Sunday, May 27, 2007

Believe it or not, chewing gum is an important part of childhood development. Without the occasional chewing gum workout, a child's jaw would not be strong enough to chew any but the softest of foods. This explains why the Amish must boil everything they eat.

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The Secret Songs of Insects

Friday, May 25, 2007

Most of us are familiar with the gentle chirping of crickets, or the droning of cicadas, but unfortunately most insects are too quiet for humans to hear. We can sharpen our senses with ultrasonic technology and digital manipulation, but these solutions are a little too pricey for the average joe. Instead, let's look to science for the answer.
An insect's mandibles (the part that makes noise) are made largely of copper. This means that any noise that an insect makes will be combined with the harmonic frequency of copper forming a "resonant image". These harmonic frequencies also serve to mask the insect's sound from human ears - a bug "cloaking" device. In order to remove the masking portion from the sound, we must remove the copper-harmonic components.
The easiest method for removing masking components is called bi-resonant cascading. The concept is simple: by collecting sound through a piece of copper (a penny), and transmitting it through a short length of thread to another piece of copper attached to a microphone, we can remove almost all the copper harmonics. Rather than messing around with spectral analysis and digital superconvolution, we let physics filter the sound for us.

How to set up your own insect recording studio:

Watch Video

Materials: 2 pennies, scotch tape, short length of thread, microphone, container.
I recommend using a glass, as shown in the video, as it tends to focus all of the sound inward toward the penny.

These are a few of the most breathtaking insect songs I've recorded:

Boll WeevilPillbug Earthworm

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A Cruel Tool

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A few days ago, in my discussion of the origin of scissors, I criticized the pair of pliers, invented by Benjamin Franklin, because they were invented not out of innovation, but so that Franklin could liquidate his massive stockpile of individual pliers.
An astute reader points out that the pair of pliers, or Franklin Levers, did in fact offer a considerable improvement in the field of dentistry. But that's not the whole story. While Franklin's pliers were a step forward from the "poke and dig" strategy commonly used at the time, they were introduced several years after the Jefferson Painless Extractors - a decidedly more elegant solution. Unfortunately Jefferson's product was unable to withstand the shear brute force of Franklin's marketing juggernaut. A man who knew to pick his battles, Jefferson abandoned the project and moved on to other things.

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Put it on my bill

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

If you've ever seen a pelican hibernating during the cold winter months, you may wonder how those suckers can stay warm with so little body fat. The key lies in the birds' characteristic pouched bills.
After catching its last fish before bedding down for the winter, a pelican will fill its bill with water and retract its tongue into its throat, forming a plug. The fish remains alive in the pelican's bill until spring, sustaining its dormant avian captor with its nitrogenous waste.

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He's on the No-Fly List

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The statue we know today as "The Thinker" was originally a gargoyle built by the Moors to stand guard at their most holy temple in what is now Madrid, Spain. In 1453, Pope Adrian VI, who considered the statue a demonic effigy, had the gargoyle's wings knocked off and changed its name.

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Plier Plier Pants on Fire

Monday, May 21, 2007

In the early 18th century the scissor-and-plier was the tool of choice for both cutting and gripping - although it excelled at neither. It was not until 1721 that inventor Eli Muckleroy had the brilliant idea of combining a right-handed scissor with a left-handed one to create a new tool - the pair of scissors.
The considerably less useful pair of pliers was not invented until nearly 50 years later, when Benjamin Franklin acquired several warehouses full of unused single pliers. Always looking for a way to make a quick buck, Franklin assembled the surplus pliers into pairs and foisted them on the unsuspecting public.

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This could save you a fortune

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Well folks, the Clairvoyants and Fortune Tellers Act (CAFTA) goes into effect at the end of May, and not a moment too soon! Don't get me wrong, most psychics are great people who do an honest job, but every picnic is going to attract some ants. Just like a surgeon's scalpel, psychic abilities are dangerous if used irresponsibly, and an unscrupulous practitioner can do some serious damage.
Under the new act, all psychics must undergo government certification before using their abilities professionally. Brick-and-mortar establishments will be required to display their license prominently in their offices, while phone psychics must give their certification number during the first 30 seconds of a call. So remember: if you go to or call a psychic and they don't present their credentials, you are probably dealing with an illegal business and you should immediately leave or hang up the phone and contact the local police. It's a bad idea to confront the psychic directly; if they think you'll turn them in, they may abuse their faculties in desperation.

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Use a CD to make it Speedy

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

If you want to get a little more power out of your computer without spending an arm and a leg on new hardware, try this:
Whenever you finish using the computer for the day, rather than turning it off, insert a blank CD into the CD drive and leave the computer running. While you're gone, the blank CD will collect stray bits of data which are floating around on the machine, locking them within the tightly woven fabric of its bit-matrix. The next time you use the computer, simply throw the CD away - just like changing the filter on an air conditioner. Without all that junk clogging the ducts, you'll find your computer running smoother and faster.

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Zest is Best

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Next time you eat an orange, don't throw away the peel! That peel is rich in cyclamates, which will really beef up your endocrine system.

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A taste of his own medicine

Monday, May 14, 2007

One of the little things that always got in Benjamin Franklin's way was copyright law. Britain's Ministry of Contrivance and, later, America's own Office of Patent and Copyright, issued constant citations to Franklin, who had little patience for academic integrity. One thing which neither bureau could deny, however, was that as far as anyone could tell, Franklin's The Unsteady Colony (a largely forgotten 300 page account of the period from 1753 to 1759 when the Massachusetts Bay colony was caught in a power struggle between France and Britain) seemed to be his own work.
Ironically, that very composition itself fell prey to Franklin's specialty, plagiarism, over 200 years later. In 1954, science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard found himself in something of a time crunch. He had promised his publisher three novels, and had so far only completed one. Flipping through the old classics in search of inspiration, Hubbard stumbled upon Franklin's book. Desperate to make his deadline, Hubbard copied the text nearly word for word, altering it only to remove the obligatory thees and thous, and to change its setting. Thus, the British became the "Xenu", the French became "Betans", etc. The book, called "Dianetics", became the foundation for Hubbard's religion Scientology.
So who plays the part of George Washington in Hubbard's version? Risky Business actor, Tom Cruise.

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Undeniable Sunday Comic

Sunday, May 13, 2007

It's about lime

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Believe it or not, there was a time when people actually liked lemons. In fact, until the end of the 19th century, the lemon business was a thriving industry. But in 1893 a small group of lime farmers, bitter from lackluster sales, decided to take down Big Lemon. Unable to afford expensive advertising campaigns, the group, known as the North American Lime Council, instead opted for a social engineering approach. It was this group who first coined the phrase "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade", and who first used the word "lemon" to describe defective products. By spreading these infectious catchphrases, the NALC hoped to wound the lemon's image. It worked: by 1897, the campaign had brought the lemon industry to its knees.
The lime farmers may have won, but as is so often the case, it's really the people who lose here. Limes are more expensive than lemons, and they contain only one third of the nutrients!

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The truth will set you flea

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Fleas, like bedbugs, don't actually exist. They are simply a convenient scapegoat for unexplained itching. So how do flea collars work? The placebo effect.

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Oh say can y- SCREEEE!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Ever wonder why there are state flowers, state dogs, and state fish but no state birds? Early on, birds stood among the state mascots just like the rest, but that all changed on July 4th 1914, at the World's Fair in Albuquerque.
Hoping to inspire national unity and pride at a time when individual states acted much like separate countries, the federal government organized a patriotic independence day exhibition which they dubbed "The March of the Birds". Each of the 37 state birds was present, to be headed up by none other than the big boss himself, the American bald eagle. Unfortunately, the officials who planned the event failed to sufficiently research its ecological implications. Had they done so, they might have predicted (and prevented) the pandemonium which ensued.
According to plan, the various state birds marched, single file, onto a runway, stopping at a predetermined point to await the entrance of their majestic leader, who emerged from an elaborate unfolding display. Upon seeing the other birds, the bald eagle immediately entered a state which ornithologists call "talon rage". Within seconds, every state bird had been devoured, leaving the audience and event organizers in a state of horror and confusion.
As a measure to prevent similar embarrassing situations in the future, Congress promptly abolished the state bird.

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Chip off the old block

Monday, May 07, 2007

Ever wonder what the name "Jesus" means? Turns out it's simply the diminutive form of the name "Joseph" in Hebrew - much as we might call someone "Joey" today.

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Undeniable Sunday Comics

Sunday, May 06, 2007

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Where's the beef?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

So what the heck is a buffalo anyway? Turns out it's a cross between a bison and a cow.

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From the mouths of babes

Friday, May 04, 2007

I just got back from RAUDFound's R&D lab (named Sector F), and boy do I ever have exciting news! The AI team has completed work on a sentient neural net running on a SPESQUATCH (Single Phase Electron Scatter Quantum Uncompensated Active Titration Computing Hardware) cluster - a quantum computer whose mechanism of operation is related to the Electron Scatter Telescope I mentioned yesterday. In fact, the creation of the neural net was completely by accident. The team was implementing an advanced language parser (used in applications like accurate web searching) taking advantage of the fuzzy logic properties of the SPESQUATCH cluster. As it turns out, functions like language processing, which involve fractal analysis, can have a reverse cascade effect when used with Active Titration systems. Usually, this would simply render the code unusable because of infinite recursion, but due to the SPESQUATCH cluster's quantum uncompensated nature, this recursion formed a loose neural network with aggressive learning capabilities. The team, recognizing the neural net's incredible potential, shifted gears and began developing an interface to allow the computer to communicate more naturally with the outside world. They hope that this more tactile approach will ease the program's transition into sentience.

What better way to usher in a new era of cybernetics and AI than the laughter of a child. Happy birthday little fella!

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Undeniable Fact: Just for fungus...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Yesterday, I talked about the enormous mushrooms which grow on the moon. Of course that got me all worked up about astronomy, so I dusted off my homemade Electron Scatter Telescope (don't worry I'll show you how to make one eventually) to get a closer look at the heavens. Since I had the EST warmed up anyway, I spent a few minutes searching for lunar mushrooms. I captured some video (below).

The video is a little shaky (my EST is single-phase, so it's Heisenberg-restricted), but you can clearly make out a small patch of mushrooms. Since they don't have a crater for protection, these guys are only a mile or two across. Still, it's always exciting to stumble upon such a find. I don't think these particular mushrooms have been documented, so I've submitted my findings to the folks at NASA, who will check the coordinates against their database. If my discovery is unique, I hope they'll name it the "Serena Patch".

Speaking of mushrooms, an old urban myth seems to have resurfaced regarding so-called "magic" mushrooms. Supposedly, these mushrooms induce intense hallucinations when eaten. Come on folks, we all know there's no such thing as magic. More likely, the "visions" described are simply the result of an overactive imagination.

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Undeniable Fact: Out of this world!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The only plant which is found on the moon is the mushroom. These hardy organisms split off evolutionarily from mosses about 83 million years ago when an impact from an asteroid separated their habitat (a peninsula on the southeast coast of Pangaea) from the Earth, forming the moon. It was not until about 290,000 BC when a meteor originating from the moon crashed into the Earth that several species of mushroom were introduced into our own ecosystem.
Unconstrained by the harsh gravity of Earth, lunar mushrooms can reach sizes far greater than any terrestrial organism. Preferring dark, moist areas (much like Earth mushrooms), lunar mushrooms often take root in impact craters. In time, a single mushroom can reach a diameter of up to 19 miles or more.

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Undeniable Fact: Don't metal with the law

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Outlawed in Italy from 1736 to 1983, tin is the only metal to have been legally restricted. The penalty for possession: death.

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