Good, honest muck

June 7th, 2015

Just think of all the immunities the kid is building up, one handful of dirt at a time.

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Watch the ray cats

May 14th, 2014

This week's 99% Invisible podcast discussed recent efforts to figure out how to warn our great-to-the-Nth grandchildren about the risks of nuclear waste being stored at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, given the distinct possibility that language will have drifted over the course of 10,000 years to the point where a sign saying 'DANGER: Radioactive waste!' may not be understood.

The most hands-down 99pi favorite solution, though, didn't come from the WIPP brainstorm – rather, it came out of the Human Interference Task Force, a similar panel that was pulled together in 1981 for the now-defunct Yucca Mountain project. It was proposed by two philosophers, Françoise Bastide and Paolo Fabbri.

Bastide and Fabbri came to the conclusion that the most durable thing that humanity has ever made is culture: religion, folklore, belief systems. They may morph over time, but an essential message can get pulled through over millennia. They proposed that we genetically engineer a species of cat that changes color in the presence of radiation, which would be released into the wild to serve as living Geiger counters. Then, we would create folklore and write songs and tell stories about these "ray cats," the moral being that when you see these cats change colors, run far, far away.

Makes you wonder if there's some bit of puzzling animal behaviour going on all around us right now about which the folklore has failed to be passed down or got distorted. Instead of pointing and laughing at all those Animals Sucking at Jumping as it becomes clear what terrible, long-forgotten threat they were trying to warn us about?

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Beauty of Mathematics

November 10th, 2013

Beauty of Mathematics speaks for itself, preferably in full-screen mode:

For the record, I can't begin to vouch for the mathematical formulae in the left hand pane bearing any relationship to the phenomena shown in the middle and right hand panes of the video. But it's really pretty, which is way more important than accuracy any day.1

[Via swissmiss]

  1. Isn't it?

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Poor thing

October 29th, 2013

Poor cat

[Via Schlock Mercenary]

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… so they'll nuke us from orbit, just to make sure.

October 16th, 2013

Headline of the Week/Month/Year candidate, courtesy of Popular Science:

Space-Born Jellyfish Hate Life On Earth.

[Via jwz]

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Love in a cold climate

September 18th, 2013

The Wellcome Library blog tells the tale of the Common Cold Unit:

Volunteers were kept in strict isolation from the outside world and from others taking part in the trial. But as one CCU press release puts it, 'isolation is not as bad as it seems. All the flats are connected by phone so you can talk to that smashing blonde in the next flat'.

Another volunteer information sheet in the collection warns that 'chatting up other volunteers in a different flat can only be by telephone, or at a very long range outside.' Romances did bloom despite the isolation and blocked noses; on his ninth visit to the unit, one guitar-strumming volunteer wooed a neighbouring oboist by playing duets at 30 feet. Love in a cold climate.

I'm slightly surprised that nobody ever exploited such comedic gold for a sitcom. Probably made by the folks behind On the Buses or Mind Your Language or Man About the House.1

  1. I don't know why, but something about the premise just screams 'early 1970s sitcom' to me.

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Ice breaking (with added penguins)

May 6th, 2013

Another time-lapse sequence, this time of the US National Science Foundation's icebreaker the Nathaniel B. Palmer, traveling through the Ross Sea in Antarctica. Pink ice. Blue ice. Penguins. What more could you ask for?

[Via MetaFilter]

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Mars 3 Nil, Mars 1

April 13th, 2013

Emily Lakdawalla has posted a fascinating account, translated from the Russian original, of how a group of space enthusiasts combed images of the surface of Mars. Their aim: to find the Mars 3 lander that managed to transmit radio signals for 14 seconds back on 2 December 1971 before falling silent.

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Prince Rupert's Drop

April 6th, 2013

Mystery of Prince Rupert's Drop at 130,000 fps.

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

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Healh & Safety: The Final Frontier

November 8th, 2012

It's elfansafety gone mad at the BBC:

[Professor Brian Cox…], the former pop star turned particle physicist, wanted to use the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire to listen in to the planet, Threapleton Holmes B, on his BBC2 series Stargazing Live.

[…]

"The BBC actually said, 'But you can't do that because we need to go through the regulations and health and safety and everything in case we discover a signal from an alien civilisation'.

"You mean we would discover the first hint that there is other intelligent life in the universe beyond Earth, live on air, and you're worried about the health and safety of it?

"It was incredible. They did have guidelines. Compliance."

Methinks Professor Cox might be stretching the truth just a tad here in the interests of having an amusing anecdote to relate when doing publicity work for his show.

Besides, we all know that the BBC nowadays would be more concerned about a) making sure that the aliens hadn't arranged for their fees for participating in the programme to go via some shady tax-efficient offshore company, b) checking that intercepting radio signals from a distant star couldn't possibly be classed as a form of phone hacking, and c) ensuring that the aliens were wearing a poppy while broadcasting their message.

[Via The Awl]

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