Tuesday, 1 January 2013

On the eighth day of Christmas there's yet more frivolity!

Suitcase Wireless: 1924
via Shorpy Historical Photo Archive – Vintage Fine Art Prints by Dave
Suitcase Wireless: 1924
Washington, D.C., circa 1924
“Brent Daniel, formerly of the Radio Laboratory of the Bureau of Standards at Washington, with the first portable Super-Heterodyne, his own design. The seven vacuum tubes, batteries, loop antenna, loudspeaker and other necessary units are completely self-contained in the carrying case. He has been able to hear Pacific Coast stations from this outfit.”
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Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
The brontosaur never existed. Spinach isn’t as healthful as you think. Science makes errors, and its history is one of constant revision... more

How experimental design can create conflicting results
via Boing Boing by Maggie Koerth-Baker

Apples & Oranges – They Don’t Compare,
a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from thebusybrain’s photostream
Is coffee bad for you or good for you?
Does acupuncture actually work, or does it produce a placebo effect?
Do kids with autism have different microbes living in their intestines, or are their gut flora largely the same as neurotypical children?
These are all good examples of topics that have produced wildly conflicting results from one study to another. (Side-note: This is why knowing what a single study says about something doesn’t actually tell you much. And, frankly, when you have a lot of conflicting results on anything, it’s really easy for somebody to pick the five that support a given hypothesis and not tell you about the 10 that don’t.)
But why do conflicting results happen?
One big factor is experimental design.
Turns out, there’s more than one way to study the same thing. How you set up an experiment can have a big effect on the outcome. And if lots of people are using different experimental designs, it becomes difficult to accurately compare their results. At the Wonderland blog, Emily Anthes has an excellent piece about this problem, using the aforementioned research on gut flora in kids with autism as an example.
For instance, in studies of autism and microbes, investigators must decide what kind of control group they want to use. Some scientists have chosen to compare the guts of autistic kids to those of their neurotypical siblings while others have used unrelated children as controls. This choice of control group can influence the strength of the effect that researchers find – or whether they find one at all.
Scientists also know that antibiotics can have profound and long-lasting effects on our microbiomes, so they agree on the need to exclude children from these studies who have taken antibiotics recently. But what’s recently? Within the last week? Month? Three months? Each investigator has to make his or her own call when designing a study.
Then there’s the matter of how researchers collect their bacterial samples. Are they studying faecal samples? Or taking samples from inside the intestines themselves? The bacterial communities may differ in samples taken from different places.
Read the full story at The Wonderland blog

James Bond’s Guide to Seduction
via Big Think by Daniel Honan
Why do bad boys always get the girl?
Or, to put it another way, why do women find it so hard to resist ruthless, deceitful narcissists?
Look no further than James Bond, whose character is composed of three distinctly nasty traits – the dark triad, as this particular psychosis is referred to in psychological literature.
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Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
Cézanne without the luster. In his own time, he provoked outrage. His brush strokes were so ugly, said one critic, “he could paint bad breath”... more

New York City In LEGO Bricks
via How-To Geek by Jason Fitzpatrick

How can you capture all of New York City in LEGO?
With a creative mind and the right data.
Rather than recreate buildings in detail, designer JR Schimdt used an elevation map of the city and surrounding area to build stacks of LEGO scaled to the city’s building topography. The end result is an eye catching 3D rendition of NYC.
Hit up the link below to grab a larger copy.
LEGO New York [via Neatorma]

Apparently, planets don’t always orbit stars
via Boing Boing by Maggie Koerth-Baker

CFHT/P. Delorme
Because sometimes nature just likes to mess with you, here’s CFBDSIR2149.
It’s an object in space – a relatively nearby object in space, as evidenced by the fact that this is an actual picture of it – and scientists are pretty sure that it’s a planet. If they’re right, then CFBDSIR2149 is also a “rogue planet”, so called because it doesn’t actually orbit a star.
It’s just hanging out in space, doing its own thing.
Also, it’s not the first time a rogue planet has been identified. In fact, these things are probably not even particularly rare. A 2011 study published in the journal Nature estimated that rogue planets might even outnumber normal stars by 2-to-1 in the Milky Way Galaxy.
It’s worth noting that rogue planets do not seem to be Earth-like. For instance, CFBDSIR2149 is roughly the size of Jupiter and, with an estimated surface temperature of 850 degrees Fahrenheit, it is not exactly a pleasant place for people.
As for where rogue planets come from: that’s a mystery. One of the things that makes CFBDSIR2149 special, according to Phil Plait, is that it’s actually close enough to us that we can collect some good data on the thing.
Read Phil Plait’s description of CFBDSIR2149 at the Bad Astronomy Blog
Read the research paper announcing the discovery of CFBDSIR2149
Read about rogue planets in a Science News story from last year

Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
The mystery of gayness: Homosexuals reproduce less than heterosexuals, so why has natural selection not operated against it? A few theories... more

The oldest living tree tells all
via Boing Boing by Mark Frauenfelder
“In 1964, a geologist in the Nevada wilderness discovered the oldest living thing on earth, after he killed it.’
A terrific opening sentence to Hunter Oatman-Stanford’s story in Collector’s Weekly about bristlecone pine trees, which can live for thousands of years.
By the time of Currey’s survey, trees were typically dated using core samples taken with a hollow threaded bore screwed into a tree’s trunk. No larger than a soda straw, these cores then received surface preparations in a lab to make them easier to read under a microscope. While taking core samples from the Prometheus tree, which Currey labeled WPN-114, his boring bit snapped in the bristlecone’s dense wood. After requesting assistance from the Forest Service, a team was sent to fell the tree using chainsaws. Only days later, when Currey individually counted each of the tree’s rings, did he realize the gravity of his act.

Inyo Bristlecone Signature Tree, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) 
image from usfsregion5’s photostream

The Cult of the Singularity
via Big Think by Daniel Altman
Friends, a new world is waiting for all of us. It is a world without want, where every need is satisfied by boundless resources. It is a world of friendship, where war does not exist. And when we get there, we’ll achieve immortality. I’m not talking about Heaven, Nirvana, or some other religious tenet – I’m talking about the future according to Singularity University. But is it really as close as the Singularity folks say?
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Personally I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole if I had one!

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