Wednesday, August 24, 2005

seeing (infra) red

This is fascinating. If I only knew how to do it myself. I would love to see in infrared. I shamelessly pulled this from MindHacks.

It's an experiment done by the army and cited by Rubin, M. L., and Walls, G. L. (1969). Fundamentals of visual science. Springfield, Ill.: Thomas, p. 546, which is in turn cited Sekuler, R., and Blake, R. (1994). Perception (3rd ed.). Springfield, Ill.: Thomas, pp. 62-63:

The following story dramatizes how photopigments determine what one can see. During World War II, the United States Navy wanted its sailors to be able to see infrared signal lights that would be invisible to the enemy. Normally, it is impossible to see infrared radiation because, as pointed out earlier, the wavelengths are too long for human photopigments. In order for humans to see infrared, the spectral sensitivity of some human photopigment would have to be changed. Vision scientists knew that retinal, the derivative of vitamin A, was part of every photopigment molecule and that various forms of vitamin A existed. If the retina could be encouraged to use some alternative form of vitamin A in its manufacture of photopigments, the spectral sensitivity of those photopigments would be abnormal, perhaps extending into infrared radiation. Human volunteers were fed diets rich in an alternative form of vitamin A but deficient in the usual form. Over several months, the volunteers' vision changed, giving them greater sensitivity to light of longer wavelengths. Though the experiment seemed to be working, it was aborted. The development of the "snooperscope," an electronic device for seeing infrared radiation, made continuation of the experiment unnecessary (Rubin and Walls, 1969). Still, the experiment demonstrates that photopigments select what one can see; changing those photopigments would change one's vision.

FREE Bullshit Deflector!

What more can I say? A 73-year-old veteran, Bill Moyer, wore these over his ears at Bush's speech in Idaho yesterday. What a great guy. Here is a link to some DIY protecters.

Monday, August 22, 2005

East is East and West is West

It appears that Easterners and Westerners really do see things differently, literally, according to psychologists at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, US. These psychologists examined the eye movements of Chinese and American students as they looked at a photograph. The western group, looked at the central object in the photo, while the eastern group looked all over the photo, seeing the context.

This is interesting because, it has been noted for a long time that we look at things differently. Chinese philosophy tends to emphasize harmony, and how things work together, while the West tends to be very analytical, and look at things a part at a time. Curious.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Homeland Security: your tax dollars at work

Homeland Security is even more inept than the sum of its components. It seems that HS is investigating a renowned puppeteers group in San Francisco. That have frozen their finances and generally made life hell for them, because they suspect them. Nothing they can do about it either. For cryin out loud... a puppeteers group some kind of threat? The same group where Jim Henson met Frank Oz and Jerry Juhl? THis country is in Bad shape.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Hydrogen result causes controversy

It always makes me marvel when I disregard a particular fringe idea, and then it comes back and bites me. I never considered the hydrino hypothesis very much, never enough to decide yea or nay. But it appears to have some new life breathed into it.

The idea is this: when electrons in atoms drop an energy level, they give off energy. The suggestion was that perhaps, you could get the electron in hydrogen, the simplist atom, to drop a level below ground state, its lowest state. That should be impossible.... shouldn't it? Scientists are generally agreed it is just silly... but reasons so far are a bit weak. Time for me to pull my Quantum text out.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Experimental Hybrid Cars Get Up to 250 Mpg - Yahoo! News

What do I say here? I am at a loss. Sheer stupidity, or conspiracy? Here we have a case of ordinary people making cars that are highly efficient, yet the automakers can not do it. Granted, it comes at the expence of electricity, but still.... what is up?

In Defense of Common Sense - New York Times

It is gratifying, to see in print, an opinion that one has long held, even if it is merely an editorial, namely that the common mans common sense is worthwile, not only in day-to-day life, but in science as well. The unfortunate effect of denigrating common sense, has been to denigrate common people's opinions and observations. Only scientists are qualified to pass judgements on such things, they would tell you. Of course, there are many things that run contrary to common sense, but that is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Groups Slam FCC on Internet Phone Tap Rule

I saw this on Wired yesterday but I am glad to see that the indignation is spreading. The FCC declared that internet telephony services must include low-security backdoors for law-enforcement. Doing this would both be onerous, and completely cripple security. And those aren't even the additional liberties it compromises.

There is an excellent discussion over at Slashdot. Here is one comment: "And it gets worse yet. Essentially, all 'anti-terrorism,' 'anti-drug,' etc. laws are useless for the purpose for which they're supposedly enacted. Terrorists, drug dealers, and other criminals are, by their very nature, breaking the law. Making their tangential activities (like communicating, meeting, transferring funds...) illegal isn't going to stop them!

In short, attempts to legislate terrorism out of existance are doomed from the start and should be suspect. You can damned well bet that lawmakers are smart enough to know that these laws aren't going to do anything to stop the Bogeyman of the day. They're being passed as 'feel good' measures at best, and as attempts to control the law-abiding population at worse.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Colliding stars

It seems that one mystery of astronomy may have been cracked. For years, no one has been able to explain the source of some mysterious gamma-ray bursts. Some were determined to have come from especially violent supernovae, but the shorter ones, were an enigma. Now is seems that we may have a better answer. From a recent observation, it was determined that the source was colliding neutron stars, or a neutron star and a black hole. This is great news for many astronomers, but it may be a problem for others.

For years, Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory or LIGO, operated by Cal-Tech, has been either under construction, or fine-tuning its instrument to detect. As of May 2005, it was within a factor of 2, of its designed sensitivity. And yet, and yet.... nothing has been detected. It was built to detect the gravitational waves from events exactly like this. Now, in all fairness, it may well be that the ones we have had lately have been too far and we need to give them some time. It may be that some errors were made in the calcuation of what to expect.

This is the kind of thing that physicist both love and dread. They dread it because it tears up old theory and says, 'You were wrong, wrong, wrong.". But they love it also, because it lights the way for newer and more complete theories - for deeper understanding. And modern physics has been poised for just the kind of change and chaos that started off the last century... and ushered in Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.

The Epoch Times | Dragons in the Tibet Sky

It seems that the Chinese still take the idea of dragons seriously. At least many of them do. It seems that a guy flying back from Tibet took some photographs of something that appears to be two dragons. I have no particular comment on it. I just found it interesting.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Will rolling down windows save fuel or not?

Ok, I have heard this one for a long time, but I was never satisfied with the common wisdom. So, will rolling down windows save fuel or not, when driving? It turns out the answer in not merely, AC is more efficient than windows. If you are just driving around town, rolling down the windows will not affect the drag of a vehicle sifnificantly. AC only becomes more efficient once you get above 45mph. At 55 mph, windows can increase a car's drag 20% or more. So, below 40 mph - Windows, and above 45 mph - AC.

Monday, August 08, 2005

New cosmic look may cast doubts on big bang theory

It looks like defenders of the Big Bang have a new spot to patch. It seems that a recent analysis of the cosmic microwave background has yeilded cool regions exactly the size predicted by theory.... but very little variation. In fact, too little variation. This might be a fixable problem by tweaking parameters, but that is not very satisfying and only so useful. We will see.

And as the article ends, it mentions two other recent problems, views of what should be the very young universe shows both stars and structures like galaxies much older than they should be.

Personally, I don't care for the Big Bang theory one way or the other, but it nice to see the traditionalists forced to consider things they would rather not.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Free Speech is a Terrorist favorite tool

This article would never be so bold as to actually say "free speech", but the Washington Post article, Terrorists Turn to the Web as Base of Operations did say as much for the internet. And the suggestion behind it all it that we need to regulate and watch the internet... which is of course impossible. Not impossible in principle, but logistically. There is just plain too much information. But it would be possible to eliminate major sources of dissenting opinion. That is relatively quite easy and very doable.

Do people really prefer security to freedom, this badly?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

New police guidelines: shoot suicide bomber suspects in head

An international group of police chiefs recently expanded its guidelines for use of deadly force, instructing officers to shoot suspected suicide bombers in the head. Details were printed in yesterday's Washington Post.

Granted, this was an international body, but recent histiry suggests that our own country may follow suit.

Quoth the newspaper:
According to the newspaper, the guide recommends that if lethal force is needed to stop someone who fits a certain behavioral profile, the officer should "aim for the head." The intent is to kill the suspect instantly so the person could not set off a bomb if one is strapped to the person's chest, the newspaper said. Among signs to look for listed in the police organization's behavioral profile are wearing a heavy coat in warm weather, carrying a backpack with protrusions or visible wires, nervousness, excessive sweating or an unwillingness to make eye contact, the Post said.

So, we can't hardly get a death penalty in this country, but you can be shot for wearing the wrong coat. Like I said, this is not official policy over here yet, but the word that worries me is 'yet'.

Not that this will fix the problem anyway. It will only make suicide bombs slightly more complicated, not that suicidal people lack either motivation or the will to disregard saftey issues. Now they would just need to include a kill switch instead of a simple detonator switch.

'Health Chips' Could Help Patients in US

I think that the paranthesis in the title ought to be around help and not just health chips. I mentioned a little while ago that Tommy Thompson, the former Bush Health Secretary had gotten himself chipped. Now he is pushing for the rest of us. The original story is at RedNova News - Health - 'Health Chips' Could Help Patients in US and you will find an excellent discussion at Slashdot.

I hate to sound paranoid- I really do- but the Orwellian possibilities here far outweigh the vauge chances for good. One poster on slashdot went into a presention on National ID, thinking it was a good idea, then left realizing it was about population control. The 911 terrorists had good papers. The London Bombing suspects were all legal citizens. Nothing in these chips would have prevented any of this - but it would give the government virtually unlimited power over its citizens. "Unreasonable Search and Seizure" would have no meaning because search would mean opening a computer file. And if you believe that that will be used responsibly, I have a bridge to sell you.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Dissident Theorists have their Day

Wired News: They Sing the Comet ElectricDissident scientists advocating a controversial theory of the universe are having a field day in the wake of NASA's Deep Impact comet collision earlier this month.

Ok, I will have to eat my words on this one, but the unexpected result is more enjoyable than having to eat my own words is. The gist of this article is this. There has been a theory around for a while, that electric forces play an important role in solar system dynamics. The first one to propose such a theory was the Immanuel Velikovsky. Now, I have a great deal of respect for Velikovsky, though it is evident that he didn't get everything right, and I thought that this was one of those things that he got wrong. After all, it goes against about all I learned about interplanetary plasma physics. This theory was even denied a place in Wikipedia, because enough people argued against it.

Well, the results from NASA's Deep Impact comet collision earlier this month seems to validate the heretic theory, and challenge current theory. Things happened just as the 'Electric Universe' theorists called it. Like Rodney Dangerfield, they still aren't getting any respect, and scientists can be incredibly stubborn about their pet theories, but even this is not keeping them from getting their noses smeared in the new results. Now, a few of the more important results, the really decisive ones, are not available yet. Until then, I am going to try to remember to check the dissident's website,