Hublot painstakingly recreates a mysterious, 2,100-year-old clockwork relic…


Published in: on 18 November 2011 at 9:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Is there something wrong with the scientific method?

The Decline Effect (The New Yorker)
Shades of publication bias, regression to the mean, and the “file drawer” problem.
Like the Flynn Effect, — but in the wrong direction.

Paper on publication bias and the “file drawer” problem (PDF), published in an interesting magazine.
I wonder whether the bias towards positive rather than negative results is related to the different behavior of stock markets going up (in general, gradually) vs. going down (in general, precipitously).

J. Ioannidis’ paper: Why Most Published Research Findings Are False (with link to PDF)

Published in: on 14 January 2011 at 8:39 am  Leave a Comment  

Ornithopter Built — And It Works

Human-powered aircraft with flapping wings a success!

I once bought a flying model of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Ornithopter, I believe at a museum. Unfortunately, the product appears to have been discontinued, and is no longer available for purchase. “Although this Model Kit was originally produced as a Toy, its Rarity makes it Better Suited for Collectors!”

Make Your Own Ornithopter, from make magazine. The video mentions a PDF file; here’s a link to that file.

Ornithopter in MTG

Regeneration of Fingertip

Woman’s persistence pays off in regenerated fingertip

Some of the comments after the article are skeptical, even mocking: the wound wasn’t impressive enough for them.

In ScienceDaily, one month ago: Newts’ Ability to Regenerate Tissue Replicated in Mouse Cells


Green Magic

Published in: on 10 September 2010 at 6:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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Photino Birds and Frost Giants

Here’s a report that dark matter may be lurking at the center of the sun and cooling it down. This brings to mind Stephen Baxter‘s 1997 SF book Vacuum Diagrams. In this book, dark matter entities called photino birds dwell in the hearts of stars, and cause them to prematurely cool down.

And powerful entities who can cause entire universes to prematurely cool down remind me of Charles Stross‘ 2004 SF book The Atrocity Archives. In this book, infovores (poetically called “frost giants”) who have used up all the heat in a parallel universe threaten to enter our universe to continue feeding.

Food / Meal Portion Sizes Increasing

Here’s an article by Ann Landi in ARTnews, reporting that portion sizes in depictions of the Last Supper have grown. Ms. Landi references this 2010 paper by Wansink and Wansink, published in The International Journal of Obesity.

It reminds me of this 2003 paper by Nielsen and Popkin in JAMA (here’s a free PDF copy), which found that between 1977 and 1998 food portion sizes in real life — both at home and in restaurants — have increased. I wonder whether the two observations, increased portion sizes in depictions of the Last Supper and in real life, are related! And I wonder whether the Wansink brothers reference the paper by Nielsen and Popkin; once again, I’ll have to find out.

Food portion sizes have gotten so big that when dining out I often eat only half of what’s served, and the next day I eat the leftover portion as an entire meal unto itself. One might therefore ask, why don’t restaurants just reduce portion sizes and charge the customer less? My friends who know economics much better than I do say that it’s because these days, most of the cost in preparing a meal isn’t the actual food material; rather, most of the cost is in the human labor (wages/salary) and associated costs (like insurance and retirement plans). Because of this cost structure, restaurants have an incentive to offer larger meal sizes, because the incremental cost of adding more food is relatively small. Maybe somebody out there in the restaurant business can confirm or refute this?

Pessimistic Pigs and Laughing Rats

In the previous post, I had mentioned an article in Science Daily. Also in Science Daily this morning, there’s an article about optimistic and pessimistic pigs. It reminds me of The Case of the Laughing Rats.

Dream To Forget

As a second-year medical student, in the neuroscience course, I was assigned an article by Francis Crick and Graeme Mitchison, entitled The Function of Dream Sleep. If I recall correctly, the premise of their theory was that the function of REM sleep is to forget spurious memories, to make room for more relevant memories. If they’re right, then it follows that one shouldn’t try to remember their dreams. (Unfortunately, trying to remember your dreams and recording them in a dream journal is an important tool for achieving lucid dreaming.)

This morning in Science Daily there’s an article about daydreaming to forget. In this article, daydreaming seems to be presented as “mind wandering”; this seems to me to be the result of losing one’s mental vigilance and being distracted, rather than the result of a conscious decision to fantasize. I wonder whether the authors of the 2010 paper referenced the 1983 paper by Crick and Mitchison, and I wonder how the two theories — REM sleep causing forgetting, daydreaming causing forgetting — relate to one another. I’ll have to obtain the paper and find out.

If you like the topic of dreams, I’d suggest you see the movie Inception!


Hari Seldon lives!

Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy involved a futuristic science named psychohistory, which enabled one to predict the future history (economics, wars, mass migrations, societal rise and collapse) of large aggregates of people. (Hmm, that reminds me of my earlier post regarding anomalous synchronous behavior of large aggregates of the hominid H. sapiens.)

Well, here’s a report from Science Daily about the development of technology to “forecast humanity’s needs.”

And here’s the paper that prompted the Science Daily report: Vespignani A., Predicting the behavior of techno-social systems, Science. 2009 Jul 24;325(5939):425-8.

The Institute of Psychohistory (makes me think of the Second Foundation?)

Addendum (08/20/09): Can Game Theory Predict When Iran Will Get the Bomb? (New York Times)

The spreadsheet included almost 90 players. Some were people, like the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei; others were groups, like the U.N. Security Council and Iran’s “religious radicals.” Next to each player, a number represented one variable in Bueno de Mesquita’s model: the extent to which a player wanted Iran to have the ability to make nuclear weapons. The scale went from 0 to 200, with 0 being “no nuclear capacity at all” and 200 representing a test of a nuclear missile. … But as the computer model ran forward in time, through 2009 and into 2010, positions shifted. … Amid the thousands of rows on the spreadsheet, there’s one called Forecast. It consists of a single number that represents the most likely consensus of all the players. It begins at 160 — bomb-making territory — but by next year settles at 118, where it doesn’t move much. “That’s the outcome,” Bueno de Mesquita said confidently, tapping the screen.

That’s absolutely fascinating. Here’s a forth-coming book that Dr. De Mesquita has written; I have pre-ordered it.

$Detexify^{2}$: LaTeX Symbol Classifier

Note to self: this may prove useful. Looks rather cool. Via MetaFilter.

detexify blog


Published in: on 21 July 2009 at 9:18 pm  Leave a Comment