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Because starting with one of my LJ traditions seems like a good way to settle into the new surroundings.

1. A robot with a simplified version of a realistic human face is helping autistic kids understand facial expressions, even though it's at the bottom of the uncanny valley for adults. (And I can assure you, not just NT adults, either!)

2. It's basically impossible to transmit or record smells digitally, because unlike light and sound, the "receiver" needs to release the actual molecules. This hasn't stopped numerous attempts, including a device loaded with the chemicals of "primary smells" that failed because there's actually no such thing.

3. Some people working on computer creativity reckon they'll have succeeded when they say "This isn't what I asked for" and the computer says "No, it's better."

4. Meerkats teach their younger siblings to hunt, and it looks like they're carefully basing their training on what the baby meerkat is ready for, but it's actually just an instinctive response to how a baby meerkat's voice changes.

5. Paul Dirac believed that a sufficiently powerful supercomputer could take basic physical laws and calculate everything, but it's since been worked out that it would take thousands of universe lifetimes and probably wouldn't help you understand anything anyway. (The lecturer quoted Douglas Adams: If you want a supercomputer to help you get the answer, you need to start by actually knowing the question.)

6. A "Star Wars" era project to shoot down incoming missiles with high-powered lasers has been repurposed into an anti-malaria tool that zaps mosquitoes with salvaged Blu-Ray lasers.

7. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older, or if it's something to do with the new layout, but the Museum of Scotland seems smaller than it used to be.
daibhidc: (Animated crest)
This was ages ago, haven't I written it up yet? Okay, here we go.

It was a good Fringe. I was only down for three days, but I saw The Reduced Shakespeare Company's Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play (abridged), Mort by the group who did Faust Eric last year, and stand-up by Mitch Benn, Robert Newman and Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden. And they were all excellent.
Saturday: RSC and Mort )

Sunday: Mitch Benn and Robert Newman )

Monday: Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden )
daibhidc: (Animated crest)
1) If a science writer tells geneticists "I'm writing a book to explain to people how genes actually work", they will reply "When you find out, let us know."

2) There's a long list of people who "invented algebra", including Omar Khayyám, who may have come up with the binominal theorem.

3. The best strategy for reducing CO2 emissions actually involves burning more gas than "carrying on as normal" for a while because it would replace coal. However, this does not justify fracking, because we'll still be using less gas in the long run, and certainly not fracking the UK, which has already replaced most of its coal.

4) The hypothetical Prestwick Spaceport would apparently be particularly well-suited to launching things into polar orbit, which would seem to deal with one objection I saw online; that it's in completely the wrong position to launch things into geosynchronous orbit. I'm still sceptical, though.

5) It is possible for a comedian and science-populariser to get his message across even when he's completely misjudged how much time he has and ends the lecture almost disappearing in a flurry of paper.

6) You know that flowchart about whether you should ask a question following a presentation, and one of them is "Does your question involve pointing out the results of your own study?" Well, "Does your question involve summarising your own science fiction novels?" is even worse. Especially if it also breaks "Could you write your question on Twitter?"
daibhidc: (Animated crest)
Spent much of the day in Dynamic Earth. I've been a couple of times before but it's still neat.
More anout Dynamic Earth )
Faust^W Eric )
Elephant House )
daibhidc: (Animated crest)
So yeah. Arrived in Edinburgh around 18:00, Clue at 19:30, dinner at 23:00. But worth it.
Read more... )
daibhidc: (Animated crest)
1) The difference between scientists and engineers working on Rosetta is that scientists thought "The comet's shaped like a duck! That's fascinating!" and the engineers though "Oh my god! How do we land on that?"

2) The Royal Astronomical Society has a drinking song based on Halley's Comet.

3) If you filled a bike's tires with hydrogen instead of air, it would reduce the weight by only 10g. A more effective idea would be carbon nanotube spokes, which we might see within 10 years. Or rather, we wouldn't see them; it would look like the wheels were spokeless.

4) A plant grown under both a normal bulb and an infra red bulb will push more energy into the height at the expense of the roots, because it thinks it's in the shade.

5) "Serious games" is the new name for educational games. Kids with cancer who play a shoot-'em-up where you're a nanobot zapping cancer cells are better at taking their medication because they understand what's going on more.

6) The performers at the Lab Notes musical comedy event were awesome, and I need to check out their CDs.
daibhidc: (Kennedy Crest)
We made it down to Edinburgh for a long weekend, and managed to pack in a fair load of stuff.
lengthy rundown of five days of festivalling under the cut )
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1) Evolutionary biologists don't really know if there's an evolutionary advantage to a sense of humour. Or at least they don't know what to say when someone plays clips of The Comic Strip Presents... and says "So, evolutionarily speaking, what's going on when we laugh at that?"

2) Olber's Paradox, proposed in the early 19th century, is that if the universe is infinite, the light from all the stars should illuminate the night sky. The explanation; that light takes time to travel, and hasn't had time to reach us yet, can also be used to support the Big Bang theory (because if the universe has been in a steady state forever, the light would have had time to reach us).

3) Never plan to spend an entire afternoon at the National Library of Scotland's exhibition hall, because it's tiny. (Especially since the science fiction exhibition I went to was actually in the foyer of the exhibition hall, and comprised two cases of books and a framed print of Starblazer covers.)

4) According to top sf writer Ken MacLeod and a sociologist, humanity is doomed and has been since the 80s. So that was a nice, cheery note to end on.
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We spent most of Saturday in Edinburgh, which isn't really enough time to see much. But as far as I'm concerned, if there isn't a Reduced Shakespeare show, then some Am-Dram Discworld and Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden's set are the Fringe.
Read more... )
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The Scotsman have had a poetry competition for Homecoming. Apparently they've had responses not just from across Scotland, but from all over the world.

By a curious coincidence, the winners are all from Edinburgh, just like the judges and, of course, The Scotsman.
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It's always nice to realise the people whose books you read also read the other people whose books you read.

Halting State by Charles Stross is a technothriller set in 2020s Edinburgh, and various virtual locations, in a word where everyone wears VR glasses that overlay Google Maps and various other computer inputs over their field of vision.

This includes MMORPGs, with passers-by becoming NPCs, and other players being flagged as such. And at one point...

You hop the bus to Drum Bae, shifting the time with a wee dip into Ankh-Morpork. The bus trundles past omniously looming hunchbacked houses, cars replaced by noisome horse-drawn wagons, pedestrian commuters by a mixture of dwarfs, golems, werewolves and humans from various periods of HistoryLand™. There are only a couple of icons spinning over players' heads, though - Discworld™ isn't too popular amongst the nine-til-five set.

(Double bonus points to Mr Stross for remembering the Disc has "dwarfs", not "dwarves".)
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Stuff I learnt at the Science Festival this year:

1. Near the centre of the galaxy there are stars twice as massive as stars are supposed to get. It's believed the graviational forces are smooshing ordinary stars together.

2. In some parts of America, the Native Americans use Daylight Saving Time, but the colonists don't. So if you've booked a guide for the trail park, the park-keeper will probably give you the wrong time...

3. None of the measurements used in the calender fit astronomical observations exactly, and talk is afoot to stop fiddling with them so they do (the "leap seconds"). This will be good news for everyone whose profession relies on extremely accurate timekeeping, except astronomers.

5. The trans-Plutonian object unofficially named "Xena" has a moon. Which has been unoffically named "Gabrielle".

4. If the first episode of Doctor Who is on while you're away, check the video before you decide to watch Rory Bremner instead of the repeat 8-(...


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