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Best Super Bowl Ad That Never Was January 28, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Brilliant words, Video.
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S**** B***, indeed.  As a non-fan of white-trash doings I loathe all that is American football (in fairness, I loathe all professional team sports, including non-US football.  Just to be clear on this point.  Oh, wait.  I don’t actually loathe baseball…yet), I enjoy when someone puts the wind up their collective uh, backs.  And the music is nice.

Just Keeping Current January 22, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Mutants, Photography.
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two-headed whale

I should have posted this sooner, but I haven’t had a free minute.  I hope my many devoted readers (Hi, Mom!) will not be disappointed.

That Gamma Ray Detector in my Pocket January 18, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science, Star Trek Technology.
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Idaho National laboratories scientists (in Idaho Falls, ‘natch) have transformed ordinary cell phone cameras into gamma-ray detectors, with only the addition of black tape to keep out visible light.  The resulting calculations include the radiation dose and the eV rating (“the energy spectrum”) of the incident particle/ray.

The theory is, the CMOS detectors in your phone should be able to react to incident gamma rays because they have gigantic energies compared to photons in the visible spectrum 20,000eV, vs. like, 3 eV. No contest, right?  That is where the magic comes in.  When the incident ray strikes the CMOS detector, the extra 10,000 or so volts turns into a bunch of electrons running around the CMOS array, possibly leaving an interesting trail for clever software algorithms to interpret in terms of eV input and direction of incidence.  Of course the CMOS is flat and so the best information comes from gamma rays that strike close to the plane of the CMOS detector (too bad; the universe is full of gamma rays that we need to study if we are ever to figure out the cosmos…but I’ll get to that).

You can probably see where I’m going with this, right?  What if all cell phones had these detectors and phoned a central repository when they got a strike with information about the location of the phone, its orientation in space, the time of the incident and the eV of the strike?  Millions (soon to be billions) of people have these phones RIGHT NOW. This can make the Earth a 24,000 mile-wide gamma ray detector array with billions of detectors, RIGHT NOW.  With the kind of smart detection algorithms and big data-crunching hardware available, lots of physics mysteries will begin to clear themselves up.

Sadly, I can’t find if these guys (Joshua Cogliati and company at Idaho National labs1) have made their application available, though some of the code is already published.  I will keep you posted, however, if I find anything interesting.

So, my cell phone is now a gamma ray detector as well as a heart monitor and

general signaling device.  I can’t help but think I have seen this somewhere before.


1.  Using CMOS Sensors in a Cellphone for Gamma Detection and Classification, Joshua J. Cogliati, Kurt W. Derr, Jayson Wharton  http://arxiv.org/abs/1401.0766

Science Marches on (Me) January 16, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science, Star Trek Technology.
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When I was a lad of thirty (so very long ago now), I had a DIONEX ion chromatograph on my lab bench that occupied the whole damn thing (Windows 1.0 was new then), about ten feet by three feet by four feet.  It separated ions and certain organic molecules and let me count how much of what was in a properly prepared sample.  Pretty much cutting edge at the time, as I recall.

The same capabilities seem to be embodied in a 1.5 kg box smaller than my lunch pail, and with better sensitivity:

Chemistry: Lab-on-a-chip realizes potential

“Engineers from the A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering and colleagues at the University of Basel, Switzerland, have designed and developed a compact, portable analytical instrument that can detect multiple ions and molecules down to a level of 300 parts per billion (ppb) in less than a minute. The machine, based on lab-on-a-chip technology, needs only drop-sized liquid samples. The analysis is very quick, precise and sensitive, and can be performed remotely as no direct contact with the solution is necessary. As such, the device has widespread potential applications in the water, food and beverage, agriculture, environmental, pharmaceutical and medical industries.” The abstract can be found here.  No mention of who actually sells one but at least this is one of the few lab-on-a-chip designs with real published data I have seen.

We’re getting there.

The Player of Games, by Ian Banks January 15, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words.
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The The Player of Games by Ian Banks is proving to be very amusing. I’m about one-quarter into it and it’s holding my attention raptly.
The story of a game player in The Culture, a fabulously rich and sophisticated (and very, very civilized) interstellar civilization living largely in huge habitats and huge ships, who leaves civilization for a barbaric empire in the lesser Magellanic clouds to play an enormously complex game, designed to mimic life’s larger struggles.  The game is the center of and in many ways symbolic of the empire’s power struggle, so The Culture’s Contact Bureau (the war and diplomacy people) want to put him in the game to lose and therefore convince the empire that The Culture is inferior and therefore not dangerous…I think.  At this point, I’m not sure of much, except that the machines in the Culture are sophisticated and duplicitous and that the Contact Branch’s ships have interesting names: Gunboat Diplomat, Of Course I Still Love You, and Just Read The Damned Manual.

Though the machines are subtle, devious and very, very powerful, The Player of Games is a human.  His long journey out of being a narcissist into understanding his role in the Great Game That is Life(tm) is of course the hidden subtext, but it’s carefully wrapped up in a socio-political thriller, so that’s OK and not at all preachy. Except where the A.I. he works with is explaining to him what an “empire” is, and how it’s put together from information control and nominally aligned power organizations…you know, like the USA.

But, we are an apolitical reviewer from a happy blog, dammit.  So none of that stuff here.  The audiobook is very nicely done indeed, with useful characterizations in the voices of the various persons (human and machine) and careful enough diction that my noisy car doesn’t keep me from hearing during my interminable commute.  I will soon start The Culture novel three, Use of Weapons, after a brief science reading hiatus; that shows you how good a read this is.  I would never finish a series if even one of them could not hold my interest.

EXCITING UPDATE: Elon Musk tweeted that he’s naming two SpaceX droneships after Culture ships in Banks’ The Player of Games. One drone ship will be called Just Read The Instructions, and the other will be Of Course I Still Love You.

Also, I liked The Culture novels so much I read them all.

The Truth at Last January 6, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Uncategorizable.
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On correlation, causation, and the "real" cause of autism

Organic Food sales are also linked to bankruptcy.

Consider Phlebas, by Ian Banks January 6, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Uncategorized.
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Head-slappingly weird, Ian Bank’s first The Culture novel is the sprawling epic that will knock over your furniture and scare your dog. Consider Phlebas is, at least, handsomely descriptive as it chronicles the execution by drowning in sewage, rescue by aliens, marooning in space, capture by pirates, murder of a crewman to win a place in the pirate kingdom, disastrous raid on a temple, romance with a down-covered crewmember, theft of giant laser from a soon-to-be-destroyed orbital habitat and subsequent death-game, and finally the murder and imposture of pirate captain with the intention of capturing a sentient computer from an ice-bound dead world’s last-ditch doomsday machine while fighting nine-foot tall tripod warriors.  Not exactly dull, but often using lyrical prose (the destruction of the giant orbital habitat by anti-matter missiles springs particularly to mind) to break up the action, the whole business is a small skirmish in a multi-billion-lives-lost intragalactic war and pretty much everybody dies by the end.
Truly a great read.  The audiobook version is delightfully executed, and I found myself resenting my weekends, when I didn’t commute and didn’t get to listen to What Happens Next.

I am currently listening to The Player of Games which is next in the series.  I have been programming an Android suite of language-learning apps, so my free time (hah!) is taken up with that, not writing reviews. Sorry.

EDIT:  I left out the part about being a shape-shifting assassin and the part about nearly being eaten by a circus freak worshipped by a starving group of acolytes who eat their own feces and other detritus.

Sorry about that.