Hubble Ultra Deep Field 3-D Fly-Through

This is a pretty incredible simulation and it's the best thing I've seen all day.

A flight through the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, the most distant visible-light view of the universe. The redshifts of 5,333 galaxies were converted to distances to assemble a 3-D model of the data. This scientific visualization flies through the data to showcase its true 3-D nature.

 

What is Algebra?

I'm biased, but I love discussions of the nature of mathematics, especially when they're targeted at mathematical novices. Algebra was one of the areas of math that I spent quite a lot of time on in college, and it holds my interest like no other. Keith Devlin has a very interesting analysis of what algebra actually is:

The important thing to realize is that doing algebra is a way of thinking and that it is a way of thinking that is different from arithmetical thinking. Those formulas and equations, involving all those x’s and y’s, are merely a way to represent that thinking on paper. They no more are algebra than a page of musical notation is music. It is possible to do algebra without symbols, just as you can play and instrument without being ably to read music.

It's this kind of insight that is typically not present in most mathematical courses, and I feel it's a huge part of why so many people have significant math anxiety. They don't really know what they're doing, and more importantly, they don't know why they're doing it. Removing the big picture means that the entire context of math is gone, and so each new chapter in the mathematics text book becomes disconnected from every other.

Cray Resurrection

There was a time in middle school where I, and many of the other deep nerds would sit around and fantasize about the monumental computational feats that could be accomplished through personal ownership of a Cray supercomputer. We didn't really know what we were talking about, but we did know that this was supposed to be the fastest computer that ever existed, and therefore it was an object of reverence and awe. Well, Chris Fenton is living the dream of my middle school years. Not only did he create his own 1/10-scale, binary-compatible, cycle-accurate Cray-1, but he then reconstituted the operating system for it from an old 80MB disk pack.

One of the largest problems encountered with the cleaning process was that the entire case of the drive was lined with 1/4” thick noise canceling foam that had degraded over time. Any contact with the foam would cause it to crumble into dust, something potentially disastrous if it were to contaminate the disk cavity, and ultimately all of it needed to be carefully removed. Additional problems were encountered from the large number of spiders that had taken up residence inside the disk drive, as well as a 3”-diameter (thankfully abandoned) “mud dauber” wasp nest that had been constructed within the drive.

It's worth a read, and the whole story is surprisingly gripping. The other great thing about the article, though, is the number of old illustrations that document an approach to computing that is now absent. Where it was assumed that every component needed to be documented in the case that a new piece would have to be recreated rather than simply discarded and repurchased.  

Shakespearean Authorship

There are a hard-core group of conspiracy theorists who continue to insist that William Shakespeare was somehow not the actual author of the plays and poems that are attributed to him. In an attempt to stop the madness, Tom Reedy and David Kathman have created the most extensive list of evidence I've seen. Here's the conclusion, but reading the actual list of evidence is fascinating:

How do we know that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare? We know because the historical record tells us so, strongly and unequivocally. The historical evidence demonstrates that one and the same man, William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon, was William Shakespeare the player, William Shakespeare the Globe-sharer, and William Shakespeare the author of the plays and poems that bear his name -- and no person of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras ever doubted the attribution. No Elizabethan ever suggested that Shakespeare's plays and poems were written by someone else, or that Shakespeare the player was not Shakespeare the author, or that Shakespeare the Globe-sharer was not Shakespeare of Stratford. No contemporary of Shakespeare's ever suggested that the name used by the player, the Globe-sharer, or the author was a pseudonym; and none of the major alternative candidates -- not Francis Bacon, not the Earl of Oxford, not Christopher Marlowe -- had any connection with Shakespeare's acting company or with his friends and fellow actors.

Soda - yet another reason to avoid it

This is a week old, but if you didn't already avoid feeding your kids soda, here's another reason to consider it.

In order to evaluate the relationship between the sugared drinks and behavior problems, the researchers adjusted for several factors that can influence behavior, including their mothers’ depression and the children’s diets. Even after this adjustment, the scientists found a significant relationship between more soda consumption and aggressive behaviors that included destroying other people’s belongings, getting into fights and physically attacking others.

The most horrifying thing in this article was the fact that four servings of soda per day is considered "normal."

Encryption: less secure than previously thought

Coming on the heels of the various revelations about the NSA's activities, this article in MIT News is fascinating reading:

When Médard, Duffy and their students used these alternate measures of entropy, they found that slight deviations from perfect uniformity in source files, which seemed trivial in the light of Shannon entropy, suddenly loomed much larger. The upshot is that a computer turned loose to simply guess correlations between the encrypted and unencrypted versions of a file would make headway much faster than previously expected.

The point here is that encryption is still secure. It's just not *as* secure as we might have assumed.

Project Euler

Are you into math? Want to show off your skills? Then Project Euler is for you:

Project Euler is a series of challenging mathematical/computer programming problems that will require more than just mathematical insights to solve. Although mathematics will help you arrive at elegant and efficient methods, the use of a computer and programming skills will be required to solve most problems.The motivation for starting Project Euler, and its continuation, is to provide a platform for the inquiring mind to delve into unfamiliar areas and learn new concepts in a fun and recreational context.

The Camera Bubble Has Burst

I knew camera sales were down, especially in the non-SLR segment, but I had no idea they were down so much.

But cellphones have been gently eroding the market for the past four years. Why the swift and sudden plunge of conventional cameras over the cliff? My take? The vast majority of buyers of all cameras, DSLR's, mirror less, high end compacts, etc. were hobbyists and amateur photographers who, after years of pursuing some sort of competence in the craft have come to the conclusion that the whole art genre of photography is somewhat of a dead end.

I think this is a really interesting take on the current state of the camera market. Once everyone has an incredible camera in their pocket that happens to come with their phone, and once all cameras on the market effectively do the same thing, what is driving camera sales? I think the answer is pretty clear; nothing is driving sales. We're currently dealing with an over-saturation of content and technology and the result is flat-lined growth.

Adding iodine to table salt also added IQ points?

From Discover magazine comes this fascinating article on iodized salt in the US and how it may have added IQ points to the population:
Iodine deficiency today is the leading cause of preventable mental retardation in the world. It’s estimated that nearly one-third of the world’s population has a diet with too little iodine in it, and the problem isn’t limited to developing countries—perhaps one-fifth of those cases are in Europe (pdf), where iodized salt is still not the norm...

The economists found that in the lowest-iodine areas—the bottom quarter of the study population—the introduction of iodized salt had stark effects. Men from these regions born in 1924 or later were significantly more likely to get into the Air Force and had an average IQ that was 15 points higher than their predecessors.
It's always dangerous to draw conclusions about causative relationships, but this is one of the most fascinating articles I've read in some time. It's enough to make me want to switch back from kosher salt.

Poynton Regenerated

This is a video showing how one village in the U.K. decided to try a new approach to routing traffic through the city center. This "shared space" approach is fascinating and gives the focus back to the people and the physical space itself, and it's done by removing many of the typical traffic control measures that have become so common.

The City of New York has taken a similar, partial, approach in Times Square, and it's had a great affect. There are still traffic lights, but removing a couple of lanes, reconfiguring the parking, and making the space more pedestrian-friendly have made it easier to move down Broadway between 42nd Street and Herald Square.

Best Parliamentary Session Ever

What you're watching here is the tally (77 - 44) of the final vote for the Marriage Equality bill in the New Zealand House of Representatives. Upon reading the final result the gallery burst into song, singing Pokarekare Ana, a traditional Maori love song.

If this doesn't cause you to tear up then I'm pretty sure your heart doesn't pump human blood.

David Foster Wallace on Ambition

This is a creative interpretation of an interview the David Foster Wallace gave to Leonard Lopate in 1996. From the context it sounds like this was done just after Infinite Jest came out.