This week, This American Life revisits the question of patents (a subject they did a very good job with in 2011), a move sparked by the attempt to shake down podcasters for patent royalties for a ridiculously overbroad patent from a company that went bust recording magazine articles to cassette and putting them in the mail. The new episode revisits the main stories raised in the earlier broadcast (don't worry, it stands alone), and does a remarkable job of making the case for substantive patent reform -- and pierces the veil on Intellectual Ventures, Nathan Myrvold's notorious patent-troll-that-insists-it-isn't-a-troll.
NPR reporter Laura Sydell and This American Life producer/Planet Money co-host Alex Blumberg tell the story of Intellectual Ventures, which is accused of being the largest of the patent trolls. Executives at Intellectual Ventures insist they are not trolls, but rather, promoters of innovation. They buy patents from struggling inventors, which encourages those inventors to go out and invent more stuff. Intellectual Ventures offers an example of such an inventor, a man named Chris Crawford. But when Laura and Alex try and talk to Chris Crawford, it leads them on a long search, culminating in a small town in Texas, where they find a hallway full of seemingly empty offices with no employees.
496: When Patents Attack...Part Two!
sez, "The BBC have produced a radio play
of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere
with a host of great British actors. Sounds exactly like you want it to sound."
Tim Harford (Undercover Economist
, guest blogger
, statistical superhero
) has a new show on BBC Radio 4, called Pop Up Economics
: well-told tales about the dismal science. The inaugural episode
(MP3) is a beautiful parable about innovation and invention.
I got to join in on a great conversation this morning on Minnesota Public Radio's "The Daily Circuit", all about the Higgs Boson and what it means for the future of physics.
This is a fascinating issue. Finding the Higgs Boson (if that is, indeed, what scientists have done) means that all the particles predicted by the Standard Model of physics have now been found. But that's not necessarily good news for physicists. For one thing, it would have been a lot more interesting to break the Standard Model than to uphold it. For another, we're now left with a model for the Universe that mostly works but still has some awkward holes — holes that it might be hard to get the funding to fill.
Daily Circuit host Kerry Miller, Harvard physics chair Melissa Franklin, and I spent 45 minutes talking about what is simultaneously a beautiful dream and a waking nightmare for the physics world. And I got to make a "Half Baked" reference in a conversation about particle physics, so you know it's a good time, too.
Listen to the whole conversation at Minnesota Public Radio's website.
Tonight we should see the peak of this year's Geminid meteor shower. I wrote about the weird scientific mystery surrounding this particular meteor shower yesterday, and Miles O'Brien wrote a great feature on it for us today.
In the comments on my post yesterday, reader Clayton Yarbrough mentioned that meteors have an effect on radio signals, and I wanted to follow up on that, because it's a pretty cool phenomenon. Basically, meteors can allow you to send radio signals farther than is normally possible. In the video above, you can watch 7th grader Jeffrey Kelly interview a ham radio operator who explains how this works. But first a little background.
Radio waves travel through the air. You are, of course, aware of this. But there's also a limit to how far they can travel. Partly, this is because the radio waves move in what could be characterized as a straight line, but the planet Earth curves. To get around that bend in the horizon, ham operators frequently bounce their signals off a part of Earth's upper atmosphere, called the ionosphere. What makes the ionosphere special? It's ionized, meaning the particles it's made of are electrically charged. That should give you all the background you need to follow along with the video.
Read more on skywave communications (bouncing signals off the ionosphere), and meteor scatter communications.
The good folks on the most-excellent BBC Radio/Open University statistical literacy programme More or Less decided to answer a year-old Reddit argument about how many Lego bricks can be vertically stacked before the bottom one collapses.
They got the OU's Dr Ian Johnston to stress-test a 2X2 Lego in a hydraulic testing machine, increasing the pressure to some 4,000 Newtons, at which point the brick basically melted. Based on this, they calculated the maximum weight a 2X2 brick could bear, and thus the maximum height of a Lego tower:
The average maximum force the bricks can stand is 4,240N. That's equivalent to a mass of 432kg (950lbs). If you divide that by the mass of a single brick, which is 1.152g, then you get the grand total of bricks a single piece of Lego could support: 375,000.
So, 375,000 bricks towering 3.5km (2.17 miles) high is what it would take to break a Lego brick.
"That's taller than the highest mountain in Spain. It's significantly higher than Mount Olympus [tallest mountain in Greece], and it's the typical height at which people ski in the Alps," Ian Johnston says.
"So if the Greek gods wanted to build a new temple on Mount Olympus, and Mount Olympus wasn't available, they could just - but no more - do it with Lego bricks. As long as they don't jump up and down too much."
How tall can a Lego tower get?
More or Less: Opinion polling, Kevin Pietersen, and stacking Lego 30 Nov 2012 [MP3]
2600's Emmanuel Goldstein writes,
In the midst of the biggest natural disaster to hit the New York metropolitan area in modern times, most of the staff of community radio station WBAI was prevented from broadcasting - not because of a power outage, but due to management decisions that put prerecorded programming over the airwaves instead of the usual live broadcasts. The hacker/technology program "Off The Hook" has been kept off the air for an unprecedented three weeks, making it impossible to help listeners deal with the technological challenges of losing communications and connectivity throughout the crisis. While a small group of broadcasters was allowed to put live programs on the air during daylight hours, a 6 pm on-air curfew was imposed, effectively locking out the majority of the station staff, including "Off The Hook." This has led the members of the world's longest running hacker radio program to start searching for another broadcast outlet, as it doesn't seem that technology-based programming is taken seriously or considered a priority, based on these actions.
AN OPEN LETTER TO OUR LISTENERS FROM THE STAFF OF "OFF THE HOOK"
BURN: An Energy Journal, the radio documentary series hosted by former NPR journalist Alex Chadwick, has a 2-hour election special out. It's the most powerful piece of radio journalism I've listened to since—well, since the last episode they put out. You really must do yourself a favor and set aside some time this weekend to listen to “The Power of One.”
Energy policy, defining how we use energy to power our economy and our lives, is among the most pressing issues for the next four years. In this special two-hour edition of BURN, stories about the power of one: how, in this election season, a single person, place, policy or idea can — with a boost from science — affect the nation’s search for greater energy independence.
The documentary examines how "individuals, new scientific ideas, grassroots initiatives and potentially game-changing inventions are informing the energy debate in this Presidential Election year, and redefining America’s quest for greater energy independence." It was completed and hit the air before Hurricane Sandy, but the energy issues illuminated by that disaster (blackouts, gas shortage, grid failure, backup power failure at hospitals) further underscore the urgency.
Read the rest
During last night's storm emergency, I monitored the FDNY scanners to try and follow fast-moving and difficult-to-obtain details about what was happening where in NYC. For future reference, radioreference.com is an excellent way to do that (provided you have power and internet access). Along with that, you'll want to have two browser tabs open, for a cheat sheet on the codes the first responders use: Box Codes (find the location of the fire alarm boxes people use to get an FDNY response in an emergency), and FDNY 10 codes (shorthand developed in 1937 for common communication among first responders).
One good thing to keep in mind: not everything you hear on the scanner is confirmed fact. By definition, the first responders are often working with incomplete and unconfirmed calls for help, and chaotic situations. That, combined with the fact that it can be hard to understand what they're saying, make careful listening and sharing essential.
BB reader Jane Lowers sends along this beautiful BBC Radio documentary about two men in California who have been together for decades, now facing one's terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis. "I know both of them; Eric was a columnist at a radiology magazine I used to work for," says Jane. "Their house is every inch as insane as described. But the story -- trying to decide how to deal with a diagnosis, how to use the time you have, and how it can affect relationships -- was very well-described, I thought."
670 million people—roughly half of India's population—has been without electricity for two days, following a massive blackout. The United States has a much more modern grid, but only nine years ago a blackout in the Northeast of this country cut power to 45 million. How does a huge blackout like that happen? What are we doing to prevent another one? I'll be on Southern California Public Radio's Madeline Brand Show
this morning to talk about how America's electric grid works ... and doesn't work. The show starts at 9:00 Pacific time and I'll be on around the top of the hour. — Maggie
Minnesota Public Radio is playing a marathon of the NPR show Radiolab all day today. Hours of good, science-filled, story telling wonderfulness. Right now, at 12:32 central, they're doing a show about epidemiologists tracing the origin of AIDS back to the 1920s. Definitely worth listening to. You can listen to the entire marathon on MPR's live stream from anywhere in the world
. — Maggie
In the event that you were wondering about the motives of the Dutch artist Bart Jansen, who attained notoriety by taxiderming his dead cat and retrofitting its corpse to serve as a quadcopter
, wonder no more. The CBC's As It Happens
recorded an interview with Mr Jansen, and it is one of the strangest, finest interviews in that show's august history. The producers were kind enough to provide us with an MP3 for your listening pleasure.
I'm going to be on the radio a couple of times today, talking about my book, Before the Lights Go Out
, and the future of energy and climate. At 1:00 Eastern/Noon Central, you can listen to an hour-long interview with me on Minnesota Public Radio's Bright Ideas
. You don't have to be in Minnesota to listen. It's streaming online
. Then, about 2:10 Eastern/1:10 Central, I'll be on "To the Point", talking about climate, energy, and geo-engineering. Climate scientist Ken Caldiera will also be on that show and he's a great speaker. That will be online, as well
. — Maggie