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Zombie Ant Jack o’Lantern October 31, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science, Toys.
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Real horror story from nature: Hidden Diversity Behind the Zombie-Ant FungusOphiocordyceps unilateralis: Four New Species Described from Carpenter Ants in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Awesome in its complexity, nature is more horrible than you imagine.  Or can imagine.

Machine Translation of Ancient Text(s) October 26, 2011

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Swedish and U.S. researchers have translated one of those pesky, untranslatable, coded secret documents, this time one of a 18th century secret ophthalmological society. 

I am not making this up.  That’s really what this is, a description of the secret society’s ritual.  I imagine that secret ophthalmology requires a certain level of documentation (they apparently have instructions on eyebrow plucking as well).

They used Google Translate-like statistical analysis of the non-Greek, non-Roman characters in the manuscript. Wired magazine has a nice post with some details, and there are other write-ups around the web, too; I just put this here because I like the graphic above.

These researchers intend to apply this technique to things like the Voynich Manuscript and that thing outside CIA headquarters (I think there’s a prize for that one).

Hello Kitty Bus October 24, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Hello Kitty, Japan.
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Hello Kitty bus - Copy

I have nothing to add to this, obviously.  Some things are good just as they are.

From an article about busses in Japan.

Newton and the Counterfeiter October 21, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words.
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Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist is my favorite type of history: real stories told largely from primary documents, assembled in a credible narrative.  And all the guesses about what happened where there is scant evidence are labeled as such.

The author, Thomas Levenson, a science writing professor at MIT whose previous books include "Einstein in Berlin;" "Measure for Measure: A Musical History of Science;" and "Ice Time: Climate Science and Life on Earth" is a very good writer as one might expect, explaining Newton’s thoughts taken directly from his voluminous papers and interpolating neatly in the spaces between Newton’s words and other historical records.

The counterfeiter, one William Chaloner, gets as much attention as documentation allows.  He was unusual in that he was something of a public figure, having tried to get himself appointed to the mint where Newton was the warden.  The warden of the mint had the duty of pursuing counterfeiters and, though Newton tried to get out of it, he eventually approached it with the same zeal and relentless energy he had heretofore devoted to unlocking the secrets of the universe.

Really, when you are up against the man who made possible the founding of the modern world, you are probably going to lose. Though very clever and utterly ruthless, Chaloner didn’t have a chance.

This book is wonderful for more than this story, however; it finally explains to my satisfaction why Newton was so devoted to alchemy.  He felt that if he could demonstrate transformations of elements it would be a final proof of the working of God in everyday life.  I imagine he was pretty frustrated by failure after twenty years (the business of merely discovering truth is much easier than jacking up religious delusions).  Levenson explains this very carefully and it helps keep Newton human, and not a pathetic nutjob as some might think him.  Also, his approach to alchemy was very scientific, in the technical sense: he was accurate as could be with weights and measures.

I listened to the Audible recording of this book and found it very well narrated.  I have read one review in Amazon.com which thought it was a dry read and too academic, and I imagine it was; this is the kind of story which tells better than it reads.  Sadly, the audiobook is $17.95 and the paperback is $5.98, so this book, though delightful, will be inaccessible to some.


EXCITING UPDATE: For a punctuation-free, foul-mouthed retelling of this story, see Bettermyths.com. Language not safe for Mom.

Scott Westerfeld – So Yesterday October 13, 2011

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"Hunter, do you ever feel like there’s some problem with the glue these days? Like maybe if anyone figured out what to throw and who to throw it at,  everything would fall apart pretty quickly?"
"All the time."
"Me too." We were crossing a worn patch of Hudson Street, and Jen swung a shoe at the top of a cobblestone. It was solidly submerged in sunbaked
tar and didn’t budge. "So, that’s the anti-client’s mission, isn’t it? Ungluing things?  Maybe they’ve figured out what to throw."
"Maybe." I shaded my eyes with one hand and squinted at the next street sign, then at the numbers. Movable Hype was halfway down the block, in an old and towering iron-frame building. "But more likely they’re just throwing everything they can."

In Scott Westerfeld’s So Yesterday Jen and Hunter are an Innovator and a Trendsetter, respectively, unraveling a kidnapping and conspiracy involving bestial behavior at the Museum of Natural History by the hoi aristoi, purple whelk shampoo, Pokémon episodes and intricately-laced sneakers.  And the mysterious anti-client behind it all.

"But what good does it do?" I asked.
"Like I said, it loosens the mortar that holds the cobblestones down."
"So they can throw more rocks?"
"No, Hunter. Don’t you get it? The anti-client doesn’t just want to throw rocks. They want the whole street to come up. They want to make it so everyone starts throwing rocks."

Revolutionary stuff, kind of like the 99% on Wall Street.

Billy Graham October 13, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words, Webcomics.
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Billy Graham

Although I think Billy Graham may have been sincere in his beliefs, found this drawing to appeal to my twisted, sick, depraved, immoral and blasphemous nature.  It’s from a comic about John Wilcock (founder of The Villiage Voice), and his adventures in the underground world of the 1960s, available here.

Surfing Samurai Robots October 12, 2011

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Surfing Samurai Robots is a delightful, reverent homage to the time-honored literary craft that is noir detective fiction, except for the surfing samurai robots, of course, and the alien Zoot who imagines himself to be a noir detective due to listening to radio broadcasts of the period from sixty light-years away (they must have really nice antennas there) and the surfers that Zoot finds himself in the company of attempting to solve mystery (not much of one, but oh, well) with the aid of hallucinogenic yogurt1.  Zoot is not handicapped by his alien appearance, though very different-looking from humans, as the surfers note:

‘Dig that bitchen schnoz,’ one of them said. The rest laughed, but as far as I could tell, it was nervous laughter. It was just something to do until the shock went away.

I said, ‘I have to explain this all the time. I was born funny.’

‘You mean a birth defect?’ the Earthperson holding the sneeve [Frisbee] said.
Birth defect? It had a nice ring to it. I could use that phrase. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘a birth defect.’

T’oomians are mostly nose. There are less attractive characters in the book2.  Zoot finally acquires a fedora, a gat, a Chrysler, and Chandleresque patter:

Without looking at me, Whipper Will said, ‘Gotterdammerung. They’re a motorcycle-punk club that
likes to inspire terror in people on the beach.’
‘Not much of a challenge for them,’ I said. ‘Is it a job or a hobby?’

and a murder case3.

Unsurprisingly, there are sequels: Hawaiian UFO Aliens and Tubular Android Superheroes, which are on my “to read” stack, as soon as I finish Newton and the Counterfeiter, which is pretty engrossing just now.

1.  A Bulwer-Lytton opening sentence if ever I wrote one.

2.  Did  I mention the gorillas in suits?

3.  Not really, but I like writing stuff like that.

Protein is the Key to Weight Loss October 12, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science.
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Researchers at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, Australia have found that a larger percentage of protein in a diet is correlated to consuming fewer calories overall, and that lowering the protein intake raised the total energy intake 12%—enough to confound any dieter, I should think.  This has been intuitively obvious to me for years, but it’s nice to see a controlled double-blind study confirm it.  It’s why I don’t gain weight on a steady diet of McDonald’s—I just stay away from the non-meat offerings.

“Our aim was to test the ‘protein leverage hypothesis’ in lean humans by disguising the macronutrient composition of foods offered to subjects under ad libitum feeding conditions. Energy intakes and hunger ratings were measured for 22 lean subjects studied over three 4-day periods of in-house dietary manipulation. Subjects were restricted to fixed menus in random order comprising 28 foods designed to be similar in palatability, availability, variety and sensory quality and providing 10%, 15% or 25% energy as protein. Nutrient and energy intake was calculated as the product of the amount of each food eaten and its composition. Lowering the percent protein of the diet from 15% to 10% resulted in higher (+12±4.5%, p = 0.02) total energy intake, predominantly from savory-flavored foods available between meals. This increased energy intake was not sufficient to maintain protein intake constant, indicating that protein leverage is incomplete. “

Gosby AK, Conigrave AD, Lau NS, Iglesias MA, Hall RM, et al. (2011) Testing Protein Leverage in Lean Humans: A Randomized Controlled Experimental Study. PLoS ONE 6(10): e25929. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0025929

Perfect Shoes October 10, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Uncategorizable.
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the perfect shoes

A mere US$57 on Amazon here .

Antonio Damasio – Self Comes to Mind October 10, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brain, Brilliant words.
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I have been listening to Dr. Antonio Damasio’s audiobook, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain during my commute and have to say that, though fascinating material, it’s very very hard to keep one’s mind upon the book while driving.  Not because the book itself is even slightly boring (to me. anyway), but because one stops to think about what’s being discussed and the audiobook just keeps on running.  I rewind several times each commute.  Dr. Damasio’s careful descriptions of aspects of the self and how a self comes to form a mind are the stuff of which philosopher’s dreams are made, and not a few nightmares.  After defining an aspect of self, Dr. Damasio then describes how it arises from the physical reality of a brain structure, and how interplay between this aspect of self and other aspects of self form another piece of the messy structure that is the mind of a human being (and sometimes of other animals…depends on the aspect).
Wonderful stuff, but not light reading/listening.  Just assembling this careful picture of the functioning of the structures of the brain is more work than anyone can do in a lifetime, and then to carefully explain it to a thoughtful listener is probably more than anyone should ever have to attempt. The good doctor has a little series of videos on YouTube.com with better introductions to his book than I can write, and I do urge you to visit:

A Sunset Cruise October 10, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Photography, Publishing Tools.
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An excellent excuse for playing with Autostitch.

Humiliated Dog October 8, 2011

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No matter how cute you may think it, your dog does not want to dress up.


Especially as My Little Pony.

Exciting update:

Doggy Leeloo might be the greatest Fifth Element cosplay ever


Connie Willis–Blackout and All Clear October 6, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words.
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Connie Willis’ two part series Blackout and All Clear is read by Katherine Kellgren, who really, really breathes life into what might have been an overly-long  (set of) book (s).  This is not a bad thing (the longness);  both books are detailed in lovely time- and place-centric ways that are absolutely required for time-travel novels, so that’s really required.  Even better, the details add a layer of claustrophobia that is so pervasive that I really felt empathy for the three time-travelling historians trapped in WWII London during the Blitz and getting the snot kicked out of them.  At every turn, they are stymied in their efforts to get back to their own time.  All their “drops”, the time-travel windows through which they must return, seem to stop functioning and they all fear that they have damaged history in a way which will force history to correct itself—probably by erasing them from it.  And history appears to be happy to do just that.

There are lots of lovely bits about heroism, the love of friends and family, sacrifice and cheer, strange courage at odd times by unlikely people, joy and sorrow at reunion and separation.  The anguished thoughts of each of the time-travellers (which they share with no one, not even each other) that they may have done something to get the wrong person killed or let Germany win were actually difficult to bear at times, due to Katherine Kellgren’s dramatic readings (side note: there are dozens of character voices in this book, male and female, and each of them seems distinct to my ear.  Nice work, that). Special guest appearances (in odd ways, just like life) by Alan Turing and Agatha Christie.

The lovely impression one comes away with is that England was a whole nation of heroes at that time, because it was necessary and they were capable; from farmers to shopgirls, vicars and firemen, to teenaged girl ambulance drivers and knighted Shakespearean actors.  And nobody would think it odd at all.

This set of books won a boatload of well-deserved awards: Nebula, Locus and Hugo and is very stangely priced on Amazon:  the Kindle version costs more than the paperback by two dollars.  The Audible version is more than the CD version by eight dollars.  It’s endlessly strange to me that this should be so, since  the on-line version (Kindle or audiobook) is essentially free (to Amazon/Audible) to distribute.  And as long as this is so, there will be piracy.

Matching Bird Pistols October 5, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Toys, Uncategorizable.
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Not much for shooting, but amazingly constructed and utterly elegant.  Christie’s expects to get between 2.5 and 5 million dollars for the pair.

Sorry about the lack of video. WordPress.com does not permit embedded video of this type.

Arnold as a Small Child October 4, 2011

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The iCub is in San Francisco for the IROS Expo. iCub is a learning robot, supposedly to about the ability of a three-year-old.  It can already shoot arrows and crawl, and speak, sort of.

Be afraid.