Jeffrey Mervis, ScienceInsider:
The National Science Foundation (NSF) today rebuffed a request from the chairman of the House of Representatives science committee to obtain reviewer comments on five social science research projects it is funding.
In a letter to Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), NSF defended the need to preserve the confidentiality of the peer-review process, according to sources with knowledge of the letter’s contents.
In case you missed it, Rep. Lamar Smith recently sent a letter (pdf) to the NSF Director requesting peer-review discussions behind several grants that were awarded because he was skeptical that they met the “intellectual merit” criteria.
That a lawyer, turned politician, might possibly veto the recommendations of experts because he is ignorant to each study’s merits is ludicrous. Let’s be honest, though. Rep. Smith isn’t ignorant - he’s a smart guy. His request is the beginning of a thinly-veiled attempt to restructure the NSF into a simple manufacturer of commercially-viable goods. This attempt is based on a short-sighted political worldview and has no business in the scientific process.
Bravo to acting NSF Director Cora Marrett for refusing Lamar Smith’s request.
Theoretical physicist, Leonard Susskind:
A number of years ago I became aware of the large number of physics enthusiasts out there who have no venue to learn modern physics and cosmology. Fat advanced textbooks are not suitable to people who have no teacher to ask questions of, and the popular literature does not go deeply enough to satisfy these curious people. So I started a series of courses on modern physics at Stanford University where I am a professor of physics. The courses are specifically aimed at people who know, or once knew, a bit of algebra and calculus, but are more or less beginners.
Statistical mechanics is currently being taught.
Keith Schwarz, lecturer at Stanford, has a nifty collection of various numerical algorithms:
The Archive of Interesting Code is an (ambitious) effort on my part to research, intuit, and code up every interesting algorithm and data structure ever invented. In doing so, I hope both to learn the mathematical techniques that power these technologies and to improve my skills as a programmer.
The examples on this site are in a variety of languages. I generally prefer to use C++ for algorithms, since the STL provides a great framework for expressing algorithms that work on a variety of data types. I code up most data structures in Java, both because the Collections framework allows them to be integrated in seamlessly with other applications and because automatic garbage collection simplifies some of the resource management. Every now and then I’ll find an algorithm or data structure that is best represented in a different language like Haskell, in which case I’ll forgo my usual language conventions.
Adam Clark Estes, Motherboard, on the desire to visualize the connections that comprise the internet - and the guy who made it happen:
An anonymous researcher with a lot of time on his hands apparently shares the sentiment. In a newly published research paper, this unnamed data junkie explains how he used some stupid simple hacking techniques to build a 420,000-node botnet that helped him draw the most detailed map of the Internet known to man. Not only does it show where people are logging in, it also shows changes in traffic patterns over time with an impressive amount of precision. This is all possible, of course, because the researcher hacked into nearly half a million computers so that he could ping each one, charting the resulting paths in order to make such a complex and detailed map. Along those lines, the project has as much to do with hacking as it does with mapping.
Jessica Hume, reporting for the Toronto Sun:
The government of Canada believes there is a place for curiosity-driven, fundamental scientific research, but the National Research Council is not that place.
“Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value,” John McDougall, president of the NRC, said in announcing the shift in the NRC’s research focus away from discovery science solely to research the government deems “commercially viable”.
In my view, this mindset is absurd because the link between fundamental research and commercial viability is not always clear. For instance, as Dr. James Correia points out, it was black hole research that helped lead to Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, this short-sighted, politically-driven mentality is becoming increasingly prevalent in the United States:
[Rep. Lamar Smith] said in a statement to The Huffington Post that the NSF projects for which he has requested more information do not meet the foundation’s standards.
“The NSF has great potential to promote American innovation and expand our economy,” Smith said.
The politicalization of science is a dangerous road to travel down.
(via: Kevin Manross)
Alex Mayyasi on the case for open-access science:
Subscriptions limit access to scientific knowledge. And when careers are made and tenures earned by publishing in prestigious journals, then sharing datasets, collaborating with other scientists, and crowdsourcing difficult problems are all disincentivized. Following 17th century practices, open science advocates insist, limits the progress of science in the 21st.
The Onion details how they were “hacked”:
These emails were sent from strange, outside addresses, and they were sent to few enough employees to appear as just random noise rather than a targeted attack. At least one Onion employee fell for this phase of the phishing attack.
Once the attackers had access to one Onion employee’s account, they used that account to send the same email to more Onion staff at about 2:30 AM on Monday, May 6. Coming from a trusted address, many staff members clicked the link, but most refrained from entering their login credentials. Two staff members did enter their credentials, one of whom had access to all of our social media accounts.
As usual, they weren’t really hacked. The attackers simply relied on gullible employees.
A visual guide of housing for the price-conscious New Yorker. I’m definitely spoiled here in Oklahoma. My first apartment was around 700 square feet and only cost $400 per month. Was there baby-momma-drama and disagreements between meth heads? Sure. But, dude. $400.
Google teamed up with the USGS to animate 30 years of archived satellite data from the Landsat program. The visualizations allow us to see our impacts on Earth. Jeffrey Kluger of TIME writes about the time-lapse project:
For governments and environmental scientists, there is a lot of arcane data to extract from the maps and movies. For everyone else, there is something subtler but just as important: perspective. We tend our own tiny plots on Earth, our houses and yards often taking up less room than that infield-size pixel. It’s only when we get above ourselves — say, 438 miles above — that we can see how we’re changing our planet and begin to consider how we can be better stewards of it.
Google at its best. You can check out the videos here.
(via: Mark Laufersweiler from Derek Stratman)
xkcd on throwing:
So while there are other animals that use projectiles, we’re just about the only animal that can grab a random object and reliably nail a target. In fact, we’re so good at it that some researchers have suggested rock-throwing played a central role in the evolution of the modern human brain.
They tackle the question of how high a human could throw an object. The only logical unit for this study is a giraffe.
The Astronomy Picture of the Day recently featured a pretty shot of a supercell in Montana taken by photographer Sean Heavey. Enjoy.
Gavin Aung Than, Zen Pencils, with a great comic that details common struggles of people who create things:
Before Zen Pencils, I had been making regular comics for at least five years. I was lucky enough to get a comic strip published in a local paper which required me to do one comic a week, every week of the year, for five years. Around 3 years ago, I got another comic published in a different paper. So for the last 3 years I was making two different comics a week. That’s roughly (52 x 5 = 260) + (52 x 3 = 156) 416 comics in the last five years on top of working my regular job BEFORE I had even thought of Zen Pencils. And I would say at least 200 of those comics are terrible and I would be embarrassed to show them to you.
So the best advice I can give to any young person, no matter what their pursuit: PUT IN THE WORK!
The MIT Technology Review details the quantum internet that has been in use at Los Alamos Lab over the past two years, and its security implications:
The basic idea here is that the act of measuring a quantum object, such as a photon, always changes it. So any attempt to eavesdrop on a quantum message cannot fail to leave telltale signs of snooping that the receiver can detect. That allows anybody to send a “one-time pad” over a quantum network which can then be used for secure communication using conventional classical communication.
Glenn McDonald developed an algorithm to generate a word cloud of musical genres:
I started making pictures of the music-genre space for diagnostic purposes at work. The exercise keeps threatening to take on a life of its own, but then each new thing turns out to have some functional purpose after all. Which leads to some other analytical feature, which leads to yet another interesting by-product.
This latest not-so-analytical version here adds a whole new level, literally. If you hover over, or click, any genre in the main map, you’ll see a » link. Click that to see an artist-level map of that genre, complete with representative audio for each artist and a genre-specific car-radio scanner.
Arik Hesseldahl, AllThingsD:
The image above shows two animated characters in what has been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest movie ever made. It’s called “A Boy And His Atom,” and the medium of animation is, you guessed it, atoms.
It lasts all of 60 seconds, and depicts a boy — made up of individual atoms himself — encountering a single atom that he befriends and throws like a ball. He then bounces up and down on a tiny trampoline made up of atoms, then throws the original atom into the sky, where it erupts into a tiny commercial for the company that produced it: IBM.
Robert T. Gonzalez, io9, details an amazing picture of the moon taken by Switzerland-based photographer Philipp Schmidli:
Schmidli writes on his blog that he spent months scouting out the perfect vantage point for this shot, conducting much of his reconnaissance with Google Earth and a handheld GPS.
You’ve surely noticed that the moon illusion is working overtime in Schmidli’s photograph. To achieve this effect, he had to station himself more than 1000 meters away from his friend on the bike, and employ a staggering 1200 mm focal length.
Andrew Dumont recalls his personal experience with burnout, and offers sound advice on how to avoid mental fatigue:
I remember coming home and curling up into a ball. I was so emotionally and physically exhausted, I couldn’t even move. My productivity was cut to nothing. The next day at the office, I found myself just staring into my computer, for hours. No movement, just staring.
I was shot.
So, how do we avoid it?
Each person has their own limit, and I was completely oblivious to mine. I love to work, so spending countless hours in an office wasn’t crazy, it was normal. But burnout crept up on me, so I had to find a way to avoid it from happening again.
After much trial and error, I did, and here’s how I did it.
All the maps contain rich information about the past and represent a sampling of time periods (1680 to 1930), scales, and cartographic oart, resulting in visual history stories that only old maps can tell. Each map has been georeferenced, thus creating unique digital map images that allow the old maps to appear in their correct places on the modern globe.
Some of the maps fit perfectly in their modern spaces, while others (generally earlier period maps) reveal interesting geographical misconceptions of their time and therefore have to be more distorted to fit properly in Google Maps and Earth. Cultural features on the maps can be compared to the modern satellite views using the slider bars to adjust transparency.
If the goal was to be as cool as Geordi La Forge, they failed.
In its favour, if Google Glass didn’t exist, all these Silicon Valley guys would be having affairs or buying unsuitable motorbikes
Mike Butcher, TechCrunch, details his impressions of Google Glass:
So Google Glass for me will be this era’s Segway: hyped as a game changer but ultimately used by warehouse workers and mall cops.