Solipsism Gradient

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Browsing Posts in Science

I just stumbled upon a very interesting research result: “Fossil Records Show Biodiversity Comes and Goes“:

A detailed and extensive new analysis of the fossil records of marine animals over the past 542 million years has yielded a stunning surprise. Biodiversity appears to rise and fall in mysterious cycles of 62 million years for which science has no satisfactory explanation. The analysis, performed by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California at Berkeley, has withstood thorough testing so that confidence in the results is above 99-percent.

And if I read the included graph correctly, the last mass extinction was about 60-some million years ago, so the current extinctions would fit in too. One of the researchers posits an astrophysical explanation:

“Comets could be perturbed from the Oort cloud by the periodic passage of the solar system through molecular clouds, Galactic arms, or some other structure with strong gravitational influence,” Muller said. “But there is no evidence even suggesting that such a structure exists.”

One of the books in my collection, Second Genesis by Donald Moffitt, also posited such a galactic feature and links it to mass extinctions; I think he even got the period about right. I really must dig the book up from my stack of less-frequently-reread books. I think it dates from the 1980’s.

…and I don’t mean this one.

From Ole Eichhorn’s Critical Section comes this gem:

A major research institution has recently announced the discovery of the heaviest NEW chemical element yet known to science.  The new element has been tentatively named Governmentium.

Governmentium has 1 neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 224 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.  These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.  Since Governmentium does not have electrons, it is therefore inert.  However, it normally can be detected as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact.  Governmentium has a normal half-life of 4 years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.  In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since any reorganization will cause some morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.  This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to speculate that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration.  This hypothetical quantity is referred to as “critical morass”.


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The J-Walk Blog points (among the usual cornucopia) at one of the articles at Sentient Development, namely the one about Fundamentalism:

Imagine that you’re a psychiatrist. A new patient comes to see you and says that he regularly talks to an invisible being who never responds, that he reads excerpts from one ancient book and that he believes wholeheartedly that its contents must be accepted implicitly, if not taken literally.

The patient goes on to say that that the world is only 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs never existed. He brazenly rejects modern science’s observations and conclusions, and subscribes to the notion that after death he will live in eternal bliss in some alternate dimension. And throughout your meeting, he keeps handing you his book and urging you to join him, lest you end up after death in a far less desirable alternate dimension than him…

This ties in with some other things I’ve noticed recently; Italian scientists are acting against an attempt to ban teaching of evolution in schools, and believe it or not, there’s a creationist theme park in Florida

On another topic, Dave Pollard has again written some impressive stuff, if you’re not familiar with his weblog I recommend the recent Avoiding the Landmines in Entrepreneurial Business and The Stock Market as Ponzi Scheme, to cite just a couple. Highly recommended.


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The J-Walk Blog spreads the word regarding the dangers of Dihydrogen monoxide, an odorless, tasteless chemical that can be fatal when inhaled.

…Although the U.S. Government and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) do not classify Dihydrogen Monoxide as a toxic or carcinogenic substance (as it does with better known chemicals such as hydrochloric acid and saccharine), DHMO is a constituent of many known toxic substances, diseases and disease-causing agents, environmental hazards and can even be lethal to humans in quantities as small as a thimbleful…

This lethal chemical should be banned forthwith! City officials in Aliso Viejo (CA) nearly banned foam cups after learning that DMHO was involved in their manufacture.

While I’m being nibbled to death (or at least to distraction) by lots of little incidental unrelated-to-each-other problems and racing to finish my new application, the nice folks at Boing Boing side-tracked me to what may be the best lab report ever: Electron Band Structure In Germanium, My Ass:

…The upshot is that if you heat up a sample of germanium, electrons will jump from a non-conductive energy band to a conductive one, thereby creating a measurable change in resistivity. This relation between temperature and resistivity can be shown to be exponential in certain temperature regimes by waving your hands and chanting “to first order”.

…Now, let’s look a bit more closely at this data, remembering that it is absolutely first-rate. Do you see the exponential dependence? I sure don’t. I see a bunch of crap.

Christ, this was such a waste of my time.

Banking on my hopes that whoever grades this will just look at the pictures, I drew an exponential through my noise. I believe the apparent legitimacy is enhanced by the fact that I used a complicated computer program to make the fit. I understand this is the same process by which the top quark was discovered…

The report is by Lucas Kovar, who also says:

I have recently removed my old stuff in the interest of not looking like a twit.


Zen Tech Support

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Hold everything, you must read this: Make me one with everything:

…Margret then tried Steve’s problem. “Computer crashes every day sometime between noon and 1PM, but never the exact same time.”

“Lunching colleagues use coffeepot in adjacent room. When heating element turns off, a minor electrical surge induces a magnetic field in the extension cord Steve has wrapped around the steel leg of his desk next to the computer. The solution is to unwind the cord.”

The omniscient Indian friend on the other end of the phone line placidly answered all of Margret’s questions, until she came to the last. This one had been given to her by Adam, who taught computer science at the local university. His problem wasn’t a technical support issue, really, but during the flow of the dinnertime conversation it seemed a funny thing to add to a list of ponderables; what if you gave them a problem you knew was impossible to solve? Adam had reassured Margret that this one was the worst of the bunch, unsolved since 1936 when it was invented by one of the earliest of all computer scientists, and mathematically proven to be unsolvable…

Thanks to Derek Woolverton for the link…

Re: Back soon!

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OK, we’re back from Gramado. Photos came out quite well, I’ll post a few during the week. Nearly 1000 e-mails had piled up, over half of which seem to be spam. Surprise! 😆

While I work my way through urgent items, learn all about Fainting Goats. Really.

…With a Fainting goat in the herd if coyotes or dogs

threatened the sheep, the sheep could run away while the Fainting goat fell over, providing the predator with an easy meal while the sheep escaped.

…The name “Fainting” goat is a bit misleading because they do not actually faint. They have a genetic problem with relaxing

muscles. When they are startled or surprised their muscles lock up and the goat then sometimes falls over.

Update: Oops. Forgot to thank Ben Hammersley for the link.


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Scientists… create single, clonable strand of DNA that folds into an octahedron:

Similar to a piece of paper folded into an origami box, the strand of DNA that Shih and Joyce designed folds into a compact octahedron – a structure consisting of twelve edges, six vertices, and eight triangular faces. The structure is about 22 nanometers in overall diameter.

These miniscule[sic] octahedral structures are the culmination of a design process that started one day when Shih was building a number of shapes with flexible ball and stick models in the laboratory. This exercise attracted his attention to an important structural principle: frames built with triangular faces are rigid, while cubes and other frames built with non-triangular faces are easily deformed.

Buckminster Fuller would have loved this…

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