February 18th, 2009

World Press Photo 2009


American photographer Anthony Suau has won this year’s prestigious World Press Photo Contest with his picture of Detective Robert Kole checking residents have moved out of their repossessed home.

I can’t believe it’s been this long already since the last one… But the results are in.

Here’s a high quality gallery from WPP’s site, and here’s a lower quality roundup of the winners in each category by the BBC, with short descriptions.

February 18th, 2009

genetic information

And isn’t it an arresting thought? We are digital archives of the African Pliocene, even of Devonian seas; walking repositories of wisdom out of the old days. You could spend a lifetime reading in this ancient library and die unsated by the wonder of it.

-Richard Dawkins, from his book Unweaving the Rainbow

Richard Dawkins wrote an interesting article on genetic information in relation to evolution after a question on this subject was apparently seen to stump him — this turned out to be a Creationist ploy attempting to make a dent in evolution theory’s armour. In his article, Dawkins rebukes this attempt and responds to the original question at length.

Here’s the article, and here’s the video it refers to briefly at the start.

February 17th, 2009

Obama Railroad


Obama signed and made official today his new 782.2 million dollar economic stimulus bill. Some of this is going to green causes such as making the US military more environmentally friendly.

Next to that Obama plans to make the biggest ever investment in the US railroad, creating an entirely new and very extensive railroad system.

“The time is right now for us to start thinking about high-speed rail as an alternative to air transportation connecting all these cities,” Obama said. “And think about what a great project that would be in terms of rebuilding America.”

Read more at treehugger.

I think the recession could have many such positive benefits like this — necessity is the mother of invention, they say.

February 17th, 2009

robot love


via neatorama

Previously posted: Elizabeth Barret Browning

February 17th, 2009

Tevatron vs Hadron

It sounds like a battle scene out of Transformers…

The team behind the Tevatron particle accelerator near Chicago has ramped up its efforts in the hope of beating the damaged and delayed Hadron Colider in finding the mysterious Higgs Boson first. The race is on! Go Europe! (I should probably say: Go science; may the best team win).

Fermilab say the odds of their Tevatron accelerator finding it first are now 50-50 at worst, and up to 96% at best.

Cern’s Lyn Evans admitted the accident which will halt the $7bn Large Hadron Collider until September may cost them one of the biggest prizes in physics.

The two rivals are trying to identify the “God Particle” – one of the fundamental particles of matter.

Finding the Higgs boson, whose existence has been predicted by theoretical physicists, might help to explain why matter has mass.

Read More: BBC Science again.

February 17th, 2009

Mission to Earth

Professor Paul Davies believes it’s highly likely that life from other planets is already among us on our own — only we are not looking for it, in the right places or in the right ways. Also possible he thinks is that life may have already evolved on earth once before.

This “shadow life” may be hidden in toxic arsenic lakes or in boiling deep sea hydrothermal vents, he says.

He has called on scientists to launch a “mission to Earth” by trawling hostile environments for signs of bio-activity.

Read More: BBC Science

February 16th, 2009

average 1 “Earth” per solar system

When the thought actually penetrates our myopic perception of existence, that there could be thousands, millions, billions, trillions of planets just like ours in the universe, with intelligent lifeforms just like ours, with their very own individual cultures and customs and technologies and creatures, existing right now in as real a way as we… Well the thought is beyond complete comprehension, but the very concept is uncanny and exciting in the extreme.

I wish I would live to see the day when even one of these planets made contact with us or vice versa, or that two or all of these civilisations were connected. Again, the amount of information that would be amassed by such a conference of civilisations is beyond thinking.

Well, in our galaxy alone, some scientists have recently estimated that there is an average of one Earth-like planet per solar system… Even this relatively low figure would yield billions of such planets in our galaxy, all of them capable of fostering life, many of them capable of hosting intelligent life like ours (depending on how old they are and on environmental conditions…).

More about this recent estimate: BBC Science

February 15th, 2009

In the absence of a lover

A poem late for Valentine’s day.

In the absence of a lover,
that man creates:
In want of wet lips,
a cocktail;
in emptiness,
a sandwich;
in love,
muddy memories;
and in singular loneliness,
man was created, because

In the beginning,
there was love —
the power of attraction
and unity —
and in the nonexistence of a single cell,
that love created.

February 15th, 2009

tree of life


Above: A highly resolved Tree Of Life, based on completely sequenced genomes, via wikipedia. Click for bigger.

Now i’d be lying if I said I knew what all those words on the image meant, but the idea behind this graphic is still very beautiful to me.

Interactive Tree Of Life is an online tool for the display and manipulation of phylogenetic trees. It provides most of the features available in other tree viewers, and offers a novel circular tree layout, which makes it easy to visualize mid-sized trees (up to several thousand leaves). Trees can be exported to several graphical formats, both bitmap and vector based.

February 15th, 2009

September by Ted Hughes

We sit late, watching the dark slowly unfold:
No clock counts this.
When kisses are repeated and the arms hold
There is no telling where time is.

It is midsummer: the leaves hang big and still:
Behind the eye a star,
Under the silk of the wrist a sea, tell
Time is nowhere.

We stand; leaves have not timed the summer.
No clock now needs
Tell we have only what we remember:
Minutes uproaring with our heads

Like an unfortunate King’s and his Queen’s
When the senseless mob rules;
And quietly the trees casting their crowns
Into the pools.

February 14th, 2009

candyfloss mimics human tissue

Above: Candyfloss under a light microscope, via this page.

Scientists have found that the chambered/channelled structure inherent in candyfloss works as a soluble mould for cultivating replacement human tissue in the lab. Later they may follow on from this principle to find an even better material.

First, you pour a thick liquid chemical over a wad of cotton candy. Let the liquid solidify into a chunk, and put that in warm water to dissolve the candy. That leaves tiny channels where the strands of candy used to be. So you have a chunk of material with a network of fine channels within.

Next, line these channels with cells to create artificial blood vessels. And seed the solid chunk with immature cells of whatever tissue you’re trying to make. The block is biodegradable, and as it disappears, it will gradually be replaced by growing tissue. In the end, you get a piece of tissue permeated with tiny blood vessels.

So far, the researchers have made these blocks of material and run rat blood through the channels within. While they may eventually switch to something other than cotton candy as the research proceeds, Bellan said he hopes to stick with the inexpensive stuff as long as possible.

Article, via neatorama.

February 14th, 2009

writing: being a fly on your own wall


In this interview David Foster Wallace brings up the point that when you’re accustomed to seeing things as a writer, you are inclined to analyse your own life to the point of a detrimental self-obsession, not grounded in vanity but in a suffocating level of self-awareness.

Wallace: […] The writers I know, there’s a certain self-consciousness about them, and a critical awareness of themselves and other people that helps their work. But that sort of sensibility makes it very hard to be with people, and not sort of be hovering near the ceiling, watching what’s going on. One of the things you two will discover, in the years after you get out of school, is that managing to really be an alive human being, and also do good work and be as obsessive as you have to be, is really tricky. It’s not an accident when you see writers either become obsessed with the whole pop stardom thing or get into drugs or alcohol, or have terrible marriages. Or they simply disappear from the whole scene in their thirties or forties. It’s very tricky.

Geoffrey Polk: I think you have to sacrifice a lot.

Wallace: I don’t know if it’s that voluntary or a conscious decision. In most of the writers I know, there’s a self-centeredness, not in terms of preening in front of the mirror, but a tendency not only toward introspection but toward a terrible self-consciousness. Writing, you’re having to worry about your effect on an audience all the time. Are you being too subtle or not subtle enough? You’re always trying to communicate in a unique way, and so it makes it very hard, at least for me, to communicate in a way that I see ordinary, apple-cheeked Clevelanders communicating with each other on street corners.

My answer for myself would be no; it’s not a sacrifice; it’s simply the way that I am, and I don’t think I’d be happy doing anything else. I think people who congenitally drawn to this sort of profession are savants in certain ways and sort of retarded in certain other ways. Go to a writers’ conference sometime and you’ll see. People go to meet people who on paper are just gorgeous, and they’re absolute geeks in person. They have no idea what to say or do. Everything they say is edited and undercut by some sort of editor in themselves. That’s been true of my experience. I’ve spent a lot more of my energy teaching the last two years, really sort of working on how to be a human being.

Part of a longer interview, found here, via here. via kottke.

February 14th, 2009

chemistry demonstrations

This is a fun and educational archive of chemistry demonstrations… It reminds me of the excitement of experiment days in my science class at school… Although these experiments actually work!

Above is one of the videos: Flammable Ice.

via kottke

February 13th, 2009


I like the word schismatic, especially when used as a noun.

In this article the word is put to excellent use in describing Henry VIII:

When he died, he was the great schismatic, who had created a national church and an insular, xenophobic politics that shaped the development of England for the next 500 years

The article itself is interesting too! A love letter written by Henry VIII is being displayed in the British Library after being effectively hidden away in the Vatican for almost five centuries. The letter expresses Henry’s apparent deep love and loyalty for Anne Boleyn, who he would later have beheaded, and after whom he married four other women.

Ah! A romantic story that warms the heart just in time for Saint Valentine’s day!

Previously posted: Word Love (every dictionary.com “word of the day” for Valentines Day since 2000) and 400 Love Letters

February 12th, 2009

first draft: neanderthal genome

Scientists working from Croatian fossils of Neanderthals are working towards sequencing the Neanderthal genome.

They’ve found that we share between 99.5 and 99.9% of our genetic sequence with Neanderthals, but have as yet not discovered any evidence to show that there was interbreeding in the past. They speculate that the demise of the Neanderthal race was due to environmental factors or interaction with homo sapiens, and not due to some genetic failing.

Most interesting I think is that they have found genetic agreement in the genes needed for language development, suggesting that Neanderthals might have been able to speak as well as humans. But language is genetically speaking a very complicated matter, they say, and so more research will be required before they can say that for certain.

The draft genome can give us clues to the genetic regions which make us “uniquely human”, Prof Paabo told BBC News.

“It was always a dream to look at the DNA of our closest evolutionary relatives.

“Now that we have the Neanderthal genome, we can look for areas in the human genome where a change seems to have swept rapidly through us since we separated from Neanderthals.

“There, something special may have happened in us. The cool thing is, now that we have the whole genome, we can look for these changes without bias.”

BBC News

February 11th, 2009

live moss bathmatt


Nguyen La Chanh designed this live moss bath mat so you can get in touch with nature after you shower. The moisture that seeps into the mat nourishes the moss. No more damp, smelly bathroom mats to contend with, once you have this living mat. It also looks pretty stylish too.

This novel design actually has some practical worth too (in theory). How would you replace the moss when it died though?

via Reuben Miller

February 11th, 2009

Birds + Bees lamp


This beautiful organic table lamp is hand-blown in Brooklyn, NY. Being so sculptural, it is as much a statement piece as it is a functional lamp. Place it on a desk, a side table or right in the thick of things and it will surely brighten any room. Two Edison double loop 60 watt light bulbs are included. The cloth cord comes with built in on/off switch. US electrical.

This lamp is very neat (the pricetag is not).

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February 11th, 2009

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