...

Posted by DeLong at 10:33 AM

November 17, 2003
Why Paul Licht Became a Botanist...

Berkeley Professor Paul Licht, Head of the Berkeley Botanical Garden, describes one of his adventures in hyena management: Oakland Hills fire.... Threatens the Hyena Station up on the hill behind the Berkeley Campus.... 40 hyenas--full-grown... have to get them out of the possible path of the fire before it's too late... move them to campus... go up to Hyena Station... shoot hyenas with tranquilizer dart... stuff two or three hyenas (large!) into back of pickup truck... drive like hell to campus because tranquilizer wears off... stuff them into rooms in ones or twos (paying careful attention to pack social structure)... shut and lock door and drive like hell back to the Hyena Station to get more hyenas... After the fire is under control, have to move them back. Problem: at Hyena Station, shoot hyenas with tranquilizer dart by shooting through chain-link fence; on campus, no chain-link fence--only door... decide to have one person kneeling with gun cocked and loaded while other person unlocks door and then runs like hell while marksman tries to tranquilize hyena before it rushes out the door.... Problem: hyenas have ripped off the metal doorknobs on their side and damaged lock mechanism so doors will no...

Posted by DeLong at 01:59 PM

November 10, 2003
Notes: A Linguistic View of Meter

Kristen Hanson: U.C. Berkeley: "A Linguistic View of Meter" "To say that iambic pentameter consists of five weak-strongs except when it doesn't does not advance the discussion very far." "The extraordinary metrical and semantic density of Hamlet's soliloquies..." The moraic trochee as a psychological reality: "You can say fan-f***ing-tastic, or ala-f***ing-baster, but you cannot say fantas-f***ing-tic, or a-f***ing-labaster--at least, not if you want anybody to sit next to you voluntarily."...

Posted by DeLong at 07:39 PM

October 26, 2003
Social Engineering

A little feminist social engineering: www.planetjemma.com...

Posted by DeLong at 08:47 PM

October 15, 2003
The Monkeys Adapted Quickly...

Yet another science experiment that would never have been undertaken if the scientists involved had watched a normal number of late-night movies: : BBC NEWS | Health | Monkey brains control robot arms: Rhesus monkeys have been taught to control a robot arm using brain signals alone. Researchers at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina said the animals appeared to operate the robot arm as if it were their own limb. They believe the finding could eventually lead to the development of highly sophisticated false limbs for people who are paralysed. The technology may also aid people with stroke and spinal cord damage. The Duke team implanted an array of microelectrodes into the brains of two female rhesus macaque monkeys. They implanted 96 electrodes in one animal and 320 in the other. They then analysed the signals given off by the electrodes as the animals were taught to use a joystick to both position a cursor over a target on a video screen and to grasp the joystick. After the animals' initial training, however, the researchers made the cursor more than a simple display - they invested it with the physical characteristics of a robot arm functioning in another...

Posted by DeLong at 11:16 AM

September 23, 2003
Ken MacLeod Has Become a Sociobiologist

Capuchin monkeys hate to be treated unfairly, and Citizen Ken MacLeod draws the appropriate dialectical conclusions: The Early Days of a Better Nation: Monkeys of the World, Unite! The recently burgeoning field of sociobiology (or evolutionary psychology, as it now likes to call itself) has encouraged many people to believe, rightly or wrongly, that many of the behaviours and dispositions appropriate to capitalist society... are hard-wired. I look forward to the rush of right-wing ideologues proclaiming the naturalness and rightness of trade unionism....

Posted by DeLong at 08:04 PM

September 22, 2003
Sitll Mroe on RdiaenG

I've noetd tihs bferoe: languagehat.com: RDIAENG: Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe. ceehiro....

Posted by DeLong at 09:49 AM

September 16, 2003
Clan of the Cave Bear

Professor Timothy White knows African plains apes. He talked about the Middle Awash paleontology dig in the Afar Depression of Ethiopia and about related matters as well--the intense poverty of the herders of the area, who have very little indeed and how the annual the dig team "is the economy" of the area; the finding of three 150,000 year-old anatomically-modern (i.e., "Cro-Magnon") skulls in the Middle Awash, and how this is another brick in the picture of human evolution according to which we replaced and destroyed (and probably ate) the Neanderthal branch of the human evolutionary tree; the six million years of evolution since we diverged from our chimpanzee cousins; the 1.8 million year ago first excursion out of Africa of groups of (small-brained) African plains apes; and the homo sapiens sapiens population bottleneck of 150,000 years ago, in which our numbers fell to perhaps a few hundred. Of course, he could not answer the question everybody wanted to know the answer to: when over the past six million years did our ancestors change from being African plains ape--a smarter plains-dwelling version of chimpanzee--into people? He has just fragments of bone, and a few marks of stone tools on human...

Posted by DeLong at 05:03 PM

September 12, 2003
Nanotechnology Oozes Under the Door

*Sigh*. I was supposed to join a lunch with Paul Alivasatos last Tuesday, but I had to teach: Economist.com | MONITOR: Solar cells are still ten times too expensive for use in housing. Recently developed nanorod composites could change that. MILLIONS of people around the world would like to heat their homes and run household appliances with solar power. But the cost of doing so puts it out of the question. The first problem is that the cells convert only 10-15% of the radiation from the sun into energy. The second is that the photovoltaic (PV) material used is a form of silicon that has to be made under high-vacuum conditions and heated in special kilns to 1,400ēC. That makes photovoltaic solar cells horrendously expensive. Consider the small model home set up in Raleigh by the North Carolina Solar Centre. Its 3.6-kilowatt PV system generates about half of the house's electricity needs. But at $9 per watt, the system would cost a homeowner around $32,000 to install. How to bring such costs down to a more manageable few thousand dollars? One answer that is attracting attention is to use carbon "nanorods", superstrong cylinders of carbon atoms that are 75,000 times...

Posted by DeLong at 09:11 AM

August 27, 2003
Mars Night

Mars Night: APOD: 2003 August 27 - Big Mars from Hubble Credit: J. Bell (Cornell U.), M. Wolff (SSI) et al., STScI, NASA Explanation: At about 10 am Universal Time today, Mars and Earth will pass closer than in nearly 60,000 years. Mars, noticeably red, will be the brightest object in the eastern sky just after sunset. Tonight and through much of this week, many communities around the world are running a public Mars Watch 2003 campaign, where local telescopes will zoom in on the red planet. Pictured above is an image of Mars taken just last night from the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit around the Earth. This image is the most detailed view of Mars ever taken from Earth. Visible features include the south polar cap in white at the image bottom, circular Huygens crater just to the right of the image center, Hellas Impact Basin - the large light circular feature at the lower right, planet-wide light highlands dominated by many smaller craters and large sweeping dark areas dominated by relatively smooth lowlands....

Posted by DeLong at 12:55 PM

August 26, 2003
Starry Night

Starry Night is a wonderful program....

Posted by DeLong at 08:49 PM

Mars Night

"Do you know what tonight is? "What?" "It's Mars Night. A once in 60,000 year chance to see the Red Planet up close." "Yes. But it's not that much closer than it is every year or two." "It should be rising just about now. In the East-Southeast." "You are driving. The highway is still crowded. I'd hate to have to fill out an accident report for this one." "Husband took eyes off of road while searching for Red Planet?" A one-unit difference in stellar magnitude corresponds to a 2.512-fold difference in apparent brightness. (Why a 2.512 fold? Why not an e-fold? Why not a ten-fold? I am told not to ask.) Sirius A--the Dog Star--is magnitude -1.5. At its brightest, Venus is magnitude -4.4 (although it looks a lot dimmer because there is so much sunlight scattered through the atmosphere). At its brightest, the moon is magnitude -13. The sun is magnitude -27. Mars tonight is magnitude -2.9....

Posted by DeLong at 08:48 PM

August 20, 2003
Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science

Teresa Nielsen Hayden's Making Light directs us to Robert Park's Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science: The Chronicle: 1/31/2003: The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science: 1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media. The integrity of science rests on the willingness of scientists to expose new ideas and findings to the scrutiny of other scientists. Thus, scientists expect their colleagues to reveal new findings to them initially. An attempt to bypass peer review by taking a new result directly to the media, and thence to the public, suggests that the work is unlikely to stand up to close examination by other scientists. One notorious example is the claim made in 1989 by two chemists from the University of Utah, B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, that they had discovered cold fusion -- a way to produce nuclear fusion without expensive equipment. Scientists did not learn of the claim until they read reports of a news conference. Moreover, the announcement dealt largely with the economic potential of the discovery and was devoid of the sort of details that might have enabled other scientists to judge the strength of the claim or to repeat the experiment. (Ian Wilmut's announcement that...

Posted by DeLong at 12:43 PM

August 02, 2003

An uninformative article about a very interesting topic. First of all, "nanotechnology" is not restricted to carbon nanotubules... FT.com /Technology zone: Some fear work on nanotechnology will lead to a planet smothered in "grey goo", but Motorola is pushing ahead with research that could yield low-cost flat panel displays of unparalleled clarity. Such displays could be used to make wall-mounted televisions more than 4ft across the diagonal and less than 1in thick. They could equally be used for advertising applications. Nanotechnology is a branch of materials science which deals with tubes of carbon atoms less than a billionth of a metre in diameter. These tubes have unique properties, one of which is to emit electrons when electrically excited. Motorola scientists have grown nanotubes at temperatures that make it easy to bond them to a surface material such as glass. Furthermore, they have unprecedented control of the way the tubes are aligned. "The ability to place nanotubes directly on a substrate while controlling their spacing, size and length provides a high-quality image with optimised electron emissions, brightness, colour purity and resolution," claims Motorola.  It now plans to license the technology to European and Asian display makers....

Posted by DeLong at 09:06 AM

July 30, 2003
The Economist on Global Climate Change

The Economist sets out the challenge of global warming, and what we need to start doing about it. Most of the article is smart, but there is a sentence at the end that makes me wonder if the Economist's writers should be allowed to run loose without keepers. When they look at George Bush, Dick Cheney, Tom DeLay, and Bill Frist, do they really believe that there is "hope that today's peacetime politicians may rise to the occasion"--even a glimmer of hope--or are they just being ironic? Economist.com: This is a vast challenge, and it is worth bearing in mind that mankind's contribution to warming is the only factor that can be controlled. So the sooner we start drawing up a long-term strategy for climate change, the better. What should such a grand plan look like? First and foremost, it must be global. Since CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for a century or more, any plan must also extend across several generations. The plan must recognise, too, that climate change is nothing new: the climate has fluctuated through history, and mankind has adapted to those changes--and must continue doing so. In the rich world, some of the more obvious measures...

Posted by DeLong at 01:22 PM

July 29, 2003
Excellent News for Ozone Man

No, the ozone layer is not becoming thicker. But at least it is now becoming thinner at a slower rate. Ozone Layer Is Improving, According to Monitors: Scientists monitoring the highest levels of the atmosphere say they have detected a slowing in the rate of destruction of Earth's protective veil of ozone, the first sign that the phasing out of chemicals that harm the ozone layer is having a restorative effect. The ozone layer blocks ultraviolet radiation from the sun that can cause skin cancer and harm ecosystems. It has deteriorated for decades, especially in Antarctica, under an assault from synthetic chemicals. The phasing out of the most important class of these chemicals %u2014 chlorofluorcarbons, or CFC's %u2014 began in 1989 with enactment of the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty. But the destructive substances take decades to decay, resulting in the long lag before any beneficial effects could be measured. The findings, from satellite measurements, are to be published in an edition of the American Geophysical Union's Journal of Geophysical Research. They were released publicly yesterday by that private scientific group and the authors. The study's lead author, Dr. Michael J. Newchurch, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Alabama...

Posted by DeLong at 10:05 PM

July 23, 2003
Paradise for Wolves and Wolf Researchers

Yes. I know that they are shy. I know that the traditional picture of wolves comes from their eagerness to prey on domestic herd animals, not humans. But when four of them look at you from forty yards away, and then two begin to trot to the left and one to the right, circling you at a constant distance. And you know that if they were not in a (large) cage that within a minute you would be surrounded, with at least one always in your blind spot, while they tried to figure out what to do... It's unnerving. 'The Real World, Yellowstone': Wolves on View All the Time: ...In early 1995, 14 gray wolves were released into the prey-rich park, and the next year 52 more here and in central Idaho. Nine years later their number in the park has grown to 14 packs, or 148 animals, not including 14 new pups this year. Experts say it is the highest density of wolves in the world. Topography also plays a part. There are wolf packs in Alaska and northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, but the terrain is either remote and access to it difficult, or it is heavily forested....

Posted by DeLong at 11:59 AM

July 21, 2003
Nature and Nurture: Depression

Not heredity or environment, heredity and environment. Economist.com: Depression The long and the short of it Jul 17th 2003 From The Economist print editionDepression can be caused by a particular gene and a stressful environment THE often contentious debate about whether it is one's genes or one's environment that is the more potent shaper of one's human essence was, until recently, unclouded by many facts. But last year, a rather striking fact was provided by Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, and their colleagues. The two researchers found that violence in adults could result from the interaction between an abusive childhood and two different versions of a DNA switch that controls a gene called monoamine oxidase. Both childhood abuse and a particular version of the switch are needed to give a high chance of a person's becoming violent. In other words, then, it is nature with nurture that is the key, and not nature versus nurture. Now Dr Moffitt and Dr Caspi are back, in a paper in this week's Science, with a similar conclusion for those who are trying to understand the causes of depression. The story starts with a gene...

Posted by DeLong at 01:00 PM

Japanese Mammoth Cloning

BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | Scientists 'to clone mammoth'. Surely it is much too soon for this to have a chance of success?...

Posted by DeLong at 07:28 AM

July 16, 2003
Small-Brained Creatures of Surprisingly High Intelligence

Haunted by pictures of tool-making crows: Making Light: Tool-making crows: Not a new story, but it’s haunted me since it came out last year in Science Magazine online: In the Brevia section of the 9 August 2002 issue of Science, Weir et al. report a remarkable observation: The toolmaking behavior of New Caledonian crows. In the experiments, a captive female crow, confronted with a task that required a curved tool (retrieving a food-containing bucket from a vertical pipe), spontaneously bent a piece of straight wire into a hooked shape—and then repeated the behavior in nine out of ten subsequent trials. Though these crows are known to employ tools in the wild using natural materials, this bird had no prior training with the use of pliant materials such as wire—a fact that makes its apparently spontaneous, highly specific problem-solving all the more interesting, and raises intriguing questions about the evolutionary preconditions for complex cognition. The crow’s behavior was captured on an unusual video clip. …The first time I saw the movie, it gave me goosebumps. The food’s in a little metal bucket with a handle, down at the bottom of a glass tube. The crow has only the piece of wire...

Posted by DeLong at 08:48 AM

June 13, 2003
Teenage Condors in the Grand Canyon

We may have seen condors once, circling over Big Sur... Adolescent Condors Raised in Captivity Must Be Taught How Adults Behave: ... Once airborne, each bird is tracked from dawn to dusk. Every three nights, crew members haul in dead dairy calves to the holding pens and to the rocks around the release site for the birds that stick around. Young birds tend to stay put for a few months, eating the offered food. Older birds periodically fly in to lounge, loaf and feed. Supervising adolescent condors, Ms. Osborn says, is like running a middle school. Birds get good marks for playing well with others, staying wary of people, finding food in the wild, feeding aggressively and staying within the 73,898 square mile range of the condor recovery program. Most of the birds do extremely well, Ms. Osborn said. Condor 246, the best food-finder, once spotted a huge dead bull, called the refrigerator, that he and others fed on for three weeks. Condor 176 is an ace flier who likes to zip up to Zion National Park 60 to 70 miles away for short and long visits. Condor 249 amused everyone when he was released last fall on an extremely...

Posted by DeLong at 02:31 AM

June 04, 2003
Loss of the Columbia

Joshua Micah Marshall notes that it turns out that there were a number of things that could have been tried to try to save the Columbia astronauts--if NASA had been curious enough to try to ascertain whether the spaceship had been damaged upon liftoff. Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: Tragic. Just tragic. Back on that awful day last February 1st when the shuttle Columbia ripped and burned apart over Texas, I never really believed that some sort of rescue or repair mission wasn't possible -- either an attempt at a repair of some sort, or sending one of the other shuttles up to save the crew. Couldn't they rush another shuttle up to rescue them? Couldn't they do a spacewalk and fix the damage? The conceit of the NASA brass was that there was simply nothing that could have been done -- a claim that took a lot of sting out of the fact that so little was in fact done to find out what damage the ship had sustained. That never sounded right to me. And now it turns out that I and, I'm sure, many, many others who were similarly unconvinced were right......

Posted by DeLong at 11:56 AM

June 03, 2003
Kids! Don't Try This at Home!

The Christian Science Monitor on the prospect of making black holes in the laboratory: Artificial black holes: on the threshold of new physics | csmonitor.com: ...Amazingly, scientists are becoming increasingly confident that they will be able to create black holes on demand, in quantity, using the new atom-smashers due to come online in the next five years. Some estimates suggest that the new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN -the acronym is in French) will be able to create an average of one black hole each second. LHC will bombard protons and antiprotons together with such a force that the collision will create temperatures and energy densities not seen since the first trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. This should be enough to pop off numerous tiny black holes, with masses of just a few hundred protons. Black holes of this size will evaporate almost instantly, their existence detectable only by dying bursts of Hawking radiation. What exactly are scientist looking for in the Hawking radiation? For one thing, it's a big mystery whether Hawking radiation contains any information about the particles that formed the black hole in the first place, or...

Posted by DeLong at 12:02 PM

May 19, 2003
Space Shuttle Columbia

The most extraordinary and bizarre thing about the last flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia was the refusal of High NASA Officials to lift a finger to learn anything about the state of the craft: an extraordinary "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" state-of-mind. Even if you don't think anything can be done for *this* mission, you still want to collect as much information as you can about what is going on, for there will be other missions. Yet NASA did not do so. washingtonpost.com: Prober Faults NASA Shuttle Judgments: ...The chief investigator of the Columbia disaster testified yesterday that NASA officials gravely erred by refusing to seek photographs of the damaged space shuttle in orbit and that a rescue mission likely could have been launched if they had known the extent of the damage to the shuttle's left wing. In his strongest indictment yet of NASA's decision-making during the doomed mission, retired Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr. described in troubling detail a broad bureaucratic communications breakdown and a series of erroneous judgment calls that led to the decision to reject a plea by some lower-level engineers to request satellite photographs of the shuttle's wing. Without singling...

Posted by DeLong at 08:57 PM

May 15, 2003
Saving the Moon

Me: Children, I have an announcement to make. The Thirteen-Year-Old: What? Me: The natural order of things has been upset. We will see this tonight, when the moon will rise the color dried blood, a dim shadow of its former self. Sins of this family have let evil spirits loose in the universe that are poisoning the moon. Thus at 9:00 PM tonight we must take pots and pans, climb to the top of the hill, look at the moon and bang on the pots and pans to frighten away the evil spirits and restore the moon to health! The Thirteen-Year-Old: Cool! I'd almost forgotten about that. I'm supposed to do that to get extra science credit tonight--although not the "evil spirits" and the "banging on pots" part... Ann Marie: But that would be a fine extra-credit activity for anthropology! Tell your Core teacher tomorrow that your family reenacted a primitive lunar eclipse ritual last night. See if she'll give you extra credit. The Thirteen-Year-Old: I don't think so... Ann Marie: Not even if you paint yourself blue with woad? Me: And wear lots of silver jewelry? And invoke the name of Luna? The Ten-Year-Old: Luna? Is that really the...

Posted by DeLong at 07:05 PM

May 01, 2003
Help in Recognizing Sandra Bullock

ncfocus tells me how I can get better at recognizing Sandra Bullock on the little airplane movie screens: brain maintenance for dummies This post is dedicated to Brad DeLong, but is applicable to all.misc helpful hints, primarily nontoxic -Eat blueberries: "Tufts/USDA scientists say rats that consumed an extract of blueberries, strawberries and spinach every day showed improvements in short-term memory. Only the blueberry extract improved balance and coordination, however."Eat turmeric, which does all sorts of good things include keep India from getting Alzheimer's.Take ibuprofen (this could also be good for preventing/delaying parkinson's and general aging ("antiinflammatory hormone high in centenarians"))If you have insulin resistance, get it treated (eg with Metformin) - it has been linkedto memory loss - "diabetics who get their condition under control often also see an improvement in their memory, Convit noted, a sign that reduced memory is also reversible in pre-diabetics."avoid head injuries. this is generally good advice in any case.avoid drinking water that's high in aluminum, as it's been linked with Alzheimer's diseaseKeep your cholesterol low? ("Cholesterol-lowering medications known as statins also play an important role in reducing levels of a strong predictor of Alzheimer's disease")sometime in the not too distant future, you'll be able...

Posted by DeLong at 11:43 AM

April 17, 2003
A Short Instructional Video

The sprightly and interesting Teresa Nielsen Hayden (whom the Manchester Guardian says HAS THE BRAIN OF A MAN!!!) points us, via Erik Olsen, at an instructional video on how to turn off a 345,000 volt circuit. One of the truly cool things about late nineteenth and early twentieth century science and technology is that the peeling-back of the standard order of nature produces effects that can be... very impressive to human senses. By contrast, twenty-first century science's effects seem to me to be much more subtle, and are apprehended primarily through the mind's eye, if at all. I think that the recognition that the lepton-family eigenstates of the neutrino are not the same as the energy-eigenstates is as cool as the fact that you generate enormous artificial lightning bolts when you turn off a 345,000 volt circuit. But only the second is visible in an impressive way to the naked eye (and to the naked I, for that matter)....

Posted by DeLong at 11:28 AM

April 06, 2003
Checkershadow "Illusion"

Edward Adelson's Checkershadow Illusion: the most impressive demonstration I've seen of just how *much* cognitive processing is going on in the rear of my cortex before the *I who is writing this* even gets a peak at what is coming in through the visual channel. Checkershadow Illusion: A light check in the shadow is the same gray as a dark check outside the shadow. How does this illusion work? For more illusions, click here. ©1995, Edward H. Adelson...

Posted by DeLong at 10:27 PM

Colossal Squid

David Trowbridge is now scared to go into the (south polar) water: Redwood Dragon: March 30, 2003 - April 05, 2003 Archives: This is the stuff of which nightmares are made, straight out of an H.R. Giger illustration or the lurid imaginings of H.P Lovecraft: And this is just a baby—full grown she might come to 40 feet in length, armed with rotating razor claws and two sharp beaks. It was tearing up 6-foot fish when caught. "This is a very aggressive, dangerous animal - mark my words," said marine biologist and squid expert Dr Steve O'Shea as he studied the two arms and eight fearsome tentacles, each of which has up to 25 teeth-like hooks. "The Colossal is a gelatinous blob with seriously evil arms on it. If you were to fall into the water down there in the Antarctic, if the cold didn't get you first, something like this could devour you in seconds." Leave the lights on!...

Posted by DeLong at 08:47 PM

March 06, 2003
How the Universe Got Its Spots

On the Math Library's new books shelf: How the Universe Got Its Spots...

Posted by DeLong at 07:26 AM

February 27, 2003
Excuse Me, What's Your Oxytocin Level Today?

I don't know about you, but in the future I'm only making contracts with people with elevated oxytocin levels... Virginia Postrel writes about those who are beginning to found the subdiscipline of Neuroeconomics: Looking Inside the Brains of the Stingy: ...Professor Zak and his colleagues study trust with a variation of the ultimatum game. Each player receives $10. Player 1 gets an additional $10. Players interact anonymously over computers. Player 1 can send any whole-dollar amount to Player 2. Whatever he sends is tripled, so a $5 gift turns into $15. Finally, Player 2 can return some of the money to Player 1. If Player 1 expects Player 2 not to send any money in return, Player 1 will keep the initial stake. That's the game's standard equilibrium. "In fact," Professor Zak said, "most people send about half of their stake to Player 2. They're signaling that they want to trust them." In response, about 75 percent of the Player 2's return some money, making both better off. "Even though we can't see each other and we don't know each other, we understand the other person as a human being," Professor Zak said. Extrapolating from animal results, he hypothesized that...

Posted by DeLong at 08:09 PM

February 26, 2003
Don't These People Watch Any Movies?

Don't these people watch any movies? They should know that this kind of thing never turns out well in the end. Yes, as CNN reports, today the German scientists are only training octopuses to open jars of shrimp. But we already know what is going to happen in the third reel... CNN.com - Octopus gets in a twist over shrimp - Feb. 24, 2003: MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) --An octopus in a German zoo has learned to open jars of shrimp by watching zoo attendants perform the act underwater. Frida, a five-month-old female octopus, opens the jars by pressing her body on the lid and grasping the sides with the suckers on her eight tentacles. With a succession of body twists she unscrews the lid. "Depending on how tight the lid is, it takes her anything from 10 seconds to an hour to get it off," said Frank Mueller, head of the aquarium at the Hellabrunn Zoo. Frida opens shrimp jars before the public at feeding time twice a week. Mueller said he taught Frida the trick after he remembered seeing octopuses showing remarkable dexterity off the coast of Morocco, where he went diving when he was younger. Frida was imported...

Posted by DeLong at 11:07 AM

February 21, 2003
What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

Matthew Yglesias raises a philosopher's objection to the assignment of numerical scores to "intelligence" via intelligence testing. It's a good objection--proof that the kind of stuff taught in Emerson Hall is not completely without applicability: Matthew Yglesias: I don't even know what it would mean for one test or another to "really" be measuring intelligence. It's not that tests aren't measuring anything or that they're socially constructed or anything it's just that the idea of intelligence doesn't have that kind of determinate meaning. Consider the analogy (put forward by Kevin Drum) to strength. Suppose we had two people. Person A can lift more weight one time than Person B, but given a modest quantity of weight Person B can lift it more times than can Person A. Which one is stronger? This is pretty clearly a pseudo-question ? the concept of strength is just ambiguous on this score ? if you really want to you can settle the issue by fiat, but why bother? To paraphrase, Matthew is saying that "intelligence" does not mean "the first principal component of a bunch of scores on tests some psychologist thinks have to do with cognitive ability." Of course, you can (for purposes...

Posted by DeLong at 07:23 PM

September 08, 2002
Bemusement and Relativity

John Quiggin believes that I shouldn't be bemused at how Einstein's special theory of relativity replaces the absolute ideas of 'past', 'present', and 'future' with the ideas of 'past light cone', 'future light cone', and 'outside the light cone' that are different for each observer at each different point and moving at each possible velocity. (It is a theory of relativity, after all.) John Quiggin: ...It's only surprising in the 'isn't science amazing' way that a microwave oven is surprising the first time you see it. I wouldn't have thought you could boil water while not heating the cup containing the water, but now I don't give it a second thought. Well, let me put it on the record right now that I find my microwave oven pretty damn amazing every single time I turn it on. Hell, I even find a spinning bicycle wheel suspended from a rope attached to one end of its axle amazing......

Posted by DeLong at 09:23 AM

September 04, 2002
Messrs. Lorentz and FitzGerald

Uncertain Principles if you start to get close to light speed, you need Special Relativity to describe what really happens... *Sigh.* This is what happens when you read weblogs by real physicists--especially those who have been part of a team making Bose-Einstein condensates in their laboratory. (Kids! Don't try this at home!) My spreadsheet on the effects of product and income-side estimates of total output on our conception of the economic boom of the 1990s is now filled with Lorentz-FitzGerald contraction formulas... Consider a person standing on the surface of the earth, and consider an event--the birth of a child, say--at that exact same time (in his frame of reference) on the other side of the galaxy--100,000 light years, or 9 x 10^20 meters away. Now consider a second person walking past that first person at that exact same moment (when in the first person's reference frame the child is born), in the direction of the point 100,000 light years away. If you asked that second person whether the child on the other side of the galaxy had been born yet, and if so how old was she, you would get a different answer. According to my calculations, the...

Posted by DeLong at 05:04 PM

September 02, 2002
Science Labs

The Nine-Year-Old and I spent a considerable amount of time yesterday with a Science Kit Minilabs Electric Motor kit. It was harder to assemble than I had thought, largely due to the large size of my fingers coupled with an armature assembly that is only one inch in diameter. The Nine-Year-Old wandered off several times during the 150-fold wrapping of the wire around the armature assembly--a time-consuming and boring part of the assembly of the motor. But--and here's the remarkable thing--it worked, and worked well, the first time: the D-battery drove the (unloaded) motor at some 600 rpm. The Twelve-Year-Old was impressed. The Nine-Year-Old wondered why so much energy was being dissipated in vibration and noise, and couldn't this energy be trapped and used for something? I worry, periodically, about the kids and science. The things they deal with are--in so many ways--so far removed from basic scientific principles. You could build an AM crystal radio back when I was a kid. You can't build a DVD player. You could fix a car--change the spark plugs, look at the distributor cap, monkey with the carburetor--when I was a kid. You can't today. I thought it was really neat the first...

Posted by DeLong at 09:10 AM

August 23, 2002
More Blue Blood (and Green, and Violet, and Red)

The learned Lalith Vipulananthan directs me to the last word on the color of the blood of horseshoe crabs (and, implicitly, of Mr. Spock): New Scientist: The Last Word Science Questions and Answers: I have heard that some sea creatures such as horseshoe crabs have blue, copper-based blood. Why is this, and what advantage does this kind of blood give them over creatures with the more common red, iron-based blood, like ourselves? Do any creatures have blood that is based on metals other than iron or copper? Kiyotaka Tanaka , London   Answers Blood gets its colour from oxygen-carrying respiratory pigments, and there are a number of different types. Their job is to bind oxygen in areas of higher concentration (usually gas exchange surfaces such as lungs or gills) and release it in areas of lower concentration (usually tissues). The oxygen-carrying capacity of the various pigments varies with oxygen concentration, temperature, pH and carbon dioxide concentration. It depends on the nature of the protein part of the pigment as well as the metallic component, and this differs from species to species. The iron-containing pigments found in blood include haemoglobins (red), myoglobins (red), chlorocruorins (green) and haemerythrins (violet). Haemocyanin (blue), which...

Posted by DeLong at 11:59 AM

August 18, 2002
Yep, He Has a Two-Year-Old

Yes. There's no doubt about it at all. James "The Bleat" Lileks has a two year old. All we can do is wish him luck, tell him that in a remarkably small number of years she will be embarassed to be seen with him in public, tell him that by the age of four she will no longer feel like fifty-minute wailing marathons, and tell him that he is a Good Father. But of course he is a Good Father. Darwin has programmed us to be. The first time you see, touch, and smell that small creature that shares 50 percent of your genes, what Friedrich Nietzsche calls the "transvaluation of values" sets itself in motion. You no longer care about what you cared about before: instead, the overwhelming drive in your mind is to take care of--nurture--please--help grow--make happy this small bundle of flesh making gurgling noises. You want to be bounced? Okay! You want to fall asleep lying on my stomach listening to my heartbeat? Okay! You want me to completely reorient my life around your needs and desires? Yes! I will! I love it! The closest analogy I can think of is Mind Control: someone who comes...

Posted by DeLong at 04:18 AM

August 15, 2002
More Questions, This Time From the Nine-Year-Old

"Dad, why do they teach us things in school that are untrue?" "What do you mean? Can you give me an example?" "At school they teach us that the earth spins on its axis once every twenty-four hours." "But... Oh, I see what you mean." "Well, Dad, why?"...

Posted by DeLong at 04:11 PM

"Language" Gene

Glenn Reynolds reminds us that--viewed from the outside--the planet we live on is already a very strange and wonderful place. Witness the "language" gene: Instapundit.com: MUTANTS ARE TAKING OVER THE WORLD, using a weird ability to communicate thoughts to coordinate their actions. Okay, so it's old news now. . . . Posted by Glenn Reynolds at August 15, 2002 12:01 PM...

Posted by DeLong at 10:39 AM

Lots to Read Here...

Go now and read Amygdala. Gary Farber writes and links to good stuff about Counterpane Internet Security; Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow, and Open Source; U.S.-Jordanian military exercises; the H.M.S. Ark Royal; Moore's Law and the Singularity; In-N-Out Burger; Ashcroft's refusal of congressional oversight; and the language gene. I may get nothing done all day......

Posted by DeLong at 09:16 AM

August 14, 2002
One of the Ultimate Questions...

The twelve-year-old just asked a series of three questions, the last of which was one of the Ultimate Questions: What is this ln - e^x button on my calculator? What is e=2.718281828... good for? If e is defined as the number for which the curve y=e^x has everywhere a slope equal to its y-axis value, why is e=2.718281828... ? Needless to say, I could not answer the third question. Fathers really don't know very much, do they?...

Posted by DeLong at 12:56 PM

July 26, 2002
Who Is "I"?

I have never been a strong believer that there is a single "I". Those times when you get in the car to go to the grocery store, and find ten minutes later that you are pulling into your office parking lot: who--or what--has been driving the car in the meantime? There is a story that Neils Bohr's wife once at the start of a party sent him upstairs to change his tie; an hour later she found him, asleep, in bed; taking off the tie had triggered the going-to-bed subroutine[?] reflex[?] entity[?] and had overwhelmed the express conscious purpose. I remember author David Brin once saying that he could not switch from finger-typing to voice-writing, because the raconteur who spoke through his mouth was vastly inferior at plot, characterization, and structure to the writer who communicated through the hands. My daimones--as Walter Jon Williams calls them--do boring things like drive to the office. Teresa Nielsen Hayden, however, has a daimon that makes good omelettes: Making Light: July 2002 Archives Omelets from the beyond: There's a weird thing that happens to me when I'm immersed in a text: I sort of absentmindedly cook while I'm thinking about what I'm working on....

Posted by DeLong at 09:52 AM

July 20, 2002
Look at Chad Orzel's Weblog

Everybody (at least, everybody who is curious about the same sort of things that I am) should look at Chad Orzel's weblog. You want to hear about liquid nitrogen demonstrations to secondary-school kids? Go there. You want to hear about creating Bose-Einstein condensates within shouting distance of absolute zero? Go there. I can say, without fear of contradiction--and this statement works on several levels--that his is one of the coolest weblogs around. Uncertain Principles The classic liquid nitrogen demo is to dip flowers into the stuff, and chill them down. After a minute or so, you can tap the frozen flowers on the edge of a table, and they'll shatter like glass. It's a classic, but in some ways, it never gets old. The kids at today's talk loved that one, and several of them stuck around after I had finished to take turns freezing and then breaking things......

Posted by DeLong at 08:43 PM

July 19, 2002
Don't These Scientists Watch Any Movies?

Don't these scientists watch any movies? If they watched any movies, they would know that this kind of thing is never a good idea. Scientists create big-brained mice Altering a single gene gives mice human-like brains. Mice with the altered gene developed large, folded brains, right, that looked like human brains... big brains... brains so large they have to fold up, much as human brains do, to fit inside the skull, researchers said Thursday. IT IS NOT yet clear whether the mice are smarter -- they were all killed soon after birth -- but the scientists said they were surprised that one gene had such a strong effect and said they would do further experiments. "I know the most interesting question was whether they learned to play Mozart but we don't know," Dr. Christopher Walsh of Brigham and Womens Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston... said.... a protein called beta-catenin, which helps control cell division... a regulatory switch.... So Walsh and Chenn genetically engineered mice, adding extra beta-catenin that would become overactive specifically in brain tissue.... To their surprise, they report in Friday's issue of the journal Science, the mice developed large, folded brains that looked like human brains....

Posted by DeLong at 01:06 PM