daibhidc: (Default)
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)
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)
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.
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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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Sometimes I wonder if some people understand how conflicts of interest work.

If Professor Bloggs publishes a study saying that we should eat three slices of toast a day because this is the only way to avoid contracting the Dreaded Lurgy, and then it comes out that he's a highly-paid advisor for the Toast Marketing Board then, yes, we should give his results a cynical glance.

If Professor Bloggs publishes a study saying that we should eat three slices of toast a day because this is the only way to avoid contracting the Dreaded Lurgy, and then it comes out that he's donating money to the Toast For All Charitable Fund, then I'm somewhat less shocked. In fact, if he genuinely believes his results, I would look askance at him if he didn't.

(No, I don't have specific examples in mind right at this minute, but I know I've seen them.)
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This was the lecture I went to see on Sunday. It was the final event at the Inverness Monster Science Festival, which has been so well publicised that I only learned it existed on Friday.

I'd actually seen it before, but it was worth going again. It was a fascinating look at the psychology of luck, and what you can do to make yourself "luckier". It was also very funny; Dr Wiseman is a former stage magician, and peppered his explanation of how people's perception works with illustrative magic tricks. Here's one I didn't remember from last time:

daibhidc: (badscience)
Somehow, possibly connected to never reading the papers, I missed the "clone milk and beef" shock horror, despite the fact the farm in question is just down the road, until I heard The Now Show parodying the scare stories this evening.

But at one point, they played the Today programme's report, and I'm pretty sure[1] the newsreader said the clone-cows were "created with eggs from champion American cows and sperm from ordinary bulls".

Now, I realise that biology was my weakest subject when I took my National Certificate in Science, but surely if a cow is made with an egg from a mummy cow, and a sperm from a daddy cow, it's not a clone!

(Edit: After extensive further research [glancing at The Scotsman], it seems that the point is mummy cow was a clone. But the actual cow the milk came from still wasn't. It's not like mummy being a clone makes any difference[2] - which I suppose just highlights what a nonsense the scare stories were.)

[1]I'd check, but it's not on iPlayer yet, and I can't get the podcast to work.

[2]As far as I'm aware - I've not heard of any abnormalities in Dolly's lambs, anyway.
daibhidc: (badscience)
The Scotsman did an article on Noel Sharkey, the Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Sheffield. The article was about his recent statements that the military have a rather cinematic view of AI, and don't realise their wardrones are just dumb machines, and that this could have dangerous consequences.

The headline was, of course, "Beware the rise of the deadly Terminators, warns top academic".
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I was round at my sister's for Hallowe'en yesterday. There were, I think, two groups of kids trick-or-treating[1], or three if you include my niece and nephew[2]. My sister now has all these sweets and apples that she's no idea what to do with.

Last year there were loads. I think (it was difficult to tell over the sound of my nephew not putting on his costume) that the News Quiz said the whole affair seemed to have fallen out of favour[3].

There were rather more people at the opening of the Highland Science Festival this afternoon. I have now been to the World's Smallest Lecture: two minutes each on quantum and relativity, in a tiny shed with room for one audience member, the lecturer, and a clipboard. Apparently this is a genuine world record attempt.

[1]Even my Mum's given up trying to get the modern generation to call it "guising".

[2] 8-year-old niece was dressed, very appropriately, as a devil. 2-year-old nephew had a matching costume but refused to put it on. He eventually was persuaded to put on his Bob the Builder hat and carry his Handy Manny toolbox. And his trident. (My own costume, which I didn't think was bad for something thrown together at the last minute, was my interview suit over my S-shield T-shirt, with a cardboard Daily Planet press pass clipped to the pocket. I already had the geeky glasses.)

[3]Jeremy Hardy: "My daughter always told me never to give sweets to strange children."
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Quentin Cooper's links on The Material World generally have more (and worse!) puns than a month of Irregular Webcomic. Normally I'm okay with that.

But I had to wince today, when he described the Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner as "conquering - and de-conkering - the British Isles".

I mean, oww!

Edit: And he followed it up at the end with "Leaf Miners, not to be confused with Lee Majors".
daibhidc: (Default)
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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Daibhid C

July 2017



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