May 31st, 2014

look closer…


Amazing GIF image created using images from a scanning electron microscope:

As the incredibly powerful microscope zooms in, it goes from showing an amphipod (a type of shell-less crustacean), to a diatom (a type of algae) that’s on the amphipod, to a microscopic bacterium that’s on the diatom that’s on the amphipod. It’s life, on life, on life:

The GIF was created by James Tyrwhitt-Drake back in 2012, when he captured the images at the University of Victoria’s Advanced Microscopy Facility and posted the final product to his Tumblog, Infinity Imagined.

Via PetaPixel.

May 12th, 2013

understanding your stocks and shares in the nick of time

This page offers an interesting explanation of the phrase ‘in the nick of time’, but what I found most delightful was — in a side note — the brilliant imagery behind what I had previously thought were two very dull words: ‘stocks’ and ‘shares’. Apparently these words ‘refer to the splitting of such sticks (stocks) along their length and sharing the two matching halves as a record of a deal.’ Wikipedia offers a more detailed explanation:

The split tally was a technique which became common in medieval Europe, which was constantly short of money (coins) and predominantly illiterate, in order to record bilateral exchange and debts. A stick (squared hazelwood sticks were most common) was marked with a system of notches and then split lengthwise. This way the two halves both record the same notches and each party to the transaction received one half of the marked stick as proof.

Later this technique was refined in various ways and became virtually tamper proof. One of the refinements was to make the two halves of the stick of different lengths. The longer part was called stock and was given to the party which had advanced money (or other items) to the receiver. The shorter portion of the stick was called foil and was given to the party which had received the funds or goods. Using this technique each of the parties had an identifiable record of the transaction. The natural irregularities in the surfaces of the tallies where they were split would mean that only the original two halves would fit back together perfectly, and so would verify that they were matching halves of the same transaction. If one party tried to unilaterally change the value of his half of the tally stick by adding more notches, those notches would not be on the other tally stick and would be revealed as an attempted forgery.

The split tally was accepted as legal proof in medieval courts and the Napoleonic Code (1804) still makes reference to the tally stick in Article 1333.[4] Along the Danube and in Switzerland the tally was still used in the 20th century in rural economies.

Better than today’s anti-fraud technology! (Wiki)

May 4th, 2013

bad translator

I’ve been having more fun playing with this than I should really admit. You give it a sentence and it passes it back and forth through a selection of free translation services and then presents you with the übertranslated result.

In this way, my sentence

‘Within a few short years human translators will be obsolete’

becomes the rather more worrying

‘People will disappear’,

or with different settings, the rather poetic but undoubtedly true

‘In some years short human translators will aged be’.

Bad Translator.

April 28th, 2013

there’s too much directing around here

An amusing and insightful recording of an attempt to direct Orson Welles on a voice over for a Findus frozen foods commercial. Welles gets more obnoxious the more frustrated he gets.

April 28th, 2013

war of the radiowaves

From radio fax in 1938 to Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast, also in 1938. Here’s some excellent footage of Welles responding to the press after the broadcast.

March 22nd, 2013

emotion produced by machines

This machine makes paper planes, but it also produces delight in certain people. Or is it the human innovation it represents that makes me smile? Hard to look at a machine like this and not see the person who made it.

February 24th, 2013

event partitioning

Don’t analyse me too much based on this comment, but I find it rather satisfying in a way to see a real-life system be broken down into its constituent functions, as in this system context diagram of a fictitious hotel. You could blow this diagram up to the size of a building and make ever smaller diagrams within the diagram to represent the functions within the functions within the functions within the functions…

In fact, I will do that one day. Ok, back to work.

(wikipedia link)

February 6th, 2013

how fungi saved the world

There was apparently a time in our planet’s history when plants evolved into trees (in order to be able to grow taller while still supporting themselves structurally) but there was no type of fungi yet evolved that could break down the trees when they died. So for a long period trees just piled up. This interesting BBC documentary on decay explains the Carboniferous period. (via reddit)

January 23rd, 2013

olive oil production

The fascinating traditional process of making olive oil.

December 8th, 2012

mechanised birdsong

A mechanical singing bird mechanism. Made around 120 years ago in Paris, probably by Bontems. In the film I hope you can identify all the major parts and see them working together to make the sound. The mechanism was in a rusted and seized state and has been restored. Surpisingly the bellows are in good original condition. See our channel for more, much more.

If this is for real, it’s very impressive! Actually if it were not real it would be impressive too. See more at the house of automata. (via sciencedump)

November 13th, 2012

electronic bookbinding

Elektrobiblioteka / Electrolibrary from waldek wegrzyn on Vimeo.

Terrific project! Thanks Aengus for the heads-up.

October 31st, 2012

forgetting in order to remember

This post from Psyblog is a list of psychological observations to do with memory. Some observations reveal unintuitive patterns in memory, like this one:

If you want to learn to play tennis, is it better to spend one week learning to serve, the next week the forehand, the week after the backhand, and so on? Or should you mix it all up with serves, forehands and backhands every day?

It turns out that for long-term retention, memories are more easily recalled if learning is mixed up. This is just as true for both motor learning, like tennis, as it is for declarative memory, like what’s the capital of Venezuela (to save you googling: it’s Caracas).

The trouble is that learning like this is worse to start off with. If you practice your serve then quickly switch to the forehand, you ‘forget’ how to serve. So you feel things are going worse than if you just practice your serve over-and-over again. But, in the long-run this kind of mix-and-match learning works best.

One explanation for why this works is called the ‘reloading hypothesis’. Each time we switch tasks we have to ‘reload’ the memory. This process of reloading strengthens the learning.

That does make sense, actually. I recall noticing on one occasion that it was quite effective to learn a language whilst doing another task (i.e. returning to the language exercise regularly).

More here.

October 9th, 2012

alternative scarecrow

What a mechanism! Now that’s resourceful. (via sciencedump)

September 19th, 2012

puffer pad

The creator of this undersea sculpture was a small puffer fish.

Attracted by the grooves and ridges, female puffer fish would find their way along the dark seabed to the male puffer fish where they would mate and lay eggs in the center of the circle. In fact, the scientists observed that the more ridges the circle contained, the more likely it was that the female would mate with the male. The little sea shells weren’t just in vain either. The observers believe that they serve as vital nutrients to the eggs as they hatch, and to the newborns.

More pictures & info here.

Posted in Ha!, Nature | No Comments »
September 14th, 2012

butterfly flame

What is a flame made of? (sciencedump)

September 2nd, 2012

druze pita / kubbiz markouk

Druze pita or, in Lebanon, Kubbiz Markouk, made on a stove-top taboun. A recipe.

August 24th, 2012

the sky-as-limit exam

[Economy professor Tyler Cowen] once walked into class the day of the final exam and said, “Here is the exam. Write your own questions. Write your own answers. Harder questions and better answers get more points.” Then he walked out. The funniest thing was when a student came in late and I had to explain to him what the exam was and he didn’t believe me!

This sounds like an excellent way to challenge individuals and let them express their interests and potential, guiding education in a more healthy direction… Probably a little too challenging/individualistic to be used below university level.

Seth Roberts via

August 3rd, 2012

doubting your doubt

Some interesting psychological observations around doubt and hestitation.

For their research Wichman et al. (2010) recruited people who were chronically uncertain. They were then given a test which unconsciously encouraged them to be uncertain about their uncertainty. This was done by getting them to unscramble sentences which were related to uncertainty, like: “her speaker doubt I explanations” (you’re allowed to drop one word, in this case ‘speaker’).

Ironically it didn’t increase their uncertainty further but reduced it. This suggests that doubting your doubt can be useful. Of course this wasn’t a permanent solution, but it did momentarily reduce their levels of uncertainty.

Just the same effect could be seen when participants in a second study shook, rather than nodded their heads. The physical action of shaking their head while thinking about their uncertainty caused one to cancel out the other. Through this they temporarily reduced their doubts.

The second study suggests to me that being made aware of your hesitation encourages you to consciously shake it off.

More at psyblog

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