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Space Shuttle Parking Lot
04.09.2010
02:53 pm

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Science/Tech

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Space Shuttle Parking Lot

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Thanks to Matt Musick at Motherboard.tv for sending me this great video of people hanging out watching the last Space Shuttle launches.

By now it’s a somewhat common event, one that for most Americans is signaled by nothing more than a brief clip on the news. But a shuttle launch is still one of mankind’s most complex and massive undertakings, a carefully-primed $1.3 billion explosion that turns years of planning and construction into a spectacle that lasts only a few minutes.

But to some, it’s the spectacle of a lifetime. People come from across the country and the world to see it. They travel from Michigan or Alaska or England or Italy and line up along a worn river bank in Florida, waiting for hours, maybe days, to see a group of people embark on another journey, this one powered by rockets that do zero to 17,000 mph in 8.5 minutes. To the fans, the astronauts strapped into the Space Transportation System, as their ride is called, aren’t just “rocket jockeys.” They’re like rock stars.

(Vice: Space Shuttle Parking Lot)

(Previously on Dangerous Minds: Get Up Make Love)

Posted by Jason Louv | Discussion
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Space Storm Slams Earth
04.06.2010
02:03 pm

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Science/Tech

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Space
Storm

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A gigantic space storm (the biggest in three years) slammed Earth yesterday. Good lord, no wonder everything was so wonked.

The most powerful geomagnetic storm since December 2006 struck the Earth on Monday, a day earlier than expected.

On 3 April, the SOHO spacecraft spotted a cloud of charged particles called a coronal mass ejection (CME) shooting from the sun at 500 kilometres per second. This velocity suggested the front would reach Earth in roughly three days.

“It hit earlier and harder than forecast,” says Doug Biesecker of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.

Fortunately, the storm was not intense enough to interfere strongly with power grids or satellite navigation, but it did trigger dazzling auroras in places like Iceland.

(New Scientist: Earth struck by most powerful space storm in three years)

Posted by Jason Louv | Discussion
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Evil Genes: Dr. Barbara Oakley, Ph.D
04.05.2010
08:53 pm

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Books
Science/Tech

Tags:
Ph.D
Dr. Barbara Oakley

An interview with Dr. Barbara Oakley, Ph.D, the author of Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend, an exploration of how genetics influence psychopathy. Are some people just bad seeds? Hear what the latest science has to say about nasty people and how they got that way.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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The History Of The Vocoder
04.02.2010
01:49 pm

Topics:
Books
Music
Science/Tech

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Vocoder

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I’ll definitely be picking up a copy of How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop, The Machine Speaks when it’s released later this month. It’s interesting to think about how nearly all of our beloved digital tools for art-making have their origins in military research. This tome seems like it might address that a little bit. In the meantime, listen to Holger Czukay indulging in some serious vocoder play.

via Stop Smiling

 

Posted by Brad Laner | Discussion
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Time Lords Discovered in California
04.01.2010
11:13 am

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Science/Tech

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Doctor Who
Time

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New Scientist reports on the discovery of people literally able to perceive time—an ability called “time-space synesthesia.” (And no, the Doctor Who reference isn’t mine—that’s straight from New Scientist. Oh, English.)

Hey, I can perceive time… it’s that thing that new freaking Doctor Who series and spinoffs keep robbing me of.

Time Lords walk among us. Two per cent of readers may be surprised to discover that they are members of an elite group with the power to perceive the geography of time.

Sci-fi fans – Anglophile ones, at least – know that the coolest aliens in the universe are Time Lords: time-travelling humanoids with the ability to understand and perceive events throughout time and space. Now it seems that people with a newly described condition have a similar, albeit lesser ability: they experience time as a spatial construct.

Synaesthesia is the condition in which the senses are mixed, so that a sound or a number has a colour, for example. In one version, the sense of touch evokes emotions.

To those variants we can now add time-space synaesthesia.

(New Scientist: Time Lords Discovered in California)

(Doctor Who: The Complete Fourth Series)

Posted by Jason Louv | Discussion
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Dialup for Dummies


Great Everything is Terrible video culled from an early 90s Internet instructional tape. My favorite part of this video is the prominently-featured book of Web addresses—remember those? Internet Yellow Pages? When you could actually buy the address of every site on the Interwebs in a book? I do. (For extra fun, see “Computer Wiz Dad”.)

(Everything is Terrible: Dialup for Dummies)

Posted by Jason Louv | Discussion
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A Grand Unified Theory of Artificial Intelligence
03.31.2010
11:47 am

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Science/Tech

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Artifical Intelligence

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Via MIT, here’s a Grand Unified Theory of Artificial Intelligence! T-1000s trying to kill your ass can’t be far behind.

As a research tool, Goodman has developed a computer programming language called Church — after the great American logician Alonzo Church — that, like the early AI languages, includes rules of inference. But those rules are probabilistic. Told that the cassowary is a bird, a program written in Church might conclude that cassowaries can probably fly. But if the program was then told that cassowaries can weigh almost 200 pounds, it might revise its initial probability estimate, concluding that, actually, cassowaries probably can’t fly.

“With probabilistic reasoning, you get all that structure for free,” Goodman says. A Church program that has never encountered a flightless bird might, initially, set the probability that any bird can fly at 99.99 percent. But as it learns more about cassowaries — and penguins, and caged and broken-winged robins — it revises its probabilities accordingly. Ultimately, the probabilities represent all the conceptual distinctions that early AI researchers would have had to code by hand. But the system learns those distinctions itself, over time — much the way humans learn new concepts and revise old ones.

“What’s brilliant about this is that it allows you to build a cognitive model in a fantastically much more straightforward and transparent way than you could do before,” says Nick Chater, a professor of cognitive and decision sciences at University College London. “You can imagine all the things that a human knows, and trying to list those would just be an endless task, and it might even be an infinite task. But the magic trick is saying, ‘No, no, just tell me a few things,’ and then the brain — or in this case the Church system, hopefully somewhat analogous to the way the mind does it — can churn out, using its probabilistic calculation, all the consequences and inferences. And also, when you give the system new information, it can figure out the consequences of that.”

(MIT: A Grand Unified Theory of Artificial Intelligence)

(Art is by Barry Underwood)

Posted by Jason Louv | Discussion
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The Indelible Stamp of our Lowly Origin
03.30.2010
08:37 am

Topics:
Belief
Environment
History
Science/Tech

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Clips:
Planet Earth
PBS NOVA Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial
Human Animal
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea
Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life
Life of Mammals
National Geographic - Ape Genius
Yann Arthus Bertrand - Home
TEDTalks: Susan Savage-Rumbaugh: Apes that write, start fires and play Pac-Man
What Darwin Didn’t Know

Quotes:
Mike Huckabee
Ken Ham
David Attenborough
Desmond Morris
Steven Pinker
Kenneth Miller

(via Arbroath)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Will Self vs. Brain Scientist vs. Afterlife
03.26.2010
01:24 pm

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Science/Tech

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Will Self
New Scientist

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Novelist Will Self debates physicist David Eagleman on the nature of the afterlife, courtesy of New Scientist:

Will Self, the novelist, doesn’t buy Eagleman’s bright-eyed, confident manner. He wanted to find out where fear lay in the scientist’s jumping between imagined afterlives.

Concerned, he said, that the conversation might get boring, he began to cross-examine Eagleman. “Was your epiphany emotional or intellectual?” he asked.

Earlier, Self had described his own epiphany. The experience of nursing his sick mother until her early death had profoundly altered the way he thought about death, and he suggested that all writers were inspired by such epiphanies.

Eagleman answered that his epiphany had been intellectual: after spending several years as a proselytising atheist, he found it was more interesting to think about God in new and different ways than it was not to think about him at all.

Self pursued his comic role as prosecuting counsel. “How old are you?” he asked. Thirty-eight, Eagleman said. Young, Self noted, but Eagleman is precocious - was he in the throes of a precociously early mid-life crisis? One that involved his spending his nights in hotel rooms gripping his mattress in dread of death?

(New Scientist: Will Self vs. David Eagleman)

Posted by Jason Louv | Discussion
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The truth about Area 51?
03.24.2010
05:12 pm

Topics:
History
Science/Tech

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conspiracy theories
Area 51

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Because of my former career at The Disinformation Company, Ltd., I am often asked—I was asked this yesterday, in fact—if I have ever investigated a conspiracy theory that I was skeptical of and then become a convert? Nope. Not once. And for the record, I am not a conspiracy theorist. I just played one on TV.

First of all, you have to parse the term. There are criminal conspiracies—events that can be proven in a court of law or that are a matter of historical record; and then there is the Montauk Project/David Icke side of things. Iran-Contra, the CIA shenanigans we’ve all heard about, Watergate, etc., these were real events. When you get into the territory of aliens, the 9-11 nonsense, and the “reptilian beings” like the Queen, the Royal Family and the Bushes, I just pretty much tune it out. Been there, done that. I went down that rabbit hole when I was a teenager and came back out again on the other side.

Conspiracy theorists tend to be people who have been a bit cut off, from, let’s just say, the power centers of the world. If you’ve never been to Washington, DC or Manhattan or been in a Beverly Hills country club, or know how the news gets produced, then the way the world runs must seem very mysterious. Like someone is in control. But that’s not true.

People who are in positions of power—industrial, political, financial, media power—went to high school like the rest of us did. The class president type who went on to become a congressman did so because he could. He got into that position of power because… people voted for him and not for the other guy. And don’t be surprised if rich guy A makes a deal with rich guy B because both of their kids are on the same soccer team. THAT is the way the world turns. There are lots of little conspiracy theories, sure, but there are probably more of them on a local level, than on a national level because on a national level criminal activity is too easily exposed. If a blowjob in the White House can’t be kept secret, do you really expect me to believe that 9-11 was an inside job? (For the record, I have no fixed opinion about the JFK assassination, but it was unlikely the job of Lee Harvey Oswald alone).

Once a conspiracy theory gets published in a book, it then gets quoted by other writers, discussed on George Noory’s show and these things just perpetuate themselves in that way. It’s an intellectual cluster fuck with diminishing returns.

And blah, blah, blah, this is a topic I could rant about for a long, long time. Forgive the rambling preamble, all I really wanted to say was, there is an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times Magazine this week about something that might seem to be in one category of conspiracy theory, i.e. the alien thing, but does, in fact, fall into the other camp of something which can be verified:

Area 51. It’s the most famous military institution in the world that doesn’t officially exist. If it did, it would be found about 100 miles outside Las Vegas in Nevada’s high desert, tucked between an Air Force base and an abandoned nuclear testing ground.

Then again, maybe not—the U.S. government refuses to say. You can’t drive anywhere close to it, and until recently, the airspace overhead was restricted—all the way to outer space. Any mention of Area 51 gets redacted from official documents, even those that have been declassified for decades.

It has become the holy grail for conspiracy theorists, with UFOlogists positing that the Pentagon reverse engineers flying saucers and keeps extraterrestrial beings stored in freezers. Urban legend has it that Area 51 is connected by underground tunnels and trains to other secret facilities around the country. In 2001, Katie Couric told Today Show audiences that 7 percent of Americans doubt the moon landing happened—that it was staged in the Nevada desert. Millions of X-Files fans believe the truth may be “out there,” but more likely it’s concealed inside Area 51’s Strangelove-esque hangars—buildings that, though confirmed by Google Earth, the government refuses to acknowledge.

The problem is the myths of Area 51 are hard to dispute if no one can speak on the record about what actually happened there. Well, now, for the first time, someone is ready to talk—in fact, five men are, and their stories rival the most outrageous of rumors. Colonel Hugh “Slip” Slater, 87, was commander of the Area 51 base in the 1960s. Edward Lovick, 90, featured in “What Plane?” in LA’s March issue, spent three decades radar testing some of the world’s most famous aircraft (including the U-2, the A-12 OXCART and the F-117). Kenneth Collins, 80, a CIA experimental test pilot, was given the silver star. Thornton “T.D.” Barnes, 72, was an Area 51 special-projects engineer. And Harry Martin, 77, was one of the men in charge of the base’s half-million-gallon monthly supply of spy-plane fuels. Here are a few of their best stories—for the record…

Read more: The Road to Area 51: After Decades of denying the facility’s existence, five former insiders speak out. (Los Angeles Times Magazine)

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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