Sunday, February 15, 2009

Satellite debris or meteor?

Central Texas had a good show this morning: it was either a meteor or space junk (possible from the collided satellites)? A Discover magazine blog is covering it, and you can watch more video here.

You certainly don't want to be hit on the head by this stuff.

And some doomsday scenarios are not supported by science :) Is this related to my previous post?

Bonus: the DVD of the Big Creek/Huntington Lake episode of California's Gold is available. You might be able to catch a rerun on your favorite PBS channel.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A new Nigerian scam

Wow, renting-out other people's houses on craiglst.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The sacred and the secular

First, something cool from Lehman's Hardware: a wooden canteen, lined with paraffin (if you'd prefer a pitch lining, click here, or for plastic-lined, here).

Changing the subject, one of my colleagues sent me a link to "Born believers: How your brain creates God", which references an article about how "loss of control" changes our perception of patterns
Jennifer Whitson of the University of Texas in Austin and Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, asked people what patterns they could see in arrangements of dots or stock market information. Before asking, Whitson and Galinsky made half their participants feel a lack of control, either by giving them feedback unrelated to their performance or by having them recall experiences where they had lost control of a situation.

The results were striking. The subjects who sensed a loss of control were much more likely to see patterns where there were none. "We were surprised that the phenomenon is as widespread as it is," Whitson says.
We were already looking at that article to see if we could relate it to how people perceive the veracity of websites, something we've looked at before, most recently described in: "Web site credibility: Why do people believe what they believe? " published in the January 2009 issue of Instructional Science.

Back to the "Born believers" article, here's a statement to ponder: "While many institutions collapsed during the Great Depression that began in 1929, one kind did rather well. During this leanest of times, the strictest, most authoritarian churches saw a surge in attendance."

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Debugging your car, and wiretaps

Another provocative IEEE Spectrum article, this time claiming that a modern "premium class" car contains about 100 million LOC. Impressive, but could the decimal point be off, since even the article says that a Boeing 787 has 6.5 million LOC (I previously talked about the software architecture of the Boeing 777). Here's a quote:
John Voelcker, IEEE Spectrum’s automotive editor, wrote in April 2007 about the GMC Yukon hybrid automobile and its Two-Mode Hybrid automatic transmission. Voelcker told me that “of all the staff hours in the entire program to build the Two-Mode Hybrid transmission…some 70 percent…were devoted to developing the control software.”
Other tidbits:
  • Does this mean that the realign-your-jaw procedures pushed by dentists is bunk? Bonus: bogus food allergies.
  • How we choose candidates: "While gender bias related to a female candidate's attractiveness was consistent across both male and female voters, good looks was almost all that mattered in predicting men's votes for female candidates. And, true to prevailing stereotypes, competence was almost all that mattered in predicting men's votes for male candidates."
  • Didn't we already know that altitude is bad for your brain, and that you never really "get used to it"? Edmund Hillary et al. studied it over 40 years ago during their "silver hut" expedition.
  • Finally, success in graduate school is about gettin' stupid
Finally, we previously talked about how transpacfic cables come ashore near Morro Bay. The recent infuriating PBS Nova about the NSA listening to network traffic talks about the site and asks why the NSA put the supersecret listening equipment in San Francisco (where it was quickly found) instead of a remote building near San Luis Obispo. That part is the last few minutes of the video's Chapter 4.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

From serendipitous rocket science to Sakai via 1856

I was googling for something last week and accidentally found a funny anecdote about "kindergarten rocket science".

But I think what I was looking for at the time were the 1856 reports authorized by congress to find railroad routes to the west and in California. That's because I was able to buy two more color engravings on ebay that had been removed from the reports. If I can find them cheap I hang on to them until someone shows a slight bit of interest in local history, then I gift them a print or two :) Volume V (scroll down) includes central California. Another interesting source is "Reconnaissance of the central San Joaquin Valley".

I'll scan them in color sometime, but there are low resolution black and white scans at the University of Michigan of the volumes, The most relevant lithographs to this area are: "plain between San Joaquin and King's rivers", "valley of the Kah-wee-ya river (Four Creeks)", and "plain between Kah-wee-ya and King's river". But there are also wood engravings in the text, such as "Tulare Valley, from the summit of the Tejon Pass".

Bonus: you really should spend some time with the Rumsey map collection.

Additional bonus: whinging and why you shouldn't do it. The talk is supposed to be about open source but is really about doing-not-just-complaining. Speaking of open source, you might want to watch a demo of the new Sakai 3.0 user experience, or watch the infamous Michael Wesch talk about "from Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able: Experiments in New Media Literacy" (you can skip the first 8 minutes of introductory comments).