This is an x-ray of a newly discovered species of stingray, native to the Amazon. You can't tell from this shot of its innards, but the Heliotrygon gomesi actually resembles a "pancake with a nose"—big, round, flat, and beige. Read more about this creature at Our Amazing Planet.
Symphony of Science, the people behind that awesome Carl Sagan "Glorious Dawn" autotune song have a new video, based around neuroscience. There's plenty of Sagan—who I still think sounds weirdly like Kermit the Frog when filtered through autotune—and it's also got a great, spacey chorus featuring Jill Bolte Taylor, the neuroanatomist who described her own stroke for TEDtalks a few years ago.
This is something that I really want to look into over the next few months. I've been told by many sources, and read in several places, that the actual human toll from the Chernobyl accident was relatively small, compared to what we imagine. For instance, in a report for PBS on Tuesday, Miles O'Brien quoted the United Nations Chernobyl Forum as attributing only ("only") 4000 deaths to the disaster. O'Brien says:
the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, issued a report contending: "There is no clearly demonstrated increase in the incidence of cancers or leukemia due to radiation in the exposed populations. Neither is there any proof of any non-malignant disorders that are related to ionizing radiation. However, there were widespread psychological reactions to the accident, which were due to fear of the radiation, not the actual radiation doses."
I can't promise I'll have answers on this quickly. But it's something that I'm going to look into. In particular, I'm really curious whether the different groups of people studying Chernobyl are coming up with wildly different data, or whether the data is similar but the conclusions are wildly different. Is one group relying too much on anecdote? Are the other group's results based on research that didn't go deep enough or last long enough? I've got no idea. But I'll be interested to find out.
You can watch O'Brien's full report from Chernobyl, and/or read the transcript, online. Fair warning, this is heart-wrenching stuff. Especially his interview with one of the Chernobyl liquidators—military and firefighting crews who were brought in to do hands-on cleanup of highly radioactive material.
Image: After visiting the Chernobyl site, Miles O'Brien is screened by a radiation detector. Photo taken by Catherine Buell. More images at PBS.
It's a little mind-blowing, in light of the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. But, in another part of Japan, tsunami survivors are living in their local nuclear power plant.
The nuclear plant in Onagawa was built to withstand 30-ft. tsunami waves. (Fukushima, in contrast, was only designed for 18-ft. waves.) After the tsunami destroyed much of the city, some of the people who survived made their way to the power plant, looking for shelter. Weeks later, 240 of them are still living there, according to the Associated Press. The AP describes these people as sleeping and playing "next to the reactors", but it also says that the refugees are being housed in the power plant's employee gym. Because of that, I suspect the "next to"—and the resulting mental image of a bunch of huddled masses snuggled up against a containment vessel—is misleading.
The Onagawa plant is one of several nuclear power plants that suffered minor damage after the earthquake and tsunami. But the problems here were much, much smaller than at Fukushima, and operators were able to get the reactors into cold shutdown pretty quickly. Currently, the plant is still in shutdown mode.
The company that owns the power plant—Tohoku Electric Power Co., a different firm than the one that runs Fukushima Daiichi—is still keeping the facility pretty locked down. The gates aren't wide open to anybody. Only employees, and the refugees living there, are allowed in and out. So all the descriptions of life inside come from interviews the AP did with those people while they were off of the power plant grounds.
From the sounds of things, living in the power plant is a lot nicer than living in other refugee camps in Onagawa. Unlike other places, people living in the power plant report having access to electricity (The availability of which is why Onagawa is a refugee camp and Fukushima is a disaster zone. Onagawa also uses diesel generators, but theirs weren't damaged), as well as clean toilets and the Tohoku Electric Power Company's dedicated telephone network.
The 360Cities people shot a 40 gigapixel panorama of the interior of the gorgeous Strahov library, an 18th century biblioparadise in the Czech Republic. You can spend a lot of time getting lost in this image, which 360Cities claims is the largest indoor image ever shot.
This TEDTalk from the puppet troupe Handspring Puppet Company features a jaw-dropping horse puppet (around 9:16) that is so expertly made and controlled you have to keep reminding yourself that this isn't an animal:
Puppets always have to try to be alive," says Adrian Kohler of the Handspring Puppet Company, a gloriously ambitious troupe of human and wooden actors. Beginning with the tale of a hyena's subtle paw, puppeteers Kohler and Basil Jones build to the story of their latest astonishment: the wonderfully life-like Joey, the War Horse, who trots (and gallops) convincingly onto the TED stage.
A couple of engineer/designers named Dave have a Kickstarter project to fund production of "Coffee Joulies," a little gizmo that brings your coffee down to the optimal temperature and keeps it there.
One of my big beefs with many of the Kickstarter projects I see is that their originators don't give any indication of their ability to see a project (any project!) through to completion. I want to know that my money goes to people who have at least some track-record of finishing what they start. So I wrote to the Daves for more background on their own work and project history and they obligingly sent along a link with some background that makes it clear that while this might be more ambitious than anything they've done to date, they certainly have made stuff happen in the past (Dave P adds, "We have firm quotes from
a manufacturer (the one that usually makes Oneida flatware) and a
pretty firm development timeline of 12-16 weeks before we can fulfill
our orders from Kickstarter."
Coffee Joulies work with your coffee to achieve two goals. First, they absorb extra thermal energy in your coffee when it's served too hot, cooling it down to a drinkable temperature three times faster than normal. Next, they release that stored energy back into your coffee keeping it in the right temperature range twice as long.
This amazing feat of thermodynamics happens thanks to a special non-toxic material sealed within the polished stainless steel shell. This material is designed to melt at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and absorbs a lot of energy as it melts. This is how Joulies cool your coffee down three times faster than normal. Once it reaches this temperature, the special material begins to solidify again, releasing the energy it stored when it melted. This is how Joulies keep your coffee warm twice as long.
The creator of Creepy, Yiannis Kakavas, calls his application a "geolocation information aggregator." It analyzes a person's tweets, Facebook posts, and Flickr stream to generate a map of where that person is and where he or she goes.
You can enter a Twitter or Flickr username into the software's interface, or use the in-built search utility to find users of interest. When you hit the 'Geolocate Target' button, Creepy goes off and uses the services' APIs to download every photo or tweet they've ever published, analysing each for that critical piece of information: the user's location at the time.
While Twitter's geolocation setting is optional, images shared on the service via sites like Twitpic and Yfrog are often taken on a smartphone - which, unbeknownst to the user, records the location information in the EXIF data of the image. Creepy finds these photos, downloads them, and extracts the location data.
When the software finishes its run, it presents you with a map visualising every location that it found - and that's when the hairs on the back of your neck go up. While the location of an individual tweet might not reveal much, visualising a user's history on a map reveals clusters around their home, their workplace, and the areas they hang out. Everything a stalker could need, in other words.
Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY)'s monologue at last night's Congressional Correspondents' Dinner is some danged funny stuff -- even if you can't follow some of the more esoteric Washington insider material, the self-deprecating montage of Weiner losing it during interviews with Fox News is worth the price of admission. And then there are the Weiner/weener jokes!
Shyama Golden's enormous oil painting "Home Sweet Brachiosaurus" offers a cozy vision of domestic life in the bowels of a prehistoric enormous herbivore. It previously hung in Austin's Progress Coffee, which is just another reason that Austin's such a fab place.
A Reddit user noticed an odd pattern of upvotes for stories related to G4 TechTV and various other game-related companies. After a little investigation, the firms in question came clean (or at least, accounts seeming to belong to them came clean), and admitted that they had a relationship with a pro linkspammer ("social networking specialist") who was running up to 20 Reddit identities at once and using them to game the outcomes. The linkspammer (or at least, an account seeming to belong to the linkspammer) has admitted it:
I would go into why I do social media but it's personal and I don't like to give out personal information. Btw. As masterofhyrule. I would like to say I didn't spam digg back then, I just added a bunch of friends to share to to get my videos on the front page but when I saw it hit top 10 I was surprised. I didn't do the videos for money, I did it to be popular and the reason I was banned from digg back then wasn't because of spam, it was from the greasemonkey script that 100+ users used. Just wanted to clear that up even thoughts been 3 years about. Feel free to attack me, just please don't hate the sites, they aren't the problem.
The comment threads in question are a fascinating glimpse into the corrosive effect of astroturfing on social relationships -- a kind of social media reenactment of The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street -- as Redditors rage against the house of mirrors and wonder who among them are simply sock-puppets for the wrongdoers.
Of course, this is the sort of thing that HB Gary was developing for use in the middle east, to destroy the burgeoning public discourse and turn neighbors against each other "own the narrative."
Meanwhile, the spammer's account of his own actions is so far in denial, so wounded and broken, you get a picture of some kind of savant psychopath festering in his begrimed underwear in a basement somewhere, plaintively mourning the loss of his make-believe "friends" who always showed up to agree with everything he said.
I'm late to the party on Elephantmen -- the comic has been running since 2006 and there've been three collections to date. I've just read the first one, Wounded Animals and I've got that happy, warm feeling that comes from discovering something great, finishing it, and realizing there's plenty more where that came from (I discovered the series on a visit back to LA's Secret Headquarters, where the curated collection of comics never lets me down).
Elephantmen (which spun out of Image Comics's Hip Flask) is the a Dr Moreau-esque story of a race of human-animal chimeras created by a mad, savage doctor who wants to breed superwarriors to fight in an African war. The Elephantmen (who are not just elephant-human hybrids, but also hippos, rhinos, crocs, etc) are rescued from their maker and brought back to human society, the living brutalized evidence of the horrors of 23rd Century warfare. They are rehabilitated, given jobs and stipends, and eased into "normal life."
But life can never be normal for the Elephantmen; they were brainwashed to be merciless killers, they are traumatized and stigmatized. Some are cruel, some are wounded -- some are hunted.
Full of pathos and told in a series of disjointed, flashbulb vignettes, Elephantmen is great apocalyptic noir fiction, and the pulpy, over-the-top artwork (half EC comics, half Metal Hurlant) is a perfect complement.