March 2009

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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Jacket makes movies feelies.

31 March 2009 // 1 Comment

The IEEE (what used to be the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) reports in Spectrum about a strange new entertainment breakthrough that combines neurology, electronics and fashion. Scientists with Philips have designed a jacket that makes movies more moving… by moving: The jacket contains 64 independently controlled actuators distributed across the arms and torso….. “We want people to feel Bruce Lee’s anxiety about whether he will get out alive,” says the Philips researcher. The jacket, responding to signals encoded in the DVD or to a program designed to control the jacket on the fly, can do a host of things, such as “causing a shiver to go up the viewer’s spine and creating the feeling of tension in the limbs.” During the fight scene, says Lemmens, the jacket will even create a pulsing on the wearer’s chest to simulate the kung fu master’s elevated heartbeat. You can read more about the haptics jacket and […]

Moon Flowers.

29 March 2009 // 0 Comments

Peggy Lee, Santana and Hugh Lofting all predicted, in their own ways, what MSNBC’s Cosmic Log is reporting as news… about Paragon Space Development Corp’s ambitious plan to grow flowers on the moon: Paragon’s “Lunar Oasis” would piggyback on a lunar lander currently being developed by Odyssey Moon to vie for a share of the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize. Details of the partnership are to be publicized Friday during a news conference at Paragon’s headquarters in Tucson, Ariz. To win the prize, Odyssey Moon would have to get its lander/rover craft on the moon’s surface by the end of 2014. Paragon is working with Odyssey Moon on the lander design and its thermal control system as well as the mini-greenhouse. That’s engineering as poetry.

We’re not doing science right.

27 March 2009 // 1 Comment

As if we needed someone to tell us about it, Science Daily informs us Americans that we’re failing at basic scientific literacy: Despite its importance to economic growth, environmental protection, and global health and energy issues, scientific literacy is currently low among American adults. According to the national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences: Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun. Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time. Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth’s surface that is covered with water.* Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly. (* The approximately correct answer range for this question was defined as anything between 65% and 75%. Only 15% of respondents answered this question with the exactly correct answer of 70%.) Knowledge about some key scientific issues […]

Hurdia victoria: SHRIMPZILLA!

24 March 2009 // 0 Comments

PhysOrg once again brings prehistoric monsters to life: Although the first fragments were described nearly one hundred years ago, they were assumed to be part of a crustacean-like animal. It was not then realised that other parts of the animal were also in collections, but had been described independently as jellyfish, sea cucumbers and other arthropods. …The last piece of the puzzle was found when the best-preserved specimen turned up in the old collections at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC. This specimen was first classified as an arthropod in the 1970s and 80s, and then as an unusual specimen of the famous monster predator Anomalocaris. The new description of Hurdia shows that it is indeed related to Anomalocaris. Like Anomalocaris, Hurdia had a segmented body with a head bearing a pair of spinous claws and a circular jaw structure with many teeth. But it differs from Anomalocaris by the possession of […]

SONG: Visibility

23 March 2009 // 0 Comments

SONG: “Visibility” [Download] (To download: double right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant. SOURCE: “Strange fish has a see-through head”, MSNBC/LiveScience, 23 Feb 2009, as used in the post “Barreleye, I can see inside your head.” ABSTRACT: This is a song in the form of a conversation between the Barreleye (Macropinna microstoma, the narrator) and Robin (either Triglidae or Turdus migratorius – it’s ambiguous, although the habitat lends itself to the former). Far be it from your humble guildmaster to compare the world of indie pop to the murky depths of the benthic (or bathypelagic) marine environment, but once the idea asserted itself, it was hard to shake. Plus, I promised a third kind of Robin, an indefatigable online booster and social networking maven found here, that I’d write a song for her. Because she deserves songs. Often, when it comes to self-promotion, I feel like the barreleye must feel around other fish. I mean, sea […]

Electric cars still driving!

20 March 2009 // 0 Comments

The New York Times gives hope for a better drive home with a report on a new approach to electric cars… from the filling station up: We started from the infrastructure. We came up with an electric car that would have two features that nobody had before. 1) The battery is removable. So if you wanted to go a long distance, you could switch your battery instead of waiting for it to charge for a very long time. And 2) It was cheaper than gasoline car, not more expensive. Because you didn’t buy the battery. You paid just for the miles and for the car. Lateral thinking from Shai Agassi of Better Place.

Guild Salute: Jesse Nesbitt

19 March 2009 // 0 Comments

Creativity comes from limitations, yes? Jesse Nesbitt is writing and recording 100 songs in 2009. These are not particularly scientific, but this is certainly a good example of doing things on a schedule and getting them done. Luckily, he sounds like all the best bits of The Posies and, sometimes Iron & Wine. Picks thus far: December 24 – “I Was Not Prepared For War,” January 5 – “Tree Stars” and February 15 – “Anonymity.” With many more to come! Jesse Nesbitt, the Guild salutes you!


19 March 2009 // 0 Comments

New Scientist introduces our latest underwater overlords – or at least the blueprints for one – in a story about Italian researchers who’re designing the world’s first robot octopus: The trouble with today’s remote-controlled subs, says Cecilia Laschi of the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa, is that their large hulls and clunky robot arms cannot reach into the nooks and crannies of coral reefs or the rock formations on ocean floors. … “So we are replicating the muscular structure of an octopus by making a robot with no rigid structure – and that is completely new to robotics,” she says. … The team plans to mimic the longitudinal muscles with soft silicone rubber interspersed with a type of electroactive polymer (EAP) called a dielectric elastomer. Apply an electric field to this material and it squeezes the silicone, making it shorter. Video at the link.

The view from there.

19 March 2009 // 0 Comments

Item 1: The Telegraph reports on a group of teenagers who used a <$100 camera and a balloon to take some great pictures of space: Gerard Marull, 18, said: “We were overwhelmed at our results, especially the photographs, to send our handmade craft to the edge of space is incredible.” Completing their landmark experiment on February, the Meteotek team [of IES La Bisbal school in Catalonia, Spain] had to account for a wide variety of variables and rely on a lot of luck. “The balloon we chose was inflated with helium to just over two metres and weighed just 1500 grams,” said Gerard. “It was able to carry the sensor equipment and digital Nikon camera which weighed 1.5kg. … “We took readings as the balloon rose and mapped its progress using Google Earth and the onboard radio receiver,” said Gerard. “At over 100,000ft the balloon lost its inflation and the equipment was returned to the […]

Guitarists’ brains click together.

18 March 2009 // 0 Comments

ScientificBlogging covers some fun experiments that involve hooking musicians up to EEG machines, letting them rock out together and watching their brainwaves fall into the same pattern: The research details how EEG readouts from pairs of guitarists become more synchronized, a finding with wider potential implications for how our brains interact when we do. Ulman Lindenberger, Viktor Müller, and Shu-Chen Li from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin along with Walter Gruber from the University of Salzburg used electroencephalography (EEG) to record the brain electrical activity in eight pairs of guitarists. … “Our findings show that interpersonally coordinated actions are preceded and accompanied by between-brain oscillatory couplings,” says Ulman Lindenberger. Between-Brain Oscillatory Couplings? Duuuude.

Feeling contaminated? Plastic pipes trump glass bottles.

17 March 2009 // 0 Comments

Think your bottled water is all safe from fake estrogen contamination because you’ve switched to glass bottles? ScienceNews wants you to think again: …[T]heir data indicate that the mineral water dispensed in some glass bottles may also contain such hormonelike pollution — and not because it leached out of the glass. …Several scientists now suspect one source might be the plumbing used to move water from natural reservoirs to — and/or through — processing equipment in a bottling plant. Polyvinyl chloride tubing, for instance, is widely used by industry. So if mineral water were pumped through PVC piping it could pick up bisphenol-A, organotin and phthalates — “because [PVC] is a source of all those,” notes Shanna Swan, an environmental epidemiologist at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Google Mars gets better.

16 March 2009 // 0 Comments

Discover’s Bad Astronomy blog highlights some keen new ways to look at the Red Planet: One is an overlay that shows old historical maps, like the ones Percival Lowell made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when he fancied Mars was crisscrossed with canals dug by a dying race…. … The third feature is canned guided tours: you open them and get a tour of Mars narrated by Ira Flatow from NPR and Bill Nye (whom I hear is some sort of Science Guy). For just a second, my brain misfired and I thought Google had gotten NPR’s other Ira to narrate, which would really be kind of brilliant. I can almost hear the Daniel Lanois/Brian Eno soundtrack as he describes the yawning gulf of Noctis Labyrinthus and how it reminds him of, say, a Chinese takeout place next door to Wrigley Field. Google? Are you listening?

Science Art: Northern Snakehead – Channa argus

15 March 2009 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen, if you dare A striking image of an invasive exotic species (native to China, Russia and Korea) that was introduced into continental North America, where local fish populations learned a new meaning of “fear.” Photo from The US Geological Survey. The USGS also has a much more appealing illustration painted by Susan Trammell: But I’m not sure that beautiful painting quite tells the story like the close-up.

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