EssentialstheDiagonal is a personal blog by Mike Gerra, skeptic, technologist, psychologist, artist, humanist, collector of grand, eclectic ideas.theDiagonal blog connects the dots across multiple disciplines for inquisitive, objective and critical thinkers, exploring the vertices of big science, disruptive innovation, global sustainability, illuminating literature and leftfield art. It is on this diagonal that creativity thrives, big ideas take flight and reason triumphs.
Monthly Archives: August 2011
Friday, August 12, 2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
theDiagonal usually does not report on the news. Though we do make a few worthy exceptions based on the import or surreal nature of the event. A case in point below.
Humans do have a curious way of repeating history. In a less meticulous attempt to re-enact the late-90s true story, which eventually led to the book “The Radioactive Boy Scout“, a Swedish man was recently arrested for trying to set up a nuclear reactor in his kitchen.
From the AP:
A Swedish man who was arrested after trying to split atoms in his kitchen said Wednesday he was only doing it as a hobby.
Richard Handl told The Associated Press that he had the radioactive elements radium, americium and uranium in his apartment in southern Sweden when police showed up and arrested him on charges of unauthorized possession of nuclear material....read more
From Wilson Quarterly:
For all its stellar achievements, human reason seems particularly ill suited to, well, reasoning. Study after study demonstrates reason’s deficiencies, such as the oft-noted confirmation bias (the tendency to recall, select, or interpret evidence in a way that supports one’s preexisting beliefs) and people’s poor performance on straightforward logic puzzles. Why is reason so defective?
To the contrary, reason isn’t defective in the least, argue cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier of the University of Pennsylvania and Dan Sperber of the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris. The problem is that we’ve misunderstood why reason exists and measured its strengths and weaknesses against the wrong standards....read more
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
From the New Scientist:
WHEN David Hilbert left the podium at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, on 8 August 1900, few of the assembled delegates seemed overly impressed. According to one contemporary report, the discussion following his address to the second International Congress of Mathematicians was “rather desultory”. Passions seem to have been more inflamed by a subsequent debate on whether Esperanto should be adopted as mathematics’ working language.
Yet Hilbert’s address set the mathematical agenda for the 20th century. It crystallised into a list of 23 crucial unanswered questions, including how to pack spheres to make best use of the available space, and whether the Riemann hypothesis, which concerns how the prime numbers are distributed, is true....read more
The principle of a holographic universe, not to be confused with the Holographic Universe, an album by swedish death metal rock band Scar Symmetry, continues to hold serious sway among a not insignificant group of even more serious cosmologists.
Originally proposed by noted physicists Gerard ‘t Hooft, and Leonard Susskind in the mid-1990s, the holographic theory of the universe suggests that our entire universe can described as a informational 3-D projection painted in two dimensions on a cosmological boundary. This is analogous to the flat hologram printed on a credit card creating the illusion of a 3-D object.
While current mathematical theory and experimental verification is lagging, the theory has garnered much interest and forward momentum — so this area warrants a brief status check, courtesy of the New Scientist.
From the New Scientist:
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
NASA’s latest spacecraft to visit Mars, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, has made some stunning observations that show the possibility of flowing water on the red planet. Intriguingly, repeated observations of the same regions over several Martian seasons show visible changes attributable to some kind of dynamic flow.
From NASA / JPL:
Observations from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed possible flowing water during the warmest months on Mars.
“NASA’s Mars Exploration Program keeps bringing us closer to determining whether the Red Planet could harbor life in some form,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “and it reaffirms Mars as an important future destination for human exploration.”...read more
Monday, August 8, 2011
In early 1990 at CERN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau published a formal proposal to build a “Hypertext project” called “WorldWideWeb” as a “web” of “hypertext documents” to be viewed by “browsers”.
Following development work the pair introduced the proposal to a wider audience in December, and on August 6, 1991, 20 years ago, the World Wide Web officially opened for business on the internet. On that day Berners-Lee posted the first web page — a short summary of the World Wide Web project on the alt.hypertext newsgroup....read more
Twice Poet Laureate of the United States, Howard Nemerov, catalogs the human condition in his work “Life Cycle of Common Man”.
By Howard Nemerov, courtesy of Poetry Foundation:
Life Cycle of Common Man
Roughly figured, this man of moderate habits,
This average consumer of the middle class,
Consumed in the course of his average life span
Just under half a million cigarettes,
Four thousand fifths of gin and about
A quarter as much vermouth; he drank
Maybe a hundred thousand cups of coffee,
And counting his parents’ share it cost
Something like half a million dollars
To put him through life. How many beasts
Died to provide him with meat, belt and shoes
Cannot be certainly said.
It is in this way that a man travels through time,
Leaving behind him a lengthening trail
Of empty bottles and bones, of broken shoes,
Frayed collars and worn out or outgrown
Diapers and dinnerjackets, silk ties and slickers.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
A recently opened solo art show takes an fascinating inside peek at the cryonics industry. Entitled “The Prospect of Immortality” the show features photography by Murray Ballard. Ballard’s collection of images follows a 5-year investigation of cryonics in England, the United States and Russia. Cryonics is the practice of freezing the human body just after death in the hope that future science will one day have the capability of restoring it to life.
Ballard presents the topic in a fair an balanced way, leaving viewers to question and weigh the process of cryonics for themselves.
From Impressions Gallery:
From Scientific American:
For centuries people have pondered the meaning of dreams. Early civilizations thought of dreams as a medium between our earthly world and that of the gods. In fact, the Greeks and Romans were convinced that dreams had certain prophetic powers. While there has always been a great interest in the interpretation of human dreams, it wasn’t until the end of the nineteenth century that Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung put forth some of the most widely-known modern theories of dreaming. Freud’s theory centred around the notion of repressed longing — the idea that dreaming allows us to sort through unresolved, repressed wishes. Carl Jung (who studied under Freud) also believed that dreams had psychological importance, but proposed different theories about their meaning....read more
Saturday, August 6, 2011
Friday, August 5, 2011
For watchers of the human condition, dissecting and analyzing our food culture is both fascinating and troubling. The global agricultural-industrial complex with its enormous efficiencies and finely engineered end-products, churns out mountains of food stuffs that help feed a significant proportion of the world. And yet, many argue that the same over-refined, highly-processed, preservative-doped, high-fructose enriched, sugar and salt laden, color saturated foods are to blame for many of our modern ills. The catalog of dangers from that box of “fish” sticks, orange “cheese” and twinkies goes something likes this: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.
To counterbalance the fast/processed food juggernaut the grassroots International Slow Food movement established its manifesto in 1989. Its stated vision is:
We envision a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet.
Encouraging news for the class 0f 2011. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) released results from a recent survey showing a slightly improved job picture for 2011 college graduates.
From Course Hero:
More from theSource here.
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Thursday, August 4, 2011
A QR or Quick Response code is a two-dimensional matrix that looks like a scrambled barcode, and behaves much like one, with one important difference. The QR code exhibits a rather high level of tolerance for errors. Some have reported that up to 20-30 percent of the QR code can be selectively altered without affecting its ability to be scanned correctly. Try scanning a regular barcode that has some lines missing or has been altered and your scanner is likely to give you a warning beep. The QR code however still scans correctly even if specific areas are missing or changed. This is important because a QR code does not require a high-end, dedicated barcode scanner for it to be scanned, and therefore also makes it suitable for outdoor use....read more
We all have things that disgust us irrationally, whether it be cockroaches or chitterlings or cotton balls. For me, it’s fruit soda. It started when I was 3; my mom offered me a can of Sunkist after inner ear surgery. Still woozy from the anesthesia, I gulped it down, and by the time we made it to the cashier, all of it managed to come back up. Although it is nearly 30 years later, just the smell of this “fun, sun and the beach” drink is enough to turn my stomach....read more
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
A fascinating and disturbing series of still photographs from Andris Feldmanis shows us what the television “sees” as its viewers glare seemingly mindlessly at the box. As Feldmanis describes,
An average person in Estonia spends several hours a day watching the television. This is the situation reversed, the people portrayed here are posing for their television sets. It is not a critique of mass media and its influence, it is a fictional document of what the TV sees.
Makes one wonder what the viewers were watching. Or does it even matter? More of the series courtesy of Art Fag City, here. All the images show the one-sidedness of the human-television relationship.
Image courtesy of Andris Feldmanis.
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More precisely NASA’s Dawn spacecraft entered into orbit around the asteroid Vesta on July 15, 2011. Vesta is the second largest of our solar system’s asteroids and is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Now that Dawn is safely in orbit, the spacecraft will circle about 10,000 miles above Vesta’s surface for a year and use two different cameras, a gamma-ray detector and a neutron detector, to study the asteroid.
Then in July 2012, Dawn will depart for a visit to Vesta’s close neighbor and largest object in the asteroid belt, Ceres.
The image of Vesta above was taken from a distance of about 9,500 miles (15,000 kilometers) away.
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.
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Tuesday, August 2, 2011
It’s #$% hot in the southern plains of the United States, with high temperatures constantly above 100 degrees F, and lows never dipping below 80. For that matter, it’s hotter than average this year in most parts of the country. So, a timely article over at Slate gives a great overview of the history of the air conditioning system, courtesy of inventor Willis Carrier.
Anyone tempted to yearn for a simpler time must reckon with a few undeniable unpleasantries of life before modern technology: abscessed teeth, chamber pots, the bubonic plague—and a lack of air conditioning in late July. As temperatures rise into the triple digits across the eastern United States, it’s worth remembering how we arrived at the climate-controlled summer environments we have today....read more
The Seven Sisters star cluster, also known as the Pleiades, consists of many, young, bright and hot stars. While the cluster contains hundreds of stars it is so named because only seven are typically visible to the naked eye. The Seven Sisters is visible from the northern hemisphere, and resides in the constellation Taurus.
Image and supporting text courtesy of Davide De Martin over at Skyfactory.
This image is a composite from black and white images taken with the Palomar Observatory’s 48-inch (1.2-meter) Samuel Oschin Telescope as a part of the second National Geographic Palomar Observatory Sky Survey (POSS II). The images were recorded on two type of glass photographic plates – one sensitive to red light and the other to blue and later they were digitized. Credit: Caltech, Palomar Observatory, Digitized Sky Survey....read more
Monday, August 1, 2011
Monday’s poem authored by William Meredith, was selected for it is in keeping with our cosmology theme this week.
William Meredith was born in New York City in 1919. He studied English at Princeton University where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. His senior thesis focused on the poetry of Robert Frost, a major influence for Meredith throughout his career.
By William Meredith, courtesy of Poets.org:
Going abruptly into a starry night
It is ignorance we blink from, dark, unhoused;
There is a gaze of animal delight
Before the human vision. Then, aroused
To nebulous danger, we may look for easy stars,
Orion and the Dipper; but they are not ours,
These learned fields. Dark and ignorant,
Unable to see here what our forebears saw,
We keep some fear of random firmament
Vestigial in us. And we think, Ah,
If I had lived then, when these stories were made up, I
Could have found more likely pictures in haphazard sky.
A new psychological study upends our understanding of the benefits of direct and precise information as a motivational tool. Results from the study by Himanshu Mishra and Baba Shiv describe the cognitive benefits of vague and inarticulate feedback over precise information. At first glance this seems to be counter-intuitive. After all, fuzzy math, blurred reasoning and unclear directives would seem to be the banes of current societal norms that value data in as a precise a form as possible. We measure, calibrate, verify and re-measure and report information to the nth degree.
Want to lose weight in 2011? You’ve got a better chance of pulling it off if you tell yourself, “I’d like to slim down and maybe lose somewhere between 5 and 15 pounds this year” instead of, “I’d like to lose 12 pounds by July 4.”...read more