Categories
article economics psychology

Cocksure

Malcolm Gladwell’s new article, Cocksure, is about the psychology of overconfidence. In it he postulates that the brashness of experts caused the current financial crisis.

Since the beginning of the financial crisis, there have been two principal explanations for why so many banks made such disastrous decisions. The first is structural. Regulators did not regulate. Institutions failed to function as they should. Rules and guidelines were either inadequate or ignored. The second explanation is that Wall Street was incompetent, that the traders and investors didn’t know enough, that they made extravagant bets without understanding the consequences. But the first wave of postmortems on the crash suggests a third possibility: that the roots of Wall Street’s crisis were not structural or cognitive so much as they were psychological.

Categories
biology

The All Important Tail

Biologist Robert Full explains how bio-mimicry not only teaches us how to make better robots but also helps us to better understand the world around us. Case in point, while investigating how to replicate gecko feet and in turn to make a gecko robot, Full’s team discovered that the machine didn’t operate well without a tail. When his team asked Full what was the purpose of the gecko’s tail, to his surprise, he wasn’t quite sure, so he set out to investigate. He discovered an entire universe of surprises, which he describes in this TED talk.

Categories
friends physics Science

Herschel Launch

An Ariane 5 rocket launched two scientific space observatories, Herschel and Planck, at 13:12 GMT this morning that will help scientists better understand the formation of the universe.

The launch took the better part of 30 minutes from ignition to spin-up and separation of the Planck and Herschel.

The launch:


[Herschel and Planck Launch – YouTube]

My physicist friend Richard Querel works with the group that built SPIRE, an infrared imaging camera and low-resolution spectrometer that was aboard the Herschel. He tells me the instruments will be sensitive down to picojoules, which is the equivalent to the energy emitted by one living cell, or to a dim star, very far away.

It’ll take 3 months for them to get to their orbit, but they’ll likely start collecting science validation data immediately.

Herschel has the largest mirror of any space telescope now in orbit. Its 3.5 metre diameter primary mirror is one-and-a-half-times the size of the Hubble Telescope’s main reflector.

From the Herschel Space Observatory entry on Wikipedia:

The mission, formerly titled the Far Infrared and Sub-millimetre Telescope (FIRST), will be the first space observatory to cover the full far infrared and submillimetre waveband. At 3.5 meters wide, its telescope will incorporate the largest mirror ever deployed in space. The light will be focused onto three instruments with detectors kept at temperatures below 2 K. The instruments will be cooled with liquid helium, boiling away in a near vacuum at a temperature of approximately 1.4 K. The 2,000 litres of helium on board the satellite will limit its operational lifetime. The satellite is expected to be operational for at least 3 years.

Categories
entertainment Science

Mythbusters- Lego Ball Myth HD

A group of friends in San Fransico built a giant ball of lego, dressed one of the friends up as Indiana Jones and then had him run from the ball. “Fun times”.

The original Lego Ball video:


[Giant LEGO Boulder – YouTube]

On a recent episode of Mythbusters, the gang decided to find out if such a ball can actually be created:


[Mythbusters- Lego Ball Myth – YouTube]

Categories
Science

White blood cell chasing a bacterium

Neutrophil granulocytes, generally referred to as neutrophils, are the most abundant type of white blood cells in humans and form an essential part of the immune system. Watch as this crawling Neutrophil chases down a bacterium in this short video from the 1950s.


[Crawling Neutrophil Chasing a Bacterium – YouTube]

How does it know how to track things? It’s amazing to think this kind of activity is happening inside our bodies all the time.

Categories
Science

Cold Fusion Hot Again

60 Minutes is reporting that Cold Fusion is gaining traction and may soon be vindicated. I’m a skeptic but I want to believe.

When first presented in 1989 cold fusion was quickly dismissed as junk science. But, as Scott Pelley reports, there’s renewed buzz among scientists that cold fusion could lead to monumental breakthroughs in energy production.

60 Minutes – Cold Fusion Hot Again

Categories
Art Science

Time Traveller’s Cheat Sheet

Time Traveller's Cheat SheetImagine you’ve gone back in time, but you’re hankering for a few of the amenities you’ve grown accustomed to living in the 21st century. Hopefully you remembered to bring your Time Traveler’s Cheat Sheet, a handy guide to inventing some of life’s essentials.

A moving electric field produces magnetism, and vice versa, wrap copper wire around an iron core and run electricity through it, and you’ve got an electromagnet. Don’t have any electricity? Put a magnet on a water wheel, and put your copper-wrapped iron beside the wheel, and hey presto, you’re converting mechanical energy into electricity.

Categories
Music Science

Bicycle Built for 2000

In 1962, the IBM 704 became the first computer to sing. The song was Daisy Bell. John Kelly and Carol Lockbaum programmed the vocals and the accompaniment was programmed by Max Mathews. This performance was the inspiration for the famous scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey in which the HAL 9000 computer sings the song as it is deactivated.

In 2009, the song has been recreated using 2000 clips of human voices collected via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Workers were asked to listen to a short clip of the 1962 recording and then prompted to repeat the sound as best they could.

See the Bicycle Built for 2000 project page for an interactive look at each sound clip.

Categories
documentary psychology

Married to the Eiffel Tower

Married to the Eiffel tower is a BBC documentary about objectophilia, a pronounced sexual desire toward particular inanimate objects.

Erika La Tour Eiffel, like Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer – the woman who married the Berlin Wall, is an “objectum sexual”, people who fall literally in love with buildings and objects. They have sex and relationships with them; their passion as ardent as any human relationship.

The documentary subjects discuss sexual fantasy with objects throughout the documentary so use your discretion. This is part 1 of 7.

Hit play or watch Married to the Eiffel Tower on Youtube.

Part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.

Categories
psychology

Why we think it’s OK to cheat and steal (sometimes)

Listen to Dan Ariely’s talk, presented in February 2009 at the TED conference, about his experiments in predictable irrationality. He explains how bugs in our moral code make us think it’s okay to cheat or steal sometimes but not others.