Category Archives: Science

Podcasts I love: 60-Second Science

Last time on Podcasts I Love, I showed you Pseudopod, a terrifically entertaining horror podcast that updates once a week.

Now, it's time for something completely different: 60-Second Science, from Scientific American.

Every day, the geniuses at Scientific American spend just one minute sharing something cool and interesting from the scientific world. Their stories are all over the place, too, from planetary science to neuroscience to genetics.

One of the things I love about the podcasting medium — and new media in general — is how there aren't any rules about content and length, so on the same day that I listen to a 40 minute horror story from Pseudopod, I can also get a 60-second lesson about the Triceratops, on the same device, delivered in the same way.

Next time: this is worth the wait.

it is pitch dark

I’m wearing this awesome T-shirt today, in honor of the activation of the Large Hadron Collider, which hasn’t destroyed the Earth yet (or ever, you anti-science mouth breathers) but won’t really get a chance to send crowbar stock skyrocketing until October when it actually crashes stuff into other stuff.

If you’re wondering what the LHC will do and why geeks haven’t been as excited about anything since the invention of internet porn, there’s a great article on How Stuff Works about, um, how it works. Recommended.

Did yesterday’s post about RPGs give you such withdrawal you woke up with the shakes in the middle of the night, certain that there was a Grue at the end of your bed? You may want to read Geekdad’s long-overdue review of D&D 4e’s Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Top Shelf, publishers of Super Spy (my favorite graphic novel of 2008), are having a massive sale. Fill your shelves for $3 a book, and march onward to victory, for great justice!

I’m a huge fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, and my love of Zombie stories specifically isn’t exactly a big secret. You can imagine how excited I am to read John Joseph Adams’ anthology The Living Dead , which includes Some Zombie Contingency Plans, made available in its entirety by its author, Kelly Link (author of the magnificent Magic for Beginners.)

This comic is awesome. I am not worthy.

While I was at PAX, I signed an autograph for a girl who was wearing an insanely cool T-shirt. It had a retro raygun on it, shooting out green rings that said “woo woo woo!” over them. I asked her where she got it, and she told me that she’d designed and created it herself. It was, sadly, a one-of-a-kind handpainted sort of thing. Thinking quickly, I said “You must put that online so I can buy it,” using as much of The Force as I could muster. I guess it worked, because now you can buy one for your very own. Mine arrived yesterday, and it looks beautiful. (Link to Retro Raygun T-Shirt at Zazzle.)

This new Genius thing in iTunes, which is sort of like The Filter meets Pandora is intriguing to me. I’ve had it build one playlist, and out of 25 songs, it only picked one that didn’t really belong there. It even picked out a wonderful song (Landlocked Blues, by Bright Eyes) that I didn’t even know I had in my library and hadn’t heard until just now. The buying thing is swell, too, especially since Apple is slowly catching up to Amazon MP3 and realizing that given the choice between fucking goddamn stupid DRM and no fucking goddamn stupid DRM, we’re going to choose no fucking goddamn stupid DRM every time.

Oh, and speaking of fucking goddamn stupid DRM: Spore? Nelson Muntz has something to say to you, bucko.

That’s all for now. I’m going back to future Los Angeles for the rest of the day.

i think the planet is trying to tell us something . . .

North Pole ice ‘may disappear by September’

Arctic sea ice is now retreating so quickly that scientists say there is now a 50-50 chance that it will have gone completely by September.


The Arctic is seen as an important indicator of the potentially catastrophic changes that scientists say will come as the planet warms.

Honeybee collapse claims record number of hives this year

A record 36 percent of U.S. commercial bee colonies have been lost to mysterious causes so far this year and worse may be yet to come, experts told a congressional panel Thursday.

The year’s bee colony losses are about twice the usual seen following a typical winter, scientists warn. Despite ambitious new research efforts, the causes remain a mystery.

Um. I like this planet. It’s really beautiful, and it’s currently the only one I can live on. Could we maybe work together as a species to stop shit like this from happening?

windows open and raining in

I came across some really interesting items while Propelling today, which I wanted to share, because I can:

Farmers Put 220 Acres Under Glass to Create Vast Artificial Environment

On the chilly Isle of Thanet in Kent, England, farmers are placing 220 acres of land under glass so they can grow vegetables all year round. The greenhouse, when completed, will house 1.3 million plants and increase the UK’s crop of green vegetables by 15%. Called Thanet Earth, the project will be a series of 7 connected grenhouses with a relatively small carbon footprint. And nothing grown inside Thanet Earth will ever touch soil.

This interests me a great deal because I’m considering some hydroponic gardening in addition to my regular gardening here, as we attempt to reduce our carbon footprint and become more self-sufficient. Climate change played an important part in the worldbuilding of the novella I’m working on, so I’ve spent a lot of time researching the future of agriculture; it’s interesting to me to see people experimenting with different techniques in the present.

A Professional Gambler’s Take on the Tim Donaghy Scandal

Haralabos Voulgaris leads a rare life.

He’s one of very few people — Voulgaris estimates there may be as few as four or five — who have achieved a high level of success betting full-time on the NBA.

And he does very well at it. “In the last eight years,” he explains, “the 2004-2005 season was the only year where I didn’t turn a nice profit, and I lost very small.”

His approach is intensively evidence-based. He has his own massive database that would be the envy of any stat geek. For instance: Given two line-ups of players on the floor, his database does, he says, a good job of predicting which players will guard each other. The database also tracks the tendencies of individual referees, and factors all that and much more into forecasts. Voulgaris also watches close to 1,000 games a year.

He designed the database as a tool to outwit oddsmakers, and it works for that.

But it’s also a fine-tuned machine for researching the claims and career of Tim Donaghy. And having used this database, and his contacts in the sports betting world, Voulgaris says that his confidence in the integrity of the NBA has been shaken, to the point that, despite his big income, he’s looking for ways to stop betting altogether.

“The league has made a big mistake,” he says.

I sort of knew Haralabos back in my poker-playing days, and really liked him because he was one of the first players who was really kind to me, even though he had no reason to be. I knew he bet on sports, but I had no idea he was as serious as he appears to be. His perspective on this whole scandal was fascinating to me, especially how his data and analysis support Donaghy’s claims. He says the NBA has done a great job of sweeping the whole thing under the rug. Unfortunately, I agree with him.

The Watchmen Motion Comic

Warner Bros. plans on releasing about a dozen 22 to 26 minute webisodes to help make the complex story of Watchmen easier for the uninitiated to digest. Recently, WatchmenComicMovie was shown a teaser trailer for these webisodes by an anonymous source. From what we saw these webisodes are going to be really well done.

The series of webisodes, which will be titled Watchmen: A Digital Graphic Novel, will be less like a slide show of original comic panels and more of the comic book “brought to life” with rudimentary animation techniques.

The teaser is simply a conglomeration of different scenes from the comic book given motion and set to dramatic orchestral music. In order to animate the comic, the production team has apparently dissected the elements from each panel that they wanted to move — such as a cloud or a character — and animated it in front of a restored or “filled in” background.

For example — they animated the iconic comic panel that shows The Comedian’s funeral from above to not only have falling rain and lightning, but wind that realistically blows the coats and clothing of the mourners surrounding the open grave. In another, Ozymandias sits in front of his monitor bank — each commercial and T.V. program on the screens in motion — scratching the back of his pet Bubastis’ head. For lack of a better way to describe the trailer, it’s like you’re watching an episode of Watchmen: The Animated Series.

DUDE! Even though living in a post-Phantom Menace world has made my default position on all these thing “apprehensively optimistic” I can’t wait to watch these. It seems like everyone involved in Watchmen truly gets it, so it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep my hopes nice and low . . . they want to go up and up and up.

This last story isn’t my submission, but that’s just because my fellow scout Keith beat me to it:

The Prisoner remake: details emerge?

The Prisoner Appreciation Society (Six of One) is reporting that this classic, surreal sci-fi/adventure series is set to return for a six-episode miniseries run. The announcement coincides with The Prisoner’s 40th anniversary.

Reports have Jim Caviezel playing the heroic Number Six — actor with a penchant for playing long-suffering characters (Bobby Jones, Jesus). Sir Ian McKellen would play arch-nemesis Number Two, while cementing his status alongside Christopher Lee as the greatest nerd project actors of their generation. Between the two of them, they’d own Star Wars, James Bond, Lord of the Rings, Dracula, Frankenstein and X-Men).

The Prisoner is my all-time favorite TV show, ever. EVER! After watching marathon after marathon of The Prisoner, I grokked what makes people become Trekkies or Browncoats. It did more than entertain me, it inspired me. I know that’s weird to say about something that’s so Orwellian, but it’s true. The Prisoner spoke to me when I was a teenager. I bought the GURPS book, bought all the video tapes, and picked up every fan-made book and map of The Village I could find. I bought rub-on transfer letters in the Albertus font so I could make my own signs for my dressing room, and I painstakingly drew my own Number Six badge to wear on my jackets. I read and re-read the graphic Novel Shattered Visage fruitlessly looking for clues about . . . stuff. My first big external SCSI Mac II hard disk, which I think weighed in at a mighty 30 Megabytes, was named KAR120C. Again, living in a post-Phantom Menace world makes me a little nervous, and we’ve been talking about this remake almost as long as we were talking about a Watchmen movie, so I don’t even know if this is as reliable as it seems. Regardless, I’m hopeful that there’s someone out there who can treat it right. And a six episode mini-series would be freaking brilliant.

Okay, one last bonus link before I go: years ago, I did an episode of The Outer Limits called The Light Brigade. I was watching The Time Tunnel last night on Hulu, and saw that The Light Brigade is there, as well. It’s useless for non-US visitors (can you use a proxy to fool Hulu? I haven’t tried) but if you’re in the US and want to spend 44 minutes watching me . . . um . . . act, I guess is the word I’m looking for . . . now you can.

oh my!

Scientists have named an asteroid in honor of my friend and fellow Enterprise navigator dude, George Takei!

An asteroid between Mars and
Jupiter has been renamed 7307 Takei in honor of the actor, best known
for his role as Hikaru Sulu in the original "Star Trek" series and

celestial rock, discovered by two Japanese astronomers in 1994, was
formerly known as 1994 GT9. It joins the 4659 Roddenberry (named for
the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry) and the 68410 Nichols (for
co-star Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura). Other main-belt
asteroids have been named for science fiction luminaries Robert
Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.


Just so nobody thinks this is one of those scams where you give some shady guy in an alley a double sawbuck and you get a sixth generation photocopy certificate in return:

The renaming of
7307 Takei was approved by the International Astronomical Union’s
Committee on Small Body Nomenclature. About 14,000 asteroid names have
been approved by the panel, while about 165,000 asteroids have been
identified and numbered, union spokesman Lars Lindberg Christensen said.

the myriad Web sites that offer to sell naming rights to stars, the IAU
committee-approved names are actually used by astronomers, said Tom
Burbine, the Mount Holyoke College astronomy professor who proposed the
name swap.

"This is the name that will be used for all eternity," he said.

That’s so totally awesome. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting George, you know that he’s one of the kindest and most joyful people in the universe, and I know this actually means something to him. I can just hear him saying, "Oh my!" When he got the news.

dark miracle – a trip to trinity

The Trinity Test Site , where Robert Oppenheimer famously became "Death, destroyer of worlds" is open to the public only twice a year, so it’s pretty tough to get a first-hand look at this rather important historical location.

Enter Joshua Ellis, an independent journalist who went to Trinity this year to compile a story on the site, the people, and its history. Josh’s trip was funded by small donations from various people, and he promised to publish an in-depth story with a ton of pictures, and video if he was able.

Josh’s story Dark Miracle is live today, and boy is it amazing:

When I told my friends where I was going, a few of them blinked at me. "Be careful," they said. "That’s, like, The Hills Have Eyes territory." I promised to pack at least a machete, somewhere in the car.

[. . .]

Many of the houses date from the original Manhattan Project —
prefab duplexes and quad-plexes that have been extensively retrofitted
by various owners over the years. It is easy, looking at some of these
houses, to imagine physicists such as Oppenheimer and Hans Bethe or
Edward Teller or Leo Szilard sitting on their porches, discussing
different approaches to building the Gadget, as they called it.

It is an odd little place — beautiful, to be sure, but it
seems devoid of the sort of small-town closeness that other small
American cities like it possess, where everybody knows everybody else.
There seem to be a lot of strangers living next to one another in Los

It is part history lesson and part travelogue; Josh paints vivid pictures that put the reader right next to him on every step of the journey, whether it’s talking to Ed Grothus, the excentric owner of the Black Hole Museum of Nuclear Waste, driving up to the test site, or looking at what’s left of ground zero. There are pictures and video, as well as entries in his blog that give additional details and perspective to his story. It is really a remarkable project.

As a reader, I count myself lucky that I got to read this piece; as a writer, I am absolutely thrilled at the idea of freelancing stories that are funded through small contributions from many different people. Josh brilliantly released his story under a creative commons license, so more people can see the benefits of distributed journalism.

(via boingboing)

i call the big one bitey

Months ago, I bought the supercool Antworks ant farm from Think Geek.

Six to eight weeks ago, I ordered the little critters who would amuse me endlessly
with their incessant tunneling, and waited for them to arrive. Yesterday, the wait ended.

Around ten in the morning, I put the ants into their new gel-filled home, and by three or so in the afternoon, they’d begun to tunnel down the side. Before bed last night, around twelve hours after they’d moved in, they reached the bottom of the habitat, and started to work their way over to the side.

Holy crap, man. I sat there and watched them dig their way across the bottom for close to thirty minutes. Because of the gel, I could see their mandibles pulling chunks out of the growing tunnel, and it looked like it was sort of blooming open.

When I got up this morning, I ran straight to the ants, and the picture here is what I found: they worked all night long, and have two growing tunnels across the whole thing. In fact, as I’ve been writing this, they’ve just broken through on the left side of the picture.

There are things here that still images can’t capture: it’s surprisingly satisfying to watch one ant start at the top of the habitat and work its way down into the tunnels. They all interact with each other in fantastically interesting ways, probing with their mandibles and antennae, and as far as I can tell, they never complain about the work. When they pass over the LEDs at the bottom of the thing, they cast this eerie shadow up into the gel that looks lie what you’d expect to see if The Abyss and Them! had a love child.

There are a couple more pictures of the habitat in my flickr stream.