Ramblings & ephemera

Various confidence scams, tricks, & frauds

From “List of confidence tricks” (Wikipedia: 3 July 2009): Get-rich-quick schemes Get-rich-quick schemes are extremely varied. For example, fake franchises, real estate “sure things”, get-rich-quick books, wealth-building seminars, self-help gurus, sure-fire inventions, useless products, chain letters, fortune tellers, quack doctors, miracle pharmaceuticals, Nigerian money scams, charms and talismans are all used to separate the mark […]

All about freezing to death

photo credit: State Library of New South Wales collection From Peter Stark’s “As Freezing Persons Recollect the Snow–First Chill–Then Stupor–Then the Letting Go” (Outside: January 1997): There is no precise core temperature at which the human body perishes from cold. At Dachau’s cold-water immersion baths, Nazi doctors calculated death to arrive at around 77 degrees […]

Famous “Laws” of Business & Technology

These come from a variety of sources; just Google the law to find out more about it. Parkinson’s Law “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Source: Cyril Northcote Parkinson in The Economist (1955) The Peter Principle “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” […]

Mine fires that burn for 400 years

photo credit: C. Young Photography From Joshua Foer’s “Giant Burning Holes of the World” (Boing Boing: 16 June 2009): … these sorts of mine fires can stay lit for a very long time. One burned in the city of Zwickau, Germany from 1476 to 1860. Another coal fire in Germany, at a place called Brennender […]

The Uncanny Valley, art forgery, & love

photo credit: hans s From Errol Morris’ “Bamboozling Ourselves (Part 2)” (The New York Times: 28 May 2009): [Errol Morris:] The Uncanny Valley is a concept developed by the Japanese robot scientist Masahiro Mori. It concerns the design of humanoid robots. Mori’s theory is relatively simple. We tend to reject robots that look too much […]

A better alternative to text CAPTCHAs

From Rich Gossweiler, Maryam Kamvar, & Shumeet Baluja’s “What’s Up CAPTCHA?: A CAPTCHA Based On Image Orientation” (Google: 20-24 April 2009): There are several classes of images which can be successfully oriented by computers. Some objects, such as faces, cars, pedestrians, sky, grass etc. … Many images, however, are difficult for computers to orient. For […]

Roger Ebert on death

From Roger Ebert’s “Go gentle into that good night” (Roger Ebert’s Journal: 2 May 2009): What I expect will most probably happen [when I die] is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function, and that will be that. My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. Perhaps […]

Extreme male brains

From Joe Clark’s “The extreme Google brain” (Fawny: 26 April 2009): … Susan Pinker’s The Sexual Paradox, which explains, using scientific findings, why large majorities of girls and women behave almost identically at different stages of their lives – while large minorities of boys and men show vast variability compared to each other and to […]

German twins commit the perfect crime

From “Twins Suspected in Spectacular Jewelry Heist Set Free” (Spiegel Online International: 19 March 2009): Saved by their indistinguishable DNA, identical twins suspected in a massive jewelry heist have been set free. Neither could be exclusively linked to the DNA evidence. German police say at least one of the identical twin brothers Hassan and Abbas […]

Fossils are the lucky ones

From Errol Morris’ “Whose Father Was He? (Part Five)” (The New York Times: 2 April 2009): I had an opportunity to visit the fossil collections at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. It was part of a dinosaur fossil-hunting trip with Jack Horner, the premier hunter of T-Rex skeletons. Downstairs in the lab, […]

Why did Thomas Jefferson bring a stuffed moose to France?

From David G. Post’s “Jefferson’s Moose” (Remarks presented at the Stanford Law School Conference on Privacy in Cyberspace: 7 February 2000): In 1787, Jefferson, then the American Minister to France, had the “complete skeleton, skin & horns of the Moose” shipped to him in Paris and mounted in the lobby of his hotel. One can […]

The hard truths science reveals

From Steven Weinberg’s “Without God” (The New York Review of Books: 25 September 2008): Worse, the worldview of science is rather chilling. Not only do we not find any point to life laid out for us in nature, no objective basis for our moral principles, no correspondence between what we think is the moral law […]

4 sources of tension between science and religion

From Steven Weinberg’s “Without God” (The New York Review of Books: 25 September 2008): But if the direct conflict between scientific knowledge and specific religious beliefs has not been so important in itself, there are at least four sources of tension between science and religion that have been important. The first source of tension arises […]

Intelligent Design? How about a flat earth?

From Steven Weinberg’s “Without God” (The New York Review of Books: 25 September 2008): Contradictions between scripture and scientific knowledge have occurred again and again, and have generally been accommodated by the more enlightened among the religious. For instance, there are verses in both the Old and New Testament that seem to show that the […]

Michael Pollan’s rules for food

Image by rsgranne via Flickr From John Schwenkler’s “Food for thought: renewing the culinary culture should be a conservative cause” (The American Conservative: 2008): Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food deconstructs the pretensions of “food science” in often hilarious fashion and distills all you need to know about eating into three directives: Eat food (as […]

More on Google’s server farms

From Joel Hruska’s “The Beast unveiled: inside a Google server” (Ars Technica: 2 April 2009): Each Google server is hooked to an independent 12V battery to keep the units running in the event of a power outage. Data centers themselves are built and housed in shipping containers (we’ve seen Sun pushing this trend as well), […]

Protected: Why we cuss

There is no excerpt because this is a protected post.

Why we can easily remember jingles but not jokes

From Natalie Angier’s “In One Ear and Out the Other” (The New York Times: 16 March 2009): In understanding human memory and its tics, Scott A. Small, a neurologist and memory researcher at Columbia, suggests the familiar analogy with computer memory. We have our version of a buffer, he said, a short-term working memory of […]

Facebook & the Dunbar number

From The Economist‘s “Primates on Facebook” (26 February 2009): Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist who now works at Oxford University, concluded that the cognitive power of the brain limits the size of the social network that an individual of any given species can develop. Extrapolating from the brain sizes and social networks of apes, Dr Dunbar […]

Why do Marlboros have red tips?

From Allen Abel And Madeleine Czigler’s “Tangerine trees and marmalade skies” (National Post: 24 June 2008): … it was [marketing sage & Chicago scientist Louis Cheskin] who turned Marlboro cigarettes from a woman’s brand — originally red-tipped to hide lipstick smears — into the cowboy-themed cancer sticks of universal renown.