Articles, Page 9 of 206

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01 Nov 12

Amazing Radio Control

Are Radio Controlled model airplanes a nerd-worthy hobby?

I have just taken it up, or more correctly, gone back to it after an absence of 40 years. Back in the 1970s I played with 10ft wingspan gliders having a pod fixed to the top of the wing with a small gas motor and just enough fuel to take it up to soaring altitude. This was a lot of fun, but my aircraft gradually grew heavier under the weight of its repairs until it was not much use as a glider. My last memory of it was screaming towards me, low over a cow paddock as I frantically tried to mentally reverse the rudder and aileron controls. Sadly, one wing caught the ground, it cartwheeled, and stampeded the cattle. There were only balsa wood fragments left after that one, and I handed in my wings in order to spend more time with the new baby.

18 Oct 12

Charts: xkcd Style

Ever read xkcd and wish you could whip up a chart like the one in the comic? Now you can. Check out Dan Foreman-Mackey’s XKCD-style plots in Javascript using D3.

11 Oct 12

OmniNerd Version 6

If you’re a regular, you definitely noticed some changes today. We’re trying to simplify the site to ease maintenance, but hopefully also make it a little easier to use. Here are some key changes:


  1. Death of NerdRank – I know, it’s like we killed our first born. Ultimately though the number had become meaningless and the backend to maintain it was just overkill. If it ever comes back, it will certainly be in different form.
  2. Death of Auto-Moderation – It seemed like a good idea, but all it created was a bottleneck. Now the computer isn’t judging your writing as you type, or deciding what is/isn’t front page worthy.
04 Oct 12

Music Purchase Log: 2012 Q3

Music I bought in the third quarter of 2012:

Artist Album Genre Release Recommended if you like… Notes
Bad Books Bad Books Indie rock 2010 Manchester Orchestra, Kevin Devine I’d like a little more MO and a little less Devine. Luckily, I think they go that way on their next album.
Band of Horses Mirage Rock Indie rock 2012 Fleet Foxes, Rogue Wave A couple songs are too country for me, but otherwise yet another solid album for you (and the wife).
Ben Kweller Go Fly a Kite Indie rock 2012 Ben Folds, Matt Pond PA Not on par with his best work, but worth getting if you’re a fan.
18 Sep 12

New Design Brings Warp Drives Within Reason

As practical science marches on, more and more science fiction technology becomes plausible. A few years ago, a Mexican physicist named Michael Alcubierre postulated a mechanism to make warp drives possible, limited only by an enormous energy requirement. How much energy? According to Baylor University physicists if the entire mass of Jupiter were converted into energy, that would be enough to make the Alcubierre Drive possible. For years, the Alcubierre Drive has entertained researchers with various designs either attempting to reduce the energy requirements or simply to theorize what could be done. Some proposed using metamaterials to attain speeds upwards of 25% faster than light. The main premise of the design is summarized nicely by NASA:

13 Sep 12

Unification of Science and Religion

According to the great Christian theologians, like Augustine and Aquinas, the most difficult to understand issue in the whole Christian story (why we needed Christ’s redemption) was dumbed down so that the people of the day, nomadic Israelites, could understand it.

This is an extremely profound thought. Think about it. We have been convicted of the worst crime ever, and sentenced to a terrible eternal punishment, but it is too difficult to explain to us what it was so we must be satisfied with the Looney Tunes version. How could our all powerful, loving God be put in such a position that he had to subject his only son to terrible agony and death? There was apparently no other option. Who (or What) could impose such a requirement on Him? There must be a powerful exogenous force being exerted on Him? Some say no not an external force, this is simply his nature: He is so fundamentally good that this is the only way that the stain of his creation of humanity can be erased.

11 Sep 12

Containment of China

The cold war with the Soviet Union ended more than one score and three years ago, and since then we have been staggering (largely unsuccessfully) through a number of civil wars and peace keeping missions, none of which directly impacted on the safety of the USA. What will come next? I think we should look not to the Middle East, but to the Western Pacific.

Current policy on the “containment of China” seems to be leading to a new cold or hot war in the Pacific Region. The basic idea is that Chinese economic and military expansion in that region is a threat to the USA that must be stopped.
New bases are being found, and fleets are being deployed to demonstrate that the USA will not stand for China assuming a position as a major power in that hemisphere.

09 Sep 12

Where to draw the torture line

The furor over the torture of terror suspects by USA military and officials has died down, and all the identified perpetrators have escaped punishment, despite the fact that some of the victims were tortured to death. Does this mean that we have crossed the threshold and that these techniques are now routinely acceptable?

I for one am extremely disappointed that our current chief, who is so fond of using the term brought to justice to describe killing, using drones, or special forces, suspects that he cannot arrest, and bystanders, has been unable to bring Americans, who he can arrest because they are serving in his military and civil service, to justice for serious crimes for which there is plenty of evidence. To make things worse he allowed Ali Mussa Daqduq who tortured to death 5 US soldiers to receive justice from an Iraqi court , which freed him

05 Sep 12

Machine Learning

While artificial intelligence has not yet turned out the way science fiction predicted, machine learning systems are definitely working all around us. Many of them aren’t necessarily complex, but they do adapt output based on internal algorithms, learned parameters and external stimulus. Most folks understand a learning system can be corrupted by feeding poor input but the practice of doing so is not so trivial. Some German researchers have developed a proof of concept to ‘poison’ a learning system given some knowledge of the learning vectors (seed data, algorithm, etc.). The impact of their research revealed less about whether poisoning could be done and more about revealing the magnitude by which proper poisoning can sway a system. It wouldn’t be far fetched for a financial institution’s high frequency trading system to become the target of a poisoning attack – one only needs to make it alter its behavior in the slightest of predictable ways to completely cash out on its actions.

31 Aug 12

No Easy Day

People just love to know secrets. Using the pen name Mark Owen, the author was a Navy SEAL on the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. No Easy Day has already become an Amazon best seller before its release date and promises to detail the mission despite the author’s statements to preserve national security. The Department of Defense was initially unaware of the former SEAL’s book and requested an advance copy to screen for potential security risks. In that first screening, the Pentagon’s general counsel is already threatening legal action for disclosures of sensitive information. (Too bad they can’t do that to loose-lipped politicians …) The book spans more than simply the raid on bin Laden’s compound and walks the reader through the author’s own growth in the military through special operations training and missions.

30 Aug 12

Evolution Surprises Lawmakers

Kentucky lawmakers aren’t doing much to assuage their state’s hill-billy stereotype. A 2009 bill pushed by state republicans was intended to link Kentucky’s education system with national standards. As such, the state utilizes ACT to administer national tests to equate their students with those across the rest of the country. To their chagrin, they’ve recently been ‘surprised’ to discover evolution is a major science component – not creationism. Senator David Givens says:

I think we are very committed to being able to take Kentucky students and put them on a report card beside students across the nation. We’re simply saying to the ACT people we don’t want what is a theory to be taught as a fact in such a way it may damage students’ ability to do critical thinking.

29 Aug 12

Bill Nye Bashes Creationism

Bill Nye is widely known as the Science Guy educating children (and adults) on science through his 90s television show. He’s emerged again with a recent YouTube video (below) on how teaching creationism is hurting America’s future:

I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, that’s completely inconsistent with the world we observe, that’s fine. But don’t make your kids do it. Because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future.

28 Aug 12

Three Simple First Steps from the American Diet to Health

It amazes me that the vast majority of educated Americans don’t know what it means to be healthy. They think if they keep their waistline, heart rate and cholesterol numbers in check, then they’re good to go.


Health is complex

Health is complex. To illustrate, think of the following items and jot down if you think they’re good or bad for your health … or if it depends. Really, take it like a quiz.

  • Fat
20 Aug 12

Vulnerability to foreign laws.

Can the USA make laws that bind non Americans living in other countries?

Julian Assange, an Australian living in London, and founder of Wikileaks, greatly embarrassed and offended the USA by publishing sensitive dioplomatic documents that had been given to him (and other media) by a US serviceman.

Clearly the serviceman broke a US law, making him liable to prosecution. Call him well meaning, whistleblower. naive, or a fool, but he was a sergeant and so should have known better than to breach the trust placed in him by his country.

Can anyone explain to me how Assange can be held accountable to US law. As a non citizen of the USA, he had no representation in the legislature that made publishing that information an offence for Americans in its jurisdiction. How can that domestic censorship law now be applied to a non citizen who at the time of the alleged crime was living in another country far outside of the jurisdiction of the USA?

17 Aug 12

DNA Data Recording

Increased data storage density, retrieval speed and archival accuracy is always a huge IT problem as the volumes of information produced by business, science and academia continue to expand. Half a decade ago, the data demands were already somewhat enormous and growing exponentially. The Harvard Medical School in Boston recently made a breakthrough on the data storage front using DNA. Everyone always talks of the sheer capacity DNA has for storing massive amounts of information densely, however, the manifestation of using DNA for data storage has never come to fruition. Obviously, living organisms have little use for arbitrary data in their DNA and were actually killed by it. Furthermore, if the organisms lived, the natural process of genetic mutation would corrupt the data over time. Synthetic biologist George Church got around the hurdle by storing DNA fragments on the surface of a glass chip, all indexed and cross referenced against one another to ultimately store a genetics textbook as proof of concept. Other researchers utilize genetic watermarks, akin to digital ECC, in order to detect and prevent data mutation.

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