Free Thought

For nearly as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of Jeopardy! Indeed, if I'm at home at 7:30 PM on a weeknight, Jeopardy! will usually be on the television. Given that, I remember what was basically a bit of stunt programming in 2011, when Jeopardy! producers had IBM's artificial intelligence supercomputer Watson face off against two of the most winning champions in the history of the show, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Watson won, leading Jenning's to add to his Final Jeopardy answer, "I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords." Watson's next challenge was similarly highly hyped:…
“In the media age, everybody was famous for 15 minutes. In the Wikipedia age, everybody can be an expert in five minutes. Special bonus: You can edit your own entry to make yourself seem even smarter.” ―Stephen Colbert It's been another fun-and-fact-filled week here at Starts With A Bang! (And did you know I have a wikipedia page? I do! And most of the facts there are even correct!) I'm planning out the next edition of the Starts With A Bang podcast, which should cover the science that the James Webb Space Telescope will reveal starting in just over a year; yes, we're just 13 months from…
The 75th World Science Fiction Convention took place in Helsinki and seems to have had the second-highest attendance ever: more than 7000 people in the Messukeskus convention centre, 2000 of whom had (like myself) never attended a WorldCon before. There were 250 programme items only on the Friday between 10 am and 10 pm, so there is no way that I'll be able to tell you everything that went on. (Check out the programme here.) Instead I'll tell you the bits I enjoyed the most, plus some observations. The WorldCon crowd was incredibly diverse even if you disregarded the cosplayers. Men and women…
Some flaw in the over-eager Sb security, or more likely an intermediate layer, locked me out over the weekend, so my apologies for any delayed approvals and so on. One of which was to a reference to Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States by Solomon Hsiang et al., Science 30 Jun 2017, Vol. 356, Issue 6345, pp. 1362-1369, DOI: 10.1126/science.aal4369. Which says: Estimates of climate change damage are central to the design of climate policies. Here, we develop a flexible architecture for computing damages that integrates climate science, econometric analyses, and…
“The ability to listen and learn is key to mastering the art of communication. If you don't use your verbal skills and networking, it will disappear rapidly.” -Rick Pitino It’s been a week full of amazing and controversial stories about the Universe here at Starts With A Bang! Did you catch the fantastic live event on Wednesday at Peddler Brewing Company in Seattle: Astronomy on Tap, starring me and the incredible Sarah Tuttle? If not, you can catch it now! If you're in a multimedia mood, you're in luck, because the newest (and twentieth!) Starts With A Bang podcast is now live: on the Fate…
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” -Theodore Roosevelt It's been an incredible week here at Starts With A Bang! We've covered everything from the night sky's newest supernova to the possible fates of the Universe to what might be our window into the next unexplored mysteries of physics. Moreover, I'll be giving a public talk in Seattle this Wednesday, May 24th, for Astronomy On Tap, at Peddler Brewing Company! Join me if you can, and I promise you'll be left with plenty to wonder about! With that out of the way,…
It's the first week of May, which means we're due to see flowers watered by all this damn rain soon, and also a recap of the various posts I wrote for Forbes during April: -- Why Are There Too Many Papers In Theoretical Physics?: A look at the origins of "ambulance chasing" in high-energy theory, where dozens of people jump on the slightest hint of a new effect. -- A Little Luck Is Essential For Success In Science: Some historical examples of physicists who succeeded thanks to a lucky break of one sort or another. -- What Sorts Of Problems Are Quantum Computers Good For? Prompted by news of a…
[Orac note: A combination of power outages, travel to Seattle, and trying to write something for my not-so-super-secret other blog conspired to leave me with nothing for this morning. So I thought I'd resurrect this old gem, which hasn't been reposted in at least four years. I actually did try to remove the dead links (this post dates back nearly 12 years in some form or another), but I probably missed a couple. I also changed the post a little, just to remove clearly outdated stuff. In the mean time, be assured that, with no more travel planned and our power restored, things should get back…
“A theory is a supposition which we hope to be true, a hypothesis is a supposition which we expect to be useful; fictions belong to the realm of art; if made to intrude elsewhere, they become either make-believes or mistakes.” -G. Johnstone Stoney It's been another exciting week here at Starts With A Bang! This coming Thursday, I'll be speaking at Jacksonville University in Florida; if you're around that area come and say hello! Before we get any further, I'm pleased to announce that thanks to two very generous new Patreon donations from Ryan Schultz and Samir Kumar (shout-out!), we've now…
This is not a time to be distracted, to turn away from politics, to eschew activism. In fact, if you are an American Citizen, you have to look back at your life and recognize that you screwed up, in two ways. First, whatever time you spent agitating and activating and acting out, turns out, was not enough. You needed to spend something like 10% more time on that. Second, whatever decisions you made as to exactly what sort of activism you would do on a given day were likely flawed. Instead of yammering about Bernie after the primary you should have been going after Trump. At the beginning of…
The Makeblock mBot Add-on Pack-Six-legged Robot V1.1 is an add on for the Makeblock DIY mBot 1.1 Kit (Bluetooth Version) - STEM Education - Arduino - Scratch 2.0 - Programmable Robot Kit for Kids to Learn Coding & Robotics - Pink or any of its variants. The makeblock robot is an arduino technology robot. It can be controlled with a supplied controller, or operated from any of several different kinds of computing devices (such as your cell phone) using an app. It can be programmed using the Arduino interface (from a Mac, Windows or Linux computer), but the robot comes with built in…
“A thing may be of deeper impossibility than another, in the sense that you can be more deeply underwater--but whether you are five feet or five fathoms from the surface you are still all wet.” -Brian McGreevy With everything going on in the world, it's always a wonderful reminder that here at Starts With A Bang! we're eternally focused on the cosmic story of what we know and how we know it. Regardless of what direction you want to push society, increasing our knowledge and understanding ought to be one thing we all agree on. This past week, here's a look back at what we've covered: What's so…
On Pharyngula, PZ Myers examines the work of Yoshinori Ohsumi, who was awarded the prize in Physiology for his studies of autophagy in yeast. Autophagy, or self-consumption, is a strategy used by all cells to recycle malfunctioning bits of themselves, or to survive during times of starvation. But autophagy is also involved in cancer metastasis and may play a role in other diseases such as Parkinson's. Meanwhile, the Nobel prize in Physics did not go to LIGO and the observation of gravitational waves as widely expected. Instead it was divided between three individuals for "theoretical…
"'Topology is destiny,' he said, and put the drawers on. One leg at a time." -Neal Stephenson If you want to understand the Universe, there are two big areas you need to know: Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which governs the gravitational force and the curvature of spacetime, and quantum physics, which governs all the particles, the states of matter and every non-gravitational interaction ever. While many were expecting the Nobel Prize to go to the LIGO collaboration for the groundbreaking first direct detection of gravitational waves, there are a slew of quantum discoveries that…
If there’s one thing that irritates me more than government agencies making bold proclamations about making progress in cancer but not providing sufficient funding to have even a shot of realizing such ambitions (I’m talking to you, Cancer Moonshot), it’s people in other disciplines that are not cancer biology making bold proclamations about how they’re going to “solve” cancer or coming up with new “theories” to explain cancer. That’s not to say that cancer research can’t benefit from new perspectives from different sciences and disciplines can bring or new ways of thinking about the problem…
I've been testing out the Teclast Tbook 16 Pro 2 in 1 Tablet PC. I think the emerging term for this kind of device is "2 in 1" because if configured one way it is a small notebook computer, configured the other way, it is a standard tablet. First, a bit of philosophy. When Apple and others invented the iPod Touch and various Smart Phones, it seemed obvious that a larger version of such a device might be helpful. So they went ahead and invented tablets. And tablets are cool. But, as often happens in technology, extreme coolness came to stand in for "the next big thing" in all applications.…
“Even though the future seems far away, it is actually beginning right now.” -Mattie Stepanek After another tremendous week here at Starts With A Bang, including one where I recorded a new podcast (look for it later this week on SoundCloud), it's time to take a look back and review all that we've been through. From last Saturday through the past Friday, here's what we saw: Are there different types of time and space? (for Ask Ethan), Deepest view of the Orion nebula reveals shocking discoveries (for Mostly Mute Monday), Forty years ago, we landed on Mars... and found life?, Apollo 11's…
“All sins have their origin in a sense of inferiority otherwise called ambition.” -Cesare Pavese We're halfway through the year at Starts With A Bang, but it feels like the greatest things are just getting started! For one, enjoy our newest podcast: on Interstellar Travel, highlighted by an interview with Larry Niven last month at Balticon 50! As always, we've had a fantastic week leading up to right now. If you didn't catch it all, here's what you missed: Does Earth really have a second Moon? (for Ask Ethan), NASA's New Horizons views first distant Kuiper belt object beyond Pluto (for…
This is one of four related posts: Should You Install Ubuntu Linux?Installing Ubuntu 16.04 LTSHow to use Ubuntu UnityThings To Do After Installing Ubuntu 16.04 LTS Some Linux/Ubuntu related books:Ubuntu Unleashed 2016 Edition: Covering 15.10 and 16.04 (11th Edition)Ubuntu 16.04 LTS Desktop: Applications and AdministrationThe Linux Command Line: A Complete Introduction Why you should install Linux Linux is an operating system, as are Windows and Apple’s OSX. It is the operating system that is used on the majority of computing devices. Linux is the basis for the Android operating system, so if…
Certain things that come across one’s desktop, on the internet, are hard to turn away from. Train wrecks, for example. For me, this list includes commentary about grammatical errors and proper language use. I find this sort of discussion interesting because I’m an anthropologist, and probably also because I’ve spend a lot of time 100% immersed in a language or two other than my native English. This training and this experience each make me think about how we make meaning linguistically. Also, as a parent, I have observed how a child goes through the process of first, and quickly, learning how…