Boundary Layer

The best way to find a line is to cross it

Friday, July 29, 2005


Supposedly these are the most intelligent comments about Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey according to Mr. Kubrick himself. (via Metafilter)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Forward and reverse

Balancing Point is a stunning quicktime movie that must be seen and believed. (via Metafilter)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The power of the Tour de France

One of the riders in the Tour de France hooked up a device to measure his power output. He can almost put out one horsepower. Unbelievable. (via Robotwisdom)
According to Lim's data published at, over the course of the Tour's 21 stages, Landis generated a mind-blowing 70,914 kilojoules of work, which means he burned about 74,000 calories -- about 133 Big Macs' worth. But even more impressive than the total amount of power he generated is the peak power that he sustained.

On his way to a ninth-place finish, Landis spent nearly four hours of the Tour at a power output level of more than 500 watts -- that's a flat-out sprint to most recreational riders, who can only generate that sort of power for seconds at a time. For professionals, it's the ability to ride at this nearly superhuman level that separates champions from the rest of the pack.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

We got lucky

It's funny how articles like this get written then just sort of fade away.
After the formal meeting, senior [FBI] agents in the room faced a grilling by Kristen Breitweiser, a 9/11 widow whose cohorts are three other widowed moms from New Jersey.

"I don't understand, with all the warnings about the possibilities of Al Qaeda using planes as weapons, and the Phoenix Memo from one of your own agents warning that Osama bin Laden was sending operatives to this country for flight-school training, why didn't you check out flight schools before Sept. 11?"

"Do you know how many flight schools there are in the U.S.? Thousands," a senior agent protested. "We couldn't have investigated them all and found these few guys."

"Wait, you just told me there were too many flight schools and that prohibited you from investigating them before 9/11," Kristen persisted. "How is it that a few hours after the attacks, the nation is brought to its knees, and miraculously F.B.I. agents showed up at Embry-Riddle flight school in Florida where some of the terrorists trained?"
"We got lucky," was the reply.


What if WWII had been a RTS game? (via Metafilter)

Trans-pacific express

Did Polynesian sailors teach the Chumash people of Southern California how to build ocean-going boats? Some new evidence suggests that the answer is yes.
Recently, though, scientific opposition to at least some diffusionist ideas has begun to waver. A huge blow to the skeptics came more than a decade ago, with the discovery of archaeological evidence that ancient Polynesians ate sweet potatoes, which are native to South America. Presumably, Polynesian sailors ventured to South America, obtained sweet potatoes and brought them back to their home islands.

That discovery seemed to undermine a major plank of the critics' old argument: that Polynesian travel to the Americas was physically impossible. Still, direct evidence for Polynesian contact with North America has been scarce.

Until now, that is. Now, the tide is turning in this old debate, in a way that might transform our understanding of the early peoples of the Golden State.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A bit of the ultraviolet

What would flowers look like if we could see ultraviolet light as many insects can? Probably something like this. The full list is here but it's not by common name unfortunately. (via The Daily Grail)

Images and ideas

Princeton University's Art of Science Competition. (via BoingBoing)

Looking down

Google Sightseeing tours the world so you don't have to. (via Metafilter)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Hello blue sky

This is the best explanation I've seen for why we see the sky as blue and not violet. (via The Daily Grail)
But in this case, the sky's combination of violet and blue elicits the same cone response as pure blue plus white light, which is an equal mixture of all the colors.

"Your eye can't tell the difference between that complex spectrum and one that is a mixture of pure blue and white," Smith said.

Charonic occultation

Astronomers were there to capture Pluto's moon Charon eclipsing a distant star. (via Robotwisdom)

Monday, July 18, 2005

Ballots in Baghdad

Seymour Hersch has a new piece out detailing the US influence in the Iraqi elections.
Nonetheless, in the same time period, former military and intelligence officials told me, the White House promulgated a highly classified Presidential “finding” authorizing the C.I.A. to provide money and other support covertly to political candidates in certain countries who, in the Administration’s view, were seeking to spread democracy. “The finding was general,” a recently retired high-level C.I.A. official told me. “But there’s no doubt that Baghdad was a stop on the way. The process is under the control of the C.I.A. and the Defense Department.”

I think the irony of providing covert CIA support to candidates in elections who "were seeking to spread democracy" is lost on the Bush administration. (via Robotwisdom)

Music factory

This beautiful Shockwave music maker has been making the rounds. The BBC also has a more traditional Shockwave songwriting game.

Prophet of the possible

Sustainability guru, William McDonough, does a Q&A on growth and development in China. (via Robotwisdom)
Clearly, the nurturing instinct is soft-wired. We’re hard-wired hunter-gatherers; we’re programmed nurturers. The next opportunity is to run that out. Einstein said, “No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it.” If we look at the consciousness involved in the first industrial revolution, it was “take fossil fuels and burn them,” with the only design principle being that if brute force doesn’t work, you’re not using enough of it. That’s pure opportunism, hunter-gathering.

That’s playing itself out in China. We’re getting a huge quantity of haves against a huge quantity of have-nots. Everybody on the planet understands that’s not a tenable long-term relationship. The next consciousness we need is to merge opportunism with the nurturing instinct of ecological and social systems. What we want is a social market economy that honors both. What’s been missing is ecology, which is the famous triad of sustainable development: economy, equity, ecology. That’s what we’re bringing to our work.


The NY Times mag has a profile on George Lakoff. (via Robotwisdom)
Lakoff has some valid points. In his writing, at least, he explains framing in a way that is more intellectually complex than his critics have admitted. His essential insight into politics -- that voters make their decisions based on larger frames rather than on the sum of a candidate's positions -- is hard to refute. And Lakoff does say in "Don't Think of an Elephant!" albeit very briefly, that Democrats need not just new language but also new thought; he told me the party suffers from "hypocognition," or a lack of ideas. What's more, when it comes to the language itself, Lakoff has repeatedly written that the process of reframing American political thought will take years, if not decades, to achieve. He does not suggest in is writing that a few catchy slogans can turn the political order on its head by the next election.

The health of nations

Emergency physician and professor Stephen Bezruchka has a provocative view that explains why Americans aren't as healthy as peoples of other nations.
The studies overwhelming show that for every health condition, for every disease, for every cause of death, those who have lower incomes have it much worse than those who have fatter paychecks. In other words, if you work where you have to see sick people, such as in emergency departments, you are going to see poorer people for the most part, no matter whether your hospital sits in a wealthy neighborhood, or a poor one. Coming to see that, namely that poorer people had poorer health, was a major revelation for me. Now I'm not saying that all rich people live long healthy lives and the people of more modest means live shorter sicker lives. We all know of counter-examples to that. The tragedy of Princess Diana comes to mind. But as a statement about populations, about communities, wherever you look at it, poorer people have poorer health. The next question I asked was WHY this was so.

His answer to the question is pretty interesting even if he takes too long to get to it. He's also the founder of the Population Health Forum.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

An interview with a storyteller

ReadyMade mag has a short Q&A with Ira Glass of This American Life. Ask Mefi had a question on favorite episodes. My Experimental Phase and Plan B are two standouts. And here, the staff of the show pick their favorites.

Breakfast Yo's

The Cheap-ass cereal hall of fame includes Silly Circles, Fruity Nuggets, and Apple Yo's. (via BB)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Web games

Some neat online games. (via delicious)

Bad seeds

It's no wonder that Haliburton turned out to be the way it is. Dick Cheney fit right in as CEO. (via Robotwisdom)
Halliburton, the signature corporation of the Bush-Cheney onslaught on Iraq, didn't start its corporate life on the government dole. In fact, the company patriarch, Erle P. "Red" Halliburton, despised the federal government. His distaste for Uncle Sam was matched only by his ferocious hatred of Mexicans, blacks and labor unionists.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Radio ratings

Arbitron ratings for radio stations listed by market.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Fun with Java

Grappa are a bunch of neat applets that can create some nice looking pictures with mouse traces. (via Robotwisdom)

Monkey hangover

Boring article, great picture.

Costly Weather

In case you needed another reason not to live in North Carolina, it was the target of the most weather disasters which caused in excess of a billion dollars in damage from 1980 to 2004. NOAA has a nice map and some figures. In fact you might conclude that God hates the entire South according to this PDF. Also noteworthy in that same figure is that droughts and hurricanes have done roughly the same amount of damage in the aggregate. (via Robotwisdom)

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The story of umami

This article on MSG makes me hungry just reading it. (via Metafilter)
Professor Kidunae Ikeda comes home from the physics faculty at the Tokyo Imperial University and sits down to eat a broth of vegetables and tofu prepared by his wife. It is - as usual - delicious. The professor, a mild, bespectacled biochemistry specialist, turns to Mrs Ikeda and asks - as spouses occasionally will - what is the secret of her wonderful soup. Mrs Ikeda points to the strips of dried seaweed she keeps in the store cupboard. This is kombu, a heavy kelp. Soak it in hot water and you get the essence of dashi, the stock base of the tangy broths and consommés the Japanese love.

Dude makes it look easy

Skateboarder Danny Way jumped The Great Wall of China and leaped into the record books today. Here are the WM videos, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. (via Metafilter)

The pen is mightier

Inside the Pentagon surveyed current and former military officers to come up with a list of 100 books "essential [for officers] as they prepare to counter the insurgency in Iraq and help rebuild that nation". Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom was number two. The list doesn't appear to be online but the article is here. Needless to say I don't see Chalmers Johnson's Blowback mentioned anywhere.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Danger at high speed

This story is unlikely and tragic. Sometimes life is random like that. (via A Joshua Tree In Every Pot)

On the first Saturday in April, Michelle "Shelly" Howard, a 59-year-old registered nurse and mother of three who had been drag-racing for 27 years, took her Top Alcohol Dragster for a 10 p.m. practice run at Tulsa Raceway Park as part of a late-night event. Howard, the wife of a Tulsa physician, had huge experience—she'd won the Division 4 title twice and was a three-time national event winner. Top Alcohol is just one notch below drag racing's ferocious 8000-hp Top Fuel class, where these rails rip to 100 mph in less than a second and at least one has turned the quarter-mile at 335 mph in 4.4 seconds.

Howard got off to a good start, but what happened next will have drag-racing people shaking their heads in disbelief for years to come.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The long, long, walk

Exit polls are vital to verifying elections. In Ukraine, a discrepancy between the official election results and exit polls sparked mass street protests. One of the odd things about the 2004 election was the difference between exit polling results and the official results. Exit polls predicted a Kerry win by 3% but the official results seemed to show Bush won by 2.5%.

The group that performed the polling released a report in January which tried to account for the difference. Their belief is that Kerry voters were more likely to talk to exit poll workers and that is what caused the 5.5% difference between the exit polls and the official tally.
Our investigation of the differences between the exit poll estimates and the actual vote count point to one primary reason: in a number of precincts a higher than average Within Precinct Error most likely due to Kerry voters participating in the exit polls at a higher rate than Bush voters.

Ok that seems plausible. But wait a second. If there was such a discrepancy in the results for the Presidential election shouldn't there be the same discrepancy in the results for the Senate elections?

A recently released study by a Ron Baiman, a professor at the University of Chicago, addresses that and several other questions.
National research shows "exit polling is a well developed science, informed by half a century of experience and continually improving methodology," Baiman explained. For example, E/M samples voters not only for the nationwide exit poll but for each state's exit poll. Furthermore, the research team found that the same exit polls accurately projected U.S. Senate races; both the Presidential and Senate poll results are derived from the exact same responders.

They go on to say that,
"If Bush supporters were refusing to fill out the survey as hypothesized, the accuracy of the exit polls should have been just as poor in the Senate races as it was in the Presidential race," the research team charged in its report.

According to Baiman, by ruling out random chance and exit poll errors, the only other logical explanation would be that the official vote was corrupted.

Now it may be the case that Professor Baiman is full of shit. The problem is that we will never know because a large fraction of votes are cast on machines whose inner workings are unverifiable and unauditable.

The other big problem is that these issues are invisible in the media. This 5.5% puzzle has been staring the country in the face since November but there is no news coverage nor mass protests as occurred in Ukraine.

And that is even more troublesome than a stolen election. The outcome of a fraudulent presidential election lasts only four years. An apathetic populace and subservient media can last for much, much longer. (via Cannonfire which has done an excellent job following this issue)

Rock for Africa

This page has direct links to the AOL Quicktime videos of all the Live 8 acts. (via Metafilter)

This or that

The sunset tag on Flickr outnumbers the sunrise tag by about 6 to 1. I imagine its probably because more people are awake to take pictures at sunset.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The state of micro-states

This article in Cabinet Magazine describes nation building on the cheap. (via Robotwisdom)
The Territory of Poyais displayed many of the themes that would appear in micro-nations for the next century-and-a-half: Firstly, that the love of money is usually a significant incentive in a micro-nation’s foundation. Secondly, that a micro-nation’s founders will always bestow upon themselves thoroughly dramatic titles. Thirdly, that since all the world’s good spots have been taken, micro-nations are usually gifted with dire and hazardous geography. And finally, should any other country enquire into the status of a micro-nation, it is liable to collapse.


The Chalets sing and dodge icons in this amusing music video. (via Robotwisdom)

The Internet's emotions

A realtime chart of the use of emoticons in Livejournal over the past week. (via Robotwisdom)

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The curse of agriculture

Jared Diamond takes a contrarian view of agriculture in this fascinating article.
How do you show that the lives of people 10,000 years ago got better when they abandoned hunting and gathering for farming? Until recently, archaeologists had to resort to indirect tests, whose results (surprisingly) failed to support the progressivist view. Here’s one example of an indirect test: Are twentieth century hunter-gatherers really worse off than farmers? Scattered throughout the world, several dozen groups of so-called primitive people, like the Kalahari bushmen, continue to support themselves that way. It turns out that these people have plenty of leisure time, sleep a good deal, and work less hard than their farming neighbors.

He believes that human life actually got worse after we settled down and switched to agriculture as our food source and backs up his case with evidence. This leads to the question of why we switched to agriculture if we had it so good as hunter-gatherers. For that you'll have to read the article. (via Robotwisdom)

Vat grown meat

My only question is, would vegetarians eat it? (via Robotwisdom)

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Deaths in Babylon

This map shows a American deaths mapped to their hometowns. (via Drudge) This map shows the location of American (and other coalition) deaths in Iraq. (via Robotwisdom)

Monday, July 04, 2005


Framing guru George Lakoff spells out a plan of action. Here are a few of his points:
4.Keep pounding on the Downing Street memo, pointing out how Bush doctored intelligence and sent troops to war on false pretenses. Goad him about there being no WMD’s in Iraq, but plenty in North Korea.

5.Attack Bush for weakening our military and our economy, while strengthening al Qaeda, Point out that Bush is al Qaeda’s best friend, since he is their best recruiter.

6.Raise the stakes. Point out how the administration has been using 911 for their own political ends; of using the war in Iraq as a pretext to carry out a radical political agenda at home, and to get re-elected. Point out the immorality of using American and Iraqi lives for political ends.

7.Use the opportunity to brand the right wing as political fundamentalists, showing the intimate connections between Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism.

Custom drugs

It's a shame when Science posts excellent content behind their subscription wall. But this article on pharmacogenomics is better than anything that shows up on Google. This is a field that is poised to explode and has the potential to save lives and improve the quality and effectiveness of medicine in the short term.
To date, pharmacogenomic therapies represent a trifling portion of pharmaceutical sales, some $3.65 billion in a $550 billion market. That won't change unless scientists overcome an array of challenges, from untangling the genetics behind complex diseases such as diabetes to altering practices that could disqualify patients for health insurance based on their genes. There are also concerns that approval of drugs based on race, a sociological trait, will increase racial stereotypes and bolster the discredited notion that there are fundamental genetic differences between races. But those problems, say drug industry officials, pale in comparison to the projected benefits to patients--and to the industry. "Every major pharmaceutical company is reorganizing or has reorganized their clinical paradigm" to test drugs in conjunction with tracking genes or other molecular markers of disease, says Ronald Salerno, who directs regulatory affairs for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. "This is the way drugs will be developed in the future."

Everyone responds differently to drugs and now people are starting to look seriously and systematically at why this is, and more specifically, what genes are involved. The end result is that less of the most effective drug type will be needed and there will be less guesswork in dosing because doctors will have more information on how individuals will respond to drugs before they prescribe them.

Life on the edge

Sometimes in my idle moments I wonder how would one go about becoming an outlaw and living off of the grid for awhile. Eric Rudolph did for five years. He recounts here his attempt to steal grain from a silo and a small segment of his life in the Appalachian hills. The writing is actually quite good considering this is a guy who has graphic images of aborted fetuses on his home page. (via Robotwisdom)

I sat up watching all of that night shaking like a dog because of the wet clothing. I didn't want to change into dry clothes yet, knowing that I may have to get started through the wet woods at any moment, and a fire was certainly out of the question. Finally it became unbearable so I changed into some dry clothes and unfurled my bedroll. Then out of the west came the distinctive sound of chopper blades pounding the air. "This is it. For some reason the Feds sent this chopper away for maintenance, and they were just returning to start the search," I muttered to myself. I readied myself and my pack as I waited for the bird to start the slow spiral around the ridges below. Then as it passed the area where the silos are located I remembered that this was one of the choppers that infrequently commutes through the valley. As it slowly made its' way out of sight beyond Andrews, I realized that they weren't coming.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Sound of Hatred

I know little of Paul Harvey except that he is a bland radio personality with millions of listeners. And this is what he said to them on Thursday, June 23rd.
"We didn't come this far because we're made of sugar candy. Once upon a time, we elbowed our way onto and across this continent by giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans. That was biological warfare. And we used every other weapon we could get our hands on to grab this land from whomever.

"And we grew prosperous. And yes, we greased the skids with the sweat of slaves. So it goes with most great nation-states, which--feeling guilty about their savage pasts--eventually civilize themselves out of business and wind up invaded and ultimately dominated by the lean, hungry up-and-coming who are not made of sugar candy."

Any reasonable human being would assume he was joking. He wasn't. Sometimes it's good to know where people stand.