Wednesday, May 18, 2016

RIP Guy Clark

Monday, May 9, 2016

General AI

Demis Hassabis talk on general artificial intelligence at DeepMind

Is this a simulation?

It is discussed here

Positive news

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Video of the day

Sunday, June 26, 2011

In the Year 2000

James Fallows notes 1910 visions of the year 2000. Conan O'Brien also makes year 2000 predictions.Add Image

(image credit: French National Library, via

Monday, June 6, 2011

Anniversary: D-Day

June 6, 1944. The Allied invasion of Normandy began.

(image credit: "A LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) from the U.S. Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of the U.S. Army's First Division on the morning of June 6, 1944 (D-Day) at Omaha Beach". Robert F. Sargent, U.S. Coast Guard, via wikipedia)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Quantum Visible

Aaron O'Connell on making quantum mechanics visible.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

100 Million Collisions Per Second

The Large Hadron Collider has set a new record for particle collisions. The God particle awaits. Intrade has observation of the Higgs in 2011 at 30%. That's higher than Mitt Romney's chances (28.5%) of being the Republican Presidential Nominee.

For the record, I'll take Mitt and no Higgs until 2012.

Image credit: AFP/POOL, Fabrice Coffrini

Monday, December 20, 2010

Endless Memory

60 Minutes reports on people who remember every day of their lives.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Giants Win the World Series

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Big Ideas (reposted with revision)

Some ideas are transcendent. They can change how we understand ourselves and our place in the universe. The age of the earth (4.6 billion years) and size of the universe (47 billion light years in radius) are such ideas. The Hubble Space Telescope has given us a glimpse of the awesome scale of the universe, as explored in this video (with the added bonus of a Pink Floyd soundtrack).

The study of evolution and the human brain offer similar perspectives. The human tailbone, for example, has always struck me as a transcendent reality. Simple visual illusions can demonstrate the inherent limitations of our senses. Internet tricks like the one excerpted below (while the content was spurious, scrutinized here and ridiculed here) suggest the constant, unconscious work of our minds.

“Cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid.”

All of this points to our limited understanding of the world and to the wonder of discovery. I’m reminded of this Martin Amis interview, “…it’s incredibly evident that we are nowhere near intelligent enough to understand the universe. We are a dozen Einsteins away. It’s pathetic. I feel very sorry for cosmologists. Only a couple of years ago I was told by one, Lee Smolin, he said they had just discovered that the universe is not only expanding but that this process is accelerating. For us, he said, that’s like throwing your car keys in the air and them not coming down.”

That captures the battle nicely. We are deeply ignorant of the universe, perhaps hopelessly so. And yet we struggle to understand, to advance knowledge, to make life better. We are small and we live on a pale blue dot, but we aspire.

It is estimated that 99.9% of all species that ever lived on the planet are now extinct. Our own species has been pushed to the brink and nearly joined the list. I think it’s worthwhile to spend some time on these lost species and consider their existence and contemplate their meanings. They include all manner of tiny and enormous, incredible and bizarre things. From the T-rex to the Dodo to smallpox, forgotten species have much to say about the history of earth and mankind.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Beautiful Data

David McCandless on visualizing data. His website here. Illustration of politics here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Iron Horse

Alan Schwarz reports on a new paper on the effects of brain trauma. The authors have speculated that Lou Gehrig may have died from neurological disease related to trauma and not from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease).

(image credit: Lou Gehrig in Columbia University uniform, 1921, from University Archives, Columbia University)


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Baseball Card of the Day

The 30 Worst Baseball Cards of All Time (h/t Jimmy Kimmel). Mike Armstrong, in addition to taking an incredible baseball card, was the winning pitcher in the George Brett pine tar game. And Dan Quisenberry's baseball card recorded the save.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The New Science of Morality

John Brockman and Edge hosted a conference on the science of morality.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

America in Color from 1939-1943

The Denver Post has a gallery of rare color photographs from 1939-1943. Above are school children in San Augustine County, Texas, 1943.

(image credit: Reproduction from color slide, Photo by John Vachon. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)


That's the number of books in the world according to Google's algorithm and suggests the audacity of the Google Books and Google Library project. It's the great library of the modern age and offers some continuity to a tenuous history. Sergey Brin in the NY Times:

"In the Insurance Year Book 1880-1881, which I found on Google Books, Cornelius Walford chronicles the destruction of dozens of libraries and millions of books, in the hope that such a record will 'impress the necessity of something being done' to preserve them. The famous library at Alexandria burned three times, in 48 B.C., A.D. 273 and A.D. 640, as did the Library of Congress, where a fire in 1851 destroyed two-thirds of the collection."

The first known libraries were in ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, allowing me to reference my wife's joke Jeopardy header for a category on the end of original Mesopotamian civilization (referencing a Jennifer Love Hewitt movie):

I Know What You Did Last Sumer

Very nerdy, Cypria.

(image credit: photograph by Mark Pellegrini of copy of the Gutenberg Bible at the US Library of Congress)

Friday, August 6, 2010

War Against Thanatos

Christopher Hitchens on his diagnosis of esophageal cancer:

In one way, I suppose, I have been "in denial" for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can't see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it's all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste.

Interview with Anderson Cooper here. Hours added together, I have spent many days of my life with Mr. Hitchens, reading his books and articles and watching his debates, and it's hard not to feel like his friend. This is terribly sad news. In solidarity, I offer this contribution to the word games detailed in Hitch-22: link.

(image credit: Photograph by John Huba, via

Sunday, August 1, 2010


60 Minutes reviewed the amazing discovery of the nearly 2 million-year-old partial skeletons of a 9-year-old male and an adult female, Australopithecus sediba.

(image credit: photo by Brett Eloff, courtesy Lee Berger)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Importance of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The Economist reports on the recent docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) celebration in London. Not only is DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) good for (most) people, researcher Michael Crawford thinks DHA may have enabled nervous systems.

(image credit:


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mark Twain's Autobiography

Mark Twain left instructions that his memoirs not be published until 100 years after his death. That day was last month and the first volume of his self-reflection will be published in November.

In another previously unpublished piece, Twain remembered his daughter who died from meningitis.

"She was a magazine of feelings, & they were of all kinds & of all shades of force; & she was so volatile, as a little child, that sometimes the whole battery came into play in the short compass of a day. She was full of life, full of activity, full of fire, her waking hours were a crowding & hurrying procession of enthusiasms ... Joy, sorrow, anger, remorse, storm, sunshine, rain, darkness - they were all there: They came in a moment, & they were gone as quickly."

(image credit: Getty, via The Independent)

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Synthetic Cell

Craig Venter announces the synthetic cell. Encoded in the synthetic genome are three quotations including James Joyce from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, "To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life!"

Pac-Man 30th Anniversary

Google's logo is a Pac-Man game for the 30th anniversary.