Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Space: the bubbly, watery frontier!

I need to book my spaceliner ticket!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Feeding 9 Billion

Science Magazine has an excellent article on the challenge of optimizing food production for 9 Billion people:
Navigating the storm will require a revolution in the social and natural sciences concerned with food production, as well as a breaking down of barriers between fields. The goal is no longer simply to maximize productivity, but to optimize across a far more complex landscape of production, environmental, and social justice outcomes.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's worth saving the pennies

I don't use much cash (mostly credit cards with cash back that I pay off every month), but over the past five years or so, I have accumulated a fair bit of loose change. Having finally sorted it, I wanted to see what the numbers showed. Using a kitchen scale, I measured the weight of the coins. Based on this weight and values from the wikipedia article on US coins, I calculated the approximate number and dollar value. Using a measuring cup, the approximate volume.

As you can see, the pennies constitute about 20% of the total dollar amount, while measuring 60% by volume (55.36% by weight). Nickels and dimes together make up the other 80% of the total dollar amount, with 40% of the volume (44.64% of the weight). Not quite the classic 80-20 Pareto distribution, but similar.

The quarters, being used for laundry, were not in the mix. I wonder what the effect of including a normal incidence of quarters would have been on the outcome.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Which Anomalies?

So how do you know which anomalies are fake and which anomalies…you can spend a lifetime pursuing fake anomalies, and which ones are genuine? There’s no simple answer, you have to have a nose for anomalies, that’s one simple answer. But the second answer is, if something is regarded as anomalous, like continental drift, bacterial transformation, these are examples of anomalies, simply because they don’t fit the big picture, then it’s wise to pursue those because your big picture may be wrong and it may completely turn your scientific world view topsy-turvy. On the other hand, if something is an anomaly because it cannot be confirmed, then the more you study it, the smaller the effect, then you’re in serious trouble. And this usually means it’s a false alarm, a false anomaly.
Not very complicated, but important to remember. :)

Another quote from the same interview:
Now when you send it to a journal for publication, the referee said, oh well how do you know they’re just not bright, they can’t talk, whatever, that they’re stupid and don’t understand the question? Well its obvious, because when you give it to them, they clearly understand what you’re asking because they often give you elaborate, convoluted, even ingenious interpretations of the proverb, but completely missing the point. A bit like the people who review my grant proposals…

Here's a recent interview of V S Ramachandran (being interviewed by Charlie Rose). Excellent overview of a latest perspective on how our Brains work:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A lust of the mind

Desire to know why, and how, CURIOSITY, such as is in no living creature but man, so that man is distinguished, not only by his reason, but also by this singular passion from other animals, in whom the appetite of food and other pleasures of sense by predominance take away the care of knowing causes, which is a lust of the mind that by a perseverance of delight in the continual and indefatigable generation of knowledge exceedeth the short vehemence of any carnal pleasure.

Are you watching QI?


Sunday, August 23, 2009

मृत्योर्मा अमृतम् गमय*?

Conventional history has long shown that, in many ways, we have been getting kinder and gentler. Cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, conquest as the mission statement of government, genocide as a means of acquiring real estate, torture and mutilation as routine punishment, the death penalty for misdemeanors and differences of opinion, assassination as the mechanism of political succession, rape as the spoils of war, pogroms as outlets for frustration, homicide as the major form of conflict resolution--all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. But, today, they are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, concealed when they do occur, and widely condemned when they are brought to light.
quantitative body-counts--such as the proportion of prehistoric skeletons with axemarks and embedded arrowheads or the proportion of men in a contemporary foraging tribe who die at the hands of other men--suggest that pre-state societies were far more violent than our own. It is true that raids and battles killed a tiny percentage of the numbers that die in modern warfare. But, in tribal violence, the clashes are more frequent, the percentage of men in the population who fight is greater, and the rates of death per battle are higher.

* मृत्योर्मा अमृतम् गमय: Lead Us From Death To Immortality

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Boycott Apple.

I've been an Apple fan since before I could dream of buying an Apple computer. Their hardware and software design is phenomenal.

In the past 5 years, I've bought 3 computers and 3 iPods from them, multiple copies of iWork and iLife, and songs from the iTunes store.

I've been very satisfied with all the Apple products I've bought.

But the nonsense with the App Store rejections has gone too far.

But Ninjawords for iPhone suffers one humiliating flaw: it omits all the words deemed “objectionable” by Apple’s App Store reviewers, despite the fact that Ninjawords carries a 17+ rating.

Apple censored an English dictionary.

A dictionary. A reference book. For words contained in all reasonable dictionaries. For words contained in dictionaries that are used every day in elementary school libraries and classrooms.

Let's stop buying all Apple products until they stop this. I have.

Aug. 6 UPDATE: Phill Schiller (senior vice president at Apple) responds to the story.
While we may not always be perfect in our execution of that goal, our efforts are always made with the best intentions, and if we err we intend to learn and quickly improve.

Aug. 6 UPDATE: Pogue's coverage of the AT&T/Apple/Google Voice debacle.

I'm going to wait and keep a watch on if this translates into a better App review process.

Aug 21 UPDATE: So it turns out Apple didn't actually reject the Google Voice app. Hmmm... Perhaps I should buy Snow Leopard after all? :D

Aug 29 UPDATE: Uh Oh...
the most recent version of ConvertBot (1.4) had been rejected by Apple. What was Apple's reason for the rejection? [The] ConvertBot icon for time conversions looks very similar to the Phone app icon for recent calls. This is the same icon that has passed Apple's scrutiny in previous versions
how can we make Time different? What if it’s set at 9 o’clock instead of 3? Is that acceptable? The big problem here is the only way I can get that answer is by making the change, resubmitting the app, and waiting another week or 2 for Apple’s verdict.