fodder for the fourth

Too_cooljenlucIt's a national holiday and Los Angeles is experiencing its version of a heat wave — which pales mightily in comparison to the equivalent in New York City or Washington, DC. An LA heat wave is downright pleasant. Future Spouse and I have every intention of enjoying ourselves by being as lazy and low-key as possible, which means light blogging for the next few days. But Jen-Luc Piquant is more conscientious about keeping her public entertained: she's ferreted out some special Fourth of July Fodder for our readers to browse in between the fireworks.

1. Every time we turn around, it seems, Buzz Skyline has started another new blog; he's single-handedly keeping Blogspot in business. There's his novel-in-progress, The Dark Net: we love it because it features an epileptic protagonist and twin virtual penguins, Linus and Minus, who are part of an experiment in Cyber-behavioral conditioning (of course, the experiment goes horribly wrong). Then there's the ever-popular Physics of Sex. Each of those come with accompanying podcasts for those who find actual reading just too, too tiresome. And now he's got a new one on the physics of extreme sports, with an inaugural post on the physics of freestyle motocross — you know, those crazy guys on small motorbikes who speed off ramps and do backward flips in the air. Buzz Skyline has given the physics a lot of thought, crunched the numbers (the post is littered with equations, but don't let that scare you!), and determined the fundamental limits of what the competitors might be capable of in the future. The good news: there's still room for ever-more spectacular stunts! We eagerly await the historic first quadruple flip landed in competition.

2. For Feynman fans, Steve Hsu unearths some old video footage of the Physicist Other Physicists Both Love and Hate — before he became so readily recognizable to the general public. It's good stuff; love him or hate him, Feynman never fails to entertain. If you prefer a more rockin' Physicist in the Public Eye, Andrew Jaffe has been hanging out with Queen's Brian May, who will, in a few months, be Dr. May. Another one bites the dust, indeed.

3. Those of us who recognize the longstanding symbiotic relationship between science and science fiction were thrilled with this week's article in Wired about two new technological breakthroughs that bring us one step closer to Star Trek's fictional Tricorder — that medical diagnosis device that Bones McCoy always waved over patients, capable of diagnosing them without ever making direct contact. It's like the Tricorder was psychic or something. Lab-on-a-chip technology comes in a nifty handheld format, but you still need a tissue sample. The scientists in the Wired article (a) figured out that they can observe gene activity using CT scans, and (b) developed a compact precision microscope based on Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs).

4. One can't ignore one's feline companion, particularly since Clio has been known to take revenge by, say, hiding one's engagement ring (still not found, BTW; we'll be celebrating our 10th anniversary by the time it turns up). The media was abuzz last week with the findings of a paper in Nature on how an analysis of feline DNA yields insights into how these feral furry creatures with a mind of their own ever became domesticated in the first place. It's all about the food — but any cat owner could tell you that. For more fascinating cat-related tidbits, I direct you to a couple of entries in Chemical and Engineering News' most excellent online feature, "What's That Stuff": specifically, on the chemistry of catnip and kitty litter. (Clio loves her catnip, oh yes…)

5. There's some great Fourth of July specific links too. Wired reminds us that on this day in 1064, Chinese astronomers saw the first light from a supernova, marking the birth of the Crab Nebula. Janet over at Adventures in Ethics and Science explains the chemistry of fireworks (Ka-BOOM!), while Retrospectacle's Shelley Batts digs up an older post on how to make your own sparklers. Americans will be consuming large bags of potato chips at picnics and BBQs around the country today, so it's fitting that Harold McGee's "Curious Cook" column today in the New York Times is all about testing the crunch of potato chips — and about a 2005 paper by South Korean scientists who turned the sounds of munching on chips into actual musical compositions. (Those wacky scientists!) And Phil Plait, Jen-Luc Piquant's favorite Bad Astronomer, reminds us what's really important on this Independence Day by posting the text of a Significant Historical Document. Bonus points for those who pick out all the items in King George's list of sins back in 1776 that can also be applied to the current administration.

That should keep everyone entertained for the next couple of days, long enough for me to drive to San Francisco for Friday's Iron Science Teacher competition at the Exploratorium. I've been a fan of the Iron Chef program that inspired it for years. Last week, the "secret ingredient" was mirrors, and I'm dying to see what they come up with this time, although it's tough to top the Iron Chef episode where the secret ingredient was live eels. Afterwards, a bunch of us are meeting at a local restaurant to officially welcome Bora Z. (a.k.a. the indefatigable Coturnix) to the Bay Area. Happy Fourth, everyone!


1 thought on “fodder for the fourth”

  1. Hi…a ghreat site…only looked at it briefly so far having read about it in the Sunday telegraph newspaper (UK).
    will take me ages to look at all the interesting stuff, but got into the bit about light and showing what the right eye and what the left eys sees….so i printed out the pic, cut the 2 pics seperate from each other and arranged them on the table in light under my face…useless cos I am shortsighted so using a couple of lenses and a piece of card beyond my nose i managed to look at the left pic with the left eye and the right pic with the right eye (the card making sure i couldnt see als the “wrong” one…and yes i got a nice 3D image..the window frame definitely seemed in front of the tree. so why not tell your readers to try this. (may even be able to do it on the screen).
    hope you may like my site…all my favourite hates:
    best wishes from geoff who has been teaching school kids physice for 37 years!

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