Thursday, May 31, 2018

To the Moon!

Bob Zubrin, who wrote "The Case For Mars" is setting his sights a little lower.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Bajau: The Undersea Hunters

The Bajau people of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Phillipines live their whole lives in and around the ocean. They can dive for 13 minutes at a time to depths of 200 feet and their bodies are different from the rest of us. In particular, they have larger spleens and eyes adapted to water.

In Malaysia, they are banned from the land, so they have made villages on stilts.

The people has a founding myth of a mission to escort a princess, possibly to a marriage. They fail in their duty to deliver her safely. Through shame or banishment, they never return home but wander the ocean for the generations since.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Visualizing Mortality

The Author is 34 and expecting to live to 90. If you are 17 expecting to live to 73, you have half as many X's and exactly the same number of winters. Your odds of living past 73 are pretty good but the shocking lack of infiniteness is unchanged.

Notably, the number of days you get to spend with your parents is probably already past the halfway mark. OTOH, the number of days you deliberately choose to spend with your parents may be much, much below halfway.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Spring 2018 Bridge: Lilliput

For years, I’ve been telling students that under my rules small bridges might have an advantage. For rules like this, it’s a pretty big advantage.

Usually, they all ignore me. Last time, a few didn’t ignore me. This year, six groups took my little advice to heart, and then some. 

Things got a teeny-bit ridiculous.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Wi-Fi Might Have Made Us Smarter

Instead it has spawned an industry with the largest research budgets in history and the smartest people in the world dedicated to making us addicted.
Almost all Americans own a smartphone or a computer.
Each device contains the library of Alexandria.
The sum total of all world knowledge.
You can learn anything. Why don't you?
Too busy tracking social status.
Too enthralled by imagery your evolution can't resist.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Millennials: The New Victorians

When I grew up, Victorian was a term of ridicule. It meant stuffy people who couldn't tolerate the least bit of earthy reality. Most emphatically in matters of romance, Victorians found the sight of a table leg too sensuous.* Exposing an ankle was the sign of a shameless flirt.

At best, it was said that the Victorians' inability to confront human sexuality was compensated their ability to confront death. I came to expect that these were exaggerations by people who needed to feel better than their grandparents but the word Victorian stuck as a synonym for irrational prudery.

The twentieth century moved steadily away from that ideal. Matt Ridley says the twenty-first is moving back (minus the care for others, fortitude, courage and economic success.) Illiberality in ideas has taken over for years. Now it seems that illiberality in behavior is next.

*It's not true but it is a myth we commonly shared.

Friday, March 2, 2018


How to give a Miata more headroom and a better view through the window.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

SpaceX Launches to Mars

The Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX launched on Tuesday. That means that a private company is now the organization in the world most capable of taking large payloads into space; not NASA, not the Russians, European Space Agency, China, Japan nor India: SpaceX.

If the drama was hard to appreciate, consider this for context:

A guide to the first video:

Dinosaurs: Dead Again

You've heard that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs. 65 M years ago an asteroid hit Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, covered the earth in a layer of dust, including rare iridium, destroyed the plant life, then herbivores, then carnivores.

You may not have heard that it was the volcanoes. Starting 70 M years ago, near Mumbai in India, a collection of volcanoes called the Deccan Traps spewed sulphur and ash, including iridium, acidifying the oceans and blocking out the sun...etc. But could you have sworn that it mightn't be both?

Monday, December 18, 2017

NORAD's December 24 Watch

It all started when Sears misprinted a phone number. Instead of a kids' telephone line to Santa, it was a national security "red phone".

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Cradle of Life on Mars?

NASA scientists believe they've found evidence of ancient hydrothermal vents on Mars. This is newsworthy because hydrothermal vents are also likely locations for the earliest life on earth.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Expired Drugs Probably Aren't

All those medications have expiry dates. Did you ever wonder what they mean?

They  mean that during the approval process someone showed that the drug could last this long without degradation. If the drug is manufactured in 1990 and in 1992 it was tested and it contained enough of the drug, the U.S. FDA will allow the manufacturer to claim a two year shelf life. It does not mean that anyone ever showed any drug degradation after two years.

That test is rarely done. When it is performed, tests regularly show shelf lives of four years beyond the advertised life. What's more, even if the drug decays, that is not evidence that it has become harmful. The two doctors in this article (Cantrell and Clancy) have never heard or read “of anyone being harmed by any expired drugs”.

Monday, July 24, 2017

I Could Outrun a T-Rex

Two studies say that the Tyranasaurus Rex could not have been the fiercely fast predator shown in Jurassic Park. One says he would have run out of energy before he got up to speed. The other says his bones were not strong enough to handle the weight at high speeds.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sex Differences in Sports

Here is a run-down on male-female differences and how they might affect sports performance.

Oh, and here's one comparing athletes' bodies to average men.

The Secret History of SCUBA

Chris Lambertsen started working on underwater breathing as a teenager in the 1920s, on the beaches of the Jersey shore. He pursued this vision to become a doctor, inventor and have a few other adventures along the way.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Original Earth Day

Whew! If you think the future is bad now, be glad it isn't 1970.
Thirteen predictions* from Earth Day, 1970.

(more Earth Day predictionsSimon and Ehrlich's famous bet)
*(Apr'17) Mark Perry says: eighteen.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Spring 2017 Bridge Contest

The whole class was very good at making bridges this year.
(And very bad at choosing the better of two bridges.)

This year's strongest bridge collapsing in slow motion.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Something From Nothing

One of the weirder ideas of Quantum mechanics is that empty space is not empty at all. No matter how empty you make a space, pairs of particles and and anti-particles will spontaneously come into being move around for a while, then touch each other and disappear.

Apparently physics equations predict that this could happen. We just haven't had any evidence for it...and no idea how we could possibly get evidence. A few decades ago someone suggested that if it happened close enough to a black hole one half of that particle pair could be sucked into the black hole while the other half moved away and became permanent new matter in the universe.

This year, a team from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope found visual evidence via a phenomenon called vacuum birefringence.

Synthetic Blood

Scientists in England have isolated stem cells and persuaded them to produce red blood cells. The first goal is to get them to make complicated and rare blood types.