Science Project


TechnobugThe Washington Post has a big package on efforts — rumored by some to already be successful — to develop next-generation flying "bugs" modeled on insects:

"I’d never seen anything like it in my life," the Washington lawyer said. "They were large for dragonflies. I thought, ‘Is that mechanical, or is that alive?’ "

That is just one of the questions hovering over a handful of similar sightings at political events in Washington and New York. Some suspect the insectlike drones are high-tech surveillance tools, perhaps deployed by the Department of Homeland Security.

Others think they are, well, dragonflies — an ancient order of insects that even biologists concede look about as robotic as a living creature can look.

No agency admits to having deployed insect-size spy drones. But a number of U.S. government and private entities acknowledge they are trying. Some federally funded teams are even growing live insects with computer chips in them, with the goal of mounting spyware on their bodies and controlling their flight muscles remotely.

Yes, it’s all a bit Scary Creepy OMG Our Government Is Evil, but it’s impossible to pretend there’s not some geek squee as well.

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Sleight of Fact

There’s a fascinating story in the NYT about the science of how magic works and what that says about consciousness. Teller and some other magicians are included in the article (and the study in question apparently):

As he ran through the trick a second time, annotating each step, we saw how we had been led to mismatch cause and effect, to form one false hypothesis after another. Sometimes the coins were coming from his right hand, and sometimes from his left, hidden beneath the fingers holding the bucket.

He left us with his definition of magic: “The theatrical linking of a cause with an effect that has no basis in physical reality, but that — in our hearts — ought to.”

Yeah, I’m a sucker for this stuff, in every possible sense. (The magic, the science, the theory, etc.)

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Literary Devices of the Mind

Researchers can’t find any examples of repressed memory in literary works going back further than 200 years:

In an unusual study, a group of psychiatrists and literary scholars, led by Harrison Pope of Harvard Medical School, recently argued that the psychiatric disorder known as dissociative amnesia (often called repressed memory) is a "culture-bound syndrome" — a creation of Western culture sometime in the 19th century.

Pope pointed out that Shakespeare, Homer and other pre-19th-century writers show numerous characters suffering from other psychiatric disorders: the disjointed thinking that we call schizophrenia, or the persistent sadness that marks depression. Because art draws its inspiration from life, Pope said, this shows that those disorders have been around forever.

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It’s always nice to wake up on a Monday morning and find out that the best town in which to survive the coming apocalypse* may be forty minutes from where I grew up:

This is not a new theory, but there is a new book out that backs the premise with all kinds of sleep-killing stuff like that we’re a million years overdue for a good mass extinction. And that the Earth’s magnetic field is developing a crack. And that the Yellowstone supervolcano is about to catapult those tiny 10 percent of us who survive it into nuclear winter.

A planet holds its collective breath. But wait, the author thinks there might be one place on Earth that can just survive the whole shebang intact.


*Mayan, of course.

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An article in the NYT about why messiness and clutter are golden, in which my neatness strategy is revealed as a sham:

It’s also nice to remember, as Mr. Freedman pointed out, that almost anything looks pretty neat if it’s shuffled into a pile.

Ouch. There’s a glossary o terms. In addition to the vertical mess, I may also be guilty of the cyclical mess, the minimess, the heaped mess, and the satellite mess. In other words: all of them. And, yet, our place is always fairly inhabitably tidy-ish. Go figure. Maybe if it were Even Messier, we would be Even More Productive.

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