December 2007

Science Art: Five of Spades, from Playing Cards: Engineering


This is one of a whole deck of… well, they’re practically a technological tarot, really. They’re playing cards illustrating concepts in engineering. (The two of diamonds is also beautiful, though some might prefer the human figures in cards like the seven of clubs.)

They were originally collected by William Barclay Parsons, the chief engineer of the New York City subway. He was on the library board from 1911 to 1932, when he died. More importantly, he also donated a set of mechanics pla…

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Science Art: Red White Blood Cells, by NCI-Frederick.


The one carries oxygen around, the other keeps the system clean. They’re teeny tiny.

Image from the Electron Microscopy Facility at The National Cancer Institute at Frederick (NCI-Frederick).

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SONG: Levitating Diamonds (Tiny Impossible Things)

SONG: “Levitating Diamonds (Tiny Impossible Things)”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE:Based on “Lasers used to levitate glowing nanodiamonds in a vacuum”, Science Daily, 7 Sep 2015, as used in the post “A laser levitating glowing nanodiamonds in a vacuum..”

ABSTRACT: I really wanted to use “A laser levitating nanodiamonds in a vacuum” as a lyric, because it’s got such a great rhythm, but no, it didn’t happen.

Musically, things fell together well – I came up with chords on a guitar, and t…

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SONG: One (is the Loneliest Number) (penitential cover)

SONG: “One (Is The Loneliest Number)”.

ARTIST: grant, featuring Sebastian Balfour. (Originally by Harry Nilsson.)

SOURCE: It doesn’t have a research source. It’s a penitential cover of a haunting song by Harry Nilsson that Three Dog Night turned into a prog anthem, which Aimee Mann turned into stunning reclamation project. Nilsson still wins.

ABSTRACT: I’ve been a penitential cover* behind for months and months. I first had the idea of doing this song in something like this way …

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Science Art: To Scale: The Solar System by Wylie Overstreet.

To Scale: The Solar System from Wylie Overstreet on Vimeo.

I like the desert in Nevada already because of the sense of perspective – such wide, flat spaces (wider and flatter even than Florida’s water-level wet prairies), sometimes flanked by mountains just big enough to provide a frame of reference. This is how small you are. This is how far you have to go.

That’s the ideal landscape for this kind of project. How big are we really? How far away is the place next door?

This far away. …

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Science Art: Aequorea Forbesiana by Philip Henry Gosse.

Click to embiggen

This is a jellyfish drawn by Philip Henry Gosse, a naturalist and Creationist (!) who gave us the word “aquarium” as a place to see marine creatures. Before Gosse, an aquarium was a place to water cattle.

He built the very first public one as the “Fish House” of the London Zoo in 1853.

A few years later, he published a book trying to prove that fossils couldn’t disprove Genesis because of course the act of creation would make things appear to be older than they are. …

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SONG: First Man in Space (penitential cover version)

31 December 2007 // 0 Comments

SONG: “First Man in Space” (cover) [Download] (To download: right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant. Originally by Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp) and Phil Oakey (of the Human League). SOURCE: Well, it’s a penitential cover version. I was late with a song last month, and this is my penance. It doesn’t have a scientific source per se, although this fellow does make a guest performance on percussion at the 3:06 mark. ABSTRACT: There are no guitars – no plucked or strummed strings, in fact – on this song. Nor are there any keyboards. You hear Brennan Delaney playing cello, you hear me singing and playing the sheng (hooray for Christmas! hooray for eBay!), you hear the above mentioned percussionist, and you hear a few drum loops from the mid-90s release of Acid. It is a song about space. I first heard it, as far as I know, on a very good mix CD I got earlier […]

Sorry, our comet is missing.

30 December 2007 // 0 Comments

Astronomers at the University of Hawaii recently had to make a strange correction to the Deep Impact mission. The ship, which thrilled scientists in 2005 by successfully firing a metal probe into the nucleus of a comet, was slated to do it all again with a new target in 2008 – but, well, um, the target has vanished: The decision was made after an international consortium of astronomers led by the University of Hawaii’s Dr. Karen Meech, a co-investigator on the mission, announced that the first-choice target, called comet 85P/Boethin, has apparently disappeared. “We were confident we could find the comet, and we were astonished when it wasn’t there,” said Meech. Comet Boethin had been selected as a target because its orbit takes it to a region of the solar system that the Deep Impact spacecraft could have been directed to in 2008. Boethin has an 11.8-year orbit, but can be seen from Earth only […]

Cell phone gourmand.

29 December 2007 // 0 Comments

New Scientist unveils yet another thing Nokia is designing cell phones to do – read the menu for you: Snap a picture of, say, a dessert menu and the phone will recognise the characters and translate the words within a few seconds ( The prototype shown to New Scientist can translate 9000 Chinese and 600 Japanese food-related words into English, with more language versions to follow. So no more ordering fried noodles and getting cold buffalo penis, then.

Burning coal creates nuclear waste.

28 December 2007 // 0 Comments

Scientific American reports on a series of studies that mess with our sense of common sense. Nuclear power plants should be creating nuclear waste, and coal plants should be creating smog, right? Wrong. Nuclear plants do create nuclear waste, but not nearly as much as coal-burning plants do: Among the surprising conclusions: the waste produced by coal plants is actually more radioactive than that generated by their nuclear counterparts. In fact, fly ash—a by-product from burning coal for power—contains up to 100 times more radiation than nuclear waste. At issue is coal’s content of uranium and thorium, both radioactive elements. They occur in such trace amounts in natural, or “whole,” coal that they aren’t a problem. But when coal is burned into fly ash, uranium and thorium are concentrated at up to 10 times their original levels.

Songs for Giant Isopods

27 December 2007 // 0 Comments

[n.b.: Subsequent to writing this post, I wound up writing a song about isopods myself. I think it’s one of my better ones; check it out for yourself.] I swear I didn’t know about this project while writing my goofy song about Jaekelopterus. But yes, another marine arthropod – a “deep-sea woodlouse larger than many dogs” – has inspired a new album: An as-yet-unspecified charity will benefit from the sale of the ‘Songs About Giant Isopod’ album. Giant isopods themselves probably don’t need much help – they’re believed to be widely distributed across ocean floors. The album is actually called Bathonymous Go: A Tribute to the Giant Isopod, and has been mentioned on a few different science blogs. Some of the songs are on the MySpace Page for “The Giant Isopods”, and you can track the album’s progress at Drowned in Sound.

Burning Man’s Gift: Solar Cities.

26 December 2007 // 0 Comments

The Burning Man festival is a bit of a hassle for folks in rural Nevada, who once a year get overrun by thousands of freaks, punks, hippies and ravers, clogging up the streets and doing who knows what at all hours of the night out in what’s usually the pristine, solitary wastes of the Black Rock desert. But now, as CNET News reports, the Burners are giving something back – free electricity. The idea behind Black Rock Solar is to find worthy recipients for whom to donate fully installed solar arrays that can then provide a source of free power for years to come. Black Rock Solar is partnering with MMA Renewable Ventures and Nevada utility company Sierra Pacific Power to provide the labor, expertise, and equipment necessary to get the solar arrays on line. … Already, Black Rock has installed a 30-kilowatt array at a hospital in Lovelock, Nev. Now a Gerlach school–a side-by-side […]

Henry Gray, Human ovum examined fresh in the liquor folliculi.

25 December 2007 // 0 Comments

A drawing of a human egg cell, from Gray’s Anatomy (the book, not the TV show). From its description quoted on Wikipedia: Human ovum examined fresh in the liquor folliculi. (Waldeyer.) The zona pellucida is seen as a thick clear girdle surrounded by the cells of the corona radiata. The egg itself shows a central granular deutoplasmic area and a peripheral clear layer, and encloses the germinal vesicle, in which is seen the germinal spot. Happy nativity.

SONG: Jaekelopterus!

23 December 2007 // 1 Comment

SONG: “Jaekelopterus!” [Download] (To download: right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant. Dui, shi wo. (Oui, c’est moi.) SOURCE: ““Giant Claw Points to Monster Sea Scorpion”, New Scientist, 21 Nov 07, as mentioned in the post “BIG Bug,” 28 Nov 2007. ABSTRACT: I suppose that if you were to tell people, “Hey, I’m putting together a website! It’s going to be all songs about SCIENCE!” then this is exactly the kind of thing they would expect to hear. It’s a skiffle-ish song with a ukulele and improvised percussion about the largest arthropod ever introducing itself to you and your friends and going out for Chinese food. There it is. I read about that huge freakin’ creature and thought, “Dude! Children’s song!” or something like that. And now, I find myself humming the chorus in the shower. Now to see if I can get this second, penitentiary song up before the month’s end….

Science Art: The Helix Nebula

23 December 2007 // 0 Comments

At the very center of this giant, staring eye is a white dwarf star. It’s located about 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius. The image was taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope infrared array camera. You can read more about it here.

The Pale Blue Dot

22 December 2007 // 0 Comments

Found via Barbelith. More on the film is available at Good Yule, fellow dot-fractions. Stay warm during this longest night.

Raising Stonehenge: The Power of Pebbles & Sticks.

21 December 2007 // 0 Comments

This is my favorite kind of science – a guy figuring out things in his back yard. Retired construction worker W.T. “Wally” Wallington thinks he’s discovered the secret of Stonehenge by coming up with a technique to move multi-ton stone blocks using sticks, pebbles and gravity. You can read more about his mechanical experiments at Chances are, this is the same way Ed Leedskalnin built Coral Castle – once you see it in action, it’s an amazingly simple and powerful set of techniques.

Power from space.

20 December 2007 // 0 Comments

It’s nice to see this idea is still being kicked around – and taken more seriously now that oil prices are rising so dramatically. It wouldn’t take that much, the folks at and the National Security Space Office are saying, to get all the electricity the planet needs using space-based solar cells: One of the biggest technical challenges of the plan is in launching the satellite, which would have a mass of about 3,000 tons-more than 10 times that of the International Space Station. Such a feat would require the development of lower-cost space launches. Today the United States initiates less than 15 launches per year. Construction of a single SBSP satellite alone would require in excess of 120 such launches. “SBSP cannot be constructed without safe, frequent (daily/weekly), cheap, and reliable access to space and ubiquitous in-space operations,” the report states. “By lowering the cost to orbit so substantially, and by providing safe […]

One word: Plastics.

19 December 2007 // 1 Comment

PopSci reports on why one man thinks the petroleum industry wants him dead. Frank Pringle has figured out a way to turn plastics back into oil and natural gas: Petroleum is composed of strings of hydrocarbon molecules. When microwaves hit the tire, they crack the molecular chains and break it into its component parts: carbon black (an ash-like raw material) and hydrocarbon gases, which can be burned or condensed into liquid fuel. Pringle figured that some gases from his microwaved tire had lingered, and the cold air in the shop had condensed them into diesel. If the process worked on tires, he thought, it should work on anything with hydrocarbons. The trick was in finding the optimum microwave frequency for each material—out of 10 million possibilities. 10 years later, he says he’s done it. He calls it “microwave gasification technology.” 20 pounds of used tires can produce 50 cubic feet of natural gas and 1.2 […]

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