Illustrated timeline of anti-fun moral panics

(Click to embiggen) has republished a great chart from Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun!, forthcoming in on January 7. The chart details the central thesis of the book: that "the long-standing campaign against fun" is a recurring story in which anxious, killjoy grownups make up stupid explanations for why the stuff their kids like is terrible and should be banned, and the golden era of their own childhoods (and the amusements that reigned then) should be restored.

The chart starts with Trithemius's 1494 rant against printing presses ("The word written on parchment will last a thousand years. The printed word is on paper. How long will it last?") and moves smartly through books, steam engines, newspapers, photos, telegraphs, movies, phones, phonographs, radio, TV, computers, and (of course), the Internet. Read the rest

Optical illusion of the day

Cover the middle seam with your finger, marvel as the contrast effect changes EVERYTHING. Jason Kottke thinks the creator is a witch. When I showed it to my daughter, she said, "Well, your finger is covering up the light that's making it brighter," which is true in a weird sorta way.

Freaky optical illusion Read the rest

What we saw when we sent a cell phone through a pneumatic tube system

Pneumatic tube systems — little canisters shot through a series of tubes via the power of compressed air — have been around since the 19th century when they were briefly popular as a way to quickly deliver mail in big cities. Today, they're probably most familiar from their use in drive-through banking, but the tubes also turn up at libraries (the one at the main branch of the New York Public Library is particularly steampunky), in scientific laboratories, and in hospitals.

Last month, I spent an inordinate amount of time in one Minneapolis area hospital, waiting for an induced labor to kick in. How do you entertain yourself between the insertion of the IV line and the beginning of serious contractions? Turns out, you go on a lot of short walks, you watch some TV, and (if you're lucky) you convince the nurses to let your husband "mail" his cell phone from the labor/delivery department to the post-natal department, using the hospital's pneumatic tube system. Read the rest

If history were a movie, what would be the most egregious plot holes?

Hate that smarmy, too-good-to-be-real Christmas episode of World War I? Annoyed by the lazy montage scene that took us from the first airplane to the Moon in just 66 years? Think "rocks fall, all the dinosaurs die" was just a total cop-out? Here's a fun Reddit thread you will appreciate, pointed out to me by Karen James. Read the rest

Glowing algae make a nice nightlight

This is a picture of a wave crashing on the New Jersey shore. It glows because of dinoflagellates — little, single-celled plants, animals, and bacteria that float around on the water, moving about with the help of long, moveable protein strands called flagella. Some dinoflagellates are bioluminescent; that is, chemical reactions inside their bodies produce light. The result is glowing oceans. Or, as maker Caleb Kraft recently discovered, the dinoflagellates also make for a soft blue nightlight with really nifty special effects.

You can watch Kraft's nightlight project at YouTube. It's pretty simple to do at home. At it's most basic, all you need to do is purchase some bioluminescent dinoflagellates online, keep them alive in your home, and give them a good shaking occasionally to trigger the chemical reaction.

A couple more helpful links: • Where Kraft bought his dinoflagellates • A guide to other dinoflagellate dealers, and to the care and feeding of unicellular organisms • Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who are studying dinoflagellate bioluminescence to better understand how it works and what role it plays in the ecosystem A detailed explanation of what dinoflagellates are and why they glow

Via Treehugger

Image: Red Tide Luminescense, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from piratelife's photostream

Read the rest

Download a dinosaur (or 17)

Now you can download 17 digital versions of dinosaur bodies created by scientists at the UK's The Royal Veterinary College, Hatfield, and other institutions. The bodies were made for a study of the biomechanics of dinosaurs — essentially, an attempt to reverse engineer some knowledge of how dinosaurs moved and how body shape and movement changed as dinosaurs got closer to becoming birds. I don't really know exactly what you might do with these files, but they're free and available to anyone. And, I figure, if somebody is going to come up with a fantastic use for digitized dinosaurs, it's you guys. Read the rest

Project: Recycle old scientific equipment into new tools for public engagement

Turning an old water level meter into a tool to measure public interest in water levels.

Celebrate "Pi Day" by throwing hot dogs down a hallway

No, that's not a euphemism for anything. Buffon's Needle is an 18th-century experiment in probability mathematics and geometry that can be used as a way to calculate pi through random sampling. This WikiHow posting explains how you can recreate Buffon's Needle at home, by playing with your food. Read the rest

What would happen if an unstoppable force met an immoveable object?

Minute Physics tackles the greatest mystery in all the Internet and solves it with the power of science (and pedantry)

Unloading supplies onto the International Space Station

As Matt Lynley put it, "Meanwhile, in space ..." Read the rest

Great Moments in Pedantry: James and the Giant Peach needs moar seagulls

Children's literature is about the wonder of discovering new worlds, the power of imagination, and the all the little triumphs and defeats that make up a life.

It's also an excellent place to find hypothetical questions that test the laws of physics.

For instance, presupposing that one could grow a peach to the size of a house, could one also really sail that peach across an ocean? And then, presupposing that one could harness the power of 501 seagulls, would that number of seagulls be sufficient to carry said peach through the air?

These are the questions posed in "James' Giant Peach Transport Across the Atlantic", a paper published last fall in the Journal of Physics Special Topics. Read the rest

In praise of stupidity

Matthew Bostick praises honest stupidity in the age of Google, Wikipedia and relentless knowitall-dom.

My life path has led me to some exciting revelations and extraordinary experiences. It’s been carved out by indulging in – and being comfortable with – my own stupidity. Because stupidity is not a bad quality in a person, no matter how many people say it is. Peeking at a dictionary, we can define stupid as someone “marked by a lack of intelligence.” To me, that’s a perfectly reasonable attribute. We don’t just become intelligent one day.We’re in pursuit of cleverness. Many of us never get there. But we try.

Bravo! There is no better way to have fun than to be the dumbest guy in the room, when the room is, say, a TED talk. Read the rest

Iron Egghead: Explain biology using eight everyday items

Enter Scientific American's video contest!

You, too, can be a guinea pig for pot

Sometimes, it's hard to find people interested in playing the role of guinea pig for the sake of science. And, sometimes, that job is not so hard. Like when what you want the guinea pigs to do is get real high. That's a good example.

Pot-based research isn't all fun and games. Given the interest in medical marijuana for cancer patients and people with AIDS, some of the studies require volunteers to, you know, have cancer or AIDS. Others are interested in the sociology — these scientists want to talk to you about your pot use and collect data about how it may or may not have affected your life.

But the mythical opportunity to "get high for science" really does exist, writes Brian Palmer at Slate.

The National Institutes of Health maintains an online database of clinical trials that are in the recruitment process. As of this writing, there are approximately 100 marijuana studies currently enrolling patients. Each listing contains inclusion criteria (the types of people the researchers are looking for) and exclusion criteria (characteristics that will remove otherwise qualified people from contention).

... there are a few trials that might interest someone looking for a free high. Consider the University of Iowa’s “Effects of Inhaled Cannabis on Driving Performance.” Participants will be dosed with varying amounts of alcohol or vaporized cannabis, then placed into a driving simulator to measure their performance. There are some restrictions. You must be a social drinker and marijuana user already, but you can’t have an addiction.

Read the rest

Protein art

Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids, folded and twisted in on themselves to make incredibly complex shapes.

The human brain, it has been said, is kind of a pattern-finding machine — prone to spotting faces on the moon, fat bunnies in the clouds, and Jesus on slices of toast.

When the two meet, you get Protein Art. May K., a Russian-born artist who lives in Germany, takes actual protein structures, sees the other things those structures seem to look an awful lot like, and then draws cartoons based on the resulting apophenia.

For instance, take a look at the protein structure above. After the jump, you can see the picture that May K. saw in its folds. Read the rest

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