Monday, June 30, 2008

Flower X-Rays from Steven Meyers


Exodus from India: A Genetic History of the Gypsies

Just reading the latest Economist - an article about poverty amongst Europe's Roma population. Amazing fact- it seems the Roma peoples originated in Rajasthan in northern India about 1000 years ago - based on genetic and linguistic evidence. Also, they look alike! In earlier times they were mistakenly thought to be "Egyptian" -hence the term "Gypsy".

Rajasthani Girl

Monday, June 23, 2008

Coincidence? I think not.


Like bookclub- only shorter

"i thinks me sees a pixel"

Hey PodCats-

Just discovered: The New Yorker Fiction Podcast - like a bookclub - only shorter. This week - a short story by Nabokov- "Just like that old man in that book by Nabokov" i hear you humm ... but not the old man in this book. Very depressing with nary a Lolita in sight.

Next in line on my ipod is Paul Theroux reading Jorge Luis Borges- i hope it's one of those knife-fighting stories. Good old Jorge must be one of my favourite authors - most of the time i have absolutely no fucking idea what he's on about.... but i'm always left with a feeling of creepiness.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Polonium on Rye: Is Russia Becoming our Enemy Again?

Just discovered the "Intelligence Squared" podcast on NPR... so far i've listened to the "Is Russia Becoming Our Enemy Again?" episode and after listening to the debate- i'm sure the answer is YES!!! The format is old-school debating ... and yes.. the 1st speaker hauls out the "Dictionary Definition" of the word "enemy" in the opening salvo. Despite this dweeby formality- great fun to listen to if you like a good argument.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Primer - absolutely flabbergasting film

Yes - my "gast" was well and truly "flabbered". Not only is "Primer" one fantabulous film - it's even more amazing that it was made for $10,000 - and the guy (Shane Carruth) who wrote it also starred, edited, wrote all the music etc etc. If you liked "Donny Darko" and spent hours working out what happened- you'll love this even more. All i can say is- don't let the 'geek-o-babble' in the first 20 minutes turn you off. If you can make a film of this calibre for less than the price of a small car- why bother with Hollywood? I've never seen "user generated content" like this before - but it surely is a sign of things to come.

Plato and a Platypus: 5 stars from me!

Capgras, Synaesthesia, Phantom Limbs

Online (Sheep Based) Music Sequencer for Kids

It's fun! ... you know- for the kids! those sheep are groovy! Play now.

The Secret Lives of Magnetic Fields

Wonderful short film that captures a small fragment of the hidden beauty of the universe.

"The secret lives of invisible magnetic fields are revealed as chaotic ever-changing geometries . All action takes place around NASA's Space Sciences Laboratories, UC Berkeley, to recordings of space scientists describing their discoveries . Actual VLF audio recordings control the evolution of the fields as they delve into our inaudible surroundings, revealing recurrent ‘whistlers' produced by fleeting electrons . Are we observing a series of scientific experiments, the universe in flux, or a documentary of a fictional world?."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Suicide Midget Mission to Mars

Ok- so i admit- there probably isn't any point in sending men, women or children to Mars. There was also no scientific reason to send a few guys to play golf on the Moon, or sending people up to the Space Station to perform 5th grade science experiments like "i wonder what spider webs would look like in zero-G???".

Weight is the problem. Think about a big burly astronaut - and all the food, water he needs, and all the poop he produces. Think about how much extra fuel is required for each gram of freeze-dried ice cream.

If we send anyone to Mars, therefore, it's got to be little tiny midget astronauts in a little tiny red rocket ship. One other thing - it should be a suicide mission. That would cut the cost of the mission by exactly half.

They should each get a green cyanide tooth installed. Once they've worked out how spiders make webs on Mars, they can be given a little "quiet time" to ponder their last few breaths whilst the O2 runs out. Then, "CRUNCH", and inhale the green gas.

Is this the Coolest Geek in the World?

Nathan Myhrvoid: he's a billionaire (maybe not quite). He has a geeky name. He has a T-Rex skeleton in his living room. He moonlights as a chef at a French restaurant. He builds nuclear power plants. He goes whale watching. He was Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft. He's got a master's in mathematical economics, a PhD in theoretical and mathematical physics. He did his post-doc under Hawking. He is a wildlife photographer. He's donated a million bucks to the SETI program. He's a paleontologist. He has a dark side.

Now- if only he was screwing a model he'd get my vote as the coolest geek in the world!

Phun Phun Phun

You must download PHUN- it's a fun, 2-D physics "sandbox"... OK i know this doesn't sound like fun but i can assure you it is ..and completely addictive. My 2.5 yo is as obsessed with it as i am.. although he always right clicks when he means to left click.

Digital Nineveh

I've just spent days immersed in ancient Assyrian history - initially thanks to another great podcast from Melvyn Bragg on the ancient Assyrian library at Nineveh. A related podcast on the Assyrians in general from Dan Carlin's "Hardcore History" followed, and then a trawl through wikipedia, the online edition on Encyclopedia Britannica (which is terrible by the way) etc etc.

Here's the synopsis:

The Assyrians were the first to harness the power of a professional "standing" army. They ruled by terror - an effective way to distribute your power over a vast empire. Carlin calls them "The Nazi's of the Ancient World".

They conquered the Babylonians - but the Babylonian culture conquered them. (cf Rome + Greece). In a lighthearted moment between head-impalings, they invented "floaties" made of inflated animal skins to help their soldiers cross rivers.

They deported the 10 northern tribes of Israel- the so called "lost tribes".

Asshurbarnipal assembled, at Nineveh, a massive library of cuneiform text (mainly on clay tablets) - before the Babylonians (allied with the Medes) finally got their chance for payback- and razed the library (and the rest of the Assyrian capital) to the ground.

As an afterthought, the Babylonian king Nebucadnezzar II destroyed the 1st temple in Jeruslaem, and took the remaining Judeans off to Babylon. It was only after the Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylon that the Judean diaspora were allowed to return to their homeland.

One of the interesting things about the library is that when the Babylonians set fire to it, the heat baked the clay tablets and hardened them. Not only that, but the whole lot was entombed for thousands of years before being rediscovered by a wandering Englishman. A great find for the modern science of Archaeology - but it might have been better for world history if that knowledge had been accessible!

I've often thought that the things that archaeologists are most likely to find are the things that have been earlier lost. Some cave-man goes for a walk and never comes back. His wife wonders what happened to him. Three thousand years later the thaws out in modern Austria next to a snowboarder.

Another thing - why do some empires last a thousand years, and others a mere few hundred? Obviously not genetics. Military technology? A culture of orderly succession of rulers? A violent, expansionist culture? A cohesive religion? An ability to adapt to new ideas and threats? Luck? Ecology (see Jared Diamond on Easter Island)? They way they dealt with conquered nations?

It's only been a few hundred years since the last "dark age". How long before our current civilization collapses? I'm sure eventually it will. Where is our library and how long will it last?

Converting all our stuff to 'digital' seems a good way to preserve it for the future. The data in an original Beatles "White Album" vinyl record degrades every time it is played - until it is nothing but static hiss. CD's are better.... until CD players become obsolete. No problem - convert the data using a lossless format and store it on your computer's hard drive. Unfortunately, this is liable to crash sooner or later- so store it in "the cloud" at Google- email it to your gmail account. Finally safe! Until the OGG VORBIS codec you picked becomes superseded by 12 generations of new and improved codec algorithms. In what format will that Beatles album be in 1000 years? 3,000? 100,000? You'll have to keep translating it again and again. The "Digital Nineveh" will always be at risk.

Even if the data stays safe for a thousand million years- it will ultimately need human ears to decode. At some point in the future, the "White Album" will be gone.