January 31st, 2010

don’t stare at the sun

Unless you have an ultraviolet video telescope.

Here’s a video of the moon’s transit of the sun (recorded by NASA’s stereo-B spacecraft in 2007).

Posted in Space, Video | No Comments »
January 30th, 2010

photographic interlude

Photo by David Fisher

Photo by Sebastian Lewis

(photos via light boner)

January 30th, 2010

human body workings

WrongDiagnosis has a library of visualisations/animations of the workings of the human body. Interesting, insightful little clips, like this one on hair or this one on heartburn.

All videos @ wd

January 26th, 2010

one cubic foot

Edward O. Wilson (The Diversity of Life) has a nice article on the National Geographic website on one of his favourite topics… biodiversity:

When you thrust a shovel into the soil or tear off a piece of coral, you are, godlike, cutting through an entire world. You have crossed a hidden frontier known to very few. Immediately close at hand, around and beneath our feet, lies the least explored part of the planet’s surface. It is also the most vital place on Earth for human existence.

More @ National Geographic

January 24th, 2010

kids can name 120 pokemon but not their native wildlife

Phylomon.org is a noble project seeking to make our native wildlife as inspiring and exciting to young people as the creators of the Pokemon mythos have made their synthetic creatures.

Conservationist Andrew Balmford’s letter in the Science:

… it appears that conservationists are doing less well than the creators of Pokemon at inspiring interest in their subjects: During their primary school years, children apparently learn far more about Pokemon than about their native wildlife and enter secondary school being able to name less than 50% of common wildlife types. Evidence from elsewhere links loss of knowledge about the natural world to growing isolation from it. People care about what they know. With the world’s urban population rising by 160,000 people daily, conservationists need to reestablish children’s links with nature if they are to win over the hearts and minds of the next generation

The Grimpoteuthis (right), a deep-sea-dwelling octopus, even looks a bit like a Pikachu. Perhaps that’s a good place to start.

I hope they see some interest in their project! The stimulus behind it is something that I’ve found disturbing too (even as an erstwhile Pokémon fan).

And the same applies to the idea of extra terrestrials: People get excited about the idea of finding alien life, but there is more terrestrial life unexplored on our own planet than we could ever fully appreciate.

(via kottke)

Incidentally: Its the UN International Year of Biodiversity!

January 24th, 2010

it’s slinky

Here’s something new to do with a slinky: make Star Wars sound effects. (via silentlistening — great blog!)

January 17th, 2010

their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff

Thank god for that; I needed a laugh.

January 17th, 2010

atlantic city (1904)


Just a small section of another great Shorpy image that caught my attention. See the full image.

January 16th, 2010

moonvilla concept


Here are 3 fun designs (via notcot):

Tree Trunk Garden House.
Beijing Noodle Restaurant design
Moonvilla Concept (as seen above. more pictures)

The Moonvilla has an outer shell/screen that revolves with the sun to regulate the climate inside. Neat. Although I wouldn’t want to be around when the motor is on the blink. Having said that, there is cleverly a little underground level built into the design.

There are no stairs. Due to the lack of gravity on the moon, people can leap from floor to floor!

January 10th, 2010

language learning ent a sport

Steve Kaufmann (aka The Linguist) argues the point that language learning is more than a task to be completed wholly, a skill to be learned to a specific point of satisfaction or superlative. As he says, “it’s not about performance”:

Athletes compete to see who can run faster, or jump higher, or execute their moves with more precision, or score more goals. Athletes train in order to improve their performance. Learning languages is different. It is, for me, about communicating and enjoying another culture. In fact the learning process, itself, is enjoyable, regardless of the outcome, regardless of the performance. It is possible to enjoy languages without performing at all, without speaking. And when we speak we do not want to be judged, or at least I do not.

I often get comments on my foreign language youtube videos along the lines of:

“your Portuguese is not very good, don’t you care?”
” your Japanese sounds a little American, you should work on your accent.”
” you made a mistake in your Russian.”

Well, I don’t care. I am not in competition with native speakers, nor with other non-native learners of any language. If my mistakes are pointed out, it is likely that I will make the same mistake the next time. I know what gives me trouble in these languages. I try to pay attention to these things when I listen, read or speak. But I know that I will continue to make mistakes and will only gradually improve.

More here. There is further discussion in the comments section of that post.

January 9th, 2010

the secret world of ‘water bears’ (aka ‘moss piglets’ aka ‘tardigrades’)

Image via flickr (though probably didn’t originate there)

Tardigrades (meaning “slow walkers”) are microbial creatures that are resilient against all manner of extreme conditions (heat, cold, pressure, radiation, dehydration). They can survive in temperatures as low as 1 degree calvin — 0 degrees calvin being the temperature at which molecular motion ceases. They can survive space. They can survive being dehydrated and rehydrated like instant coffee.

They’re extremely common (there are probably some in your back garden) and examples have been found dating back to the Cambrian period, when they were less evolved: fewer legs, simpler head shape and no posterior appendages.

Image via the incredible water bear.

They occupy their own phylum in the animal kingdom (tardigrada), they are so unique. Their closest relatives are fruit flies (arthropoda) and nematodes (nematoda).

More info at Wikipedia, where there are links to yet more info, photos, and videos.

January 9th, 2010

porridge deviation

I am deviating from normal blog activity to report on the best porridge (ever).

A debt of gratitude is owed to Mother Beaton for this recipe (I must get my experimental streak from her), whose secret is in the milk.

  • Equal parts almond milk and semi-skimmed goat’s milk
  • mixed nuts/berries
  • and/or a handful of muesli
  • oh, and porridge oats
  • I’m aware that almond milk and goats milk are not exactly common in most parts of the world. Well, neither is the best porridge (ever).

    January 7th, 2010

    it’s a wuzzy line and its getting wuzzier

    “The Unbroken Thread” is the latest and greatest musical-science-mashup by youtuber MelodySheep. Uplifting!

    See also: Previous Attenborough-related posts

    January 7th, 2010

    understanding others

    Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.
    Carl Jung

    The reality of the other person is not in what he reveals to you, but in what he cannot reveal to you. Therefore, if you would understand him, listen not to what he says but rather what he does not say. Kahlil Gibran

    January 5th, 2010

    caught in the act of make-believe

    Miles Davis. Photo: LIFE

    Brian Eno on Miles Davis (and music in general):

    When you listen to Miles Davis, how much of what you hear is music, and how much is context? Another way of saying that is, ‘What would you be hearing if you didn’t know you were listening to Miles Davis?’ I think of context as everything that isn’t physically contained in the grooves of the record, and in his case that seems quite a lot. It includes your knowledge, first of all, that everyone else says he’s great: that must modify the way you hear him. But it also includes a host of other strands: that he was a handsome and imposing man, a member of a romantic minority, that he played with Charlie Parker, that he spans generations, that he underwent various addictions, that he married Cicely Tyson, that he dressed well, that Jean-Luc Godard liked him, that he wore shades and was very cool, that he himself said little about his work, and so on. Surely all that affects how you hear him: I mean, could it possibly have felt the same if he’d been an overweight heating engineer from Oslo? When you listen to music, aren’t you also ‘listening’ to all the stuff around it, too? How important is that to the experience you’re having, and is it differently important with different musics, different artists?

    Miles was an intelligent man, by all accounts, and must have become increasingly aware of the power of his personal charisma, especially in the later years as he watched his reputation grow over his declining trumpeting skills. Perhaps he said to himself: These people are hearing a lot more context than music, so perhaps I accept that I am now primarily a context maker. My art is not just what comes out of the end of my trumpet or appears on a record, but a larger experience which is intimately connected to who I appear to be, to my life and charisma, to the Miles Davis story. In that scenario, the ‘music’, the sonic bit, could end up being quite a small part of the whole experience. Developing the context – the package, the delivery system, the buzz, the spin, the story – might itself become the art. Like perfume…


    (via peter serafinowicz‘s twitter page)

    January 5th, 2010

    Martine Franck

    Martine Franck. “Torry Island” 1995.

    Martine Franck (born 1938) is a Belgian photographer, and a member of the Magnum Photos agency. She was the second wife of photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson after his divorce with Ratna Mohini, and is president and co-founder of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, which administrates his estate. (from wiki)

    (via 3qd)

    January 5th, 2010

    why do plants make caffeine?

    What role does caffeine play in the life of a plant? According to “the naked scientists”, it plays a part in their defence mechanisms.

    So it seems that caffeinated plants are lucky to have this compound as part of their natural defences, but it doesn’t deter all attackers. For instance, caffeine doesn’t poison humans in the doses that we typically ingest (even a Monday morning dose), but it does cause addiction. It works by stopping the enzyme phosphodiesterase from breaking down a signalling substance called cyclic AMP (cAMP for short) and its close relatives. One of the actions of the stress hormone adrenaline is to increase the levels of cAMP in cells, so by preventing cells from breaking down cAMP, caffeine potentiates the action of adrenaline, and gives us a buzz. In even higher doses, and with prolonged use, it can trigger anxiety, muscle tremors, palpitations and fast heart rates, and profound withdrawal effects
    including headaches, inability to think clearly, and bad moods whenever you mistakenly switch to decaff !

    From why plants make caffeine

    January 3rd, 2010

    Now men are all separate little entities.

    I’ve been enjoying D. H. Lawrence’s essay “A propos to Lady Chatterly’s Lover”. I’ve transcribed a few pages for ease of reading, for whomever is interested.

    Back, before the idealist religions and philosophies arose and started man on the great excursion of tragedy. The last three thousand years of mankind have been an excursion into ideals, bodilessness, and tragedy, and now the excursion is over. And it is like the end of a tragedy in the theatre. The stage is strewn with dead bodies, worse still, with meaningless bodies, and the curtain comes down.

    But in life, the curtain never comes down on the scene. There the dead bodies lie, and the inert ones, and somebody has to clear them away, somebody has to carry on. It is the day after. Today is already the day after the end of the tragic and idealist epoch. Utmost inertia falls on the remaining protagonists. Yet we have to carry on.

    Even when I don’t agree with his opinions, I’m always thrilled by the scope and passion of his ideas and descriptions.

    Read more after the jump (or, alternatively, at the sources from which I transcribed the excerpt: here and here).

    Thanks, Alice.
    Read the rest of this entry »

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