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Yonatan Zunger has been at 2 events

HostFollowersTitleDateGuestsLinks
STEM Women on G+171,086Join us for a STEM Women HOA as we speak to Dr.  @103389452828130864950 on how men can help with the issues of gender inequality in STEM fields. Yonatan is the Chief Architect of Google+ and also has a PhD in Physics with a strong engineering background. He is a passionate advocate of gender equality in STEM, and will talk to us about what we can do to encourage women in STEM. This HOA will be hosted by Dr @108510686109338749229   and Dr @110756968351492254645  , and you can tune in on Sunday March 2nd at 12.30 PM Pacific/ 8.30PM GMT. The hangout will be available for viewing on our YouTube channel(http://www.youtube.com/stemwomen) after the event. Follow us on Twitter @stemwomen and on www.stemwomen.netSTEM Women: How Men Can Help with Dr Yonatan Zunger2014-03-02 21:30:0096  
Blogger1,413,738We’re hosting a Hangout on Air with lead Product Manager @109161242786054443993 and lead Engineer @103389452828130864950 to discuss last week’s launch of Google+ Comments for Blogger. If you’ve got questions about the launch, please leave them in the comments below so that Dan and Yonatan can answer them during the Hangout.Join the team behind Google+ Comments for Blogger for a Hangout on Air2013-04-25 20:30:001085  

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2015-07-05 22:50:20 (196 comments, 76 reshares, 399 +1s)Open 

Since 2009, Colorado has had the single most effective anti-abortion program in the country. In its first four years (for which we now have full data), it reduced abortions by 42%, and teen pregnancies by 40%. And there is nothing particularly startling about the success, because it was done by the most obvious means possible: give contraception to women who want it but can't get access to it, namely teenagers and people who can't afford it. 

"Startlingly," this turns out to work quite well, quite inexpensively, and make basically everyone happy. ("Startlingly" is in quotes because I suspect that if I asked someone who knew nothing about American politics, "what would you do to decrease the rate of unwanted pregnancies?," they would probably guess pretty much exactly what Colorado did, and be not at all startled that it worked) 

(This is nota... more »

Most reshares: 255

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2015-07-29 19:43:16 (103 comments, 255 reshares, 774 +1s)Open 

+John Scalzi installs Windows 10. Its final form will soon be upon us.

Most plusones: 774

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2015-07-29 19:43:16 (103 comments, 255 reshares, 774 +1s)Open 

+John Scalzi installs Windows 10. Its final form will soon be upon us.

Latest 50 posts

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2015-08-02 00:14:46 (0 comments, 0 reshares, 0 +1s)Open 

In a post earlier today, +God Emperor Lionel Lauer asked about whether tattoos are religiously prohibited for Jews and for Christians, based on Leviticus 19:28. This led to quite an interesting discussion of the history and interpretation of the Bible, and I ended up writing a comment long enough that I figured that some of my readers here may enjoy it as well. So here's some of the story of how tattoos are viewed in Judaism and Christianity, and how that came to be.

In Judaism


Basically all of Leviticus (including 19:28) comes from the P source. [1] P gets its name because of its priestly authors – this book wasn't written to the Levis so much as by them. There's some dispute over the date of its authorship, but it's a question of whether it was written shortly after RJE (which would put it during the Babylonian exile) or around the 5-6c BCE (somewhat afterth... more »

In a post earlier today, +God Emperor Lionel Lauer asked about whether tattoos are religiously prohibited for Jews and for Christians, based on Leviticus 19:28. This led to quite an interesting discussion of the history and interpretation of the Bible, and I ended up writing a comment long enough that I figured that some of my readers here may enjoy it as well. So here's some of the story of how tattoos are viewed in Judaism and Christianity, and how that came to be.

In Judaism


Basically all of Leviticus (including 19:28) comes from the P source. [1] P gets its name because of its priestly authors – this book wasn't written to the Levis so much as by them. There's some dispute over the date of its authorship, but it's a question of whether it was written shortly after RJE (which would put it during the Babylonian exile) or around the 5-6c BCE (somewhat after the return). I join with the (narrow) majority in thinking that the second interpretation is more likely to be accurate, because at the time of RJE the priestly community hadn't yet formed a sufficiently strong post-Exilic organizational bureaucracy to come up with this detailed a rule list.

What's important about this dating and sourcing is that post-Exilic Judaism is a very different kettle of fish from pre-Exilic Judaism. Pre-Exile, the religion is centered around national identity and the monarchy, is generally monolatrous rather than monotheistic, and religious prohibitions are focused on things like "what kind of animal are you allowed to sacrifice." During the Exilic period, there was a major rethinking of the meaning of the religion: How do you have Judaism without a Temple? This led to the notion of the "self as Temple," so that e.g. kosher laws shifted from restricting sacrifices to restricting foodstuffs; to the notion of the Law as being the center of the religion; the development of the idea of the rabbi; and quite a few other things. (This is also where the idea of true monotheism makes its appearance)

Post-Exile, there was a very strong effort by the priests who led the return (which were, we should remember, a schism within Judaism: a lot of Jews were perfectly content to remain in Mesopotamia, and the Mesopotamian Jews remained the heart of Judaism all the way until the Mongol conquests moved the center over to Cairo and to Spain. The group that demanded a return to Israel after the rise of Cyrus were considered fairly radical, and one gets the sense that a lot of the people in Mesopotamia were glad to see them go) to enforce a "new religious order" in their recently re-occupied land. The prophetic command to get rid of all of your non-Jewish wives, etc., (Ezra 10:3) all comes out of this time period. 

So that's the context in which P was being written and loaded down with ritual prohibitions, and that's why P is so focused on defining the bounds between "Jewish" and "non-Jewish." The ban on tattooing is very much a part of that, it representing a custom of many of the local groups.

Moving forward in history a bit, the next major phase is the Tannaitic period during the Roman occupation. This is the point where the Mishnah was written, and it was a point where the leading rabbis were very concerned with the question of how to remain a Jew in a world where not everyone around you is one. The idea of a "fence around the Torah," and all of the more complex ritual prohibitions and conduct, really emerges from that period. These authors reinforced Levitical prohibitions fairly strongly. A similar process continued all the way through the Middle Ages and into the modern period.

The real shift away from this starts with the rise of secularism in the early 17th century, along with the general catalysis of the Enlightenment. This led to profound splits within Judaism as well, and a lot of the modern perception of the importance of ritual and identity versus core practice.


Among Christians, the story was fairly different. Christianity really had two fathers, and nowhere is it more visible than here.

Jesus (and his immediate followers, especially Peter) fit very naturally into the scope of 1st-century Judaism and its conflicts. Jesus took a particularly radical position against the core Tannaitic one (and more to the point, against the Pharisaic one, which was politically ascendant at the time) rejecting the increased emphasis on ritual law in favor of a nearly-complete refocusing on things like charity and moral conduct. I could summarize the Petrine perspective on ritual laws like Lev19:28 as "seriously, do you have nothing better to worry about with your time?" (Probably followed by an angry speech about the poor, if Jesus were giving it)

Paul, on the other hand, basically came up with a new religious tradition de novo which was tied to Jesus more as inspiration than as source. He based his theology entirely on the idea of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the ideas of grace, salvation, etc., which are so familiar to us from modern Christianity. He had no interest in the ritual law either, but for different reasons; he had basically converted to/created an entirely new religious tradition, with a wholly different set of interests.

Petrine Christianity largely faded into the background, as Paul's version was much more interested in selling itself around the world. (There are some remaining Petrine sects, and there has been a resurgence of interest in more Petrine principles of charity and so on among certain denominations in the US and Europe in the past few years) 

So when you ask about whether a particular chunk of law applies to Christians, you should first ask whether you're talking about a Pauline or Petrine sect. For the former case, the short answer is basically "no;" the only texts that matter are the letters of Paul himself. (And occasional chunks taken out of the Gospels, but not in any sort of coherent manner; a sharp deemphasis on the Gospels and on the words of Jesus, in favor of on the epistles, is a fundamental hallmark of Pauline Christianity) So the (Pauline) Christian response to homosexuality, for example, is generally rooted in Corinthians (eg 1Cor6:9) rather than in anything Levitical.

Just for one extra complexity, we know that we don't have all the letters of Paul (e.g., 1Cor5:9 makes it clear that there was an earlier letter to the Corinthians, a "0Cor," which isn't extant), and quite a few of the letters of Paul's are known to be outright forgeries. [2] In particular:

Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Philemon are broadly agreed to all have been written by the same hand (Paul's) ca 50CE.

2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, and Colossians are of "uncertain authorship," most likely forgeries. (Rather amusingly, 2Thess2:1 warns the recipients to ignore other letters being circulated, saying that these aren't actually by me and they are forgeries. Except 2Thess itself is almost certainly a forgery as well, arguing forcefully for perspectives which Paul routinely argued forcefully against in his confirmed letters. Very Hall of Mirrors.)

1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are definite forgeries, written in the 2nd or 3rd century CE. 

There are also lines and chapters within legit epistles which are suspected to be forgeries as well. And while the Petrine Christians were focused much more on the words of Jesus, they didn't have many circulating written sources; the Gospels are anonymous texts (i.e. we don't know who wrote each one) with the earliest being Mark, ca. 65-70CE, written by educated, Greek-literate 2nd-generation followers of Jesus based on a few decades of oral tradition.

So the net of this is that Pauline Christianity (including all of Catholicism and almost all of Protestantism) doesn't care at all about anything written by the P source, or really almost at all about anything in the Jewish religious texts; their importance is entirely in their use rhetorically to show that their religion was prophesied. Thus the tattooing prohibition, in particular, has no significance there.

[1] Footnote for those who haven't encountered this: the names of the different sources come from the historical study of how the Bible was written. The book was written by a number of authors over a period of several hundred years, and the various authors and editors each had particular political axes to grind, which often manifested in their having arguments in the text itself. If you want to know more about this, I recommend Richard Freedman's The Bible with Sources Revealed, (https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Bible_with_Sources_Revealed.html?id=iw39_Eaq85QC) which is an edition of the Torah with sentence-by-sentence annotation of our best understanding of who wrote what and when.

[2] The study of early Christian sources is no less fascinating than the study of early Jewish ones. In the first few centuries CE, notable early Christian preachers were criss-crossing the Roman Empire pushing their various ideas and writing lots of letters to their supporters and potential supporters. Paul was the original and one of the most successful, which also meant that he was one of the most-often forged. If you're interested in this, I highly recommend Bart Ehrman's lecture series, "History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon," (http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/history-of-the-bible-the-making-of-the-new-testament-canon.html), which goes into this in depth.___

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2015-07-31 14:16:47 (145 comments, 212 reshares, 623 +1s)Open 

I don't often share press articles about our products – they rarely seem to say much of use – but this was just such a good case of a journalist Getting It Right that I had to share. Google+ is very much alive, and our recent changes are focused on making it be the best product it can be for what it's best at: helping people meet people and have great conversations about things they're passionate about. 

One particularly noteworthy thing in this article is its discussion of the "majority illusion:" people tend to assume that their friends are typical of the wider world, but almost by definition they aren't – for one thing, they all have one uncommon attribute in common, which is being your friend in the first place. And since people don't choose their friends randomly from the entire spectrum of humanity, one's friends are always a distorted sample. 
more »

I don't often share press articles about our products – they rarely seem to say much of use – but this was just such a good case of a journalist Getting It Right that I had to share. Google+ is very much alive, and our recent changes are focused on making it be the best product it can be for what it's best at: helping people meet people and have great conversations about things they're passionate about. 

One particularly noteworthy thing in this article is its discussion of the "majority illusion:" people tend to assume that their friends are typical of the wider world, but almost by definition they aren't – for one thing, they all have one uncommon attribute in common, which is being your friend in the first place. And since people don't choose their friends randomly from the entire spectrum of humanity, one's friends are always a distorted sample. 

So yes, we have here a tech press article which (correctly) uses an important result in cognitive psychology to explain why lots of tech press articles are nonsense.___

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2015-07-31 04:43:39 (47 comments, 31 reshares, 164 +1s)Open 

Apparently, obscenities in the US have a marked regional distribution. Looking at these maps makes me want to do correlations between them, as well as to give a sort of obscene weather forecast.

(It occurs to me that I probably shouldn't continue typing what I was typing, because since so much of my work right now deals with hate and harassment online, my mental bar for what a normal amount of obscenity is to hear in an ordinary work conversation is probably a wee bit skewed right now.)

Lots of interesting regional trends in these maps. (Warning: contains strong language, which is the point.)

https://stronglang.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/mapping-the-united-swears-of-america/___Apparently, obscenities in the US have a marked regional distribution. Looking at these maps makes me want to do correlations between them, as well as to give a sort of obscene weather forecast.

(It occurs to me that I probably shouldn't continue typing what I was typing, because since so much of my work right now deals with hate and harassment online, my mental bar for what a normal amount of obscenity is to hear in an ordinary work conversation is probably a wee bit skewed right now.)

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2015-07-29 19:43:16 (103 comments, 255 reshares, 774 +1s)Open 

+John Scalzi installs Windows 10. Its final form will soon be upon us.

+John Scalzi installs Windows 10. Its final form will soon be upon us.___

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2015-07-29 17:29:00 (24 comments, 5 reshares, 149 +1s)Open 

There is a flaw in this sculpture. Namely, that it doesn't have any way to climb in to the compartment and sit in it, because that would be awesome.

The Train to Heaven ... "The Train to Heaven is a monument depicting an old, real steam locomotive standing upright and pointing towards the sky, located at Strzegomski Square in Wroclaw, Poland. The 65-years-old engine was procured from a museum and erected here in 2010 by artist Andrzej Jarodzki. The sculpture was commissioned by the city of Wroclaw and Wroclaw’s developer company Archicom to commemorate its 20 years of commercial activity in the city. The steam engine is 30 meters long and weighs 80 tons. The monument is said to be the largest urban sculpture in Poland.

Andrzej Jarodzki, an artist from Wroclaw, came up with the idea a long time ago while playing with his son’s toy engine. At one point he set the toy upright and that’s where the idea came from. However, Jarodzki was unable to realize it until he was approached by Archicom. Only five years old, the Train to Heaven is already Wroclaw’s most famous attraction. ,,,"

MORE PHOTOS: http://www.amusingplanet.com/2015/07/the-train-to-heaven-in-wroclaw.html___There is a flaw in this sculpture. Namely, that it doesn't have any way to climb in to the compartment and sit in it, because that would be awesome.

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2015-07-29 14:55:45 (9 comments, 16 reshares, 94 +1s)Open 

The National Academy of Sciences is hosting an exhibition of art quilts inspired by the chemical elements – and it's quite a thing to see. Below is "Iridium: My Darkness To Light II," by (cell biologist) Grace Harbin Weaver, inspired by the use of Iridium electrodes implanted in the human brain to study vision and perception. You can see all of the works here:

http://www.saqa.com/store-view.php?scat=48

or at the NAS itself, at 2101 Constitution Ave. NW in DC.

h/t to +Josh Witten and to +The Finch & Pea, which has more on this exhibit at http://thefinchandpea.com/2015/07/29/the-art-of-science-radical-elements/ .

The National Academy of Sciences is hosting an exhibition of art quilts inspired by the chemical elements – and it's quite a thing to see. Below is "Iridium: My Darkness To Light II," by (cell biologist) Grace Harbin Weaver, inspired by the use of Iridium electrodes implanted in the human brain to study vision and perception. You can see all of the works here:

http://www.saqa.com/store-view.php?scat=48

or at the NAS itself, at 2101 Constitution Ave. NW in DC.

h/t to +Josh Witten and to +The Finch & Pea, which has more on this exhibit at http://thefinchandpea.com/2015/07/29/the-art-of-science-radical-elements/ .___

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2015-07-28 20:23:08 (43 comments, 53 reshares, 311 +1s)Open 

A fundamental principle of good engineering is that you design the whole system to function well, not just the part you're concentrating on. Most systems include humans as components -- as operators, maintainers, passengers, or even obstacles. And when you fail to take that seriously into account in your design, you make a fundamental design error which can have lethal consequences.

It appears that the cause of the SpaceShipTwo crash was precisely of this sort: the designers never considered the possibility that a particular switch might be flipped at an incorrect time. In this case, it was flipped only a few seconds too soon, at a speed of Mach 0.8 instead of Mach 1.4. (This under rocket power, where acceleration is fast) That caused the tail system to unlock too soon, be ripped free by acceleration, and destroy the spacecraft, killing the co-pilot and severely injuring the pilot.
... more »

A fundamental principle of good engineering is that you design the whole system to function well, not just the part you're concentrating on. Most systems include humans as components -- as operators, maintainers, passengers, or even obstacles. And when you fail to take that seriously into account in your design, you make a fundamental design error which can have lethal consequences.

It appears that the cause of the SpaceShipTwo crash was precisely of this sort: the designers never considered the possibility that a particular switch might be flipped at an incorrect time. In this case, it was flipped only a few seconds too soon, at a speed of Mach 0.8 instead of Mach 1.4. (This under rocket power, where acceleration is fast) That caused the tail system to unlock too soon, be ripped free by acceleration, and destroy the spacecraft, killing the co-pilot and severely injuring the pilot.

Scaled Composites' design philosophy of "relying on human skill instead of computers" here reeks of test pilots' overconfidence: the pilots are so good that they would never make a mistake. But at these speeds, under these g-forces, under these stresses, and tested repeatedly, it's never hard for an error to happen.

There are a few design principles which apply here.

(1) It should not be easy to do something catastrophic. There are only a few circumstances under which it is safe for the feathers to unlock, for example, and those are easy to detect based on the flight profile; at any other time, the system should refuse to unlock them unless the operator gives a confirmatory "yes, I really mean that" signal.

(2) Mechanical tasks that can lead to disaster are a bad idea. Humans have limited bandwidth to process things: while our brain's vision center is enormously powerful, our conscious mind's ability to think through things works at language speed, a few ideas per second. Here, time was wasted with a human having to perform a basically mechanical task of unlocking a switch at a particular, precise time. This requires the human to pay attention, time something accurately, and flip a switch, at a time that they should be simply watching out for emergencies. Since the time of unlock is already known long before takeoff, a better design would be for the unlock to happen automatically at the right time -- unless the risks from having an automatic unlocker (perhaps due to a reliability issue, or having a complex part prone to failure) exceed the benefits of removing it.

What's important to learn from this accident is that this error isn't specific to that one mechanism: this is an approach which needs to be taken across the entire design of the system. Every single potential or scheduled human action needs to be reviewed in this way.

An excellent perspective on this comes from James Mahaffey's book Atomic Accidents, a catalogue of things that have gone horribly wrong. In the analysis, you see repeatedly that once designs progressed beyond the initial experimental "you're doing WHAT?!" stage, almost all accidents come from humans pushing the wrong button at the wrong time. 

Generally, good practice looks like:

(A) Have clear status indicators so that a human can tell, at a glance, the current status of the system, and if anything is in an anomalous state.

(B) Have "deep status" indicators that let a human understand the full state of some part of the system, so that if something is registering an anomaly, they can figure out what it is.

(C) Have a system of manual controls for the components. Then look at the flows of operation, and when there is a sequence which can be automated, build an automation system on top of those manual controls. (So that if automation fails or is incorrect for any reason, you can switch back to manual behavior) 

(D) The system's general behavior should be "run yourself on an autonomous schedule. When it looks like the situation may be going beyond the system's abilities to deal with on its own -- e.g., an anomaly whose mitigation isn't something that's been automated -- alert a human."

The job of humans is then to sit there and pay attention, both for any time when the system calls for help, and for any sign that the system may need to call for help and not realize it.

This wasn't about a lack of a backup system: this was about a fundamentally improper view of humans as a component of a crtiical system.___

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2015-07-28 04:09:15 (28 comments, 6 reshares, 107 +1s)Open 

It is possible that this design for a system to safely blow up buildings containing chemical or biological weapons, without spreading said weapons into the air, had its design secretly influenced by an eight-year-old. It is possible because, if I were eight and trying to come up with the coolest possible way to make something catch on fire, it would probably involve dropping a giant container full of burning bouncy balls.

I have no idea whether or not this idea would work, but it would be tremendous fun to watch.

Wherein the US government develops a warhead full of rubberized rocket-fuel superballs designed to careen through secure facilities, breaking down doors, superheating the air, and generally making a giant mess of things.___It is possible that this design for a system to safely blow up buildings containing chemical or biological weapons, without spreading said weapons into the air, had its design secretly influenced by an eight-year-old. It is possible because, if I were eight and trying to come up with the coolest possible way to make something catch on fire, it would probably involve dropping a giant container full of burning bouncy balls.

I have no idea whether or not this idea would work, but it would be tremendous fun to watch.

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2015-07-27 03:27:19 (11 comments, 12 reshares, 152 +1s)Open 

Prostheses from the late 19th century got remarkably sophisticated. Gillingham's work was distinguished by his focus on fitting the prosthetic carefully to the individual. The resulting devices, made of wood and leather, shifted the whole world of artificial limbs.

"James Gillingham ran an ordinary shoemaking business, the Golden Boot, in Chard, England. In 1866, he met a man who had lost an arm in a cannon mishap and had been told by doctors that there was nothing to be done about it.

Eager to put his craftsmanship to test, Gillingham offered to make the man a new arm for free."
___Prostheses from the late 19th century got remarkably sophisticated. Gillingham's work was distinguished by his focus on fitting the prosthetic carefully to the individual. The resulting devices, made of wood and leather, shifted the whole world of artificial limbs.

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2015-07-26 17:13:26 (39 comments, 20 reshares, 211 +1s)Open 

For those who have never seen one, a trebuchet is a piece of medieval artillery that works by dropping a counterweight. This turns a long throwing arm (the throwing arm being longer than the counterweight arm, so it moves farther and thus faster) which in turn pulls a long rope (giving it even more length) at the end of which is a sling carrying a projectile. They were quite effective, and remained useful even after the invention of cannons. 

Also, they can be photographed with strobes. The counterweight is the squarish object at the bottom; you can see a long lever arm spinning at the top, a rope, a reddish sling, and some kind of yellow object being hurled at its intended victim.

h/t +Autumn Ginkgo Leaves™

The non-conventional photo class did a demo on strobes today.  What a great time to study historic weapon trebuchets.___For those who have never seen one, a trebuchet is a piece of medieval artillery that works by dropping a counterweight. This turns a long throwing arm (the throwing arm being longer than the counterweight arm, so it moves farther and thus faster) which in turn pulls a long rope (giving it even more length) at the end of which is a sling carrying a projectile. They were quite effective, and remained useful even after the invention of cannons. 

Also, they can be photographed with strobes. The counterweight is the squarish object at the bottom; you can see a long lever arm spinning at the top, a rope, a reddish sling, and some kind of yellow object being hurled at its intended victim.

h/t +Autumn Ginkgo Leaves™

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2015-07-24 20:29:14 (46 comments, 29 reshares, 110 +1s)Open 

Here +Fraser Cain gives an excellent explanation of what would happen if you collided an ordinary black hole with a black hole made out of antimatter. The answer is that they wouldn't annihilate each other: you would just end up with a single, bigger black hole.

There's a lot of interesting science behind it, but the two most important things to know for this are a pair of acronyms: CPT symmetry and ADM equations. The first tells us what antimatter is; the second, what black holes look like. And importantly, we have to understand the idea that "black holes have no hair."

CPT stands for "Charge, Parity, Time Reversal." These are three separate switches you could flip on any piece of matter you encountered. If you flipped the charge, you would replace + charges with - charges, and also you would flip some of the more exotic (non-electrical) charges that other... more »

Here +Fraser Cain gives an excellent explanation of what would happen if you collided an ordinary black hole with a black hole made out of antimatter. The answer is that they wouldn't annihilate each other: you would just end up with a single, bigger black hole.

There's a lot of interesting science behind it, but the two most important things to know for this are a pair of acronyms: CPT symmetry and ADM equations. The first tells us what antimatter is; the second, what black holes look like. And importantly, we have to understand the idea that "black holes have no hair."

CPT stands for "Charge, Parity, Time Reversal." These are three separate switches you could flip on any piece of matter you encountered. If you flipped the charge, you would replace + charges with - charges, and also you would flip some of the more exotic (non-electrical) charges that other kinds of matter had. If you flipped the parity, you would exchange your left hand for your right hand; importantly, for some particles (like neutrinos) their direction of rotation about their axis is related to their direction of motion by a "right-hand rule" (point your right thumb in the direction of motion; your fingers show the direction of rotation) or a "left-hand rule." That would get flipped. And if you flipped the direction of time, you would literally play back the laws of physics backwards, having everything go the opposite way.

These seem like three rather random changes you could make to the universe, but what's important about them is that if you made all three changes – flipped all the charges in the universe, exchanged right and left, and played everything backwards – it turns out that the laws of physics would be exactly the same. That's called "CPT Symmetry," and it's very important in quantum mechanics.

But what would that look like? Imagine you started with an electron moving along its merry way, say moving from your left to your right, and you CPT'ed it. You would end up with something that had the same mass as the electron, but a positive charge (C). P doesn't do anything to electrons (or rather, what it does is subtle and complicated to explain and doesn't really add anything here), but T would mean that the positively-charged electron would be "moving backwards in time," which would look like it was moving from your right to your left. The CPT rule tells you that our same laws of physics should describe this reversed situation. What that means from the perspective of quantum field theory, whose job it is to explain all of the various particles we see in the universe, is that if there's a particle that looks like an electron – having a charge of -1, a mass of 511MeV, and so on – then the same laws of physics should also describe this "flipped electron," with a charge of +1, a mass of 511MeV, and so on.

These "flipped particles" are what we call antimatter. Basically, a good way to think about it is to ignore time reversal; a particle moving from right to left is now moving from left to right, but for our purposes it's easiest to just note that yes, it's a particle, and it moves around. (It turns out that this actually works out well at the level of the math as well) For every particle, if you flip all its charges and its handedness, there should be a second particle in the universe that has those properties.

For an electron, this "flipped particle" is called a positron; for other matter particles, their name comes from giving them the prefix "anti." So just as three quarks (two ups and a down) make up a proton, three antiquarks (two anti-ups and an anti-down) make up an antiproton, and the antiproton has a charge of -1 and the same mass as a proton. Photons are their own antiparticles: they have no charge and come in all handednesses. So there's no "antiphoton," nor is there an "antigraviton." 

So that's CPT, and it's all about very small things. ADM (named after its inventors, Arnowitt, Deser, and Misner) is a set of equations for describing behaviors in general relativity, our best theory of gravity.

The ADM equations are actually a very general tool, but what's important about them for our purpose is that they tell us that whenever you have an object that's bounded in space (i.e., that doesn't either stretch off to infinity in some direction, or distort spacetime so badly that even infinitely far away they have an effect), you can meaningfully talk about the "total energy" or "total mass" in that object. Basically, if there's any meaningful sense in which you can "get far away" from an object – so that you're basically in empty, flat space with some object far away – then you can talk about measuring the properties of that object in some way.

This is true of black holes, just like it is of basically every other configuration of matter, and so we can talk about a black hole's "ADM mass," its total mass measured using this method. Through a very similar argument, we can see that it's not just mass you can measure this way: you can also measure the total momentum of the black hole (if it's moving), its angular momentum (if it's spinning), its electrical charge (if it has any), and in fact the exact same set of charges that we talked about when we talked about CPT.

(That's actually not a coincidence: these charges aren't picked at random. Probably the most important theorem in mathematical physics is what's called Noether's Theorem, which says that there is a conserved quantity associated with a system if and only if there's a symmetry of the system, and those are related in a particular way. For example, if the system would be the same if you shifted its position by any amount, the associated conserved quantity is momentum. Shifting things forward and backwards in time leads to energy conservation; rotating them, angular momentum. The symmetries associated with electric charge and the like are more complicated, but they're fundamental to how physics works. The ADM "total energy" calculation basically works because you can zoom out until you're far enough away from the system that it's basically empty space with something in the middle, then use that symmetry and pull out the value of the conserved quantity using Noether's technique. Applying that to each symmetry in turn, you can measure total energy, momentum, and so on.)

And now another interesting fact kicks in: "Black holes have no hair." This is a fact about general relativity which takes some serious proving, but what it means is that the only properties which black holes have that are measurable from the outside are exactly these global conserved charges. In particular, black holes have a shape completely determined by these charges (a perfect sphere unless they have angular momentum, in which case they distort in a particular way from rotation); they don't have filaments, curves, hairballs, or anything else like that. 

So now, let's combine these ideas. Say you had two black holes: one matter and one antimatter. The matter one has some mass, some charge, some angular momentum, and so on, and so does the antimatter one. But as we know from understanding what antimatter is, the anti-black hole still has positive mass; it just got built up out of antiparticles, so maybe it has an opposite charge.

When the two black holes merge, the only thing that matters (by the no-hair theorem) is those total amounts, and they simply add up. So you end up with one bigger black hole.

In fact, what that means is that there's no such thing as an "anti-black hole" at all: no matter what went in to forming the black hole, at the end all that matters is the total mass, charge, and so on. You could have gotten a charge from anything – positrons or ordinary protons – and it would come out the same.

Here's another way to think about it. Imagine that we weren't just colliding black holes, we were also manufacturing them. One of them we're going to build by crushing a big lump of matter; the other, by crushing a big lump of antimatter. Now, we know from the above that if we first build them, and then collide them, we end up with a single black hole. But what would happen if we first collided them and then built them? Would it matter (so to speak) if the black hole formed just before or just after the collision?

The answer is no. When matter and antimatter react, they get converted into energy, but all of those charges are conserved. (Remember that matter is energy, so the mass of the particles gets turned into energy as well) For example, an electron and a positron can react to turn into two photons, but the total charge stays the same (-1 from the electron, +1 from the positron, 0 for the two photons), and so does the energy: 511MeV worth for each particle, plus whatever kinetic energy they had, turns into the energy of the emitted photons. (You may have noticed, if you know some physics notation, that I actually gave the mass of the electron in units of energy; that’s very common in physics, since you go back and forth between the two all the time anyway) 

So if the matter bundle and the antimatter bundle collided before forming into a black hole, they’d react dramatically, explode and so on, and produce a total energy which is exactly equal to the energy (and mass!) that went into them, with a total charge which is exactly equal to the charge that went into them, and so on. And if that were to form a black hole, it would form the exact same black hole that would have formed if they had made two black holes and then merged!

This is a fundamental idea that shows up over and over in science: conserved quantities are really conserved, no matter what, but everything else tends to get mushed up fairly easily. As we saw above, black holes “have no hair:” the only properties they have are conserved charges. Both matter and antimatter obey this rule, and the two differ in properties like their handedness and their charges, so that when they react, while they may turn into energy (rather explosively), that energy (and thus mass) is exactly the same amount that went in.

And that’s why there’s no such thing as an “anti-black hole.”___

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2015-07-24 15:42:02 (24 comments, 10 reshares, 159 +1s)Open 

Note to self: Remember this answer for future use. 

(From: http://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=3010)
(See also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhuMLpdnOjY)

Note to self: Remember this answer for future use. 

(From: http://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=3010)
(See also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhuMLpdnOjY)___

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2015-07-24 15:14:56 (58 comments, 12 reshares, 89 +1s)Open 

Headlines you don't read every day: "Wildfire started by man who could not poop correctly."

It is kind of impressive, being sufficiently unable to shit in the woods that you set them on fire. /smh 

In the Girl Scouts and later in the Army, I learned the correct way to poop in the woods.

You dig a small hole, squat over it, do your doody, then wipe with a minimal amount of toilet paper. Drop paper in hole. Cover hole with dirt. Leave.

At no point is fire ever involved.

The entire line of thinking here is weird. He set the poopy toilet paper on fire, rather than litter. Dude, you just shit on the side of the road without burying it. A little biodegradable toilet paper is not littering if you're pooping correctly.

Do we need to start having wilderness poop training?___Headlines you don't read every day: "Wildfire started by man who could not poop correctly."

It is kind of impressive, being sufficiently unable to shit in the woods that you set them on fire. /smh 

2015-07-24 14:41:28 (29 comments, 6 reshares, 176 +1s)Open 

Touché.

Israel may be the only country where conspiracy theorists worry that it is secretly not run by the Jews.___Touché.

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2015-07-24 06:01:51 (28 comments, 19 reshares, 155 +1s)Open 

This is an interesting development. An important thing about Israeli politics is that on-the-ground military experience is considered the sine qua non of being taken seriously as a political leader. This doesn't have the same implications that it does in other countries: here, because the military has a rather important day job, experience there tends to breed pragmatic realism and an allergy to grand ideology. (As opposed to countries where the military either sees itself as the natural ruler of the state, or where it itself is a major breeding ground of fundamentalism or radicalism)

When Israeli governments are built around people who lack this sort of credential, they are generally considered to be "placeholder" governments by the public: people elected because nobody really serious was running, for one reason or another. These governments aren't horribly common in Israeli... more »

This is an interesting development. An important thing about Israeli politics is that on-the-ground military experience is considered the sine qua non of being taken seriously as a political leader. This doesn't have the same implications that it does in other countries: here, because the military has a rather important day job, experience there tends to breed pragmatic realism and an allergy to grand ideology. (As opposed to countries where the military either sees itself as the natural ruler of the state, or where it itself is a major breeding ground of fundamentalism or radicalism)

When Israeli governments are built around people who lack this sort of credential, they are generally considered to be "placeholder" governments by the public: people elected because nobody really serious was running, for one reason or another. These governments aren't horribly common in Israeli history, but they've happened a few times in the recent past; Shimon Peres' government a few years ago, and Netanyahu's government today. One important thing to understand about the current situation is that very few people actually like Netanyahu; he won by a combination of weak opposition and some short-term pandering (of a particularly vile sort) whose luster lasted just long enough for the ballots to be counted.

So it's quite significant that an increasing cohort of retired senior military people – people who are taken quite seriously by the general public – are coming out and saying that the deal between the US and Iran is, while not great, not catastrophic either, and that the best thing for Israel to do with its time is to mend fences with the US and work towards stabilizing the Middle East.

The reason this is significant is that these people are the bellwether for the broader public, and for coming elections. It means that the odds of a significant counterswing in the near future against not just Netanyahu &co., but their policies (especially with regards to jingoistic grandstanding) are quite good.

Thank the gods.

via +Irreverent Monk and +Alex Grossman ___

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2015-07-24 05:47:53 (15 comments, 30 reshares, 153 +1s)Open 

When we think about what music sounded like in the past, we often talk about the differences in the instruments, or the differences in composition style. But one thing we rarely think about is how technique itself has changed. Christina Kobb (of the Baratt Due Institute of Music in Oslo) has been researching 19th-century piano technique books, and learning how to play in the 19th-century style. It's quite different: the performer sits straight upright, with the elbows touching the body, rather than bent over the keyboard with the elbows wide as we do today. This creates a different effect: rapid cross-keyboard jumps are easier (because your elbows help you navigate), but dynamic range is lessened. (Because you don't have your full body weight, only fingers)

To study this further, she's teaming up with motion capture experts, and soon we'll have a fully 3D image of all the aspects... more »

When we think about what music sounded like in the past, we often talk about the differences in the instruments, or the differences in composition style. But one thing we rarely think about is how technique itself has changed. Christina Kobb (of the Baratt Due Institute of Music in Oslo) has been researching 19th-century piano technique books, and learning how to play in the 19th-century style. It's quite different: the performer sits straight upright, with the elbows touching the body, rather than bent over the keyboard with the elbows wide as we do today. This creates a different effect: rapid cross-keyboard jumps are easier (because your elbows help you navigate), but dynamic range is lessened. (Because you don't have your full body weight, only fingers)

To study this further, she's teaming up with motion capture experts, and soon we'll have a fully 3D image of all the aspects of how 19th and 20th century piano technique differ – and from there we'll be able to understand which aspects affect both difficulty and the quality of the performance.

Those who want to learn significantly more can watch this half-hour video of Kobb's, in which she discusses the technique in depth, for an audience of pianists. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INh84SP6DiA

h/t +Russ Abbott ___

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2015-07-24 02:27:42 (29 comments, 7 reshares, 134 +1s)Open 

The thing I find most wrong about this: despite this being done at a NIST research facility, it is very clear that whoever was cooking meth was not obeying proper lab safety procedures.

#RealOrOnion___The thing I find most wrong about this: despite this being done at a NIST research facility, it is very clear that whoever was cooking meth was not obeying proper lab safety procedures.

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2015-07-24 02:14:02 (154 comments, 48 reshares, 394 +1s)Open 

I don't know what I can really add.

Via +Áine Keefer.

___I don't know what I can really add.

Via +Áine Keefer.

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2015-07-23 05:19:11 (54 comments, 36 reshares, 563 +1s)Open 

Sic transit gloria mundi.

h/t +Kee Hinckley​

___Sic transit gloria mundi.

h/t +Kee Hinckley​

2015-07-23 05:02:59 (16 comments, 6 reshares, 86 +1s)Open 

... OK, it took me a moment to be sure he was talking about an actual software patch and not reflecting on the current state of Greek politics.

Adventures in Bizarre Patch Notes: Long-running Crusader Kings II games would frequently experience slowdowns because every individual Greek was evaluating whether they could castrate or blind every other individual Greek. 

That performance bug is, thankfully, now eliminated.___... OK, it took me a moment to be sure he was talking about an actual software patch and not reflecting on the current state of Greek politics.

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2015-07-22 02:27:15 (94 comments, 21 reshares, 554 +1s)Open 

In engineering, this is what we call "tempting fate."

There are real reasons why engineers have a deeply-rooted superstition against ever describing anything as working well except in the past tense. Count no system functional until it is dead. 

In engineering, this is what we call "tempting fate."

There are real reasons why engineers have a deeply-rooted superstition against ever describing anything as working well except in the past tense. Count no system functional until it is dead. ___

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2015-07-20 01:18:38 (27 comments, 16 reshares, 122 +1s)Open 

The conversation around these photos is somewhat interesting, but I think that the photos themselves are far more interesting. They're incredibly powerful, visually arresting - and an interesting pair to the "ESPN Body Issue" photos I shared a week or so ago. Again, photos which highlight the strength and power of the human form, in different ways.

I found this part of the article to be the most interesting:

Though the reaction from the public has been overwhelmingly positive, Stokes told BuzzFeed News that he has had a years-long struggle with those in charge of censoring Facebook.

Many of his photographs are removed, then put back up without explanation, telling any inquiring news outlets that it was a mistake. Then the same photos are removed again a week later.

“I get a lot of threats from religious groups who oppose my photos,” Stokes said.

He hypothesized that it was some of those people who consistently report the photos, including one of two fully dressed, male police officers almost kissing.

Stokes said he wouldn’t call the reactions homophobic, but rather “anti-homoerotic.”

“They believe men should not be the subject of what is traditionally the male gaze,” Stokes told BuzzFeed News. “My models often take on the traditionally female role of being objectified. Some people just aren’t comfortable with that.”

Imagine that.

Also, I wanted to share this as part of my ongoing support for including different types of bodies - including those with different abilities or disabilities - into what's considered sexy.___The conversation around these photos is somewhat interesting, but I think that the photos themselves are far more interesting. They're incredibly powerful, visually arresting - and an interesting pair to the "ESPN Body Issue" photos I shared a week or so ago. Again, photos which highlight the strength and power of the human form, in different ways.

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2015-07-19 13:01:14 (53 comments, 19 reshares, 304 +1s)Open 

I... wow. This is apparently a photo from Tehran. People are celebrating the accord. It's hard to explain how impossible a sight this would have been in Iran just a few years ago.

The theory on the American side (and likely on some of the Iranian side) is that this rapprochement, and opening of contacts, will strengthen the hand of moderates considerably, and lead to the gradual erosion of power of the Ayatollahs. I would say that whether or not this is going to work very much remains to be seen, as the Ayatollahs' power base in the countryside (as opposed to the major cities) remains strong, but I'm definitely going to be watching it.

h/t +Andreas Schou​

"Sounds of joy & images of excitement continue to cover the streets of #Tehran"

#irandeal   #irandealvienna   #peace   #iran   #US  

Just a few years ago, things like this would have been impossible to spot in Iran!

Such a cute kid!___I... wow. This is apparently a photo from Tehran. People are celebrating the accord. It's hard to explain how impossible a sight this would have been in Iran just a few years ago.

The theory on the American side (and likely on some of the Iranian side) is that this rapprochement, and opening of contacts, will strengthen the hand of moderates considerably, and lead to the gradual erosion of power of the Ayatollahs. I would say that whether or not this is going to work very much remains to be seen, as the Ayatollahs' power base in the countryside (as opposed to the major cities) remains strong, but I'm definitely going to be watching it.

h/t +Andreas Schou​

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2015-07-19 02:50:48 (31 comments, 6 reshares, 121 +1s)Open 

Peter Beinart nails the situation well. The deal isn't great, Iran definitely came out well ahead on the negotiation, but there are no alternatives that anyone has found which aren't considerably worse. In politics, nobody is ever choosing between a deal and their ideal preferences; they're choosing between the actual options on the table. And the complaints about the deal, both in the US and in Israel, really seem to be complaints about a lack of omnipotence.

Sorry, I must have left my magic wand in my other robes.

Exactly right. 

The US has geopolitical objectives other than preventing Iran from getting access to nuclear weapons. Like it or not, we need Iran's limited cooperation on a lot of regional issues -- Yemen's Houthis, Syria and Iraq's ISIS, stability in eastern Afghanistan -- and can't simultaneously maintain the embargo. 

Relations are likely to continue to be hostile, but they always were. ___Peter Beinart nails the situation well. The deal isn't great, Iran definitely came out well ahead on the negotiation, but there are no alternatives that anyone has found which aren't considerably worse. In politics, nobody is ever choosing between a deal and their ideal preferences; they're choosing between the actual options on the table. And the complaints about the deal, both in the US and in Israel, really seem to be complaints about a lack of omnipotence.

Sorry, I must have left my magic wand in my other robes.

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2015-07-19 02:38:32 (53 comments, 62 reshares, 518 +1s)Open 

There are two kinds of princesses. The ones who are being groomed for the marriage market, to be sold off to the highest bidder as part of a treaty negotiation, and the ones who are being groomed to rule.

One of these things is better than the other.

h/t +Christina Talbott-Clark​

Hear hear!___There are two kinds of princesses. The ones who are being groomed for the marriage market, to be sold off to the highest bidder as part of a treaty negotiation, and the ones who are being groomed to rule.

One of these things is better than the other.

h/t +Christina Talbott-Clark​

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2015-07-19 02:04:01 (9 comments, 23 reshares, 147 +1s)Open 

Nathaniel Burney gives some of the best explanations of the law you'll ever read. (Check out his site lawcomic.net and his books for much more) Here he gives a brief explanation of "qualified immunity," one of the principal things that protects police officers from legal consequences from violating people's rights. (The others, alas, are more insidious - things like the LEOBOR which almost entirely protect police from serious prosecution, and the simpler and more fundamental fact that investigations and prosecutions are generally done by organizations with a vested interest in protecting their relationship with the police, and often populated by the very same people who created a climate in which abuses could freely happen in the first place. Quo custodiet?)

___Nathaniel Burney gives some of the best explanations of the law you'll ever read. (Check out his site lawcomic.net and his books for much more) Here he gives a brief explanation of "qualified immunity," one of the principal things that protects police officers from legal consequences from violating people's rights. (The others, alas, are more insidious - things like the LEOBOR which almost entirely protect police from serious prosecution, and the simpler and more fundamental fact that investigations and prosecutions are generally done by organizations with a vested interest in protecting their relationship with the police, and often populated by the very same people who created a climate in which abuses could freely happen in the first place. Quo custodiet?)

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2015-07-11 11:50:26 (29 comments, 43 reshares, 184 +1s)Open 

Do you know what you need right now? A cover of Californication on medieval instruments by a Belarussian band. I'll bet you didn't know this is what you needed right now, but it actually is. It's really good, too.

h/t +Joe Provost​

With Medieval Instruments, Band Performs Classic Songs by Deep Purple, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica & The Beatles http://www.openculture.com/2015/07/with-medieval-instruments-band-performs-classic-songs-by-deep-purple-red-hot-chili-peppers-metallica-the-beatles.html___Do you know what you need right now? A cover of Californication on medieval instruments by a Belarussian band. I'll bet you didn't know this is what you needed right now, but it actually is. It's really good, too.

h/t +Joe Provost​

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2015-07-10 11:52:53 (21 comments, 26 reshares, 227 +1s)Open 

This is an extremely unusual lake: in the middle of a desert, nearly saturated with a wide range of minerals, and as it partially evaporates on a regular basis, it forms rings of deposits, in which miniature lakes sit. The results are beautiful and vary sharply with the season and the light - as the linked photos show.

Photographs for a Friday Morning...

Spotted.

Courtesy of All That Is Interesting...___This is an extremely unusual lake: in the middle of a desert, nearly saturated with a wide range of minerals, and as it partially evaporates on a regular basis, it forms rings of deposits, in which miniature lakes sit. The results are beautiful and vary sharply with the season and the light - as the linked photos show.

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2015-07-10 00:11:16 (37 comments, 26 reshares, 180 +1s)Open 

In the past few days, I've posted a few things showing how maps can reveal dramatically different things when their resolution is changed: how the map of executions in the US, or languages in Canada, for example, are radically different at state/province granularity versus at county/census tract granularity. Generally, large granularity spots big trends and misses major local ones.

This map isn't about granularity as directly, but by going well below country granularity, it lets you see two different regions with 5% of the world's population each: roughly, the densest and sparsest regions. (The red isn't actually the overall densest 5%, although I suspect that it may be the smallest contiguous region of the world that has 5% of the population)

___In the past few days, I've posted a few things showing how maps can reveal dramatically different things when their resolution is changed: how the map of executions in the US, or languages in Canada, for example, are radically different at state/province granularity versus at county/census tract granularity. Generally, large granularity spots big trends and misses major local ones.

This map isn't about granularity as directly, but by going well below country granularity, it lets you see two different regions with 5% of the world's population each: roughly, the densest and sparsest regions. (The red isn't actually the overall densest 5%, although I suspect that it may be the smallest contiguous region of the world that has 5% of the population)

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2015-07-09 22:32:36 (31 comments, 11 reshares, 90 +1s)Open 

+Nina Paley​'s animations are pretty awesome. This one was made by embroidering. Every single frame. It never occurred to me that you could animate that way before.

FINALLY our embroidermation is finished. It took almost 2 years (while we were obviously working on other things too). Every single embroidered frame you see here is for sale at http://www.palegraylabs.com/chad-gadya/ . Only 9 months 'til Passover!___+Nina Paley​'s animations are pretty awesome. This one was made by embroidering. Every single frame. It never occurred to me that you could animate that way before.

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2015-07-09 21:44:58 (9 comments, 9 reshares, 83 +1s)Open 

From the same family of recursive processes that brought you Eyeball Pasta, I bring you Dog Jumping At Self.

Yo, dawg, I heard yo dawg likes to jump at dogs. So I showed yo dawg yo dawg so yo dawg can jump while he jumps.___From the same family of recursive processes that brought you Eyeball Pasta, I bring you Dog Jumping At Self.

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2015-07-09 21:39:37 (30 comments, 15 reshares, 104 +1s)Open 

Yiddish in Quebec! Gujarati in Northern Alberta! Cree and Inuktitut over giant swaths of the country!

Yet another map full of interesting data for you: here, a map of Canada's most widely spoken languages, other than English and French. As with many such maps (especially when given at high resolution), it reveals unexpected things, and communities you probably wouldn't have guessed are there.

Via +Arik Motskin​. 

Yiddish in Quebec! Gujarati in Northern Alberta! Cree and Inuktitut over giant swaths of the country!

Yet another map full of interesting data for you: here, a map of Canada's most widely spoken languages, other than English and French. As with many such maps (especially when given at high resolution), it reveals unexpected things, and communities you probably wouldn't have guessed are there.

Via +Arik Motskin​. ___

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2015-07-09 10:19:43 (55 comments, 44 reshares, 360 +1s)Open 

That's right - Fists of SCIENCE!

THRASHED BY A LADY CYCLIST who is noted for her athletic powers.

_"She immediately alighted, caught hold of the astonished youth, and gave him a sound thrashing, _using her fists in a scientific fashion..."

#ScientificFists
#ForScience
#UsingHerFistsInAScientificFashion

H/T +Charles Moore___That's right - Fists of SCIENCE!

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2015-07-08 08:32:32 (162 comments, 59 reshares, 380 +1s)Open 

OK, this #deepdream  stuff is getting a bit out of hand. When you have a lot of your neural structure dedicated to recognizing faces, you apparently hallucinate a lot of eyes. And pasta that looks back at you is just disturbing.

What's the word for "hallucinations of eyes," anyway? We clearly need to have one.

via +Jesse Powell.

#deepdream spaghetti___OK, this #deepdream  stuff is getting a bit out of hand. When you have a lot of your neural structure dedicated to recognizing faces, you apparently hallucinate a lot of eyes. And pasta that looks back at you is just disturbing.

What's the word for "hallucinations of eyes," anyway? We clearly need to have one.

via +Jesse Powell.

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2015-07-08 07:57:17 (33 comments, 6 reshares, 120 +1s)Open 

I've read some interesting analyses of 419 scams ("Nigerian letters") that suggest that their terrible grammar and phrasing is deliberate: running a 419 scam on someone takes time and effort, the people running them are generally doing so from "boiler room" type environments where they're under pressure to produce, and so you want to quickly filter out anyone with even an ounce of common sense. 

Reading about this "magic cheese" scam, in which people were induced to join a multi-level marketing organization in which the product sold was kits with which to make (I kid you not) a magic cheese which, they claimed, was the secret ingredient in cosmetics used by the extremely wealthy and which French companies would pay tremendous amounts for, I can't shake the suspicion that the technique here is the same. By picking a sufficiently ridiculous idea, you... more »

I've read some interesting analyses of 419 scams ("Nigerian letters") that suggest that their terrible grammar and phrasing is deliberate: running a 419 scam on someone takes time and effort, the people running them are generally doing so from "boiler room" type environments where they're under pressure to produce, and so you want to quickly filter out anyone with even an ounce of common sense. 

Reading about this "magic cheese" scam, in which people were induced to join a multi-level marketing organization in which the product sold was kits with which to make (I kid you not) a magic cheese which, they claimed, was the secret ingredient in cosmetics used by the extremely wealthy and which French companies would pay tremendous amounts for, I can't shake the suspicion that the technique here is the same. By picking a sufficiently ridiculous idea, you select for people whose urge (or need) to make a quick buck completely overrides their common sense. For a long con, that's perfect.

Note the differences between this and the "Pigeon King" scam that I posted about a few months ago (https://plus.google.com/+YonatanZunger/posts/3Ku5anTmGob): their approach was to craft a structure elaborate enough that even a reasonably careful pigeon (erm. Sorry: "investor") would be pulled in. I suspect that the "magic cheese" scam was considerably more lucrative, until the woman behind it got too greedy and got caught.

Via @junkyardmessiah on Twitter.___

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2015-07-08 05:47:16 (178 comments, 51 reshares, 254 +1s)Open 

My feelings about the death penalty are fairly complex: I don't have a simple argument that fits neatly into most political narratives. And I suspect that my readers have a fairly wide range of views as well. But I also suspect that there is one thing most of us can agree on: this man is rather frightening, and does not behave in a way that makes me think he is stable enough to be trusted with important responsibilities.

One thing which this highlights is a key article which influenced the recent Supreme Court case on the death penalty, Glossip v. Gross, about the geography of the death penalty: 

https://www.bu.edu/law/central/jd/organizations/journals/bulr/documents/SMITH_001.pdf

What's stunning is the geographic variation with which it's applied. Rather than measuring at the state level, as most previous studies did, Smith examined the death penalty at the... more »

My feelings about the death penalty are fairly complex: I don't have a simple argument that fits neatly into most political narratives. And I suspect that my readers have a fairly wide range of views as well. But I also suspect that there is one thing most of us can agree on: this man is rather frightening, and does not behave in a way that makes me think he is stable enough to be trusted with important responsibilities.

One thing which this highlights is a key article which influenced the recent Supreme Court case on the death penalty, Glossip v. Gross, about the geography of the death penalty: 

https://www.bu.edu/law/central/jd/organizations/journals/bulr/documents/SMITH_001.pdf

What's stunning is the geographic variation with which it's applied. Rather than measuring at the state level, as most previous studies did, Smith examined the death penalty at the county level, and found that the variation is far greater than previously expected. It turns out that only 121 counties (out of a total of 3,143 in the US) account for 76% of all death sentences; twenty-nine of those counties alone accounted for 44%. 

In the news article below, Smith commented that his study did not actually drill down far enough: in Caddo Parish, for example – one of those most active counties – the death sentences overwhelmingly came from cases prosecuted by one man, in this case, Dale Cox. And these dynamics do indeed seem to be tied to the person rather than the place: for example, when Lynne Abraham left her post as Philadelphia's DA, the rate of death sentences dropped by a factor of three.

The serious consequence of this is that not only is the death penalty being applied nonuniformly by race and class, and by geography, but it appears to be applied in a fashion determined overwhelmingly by the individual personalities of a handful of prosecutors across the country, who are responsible for the large majority of all death sentences. These prosecutors are not systematically in high-crime areas; other prosecutors in adjacent counties, or counties with comparable statistics, show radically incomparable numbers.

This is, in brief, fucked up. If a main function of the law is to render interactions between people more predictable, with known consequences for known actions, then to have this level of variation from county to county, or from prosecutor to prosecutor, destroys that predictability entirely. 

And quite besides that, it would seem that some of the prosecutors in question are of questionable stability. A man who describes his job goal as to "kill more people" (his words, and he has stood by them), who threatens defense counsel when they file opposing motions, and who will gladly give lectures about how (despite sharply declining murder rates) "we've become a jungle" and more killing is needed, does not strike me as the sort of person who necessarily should be in the streets unsupervised, much less acting with the power of life and death over others.

One thing which I feel very strongly about with regards to any form of justice, but especially with the death penalty: If you're going to do it, you have to do it right. This is not, by any standard, doing it right.___

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2015-07-08 00:08:43 (48 comments, 30 reshares, 257 +1s)Open 

ESPN just published its 2015 Body Issue, with its main feature being a collection of nudes of various world-class athletes. This isn't erotic photography, even quasi-covertly-no-not-really in the way that (say) Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue is; instead, there are some striking images of the human form. They're quite varied, as well: if you think that all athletes have similar figures, compare Stan Wawrinka's (below) with Prince Fielder's cover photo from last year, or gymnast Aly Raisman with hammer thrower Amanda Bingson. What they all have in common is extraordinary form and control over their bodies, shown here with an artist's eye.

The contents here may be NSFW if your work is sufficiently conservative, but there is nothing here that couldn't air on network television.

http://espn.go.com/espn/bodyissue

ESPN just published its 2015 Body Issue, with its main feature being a collection of nudes of various world-class athletes. This isn't erotic photography, even quasi-covertly-no-not-really in the way that (say) Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue is; instead, there are some striking images of the human form. They're quite varied, as well: if you think that all athletes have similar figures, compare Stan Wawrinka's (below) with Prince Fielder's cover photo from last year, or gymnast Aly Raisman with hammer thrower Amanda Bingson. What they all have in common is extraordinary form and control over their bodies, shown here with an artist's eye.

The contents here may be NSFW if your work is sufficiently conservative, but there is nothing here that couldn't air on network television.

http://espn.go.com/espn/bodyissue___

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2015-07-07 08:51:53 (49 comments, 70 reshares, 392 +1s)Open 

Here's an excellent short explanation of chaos. The core idea in chaotic systems is that they aren't random, but they are extremely dependent on initial conditions. To understand this, imagine some experiments with balls:

If you have two adjacent balls at the bottom of a bowl, they'll fall and end up next to each other, no matter where they started. This is called a stable attractor.

If you instead put the balls near the ridge of a mountain, then all the balls on one side will end up next to each other, and all the balls on the other side will end up next to each other, and those two groups of balls will end up far apart. Here, we say that there are two stable attractors – one on either side of the ridge – and the ridge is a boundary between their attraction basins.

If you balanced a ball on the very tip of a perfectly sharp cone, you'd have what'scal... more »

Chaos made simple

This shows a lot of tiny particles moving around.   If you were one of these particles, it would be hard to predict where you'd go.  See why?  It's because each time you approach the crossing, it's hard to tell whether you'll go into the left loop or the right one. 

You can predict which way you'll go: it's not random.  But to predict it, you need to know your position quite accurately.  And each time you go around, it gets worse.  You'd need to know your position extremely accurately to predict which way you go - left or right - after a dozen round trips. 

This effect is called deterministic chaos.  Deterministic chaos happens when something is so sensitive to small changes in conditions that its motion is very hard to predict in practice, even though it's not actually random.

This particular example of deterministic chaos is one of the first and most famous.  It's the Lorenz attractor, invented by Edward Lorenz as a very simplified model of the weather in 1963.

The equations for the Lorentz attractor are not very complicated if you know calculus.  They say how the x, y and z coordinates of a point change with time:

dx/dt = 10(x-y)
dy/dt = x(28-z) - y
dz/dt = xy - 8z/3

You are not supposed to be able to look at these equations and say "Ah yes!  I see why these give chaos!"   Don't worry: if you get nothing out of these equations, it doesn't mean you're "not a math person"  - just as not being able to easily paint the Mona Lisa doesn't mean you're "not an art person".  Lorenz had to solve them using a computer to discover chaos.  I personally have no intuition as to why they work... though I could get such intuition if I spent a week reading about it.

The weird numbers here are adjustable, but these choices are the ones Lorenz originally used.  I don't know what choices David Szakaly used in his animation.  Can you find out?

If you imagine a tiny drop of water flowing around as shown in this picture, each time it goes around it will get stretched in one direction.  It will get squashed in another direction, and be neither squashed nor stretched in a third direction. 

The stretching is what causes the unpredictability: small changes in the initial position will get amplified.  I believe the squashing is what keeps the two loops in this picture quite flat.  Particles moving around these loops are strongly attracted to move along a flat 'conveyor belt'.  That's why it's called the Lorentz attractor.

With the particular equations I wrote down, the drop will get stretched in one direction by a factor of about 2.47... but squashed in another direction by a factor of about 2 million!    At least that's what this physicist at the University of Wisconsin says:

J. C. Sprott, Lyapunov exponent and dimension of the Lorenz attractor
http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/chaos/lorenzle.htm

He has software for calculating these numbers - or more precisely their logarithms, which are called Lyapunov exponents.  He gets 0.906, 0, and -14.572 for the Lyapunov exponents.

For more nice animations of the Lorentz attractor, see:

http://visualizingmath.tumblr.com/post/121710431091/a-sample-solution-in-the-lorenz-attractor-when

David Szakaly has a blog called dvdp full of astounding images:

http://dvdp.tumblr.com/

and presumably this one of the Lorenz attractor is buried in there somewhere, though I'm feeling too lazy to do an image search and find it.___Here's an excellent short explanation of chaos. The core idea in chaotic systems is that they aren't random, but they are extremely dependent on initial conditions. To understand this, imagine some experiments with balls:

If you have two adjacent balls at the bottom of a bowl, they'll fall and end up next to each other, no matter where they started. This is called a stable attractor.

If you instead put the balls near the ridge of a mountain, then all the balls on one side will end up next to each other, and all the balls on the other side will end up next to each other, and those two groups of balls will end up far apart. Here, we say that there are two stable attractors – one on either side of the ridge – and the ridge is a boundary between their attraction basins.

If you balanced a ball on the very tip of a perfectly sharp cone, you'd have what's called an unstable attractor. If the ball is exactly balanced, it will stay there forever; but if it's off by even an infinitesimal amount, it will roll off in that particular direction.

A chaotic attractor is a situation where if you pick any two starting points for balls, no matter how close, after a while they will end up arbitrarily far apart. Points moving along the Lorenz curve below do that; you need to be precise about initial location to know which cycle the point will take next, but you need to be an order of magnitude more precise to know which cycle it will take after that; and another order of magnitude to know the third one; and so on, and so forth. 

Many important systems in nature are chaotic; turbulent flows of gases, for example, or detailed weather patterns. But just as with the Lorenz attractor, even though there's immense chaos in the small details, when you zoom out enough, you see stable shapes: in this case, two rings. In the case of our atmosphere, that's why predicting the weather more than a day in advance is very hard, but predicting the climate – that is, overall patterns in the weather – is relatively easy over much longer intervals. 

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2015-07-07 02:38:49 (112 comments, 15 reshares, 162 +1s)Open 

I had been under the impression that the University of Toronto was an actual, well, university. It appears that I may have been mistaken. 

On the other hand, there aren't many universities where you can learn about how quantum mechanics explains homeopathy, so I suppose they are producing some sort of public service. As someone who actually knows something about both quantum mechanics and biology, I would be quite fascinated to know that.

(For those who are in the dark as to what's actually going on here: it appears that Beth Landau-Halpern, the teacher of this "class," is married to the dean of the Scarborough campus. I do not know if she is at all related to the two physicists whose name she shares – the great Lev Landau, or Berkeley string theorist Marty Halpern – but if either knew, I suspect that one would be turning in his grave, and the other would bedesi... more »

Dafuq.___I had been under the impression that the University of Toronto was an actual, well, university. It appears that I may have been mistaken. 

On the other hand, there aren't many universities where you can learn about how quantum mechanics explains homeopathy, so I suppose they are producing some sort of public service. As someone who actually knows something about both quantum mechanics and biology, I would be quite fascinated to know that.

(For those who are in the dark as to what's actually going on here: it appears that Beth Landau-Halpern, the teacher of this "class," is married to the dean of the Scarborough campus. I do not know if she is at all related to the two physicists whose name she shares – the great Lev Landau, or Berkeley string theorist Marty Halpern – but if either knew, I suspect that one would be turning in his grave, and the other would be designing magnets and coils to generate electric power out of any planned future spinning in his grave.)

ETA: It looks like UofT decided that this probably wasn't a good idea after all, and starting this summer she will no longer be teaching there.

h/t +God Emperor Lionel Lauer 

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2015-07-06 22:56:30 (20 comments, 18 reshares, 153 +1s)Open 

Beware of gifts bearing Greeks.

(Also: is it wrong that I've always wanted a story to have a character named Donna Ferentes, just so someone could fear both her and the Greeks?)

___Beware of gifts bearing Greeks.

(Also: is it wrong that I've always wanted a story to have a character named Donna Ferentes, just so someone could fear both her and the Greeks?)

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2015-07-06 21:36:49 (15 comments, 21 reshares, 231 +1s)Open 

I always wondered what they did in their natural habitats; now I know.

I'm really tempted to build ornithopter drones with surveillance camera bodies.

Also, the art here is cool. You should click through and see the rest of it.

Artist Installs Flocks of Surveillance Cameras and Satellite Dishes in Outdoor Settings

http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2015/07/surveillance-installations-jakub-geltner/___I always wondered what they did in their natural habitats; now I know.

I'm really tempted to build ornithopter drones with surveillance camera bodies.

Also, the art here is cool. You should click through and see the rest of it.

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2015-07-06 20:18:01 (18 comments, 4 reshares, 66 +1s)Open 

I'm not really sure if "total value of residential property per county" is a useful metric of anything. We already know that houses are more expensive in some places than others, and this isn't even value of residential property per person or per residence; this map also tells us "more people live in counties with big cities than in counties without them," which isn't exactly the greatest insight of all time.

However, this image does show us that, scaled by residential property value, the United States looks a bit like China, or maybe a kidney. So it's kind of cool for that.

h/t +Autumn Ginkgo Leaves™ 

Animated GIF showing a map of the US re-scaled by total residential property value for each county.___I'm not really sure if "total value of residential property per county" is a useful metric of anything. We already know that houses are more expensive in some places than others, and this isn't even value of residential property per person or per residence; this map also tells us "more people live in counties with big cities than in counties without them," which isn't exactly the greatest insight of all time.

However, this image does show us that, scaled by residential property value, the United States looks a bit like China, or maybe a kidney. So it's kind of cool for that.

h/t +Autumn Ginkgo Leaves™ 

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2015-07-06 18:45:05 (80 comments, 53 reshares, 281 +1s)Open 

Most combustion reactions are what are called "redox reactions:" a reducer (aka a fuel, something which has too many electrons and wants to get rid of some) meets an oxidizer (something which wants electrons badly). Electrons move from one to the other, energy is liberated, and the resulting products are ejected at potentially high speed.

Many reactions won't go off on their own: you need to inject some energy, an activation energy, for them to start. This is why gasoline doesn't explode into flame when it's touched to air; instead, it has to be vaporized (liquid gasoline isn't actually flammable at all; only gasoline vapor), that vapor thoroughly mixed with oxygen, and a spark applied.

Other reactions ignite on contact. These are called hypergolic reactions, and they tend to be kind of spectacular.

For example, boiling potassium chlorate (KClO3, a... more »

Reaction of sugar with potassium chlorate

Potassium chlorate (KClO3) is an extremely strong oxidizer and violently reacts upon contact with a fuel source (sugar). When the gummy bear is dropped into the beaker, it immediately reacts with the potassium chlorate and ignites. The heat generated is a great demonstration of the energy stored within carbohydrates like sugar. 

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME

Source: https://youtu.be/JOHdZsQXw7I

#ScienceGIF   #Science   #GIF   #Chemistry   #Sugar   #GiantGummyBear   #GummyBear   #PotassiumChloride   #Reaction   #Explosion   #Fire  ___Most combustion reactions are what are called "redox reactions:" a reducer (aka a fuel, something which has too many electrons and wants to get rid of some) meets an oxidizer (something which wants electrons badly). Electrons move from one to the other, energy is liberated, and the resulting products are ejected at potentially high speed.

Many reactions won't go off on their own: you need to inject some energy, an activation energy, for them to start. This is why gasoline doesn't explode into flame when it's touched to air; instead, it has to be vaporized (liquid gasoline isn't actually flammable at all; only gasoline vapor), that vapor thoroughly mixed with oxygen, and a spark applied.

Other reactions ignite on contact. These are called hypergolic reactions, and they tend to be kind of spectacular.

For example, boiling potassium chlorate (KClO3, a strong oxidizer) is hypergolic with sugar. 

Such as gummy bears.

Watch the video. It's worth it.

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2015-07-05 22:50:20 (196 comments, 76 reshares, 399 +1s)Open 

Since 2009, Colorado has had the single most effective anti-abortion program in the country. In its first four years (for which we now have full data), it reduced abortions by 42%, and teen pregnancies by 40%. And there is nothing particularly startling about the success, because it was done by the most obvious means possible: give contraception to women who want it but can't get access to it, namely teenagers and people who can't afford it. 

"Startlingly," this turns out to work quite well, quite inexpensively, and make basically everyone happy. ("Startlingly" is in quotes because I suspect that if I asked someone who knew nothing about American politics, "what would you do to decrease the rate of unwanted pregnancies?," they would probably guess pretty much exactly what Colorado did, and be not at all startled that it worked) 

(This is nota... more »

Since 2009, Colorado has had the single most effective anti-abortion program in the country. In its first four years (for which we now have full data), it reduced abortions by 42%, and teen pregnancies by 40%. And there is nothing particularly startling about the success, because it was done by the most obvious means possible: give contraception to women who want it but can't get access to it, namely teenagers and people who can't afford it. 

"Startlingly," this turns out to work quite well, quite inexpensively, and make basically everyone happy. ("Startlingly" is in quotes because I suspect that if I asked someone who knew nothing about American politics, "what would you do to decrease the rate of unwanted pregnancies?," they would probably guess pretty much exactly what Colorado did, and be not at all startled that it worked) 

(This is not actually a horribly new story, there are just some more numbers out. We've known that this has been working well for quite some time.)___

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2015-07-03 21:46:08 (30 comments, 19 reshares, 182 +1s)Open 

It's that time of year again: the time when a young pinniped's fancy turns to thoughts of lounging around on the beach. And what better way to celebrate high summer in the Arctic than with WalrusCam, a continuous live stream from Round Island, Alaska, where you can hear the soothing sounds of the waves crashing on the shore as thousands of tons of blubber, muscle, and tusk photosynthesize and lumber about?

And by thousands, I mean thousands; there can be as many as 14,000 walruses, each weighing a good two tons, on this island at a time. It's kind of fascinating.

Alas, the video link on the page below seems to have expired; you can see the current WalrusCam at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XizvosHgHQ .

h/t +California Academy of Sciences 

It's that time of year again: the time when a young pinniped's fancy turns to thoughts of lounging around on the beach. And what better way to celebrate high summer in the Arctic than with WalrusCam, a continuous live stream from Round Island, Alaska, where you can hear the soothing sounds of the waves crashing on the shore as thousands of tons of blubber, muscle, and tusk photosynthesize and lumber about?

And by thousands, I mean thousands; there can be as many as 14,000 walruses, each weighing a good two tons, on this island at a time. It's kind of fascinating.

Alas, the video link on the page below seems to have expired; you can see the current WalrusCam at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XizvosHgHQ .

h/t +California Academy of Sciences ___

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2015-07-03 08:18:53 (25 comments, 14 reshares, 118 +1s)Open 

I have no idea what one could possibly add to this. Except delivery by swallow.

Setting the standard for marketing overkill: 

http://trotify.com/

Seriously, I've seen car ads that were pathetic by comparison. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oC4rWA3pTg4___I have no idea what one could possibly add to this. Except delivery by swallow.

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2015-07-03 06:40:06 (66 comments, 8 reshares, 181 +1s)Open 

A brief note to those lacking sense: The Queen's Guard are not animatronic Disney exhibits. They are soldiers on guard duty. This might be indicated to you by the large, loaded rifle with bayonet fixed which is normally found resting on their shoulder.

Think of them as brightly colored and unusually heavily armed Secret Service agents.

What a fucking idiot.

Why would you even think it was ok to disrespect someone on duty in uniform like that, no matter the place?___A brief note to those lacking sense: The Queen's Guard are not animatronic Disney exhibits. They are soldiers on guard duty. This might be indicated to you by the large, loaded rifle with bayonet fixed which is normally found resting on their shoulder.

Think of them as brightly colored and unusually heavily armed Secret Service agents.

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2015-07-03 01:08:41 (49 comments, 162 reshares, 456 +1s)Open 

A fantastic invention: Jie Bao (of Tsinghua University) and Moungi Bawendi (of MIT) have invented an optical spectrometer small and cheap enough to attach to a cell phone, which can nonetheless perform comparably well to serious professional equipment.

Spectrometers are amazingly useful devices: they simply break light up through a prism, and report on how bright the light is in each frequency. That lets you recognize chemicals (each molecule has a distinctive color "fingerprint"), measure temperature (when you heat an object, it glows with a spectrum that's a simple function of temperature), and even measure the speed of objects. (If you know something's color when it's still, its colors in motion are shifted by the Doppler effect, just like an approaching siren's pitch goes up and a receding one goes down. The fingerprints of chemical colors give you an excellent... more »

A fantastic invention: Jie Bao (of Tsinghua University) and Moungi Bawendi (of MIT) have invented an optical spectrometer small and cheap enough to attach to a cell phone, which can nonetheless perform comparably well to serious professional equipment.

Spectrometers are amazingly useful devices: they simply break light up through a prism, and report on how bright the light is in each frequency. That lets you recognize chemicals (each molecule has a distinctive color "fingerprint"), measure temperature (when you heat an object, it glows with a spectrum that's a simple function of temperature), and even measure the speed of objects. (If you know something's color when it's still, its colors in motion are shifted by the Doppler effect, just like an approaching siren's pitch goes up and a receding one goes down. The fingerprints of chemical colors give you an excellent reference point for that)

Bao and Bawendi's device is completely different from traditional spectrometers: Rather than using a prism and precision optics, they use an array of 195 carefully chosen inks and a CCD light sensor. The result is rugged and cheap – a few dollars, instead of a few hundred or thousand.

This is a tool that could revolutionize all sorts of devices; the authors give an example of a tool that could identify skin cancer just by pointing at it. (Cancers contain specific chemicals which produce specific optical fingerprints, after all!)

And more to the point, it's neat.

Dear Drs. Bao and Bawendi: TAKE MY MONEY!

Via +California Academy of Sciences.___

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