Earthquakes of the 20th Century


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has this excellent visualization of the earthquakes recorded between January 1, 1901 and Decemeber 31, 2000. Each earthquake is shown as a circle, where the size indicates the strength and the color indicates the depth. Interesting, how most of these make up lines, showing the tectonic plate borders.

Researchers Show Parachutes Don’t Work, But There’s A Catch

Slashdot is running a story, which is both insightful and hilarious:

Research published in a major medical journal concludes that a parachute is no more effective than an empty backpack at protecting you from harm if you have to jump from an aircraft. But before you leap to any rash conclusions, you had better hear the whole story. The gold standard for medical research is a study that randomly assigns volunteers to try an intervention or to go without one and be part of a control group. For some reason, nobody has ever done a randomized controlled trial of parachutes. In fact, medical researchers often use the parachute example when they argue they don’t need to do a study because they’re so sure they already know something works. Cardiologist Robert Yeh, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and attending physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, got a wicked idea one day. He and his colleagues would actually attempt the parachute study to make a few choice points about the potential pitfalls of research shortcuts. 

They started by talking to their seatmates on airliners. […] In all, 23 people agreed to be randomly given either a backpack or a parachute and then to jump from a biplane on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts or from a helicopter in Michigan. Relying on two locations and only two kinds of aircraft gave the researchers quite a skewed sample. But this sort of problem crops up frequently in studies, which was part of the point Yeh and his team were trying to make. Still, photos taken during the experiment show the volunteers were only too happy to take part. The drop in the study was about 2 feet total, because the biplane and helicopter were parked. Nobody suffered any injuries. Surprise, surprise. So it’s technically true that parachutes offered no better protection for these jumpers than the backpacks.

Drunk People Are Better at Creative Problem Solving


Harward Business Review runs this article: “Drunk People Are Better at Creative Problem Solving“.  Here are a few quotes to get you started:

Tipsy subjects solved 13% to 20% more problems than sober subjects did.

 

Intoxicated subjects had more “Aha!” moments than their sober counterparts.

 

People under the influence submitted answers more quickly than people in the control group.

I rest my case, ladies and gentlemen.

Fungal Intelligence


With all the recent hype around artificial intelligence, this thing that I came across today is a breath of fresh air.  The subject is: fungal intelligence.  “WTF?”, I hear you ask.  Have a look at this tiny video:

Crazy, right?  Well, crazy enough to be found in this article at Nature.com.  And, how the heck did I end up there?  That’s the first link in the Google search results for “fungal intelligence”, which I had to look up after watching this video:

Fascinating stuff!

Science for fun – fun science topics and experiments


Science4fun is a website that helps make science more fun for kids.

Welcome to Science4Fun. It is the place for kids to learn science in a fun way. It has a wide variety of interesting science topics that are full of articles, and easy to do science experiments. All the content of the website is written in simple English with a lot of pictures to help you understand the concept easily.

With kids being a lot more video-oriented these days, I think this site is more helpful for parents, rather than the kids themselves.  But it’s a good effort, with a good selection of topics and experiments.  If you are looking for a way to have fun with kids while making it useful too, give it a try.

It’s Official: NASA’s Peer-Reviewed EM Drive Paper Has Finally Been Published


Science Alert has published these interesting news: It’s Official: NASA’s Peer-Reviewed EM Drive Paper Has Finally Been Published.

In case you’ve missed the hype, the EM Drive, or Electromagnetic Drive, is a propulsion system first proposed by British inventor Roger Shawyer back in 1999.

Instead of using heavy, inefficient rocket fuel, it bounces microwaves back and forth inside a cone-shaped metal cavity to generate thrust.

According to Shawyer’s calculations, the EM Drive could be so efficient that it could power us to Mars in just 70 days.

But, there’s a not-small problem with the system. It defies Newton’s third law, which states that everything must have an equal and opposite reaction.

According to the law, for a system to produce thrust, it has to push something out the other way. The EM Drive doesn’t do this.

This is a good reminder that we are far from knowing everything and there are inventions to be made, laws of nature discovered, and knowledge acquired.  Exciting!

Trust in Automation


Trust in Automation is by far the best thing I’ve read on the subjects of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and their affects on human society.  There are plenty of links and quotes that make you think and want you to learn more … until you don’t.  It’s not depressing, but it is quite concerning.  Here are a couple of quotes from the article (some of them are quotes of other people), which I liked:

As the cost of labor goes up and the cost of machinery goes down, at some point, it’ll be cheaper to use machines than people. With the increase in productivity, the GDP goes up, but so does unemployment. What do you do? … The best way is to reduce the time a certain portion of the population spends living, and then find ways to keep them busy.

—Jingfang Hao, Folding Beijing (2014)

Also this one:

If you think discrimination is bad today, just wait until the machines take over. They will discriminate based on the the shade of your iris, the shape of your brow, the size of a tatoo, or any arbitrary collection of low-level traits whose presence triggers a subtle bias.

Largest digital survey of the sky mapped billions of stars


Engadget reports:

An international team of astronomers have released two petabytes of data from the Pan-STARRS project that’s also known as the “world’s largest digital sky survey.” Two petabytes of data, according to the team, is equivalent to any of the following: a billion selfies, one hundred Wikipedias or 40 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with single-spaced text. The scientists spent four years observing three-fourths of the night sky through their 1.8 meter telescope at Haleakala Observatories on Maui, Hawaii, scanning three billion objects in the Milky Way 12 times in five different filters. Those objects included stars, galaxies, asteroids and other celestial bodies.

Wow … this is mind blowing at the very least …

See the image above? That’s the result of half a million 45-second exposures taken over four years. They’re releasing even more detailed images and data in 2017 — for now, you can check out what the team released to the public on the official Pan-STARRS website.