Archive for the 'Science' Category

Dec 03 2009

Hey! They didn’t ask me…

So apparently some researchers wanted to study the effects that pornography has on the male psyche. Naturally, in order to do so, they wanted to compare their study group of naughty-video-watchers with a “control group” of pure, never-saw-the-stuff young males.

The problem? The researchers discovered that their control group was what statisticians call a “null set.” They couldn’t find any young men who had never viewed porn.

Now, I can’t claim any particular moral purity; I am, after all, bent on achieving Complete Global Domination. But a high-speed connection to my Bunker of Doom was way too expensive.


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Dec 09 2008

Rock On!

Once again, I feel like a mosquito at a nudist colony — I have so many options, I just don’t know where to begin!  Auto maker bailouts!  Corruptocratic politicians in Illinois!  International intrigue!

So of course, I’m going to talk a little bit about floating rocks.

I guess it’s a sign of either our sophistication or utter ignorance that we seem to be indifferent to the fact that the universe is filled with huge flippin’ rocks, many of them mountain-sized, just randomly floating around above our heads, with the occasional one just taking it into its rock-hard head to plunge to Earth in a roaring fireball, hopefully only taking out an abandoned mud-hut in Siberia, but every once in a while triggering a mass extinction event.

For some reason, I’ve witnessed three visible meteor strikes in my lifetime (which might explain my super powers), and even though these were insignificant little measured-in-pounds meteor runts, they’re still damn impressive to a hairless ape looking up at the display, mouth agape, from the ground.  Events like this make you start thinking about how very wrong it would be if you were taken out, utterly at random, by one of those suckers (Well, maybe for some of us — “Hey!  You hear about Mind Scalpel?” “What?  What???”  “Killed by a meteor strike!” . . . “Really?  Somehow that makes a strange sort of sense….”).

Anyway, good ol’ Ron Reagan famously speculated that the only way humanity would unite for the common good was if we were faced with a common enemy, like invading space aliens.  His critics had a field day twisting this, of course, but fundamentally he was right on — there’s nothing we’re quite so up for as a good rabble-rousing focused on demonized “others.”  Especially when we don’t have to scare up the torches and pitchforks ourselves — we’ve already funded the military with our tax dollars, after all.

But we only seem to get all het up when we’re able to put some face on the enemy.  If we were told an actual alien intelligence had malevolently set a bunch of mountains floating around, with one of them scheduled to hit Earth cataclysmically every few millenia, we’d come boiling up out of our gravity well in fleets of nuclear-powered space warships like army ants looking for honey.

But since they’re just randomly floating around for no apparent reason, well, hell, someone else can deal with it.  Maybe we’ll make a really crappy movie out of the potential for a world-ending meteor hitting us, but the production of that really crappy movie and the money thrown away on it will far exceed the money we’ll spend dealing with this potential problem.

“What’s the big deal?” you ask?  “The odds of a huge asteroid destroying the human race are minimal, like a fraction of a percent.”

First, I’d point out that they’re asteroids when they’re just floating around in space, minding their own airless business — they only become meteors when they enter our atmosphere intent on whacking us.  Second, quick lesson in risk management!  One has to consider both the probability of a particular adverse event happening, and the magnitude of the event if it happens.  Otherwise, you’re just dealing with one-half of the equation.

So someone hears that the frequency of a meteor strike with an explosive force of 10 megatons (roughly equivalent to 70 Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs) is about once every 1000 years, and figures “hey, no big deal” — because he’s just focusing on frequency.  Let’s say there’s only about a 1 in 20 chance of that strike encompassing a major population center (let’s say Los Angeles).  Even better, right?  Oversimplifying the math, we can call it a 1 in 20,000 chance in any particular year that such an event will occur.

But…Los Angeles has about 10 million people in it.  Let’s assume they’d all be vaporized by such a strike.

So every year there’s a 1 in 20,000 possibility that 10 million people will be vaporized by Big Pappy Meteor.  Working the averages, that means that on average, we’ll lose about 500 people per year to such meteor strikes.

And this does not factor in the secondary effects of such an enormous event — disruptions in the economy, food supplies, distribution, shipping and communications networks.  Such an event could potentially end a nation the size of the United States.  If the credit default swap market doesn’t finish the job first, that is.

And by the way, meteors with an explosive force of 1 megaton (a mere 7 times a Hiroshima-killer) enter our atmosphere every 100 years.  Let’s say there’s only a 1 in 50 chance that one of these will hit an L.A.-sized target (smaller blast radius).  That still works out to 2000 people per year, on average, killed by meteors (yeah, yeah, all you probability and statistics people — I know the exact number’s a bit different — lighten up!  When you’re dealing with nukes you don’t need pinpoint accuracy!).

And if we’re talking about a world-ender, well, even if something like that only happens every million years, there are maybe 6.75 billion people on Earth, so that translates into about 6,750 people annually being killed by such an event (on average, not factoring in population growth).

So maybe a little prevention’s worth it.

Then again, I do believe in the wisdom of crowds.  Maybe there’s a hidden reason people might be willing to risk a meteor strike without any means of defense.

I know!  They figure the possibility that a medium-sized meteor will take out Washington, D.C., however slim, makes it a gamble worth taking….

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Aug 05 2008

When All You’ve Got Is 7,000 Howitzers, Everything Starts Looking Like Fluffy Clouds That Must Be Killed

So were our good friends the Chinese Communists satisfied with stealing our gambling profits? Can they rest, now that they’ve attempted to co-opt the world’s venality?

Of course not! Instead, they’ve moved on to actions based on their idiosyncratic mistranslation of a popular Western song, as they set to work in their Army-ant-like way humming “Who’ll Kill The Rain?”

According to this article from USA Today, the Chinese are embarked on an ambitious weather-control experiment:

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May 27 2008

Mars Lander Touches Down, Immediately Takes Picture of Foot

Published by under Science,Technology

Well, it’s comforting to know that we can send a spacecraft across the cold vastness of radiation-filled space, program it to land autonomously on a nigh-airless planet, and have it immediately replicate all the technological acuity of a clueless father vacationing at Disneyworld by taking a picture of its foot:

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Apr 26 2008

Get Out Of My Head, Google!

Alright, I’m getting annoyed with Google again — this time it’s their automated telepathic behavior predictor/installer that’s really sticking it to me.

Think I’m kidding? If you’ve got Google’s search bar, try typing in the beginning of a general question; Google will then activate its mind-reading scanner (embedded in all computer monitors manufactured after 1992) and tell you what the rest of your question should be, in order of the popularity of other people’s questions. And, more often than not, the question that Google asks ends up being a heckuva lot more interesting than the one you started with, so you ditch your old question and start investigating the stuff that Google wants you to. A few examples:

Original Question: How Old Is The Universe?

I got as far as “how old is,” and up popped the following “suggestions”:

  • How old is McCain? Coincidentally, the answer to this one is the same as the answer to my original question!
  • How old is Hugh Hefner? Hey! I just noticed there’s some old guy puttering around the Playboy Mansion among all those Playmates! How long has he been there?
  • How old is Dolly? People actually care about a cloned sheep’s birthday?
  • How old is Brett Michaels of Poison? Okay, this officially qualifies as a “WTF?”
  • How old is Queen Elizabeth? Apparently kids still have to do history research.

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Apr 22 2008

Setting Them Off

Oh, lordy. Michelle Malkin reminded me that today is Earth Day.

So with the parade of “environmental” celebrities and presidential candidates justifying their ownership and use of multiple-acre mansions and fuel-guzzling, pollution-belching private jets (including – I kid you not – a private 707 owned by John Travolta) by pointing out that they’re purchasing “carbon offsets,” I did a little investigation of that industry, and then a little thinking, which in my case is a dangerous combination.

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Feb 22 2008

Clones: The Other White Meat

So, what’s all this fuss about the South Korean company that’s offering to clone your pets? Okay, granted, there is one small issue, mainly that the people who are rich enough to have this done tend to have offensively annoying pets, and therefore we could be polluting the world with more of these (click at your own risk). Still, one could engage in countermeasures by cloning big, fierce, poodle-eating hell mastiffs, so it could end up being a self-compensating system.
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Feb 21 2008

Missile Defense

Given the U.S.’s recent successful shootdown of its own satellite, some people have suggested I post a piece I circulated a little while back on a private list. So, here it is, with an addendum.

As a parent of young children, I have developed a low-cost solution to the nation’s ballistic missile defense needs: Three-year-olds!

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Feb 18 2008

Amidst The Post-Valentine’s Day Rubble, I Issue A Call To All Men

Published by under Relationships,Science

I’m a romantic guy, so I torture monkeys.

Now, stay with me here! It all connects up.

See, there’s an oft-repeated story about an experiment in the creation of cultural taboos and traditions involving putting a bunch of monkeys in a room together with a ladder and a banana hanging from the ceiling at the top of the ladder.

Whenever a monkey tries to climb the ladder to get the banana, all the monkeys are sprayed with blasts of cold water. The monkeys quickly learn to Avoid The Banana, and none of the original group tries to venture up the ladder after the group has been sprayed a few times.

So far this is your standard-issue animal torture. But this experiment gets interesting when you start replacing the original monkeys with new monkeys. When the first new monkey makes a move toward The Forbidden Banana, all the original monkeys with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Spraying Disorder) immediately kick the crap out of him. And if you’ve never had to fend off an attacking monkey, let me tell you, even just one monkey can administer a serious whuppin’.

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Feb 13 2008

The Perfect Valentine’s Day Gift – Guaranteed To Resonate with Your Love

Because relentless Valentine’s Day advertising by DeBeers (subtle hidden message to him: “if you buy her a diamond, she’ll sleep with you!”; subtle hidden message to her: “if he doesn’t buy you a diamond, you shouldn’t sleep with him!”) doesn’t make people insecure enough this time of year, now comes the Wall Street Journal to report that, through advanced brain imaging technology, it is now possible to scientifically confirm the existence of true, unending love.

This immediately eliminates the comfortable illusion clung to by much of the populace that people who claim they still feel like teenagers towards each other are either 1) mentally deranged or 2) lying through their teeth. It’s about as cruel as scientifically proving that billionaires really are ecstatically happy, leading deeply fulfilling lives, and regarding less-wealthy people as substantially inferior to themselves, rather than, say, walking around with fake smiles while they’re screaming inside.
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