Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Measuring atmospheric pressure by averaging over an ensemble of leeches


The Tempest Prognosticator, also known as the Leech Barometer, is a 19th century invention by George Merryweather in which leeches are used in a barometer. The twelve leeches are kept in small bottles inside the device; when they become agitated by an approaching storm they attempt to climb out of the bottles and trigger a small hammer which strikes a bell. The likelihood of a storm is indicated by the number of times the bell is struck.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Remember when we all marinated flank steak?

Google Labs has introduced Google Correlate, which lets you explore temporal or geographic correlations between search queries. The temporal correlator lets you draw an arbitrary curve on the timescale, and see what queries match it:

(Click through to see the query)

I do wish it could connect points with a spline, instead of making you draw the whole curve freehand.

Here are some geographic correlations I’ve found:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Startling Scientific American quote of the day

Scientific American on nocturnal penile tumescence:

It may seem to you that, much like their barnyard animal namesake, men’s reproductive organs the world over participate in a mindless synchrony of stiffened salutes to the rising sun.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Random excellence: Scenes from the Peppermint Tauntaun

Private Dancer

Private Dancer by Balakov on Flickr

Sentence of the day

Myth of the rational firm, redux” edition

Michael Reichmann at Luminous Landscape:

The reason that Sigma priced the SD1 at almost $10,000 is because someone senior in the company responsible for such decisions mistakenly figured that this was a good idea.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Improved SMS interface for Foursquare

Last November, I wrote a post criticizing Foursquare’s SMS (text message) interface. The interface was so badly broken that, more often than not, it was impossible for me to check in to my desired venues.

Last week, I was informed through a comment to that post that a company called DOTGO had implemented a new, improved SMS interface for Foursquare. I’ve tried it out a few times since then, and it’s a big step forward. It attempts to correct at least two of my biggest problems with the old interface:
  • When your venue search matches multiple venues, the new interface asks you to pick which one you meant.
  • The new interface purports to allow you to change your current city. However, I’ve run into problems using this, as described below.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rapture math

Tomorrow, according to Family Radio’s Harold Camping, is the Rapture, when the righteous shall be taken up to heaven, and the earth will become a depraved orb teeming with rampaging, bloodthirsty secularists.

Vision of the post-apocalyptic terror, by afagen on Flickr

Expensive picture of the day

In a world where there are images like yesterday’s astonishing picture of the day, it pains me that this is the most expensive photograph ever sold:

At least it’s orange.

For an expensive way of making photos, see Sigma’s announcement of a $9,700 APS-C DSLR.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Astonishing picture of the day

It looks like it’s straight out of a Dr. Seuss book… via National Geographic, Camel Thorn Trees, Namibia:

It’s a beautiful illustration of the color temperature difference between open shade and morning sunlight.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Seriously, amigos?

Natasha Lennard, writing in Salon about some stupid Bristol Palin controversy:

Such a furor has grown around Bristol Palin's jawline in recent days, the issue even earned itself the standard suffix of scandal: "Chingate."

Urban Dictionary: chingate

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why does the White House claim to impose terms of use on official photography?

The White House has a Flickr photostream for disseminating official photography, including the excellent work of Pete Souza.

I’m confused, however, by the following statement that appears below the photographs:

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

The stipulation that I boldfaced appears to be incompatible with the fact that U.S. Government works are generally not protected by copyright. Indeed, the Flickr page indicates that the license is United States Government Work; that official government web page specifically states that “Anyone may, without restriction under U.S. copyright laws… create derivative works”. (The USA.gov page is consistent with the Flickr page in prohibiting the use of works to suggest endorsement.)

The claimed prohibition against manipulation is of immediate relevance, since an Orthodox Jewish newspaper published a version of the Situation Room photo with Hillary Clinton removed.

Friday, May 6, 2011

CompTIA Security Minus

Today I took and passed the CompTIA Security+ 2008 exam. I don’t see a lot of value in these certifications, but it was a requirement for work, and my employer paid for the exam, so that was all fine.

Anyway, this post is about the security practices of CompTIA, the organization that thinks it’s competent to judge my knowledge of security practices.

Who can argue with that?

Sarah Keefer, in the Penn State Daily Collegian:

Keefer added that even [though] cookies may not seem to fit in with the healthy theme, she can eat more of them guilt-free because they’re smaller.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Astonishingly forthright statement of the week

CIA Director Leon Panetta to Time:

[It] was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission. They might alert the targets.

Panetta later remarked, “What? We were all thinking it.”

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Intel, Ore-Ida partner for 22 nm process

The future of computing lies not in French Fries, but in Waffle Fries:

Quote of the day

Dr. Peter Briss, quoted in the New York Times on new research on low-sodium diets:

“At the moment, this study might need to be taken with a grain of salt.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Forty rods to the hogshead

Slashfood, on a quantitative definition of “gluten-free”:

Other countries including Canada, Brazil and Australia have defined gluten-free foods as containing no more than 0.0007 of an ounce of gluten for every 2.2 pounds of food.

Also known as “20 mg/kg.” Look, nutrition labels are already chock full of esoteric metric units like milligrams. Do we have to convert everything to “English” units? Are there readers out there who have a firm opinion on the appropriate gluten limit in ounces per 2.2 pounds of food, but who are unable to do the unit conversion themselves?

Or how about a compromise: Just say 0.002%, or 20 ppm.