Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Have I posted Cyriak before? Oh well.

Can't have a blog called "Mind--Blown" without tossing in a Cyriak video every now and then. His whole Youtube channel here, and there's more of his graphically-edited nightmares at Cyriak's home page.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Manhattan Solstice

Manhattanhenge is what happens when the sun lines up perfectly with the concrete-canyon streets of New York City. Due to the angle of the city's layout, this doesn't map to our traditional times of equinox and solstice, but New Yorkers mark their own.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Need a shredded document restored? Hire a carpet weaver!

From the new York Times article 'Back Together Again':

"In its crudest form, the art of reconstructing shredded documents has been around for as long as shredders have. After the takeover of the United States Embassy in Tehran in 1979, Iranian captors laid pieces of documents on the floor, numbered each one and enlisted local carpet weavers to reconstruct them by hand, said Malcolm Byrne of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. 'For a culture that's been tying 400 knots per inch for centuries, it wasn't that much of a challenge,' he said. The reassembled documents were sold on the streets of Tehran for years."

The article details that shredding documents, just like encrypting electronic data, has arms races on either side to both conceal and reveal.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Perpetual motion museum - bent your mind watching people try to bend the laws of physics

"Hey, guys! I've invented a design for a 125% efficiency motor, and if you all fund my Kickstarter in return for a share of the profits in my new motor company, I can eventually build 500 of these things on a 3-ton scale and produce the world's first kinetic power generator! Who's in?"

"Hello? Anybody?"

Welcome to the world of The Museum of Unworkable Devices, a huge, engaging site documenting one of the most futile fields of study in engineering, the history-long quest for perpetual motion. Within, Donald E. Simanek serves as a James Randi of the engineering world, showing us endless attempts at overbalanced wheels, spinning magnets, wild stunts with hydraulic pressure, and machines which baffle the limits of the imagination as surely as they thumb their nose at Newton, Archimedes, and Einstein.

The site also works as an education in physics principles. For instance, did you know that the ball along the bottom ramp of this device reaches the goal first?

Be sure not to miss the FAQ, "Why won't my perpetual motion machine work?", where Simanek explains it all like you're 5. Ought to be required reading in high school science at least.

Perpetual motion ties into a related fallacy emerging in computing.

I've recently investigated thoroughly the latest cult, sure to usurp Scientology as the most tenacious, known to some of you already as the "Singularity". The "Singularity" is the point at which computers are supposed to surpass human brains in intellect, at which point they will continue on their own to build even smarter computers, and so on ad infinitum until we're all living in the Matrix.

I'll stop for a paragraph so you can fight the urge to puke. Deep breathing helps.

The idea of  the Singularity (which has been "just a few years from now" since about the 1700s) and the bogus search for a perpetual motion machine is evident when you consider that computers do nothing until a human writes a program for them. And it's quite daunting for a human to write a program that causes a computer to be smarter than a human, since by definition the human is not smart enough to write it. And computers really are not smarter than humans at anything, they just appear to be in certain fields by virtue of brute force and speed - for instance, they beat you at chess by calculating six moves ahead from every possible move, including the ones we would eliminate through common sense. Like the would-be perpetual motion inventors, Singularitarians seek to boost the IQ of machines by making them smarter than they are so they can write themselves, just like overbalanced wheels seek to gain infinite momentum by making objects be heavier than they are so they can push themselves.

Every time, I pin down some Singularity zealot and ask them "How could you write a computer program that was smarter than yourself?" The answer is always "We'll have a computer program write the program!" I bounce back "OK, how do you write THAT program?" "We have the computer write that program, too!" Oh, I see. We'll write a program to write a program to write a program to overwhelm common sense, just like we'll trick those nasty old laws of physics by spinning a wheel inside a wheel inside a wheel...

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Great Moon Hoax of 1835

If you think modern media is rife with sloppy fact-and-source-checking and complete disregard for integrity, you should see what lulus they pulled back in the day.

In August of 1835, the New York Sun newspaper indulged in a particularly fanciful bit of tabloid reporting claiming that a new high-definition telescope was pulling in evidence of life on the moon - including unicorns, tailless beaver-like creatures, and batmen. Yes, real, flying, bat-winged batmen! Plus beaches, oceans, forests, temples constructed of sapphire, and all kinds of fanciful stuff.

While readers were presumably clued in that the whole thing was meant to be an amusing hoax, editors from competing newspapers were not so amused. As told on HistoryBuff.com:

"Rival editors were frantic; many of them pretended to have access to the original articles and began reprinting the Sun's series. It was not until the Journal of Commerce sought permission to publish the series in pamphlet form, however, that Richard Adams Locke, confessed authorship. Some authorities think that a French scientist, Nicollet, in this country at the time, wrote them."

"After a number of his competitors, humiliated because they had "lifted" the series and passed it off as their own, upbraided Day, the Sun of September 16, 1835, admitted the hoax. When the hoax was exposed people were generally amused. It did not seem to lessen interest in the Sun, which never lost its increased circulation."
Really makes you wonder if you repeated the exact same experiment today, how many would fall for it all over again. After all, according to a 2005 New York times story (if we can believe this one!), one in five adult Americans believe that the sun revolves around the Earth.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A few entries from the Limerick Dictionary

and the results are quite sublime.
For a limerick form,
in this work is the norm,
Just don't turn to it every time!

Some gem entries:

"A deadeye's a marvelous shot;
Deadeye Dick has a Vonnegut plot;
Plus, a deadeye, you'll note,
Is a block on a boat,
And a line can be run through its slot."

"The abacus, pearl without price:
An ancient computing device.
Sliding beads strung on rods,
One can figure the odds.
You ask: "Why's it still used?" It's precise."

"Coney Island had sideshows and rides
On its boardwalk, and plenty besides:
Boats that rode in the dark,
And, in Steeplechase Park,
An ingenious assortment of slides."

"I'm efficient—I'm sure you'll agree:
I can juggle and dance on a ski,
Blow my nose, pen a rhyme...
At the very same time!
I'm so talented. Jealous of me?"

OK, maybe it's not such a hot idea. But regardless, are they going to finish this thing or what? It's only up the the E's.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Your moment of Trekkie Zen: 3-Dimensional Chess

Find out about attempts to de-fictionalize the game of 3-D Chess from the Star Trek universe and even places that will sell you a set, if you just gotta play it for yourself. Be warned: Games thought up in fictional universes tend to look like more fun in the story than they do in real life.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The totally cosmic dolphin cult is alive and well

Just in case you were thinking that the New Age hippies had backed off from the dolphins, this LiveJournal observer has bad news:

"I hadn’t realized that among a certain segment of profitable 'eco'-tourism it is a commonly-held belief that dolphins not only have achieved higher consciousness and are intimate with the secrets of life, but also use telepathy to transmit their teachings.

"My favorite interaction with a dolphin-oriented wingnut occurred at the dump. As we threw our trash in the big stinky dumpster, a woman pulled up in her SUV plastered with hippie/new age bumper stickers. Dressed in all white, she asked us, 'Have you seen the dolphins?'

"'Not today,' I answered.

"'They’re out there right now. Did you know that humans are the only animal that fears when it doesn’t need to? Dolphins only fear when they are in danger?'"

Penn 'n' Teller's Bullshit did a whole episode on dolphin New-Age-ism, BTW:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Website featuring "Gothic Babe of the Week" since 1996 to present

I've often defined "Industrial Gothic" as a genre I sort of thought of on my own, to mean "horrors specific to the industrial age" - ghost towns, malevolent corporations, conspiracy theories, man-made monsters, haunted factories, mole people living in the sewers, and whatnot. Imagine my surprise when I poked about to discover whether the domain was taken and stumbled upon this site. Of course, "industrial" and "gothic", separately, are both genres of music and styles / cultures as well.

Gothic Babe of the Week, if its archive directory on the left bears true witness, has been in continuous business since January of 1996, making it one of the oldest surviving private websites from the pre-web-bubble era, and being a great example of a Tumblr type blog decades before anybody thought of Tumblr.

Anyway, if you like Goth gals, this person is really, really into them:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Clever Plan To Get Help To Where It's Needed

So, say you're an underage girl who is the victim of human trafficking. You're forced into prostitution. You end up sequestered in some anonymous hotel room, where your pimp will soon send johns to use you. You know that if you try to run away with no plan, you'll be caught and likely beaten, raped, tortured, or even put to death. Where do you turn to for help?

A former sex-trafficking victim has come up with a novel idea: Give out bars of soap to hotels. But once you unwrap the soap, you'll notice that it's engraved with a phone number to a human trafficking help hotline.

The story is reported in conjunction with the revelation by the Attorney General that the Superbowl is the biggest human trafficking target in the US. And people who are already familiar with what a festival of misogyny that disgusting event represents will not be faintly surprised.

The former victim and now crusading advocate shares her blood-chilling experience and now plans to rescue others from going through the same fate as her.

Now, how clever is that? Mind--Blowing clever, that is!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The really, really BIG quasar group

Scientists discover a group of quasars out there lurking in the universe that defies all laws of physics as we know them so far, simply because it's bigger than any known scale of measurement we've ever needed. It's four billion light-years across! That's 4,000,000,000 light-years, the equal of 40,000 Milky Way galaxies side-to-side.

For now, the object is simply tagged the "Huge_LQG." There's plenty of time to fret over it, though, since it's about 9 billion years old as far as we can tell. Here is the world's fastest-talking science news reporter to explain it:

Now, before everybody goes on about how tiny and insignificant they feel because of this new revelation, let me report this old image/rant I did for my daily stupid a while back:

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Gene Youngblood on Media (1977)

Just listening to Ubuweb Sound and caught the Gene Youngblood interview from 1977 (listen to it here). Was this guy a prophet, or what? Towards the end when he talks about the effects of the digital revolution on modern media, he sounds like he nailed everything we know now in 2013.

Blow your mind by listening to a media theorist who called quite a few shots.