Monday, October 30, 2006

Cornell Robotic Chair
Permalink 3:41 PM

Cornell University Builds Self-Repairing Robot Chair

Here's a You-tube link to a film of the chair reassembling itself:
Permalink 12:47 PM

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Google Opens Up Its Index

Hoping to leave an even bigger imprint on the Internet, Google Inc. is opening up its vast online index so other Web sites can build their own specialty search engines.

The free service, unveiled late Monday, marks Google's latest attempt to expand its lucrative online advertising network and extend its influence on how people navigate the Internet.

"Now people can get the power of Google search even when they're not on," said Shashi Seth, group product manager for the custom search engine.

Mountain View-based Google already dominates Internet search, with a 45 percent share of the U.S. market through September, according to comScore Media Metrix.

The custom tools will allow other Web sites to limit the range of material that they want to include in their search indexes as well as rank the importance of specific pages.

The concept mirrors the approach of a small startup called

Google said it simplified the process so even technological neophytes should be able to tailor their own search engines in 10 minutes or so.
Permalink 12:04 PM

Language and Music

Diana Deutsch, a psychologist who studies the psychology of music, has discovered a very interesting phenomenon connecting language and music. She recorded a lecture that he had given and played it back so that a single phrase looped over and over. After a while, she stopped hearing the phrase as spoken words, and began to hear them as music.

Dr. Deutsch was interviewed on New York Public Radio's "Radio Lab". She also has a web site, where you can hear this effect for yourself:

WAV file
Permalink 11:50 AM

Teen Controls Video Game with His MIND

From ScienceDaily:
...a St. Louis-area teenage boy and a computer game have gone hands-off, thanks to a unique experiment conducted by a team of neurosurgeons, neurologists, and engineers at Washington University in St. Louis.

The boy, a 14-year-old who suffers from epilepsy, is the first teenager to play a two-dimensional video game, Space Invaders, using only the signals from his brain to make movements.
Permalink 11:45 AM

Harry Potter's Cloak: Not Magic, but SCIENCE?

From NewScientist:
An invisibility cloak that works in the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum has been unveiled by researchers in the US. The device is the first practical version of a theoretical set-up first suggested in a paper published earlier in 2006.

The cloak works by steering microwave light around an object, making it appear to an observer as if it were not there at all. Materials that bend light in this way do not exist naturally, so have to be engineered with the necessary optical properties.
But Harry Potter's cloak, unfortunately, is a ways off...
So far, the technology works only in the microwave region of the spectrum. The problem with visible light is that it has a much smaller wavelength, meaning an optical metamaterial would have to be built on the nanoscale, which is beyond the limits of current nanotechnology. It, too, would only work at a specific frequency.
(Photo from 3QuarksDaily is for illustrative purposes only.)
Permalink 11:00 AM

Chuck Norris Facts

I was never a fan of Chuck Norris, but I have become a fan of Chuck Norris facts. I don't know who started these things, but I find many of them entertaining. Some of the best:
  • When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.

  • Chuck Norris doesn't read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.

  • Chuck Norris is the reason why Waldo is hiding.

  • Chuck Norris counted to infinity - twice.

  • When Chuck Norris does a pushup, he isn’t lifting himself up, he’s pushing the Earth down.

  • Chuck Norris is so fast, he can run around the world and punch himself in the back of the head.

  • Chuck Norris once at an entire birthday cake before his friends could tell him there was a stripper in it.
It turns out that the real Chuck Norris is a creationist, but I don't know why anyone would want to spoil the fun by actually asking him to give an opinion on anything.
Permalink 10:44 AM

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Representing the Great State of Exxon...

I'm sure people have made this suggestion jokingly before, but I'm beginning to think that we would be better off if corporations were given their own Congressmen. The idea would be to allow corporations to just purchase a Congressman of their choice, for oh, maybe $10 million, or whatever the market would bear. The money raised through sale of Congressional seats would be used to provide public campaign financing for the remaining seats. Corporations would then be banned from contributing any money to the campaign of any candidate.

Personally, I think that this would be an improvement for honest government. Corporations currently spend approximately $200 billion a year on Congressional campaigns. Under my plan, that amount of money will buy them 10 Congressmen. These Congressmen would openly be advocates for their corporate sponsors.

Of course, corporations would balk at this change, because it would greatly decrease their influence in Congress.
Permalink 10:37 PM

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

US Army Changes Slogans

The US Army is abandoning its slogan "An Army of One", (what's that supposed to mean, anyway?) and replacing it by "Army Strong". My suggestion for a recruiting phrase is this You and What Army?.
Permalink 12:22 AM

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

NY Governor's Race: Spitzer to Support Gay Marriage

New York's Democratic Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said last week that he would work to make gay marriage legal in New York State. Spitzer:
We will not ask whether this proposition of legalizing same-sex marriage is popular or unpopular; we will not ask if it’s hard or easy; we will simply ask if it’s right or wrong.
This is pretty amazing, especially since Spitzer seemed to be ambivalent about the gay marriage issue a couple of years ago. Maybe his position has changed, or maybe his former opposition was based on the constitutional question of whether prohibition of gay marriage violated New York's equal protection laws.

I have no idea whether Spitzer's new stand will be greeted by cheers, boos, or yawns by New Yorkers. Anyway, Spitzer is now comfortably ahead in the polls, so he has room to take a potentially unpopular stand on an issue.
Permalink 11:46 PM

David Frum on North Korea

In his article "Mutually Assured Disruption", David Frum (former speechwriter for George W. Bush) wrote that the North Korean atom bomb test signals the failure of diplomacy to rein in North Korea's ambitions:
It is, alas, an iron law of modern diplomacy that the failure of any diplomatic process only proves the need for more of the process that has just failed.
I guess it's bad science to argue that correlation implies causality, but North Korea refrained from going nuclear during the years in which diplomacy was attempted (the Clinton years). On the other hand, we have had no meaningful diplomacy with North Korea for the last 6 years, and North Korea went nuclear. So how does this show that diplomacy can't work?

What is Frum's approach to dealing with North Korea? Among other suggestions, Frum offers this bullet:
  • Encourage Japan to renounce the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and create its own nuclear deterrent.
He also recommends cutting off all humanitarian aid for North Korea, and using sanctions to precipitate a humanitarian disaster.

Maybe I'm not giving his ideas a fair chance, but it seems to me that he is INSANE. Completely, stark-raving mad. The reason we care at all about North Korea going nuclear is that (1) It might lead to an arms race in the region, which could lead to conventional or nuclear war, and (2) Cash-strapped North Korea might be tempted to make money by selling their nuclear technology to unsavory groups such as Al Qaeda. What does Frum's plan do, other than make these two most horrible consequences much more likely?

I think conservatives have gone over the edge. They can't remember from one day to the next whether their goal is to protect the world, or to blow it up.
Permalink 10:40 PM

Gonzales: Tougher Penalties Deter School Violence?

I can't seem to find a quote on the Web, but this morning, I was listening to radio news and I heard Attorney General Alberto Gonzales talk about the Bush plan to reduce school violence. Gonzales rejected calls for gun control. Instead, an important component of the Bush plan is toughening up the penalties for illegal gun use. Does that really make any sense? Someone brings a gun to school, shoots up a half dozen students, and then kills himself. If only he had known that misuse of guns could get him into serious trouble, he wouldn't have dared?
Permalink 10:39 PM