Readability

Via twitter yesterday I found out about Readability, which is damn impressive.  It's a button for your browser that contains a bunch of javascript code that reforms the page you are looking at into something that's easy to read.  It's worked really nicely on many of the cluttered news sites that I end up on regular basis.

I'm sure this will end up in an arms race at some point, but for now, I'm really enjoying it.

Mozart Effect, Schmozart Effect

The newest issue of the journal Intelligence has the largest review ever of research on the so-called Mozart Effect, the popular idea that listening to classical music can enhance the intelligence of people in general and babies in particular.

The review is titled "Mozart Effect, Schmozart Effect," which should give you some idea of its conclusion: there ain't no such thing.

But even if listening to Beethoven won't make us smarter, the history of how the Mozart Effect ultimately became fashionable does have something to teach us. It's a story about careful science, less careful journalism, and of course, death threats.

And so kicked off a decade of people believing that Mozart makes them smarter because people jumped far too early to broad conclusions based on a very simple very specific investigation.

Did the Astronomy Revolution only happen because of a non granted patent

Ars Technica has a great article on the history of the telescope.  But there was something entirely non astronomy related that struck me:

In 1608, Hans Lipperhey in the Netherlands applied for a patent on a pair of lenses, one with a much shorter focal length than the other, arranged in a tube. He called it a "spyglass" as it allowed the observation of greatly distant events from a secluded retreat—Lipperhey noted that counting coins from afar was a suitable use. The patent was denied because the device was so very easily constructed.

...

The big breakthrough came when Galileo was informed of Lipperhey's failure to secure a patent. He was certainly aware of the Venetian prowess in lens grinding, as well as work in optics that Kepler had done. Galileo decided to make such a device for himself, inspired by a mixture of Renaissance gung-ho and a desire to make his name. Presumably, he reasoned that a device able to magnify distant objects would also minimize the uncertainty in their position, providing an improved version of the wall quadrant.

That's a frightening thought, and one I hadn't known before.  Had that patent been granted, we may never have had the revolution in science in 1609, because Galileo wouldn't have jumped into the telescope manufacturing business.  That work is what sealed the fate of the geocentric solar system, and became a great leap forward for all physical sciences.

Most Awesome Science Teacher ever

Last year, high school science teacher Ron Dantowitz of Brookline, Mass., played a clever trick on three of his best students. He asked them to plan a hypothetical mission to fly onboard a NASA DC-8 aircraft and observe a spacecraft disintegrate as it came screaming into Earth's atmosphere. How would they record the event? What could they learn?

For 6 months, they worked hard on their assignment, never suspecting the surprise Dantowitz had in store.

On March 12th, he stunned them with the news: "The mission is real, and you're going along for the ride."

The full write up, the video and spectrographs they got, are all up on NASA's website.

Blueberry Daiquiris

I'm always looking for good simple drinks that involve lots of real fruit and basic liquor that you've already got in your liquor cabinet.  After coming home from picking 6lbs of blueberries, I eventually found a recipe for blueberry daiquiris that fit the bill.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup light rum
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 cup crushed ice
  • 1/4 cup superfine sugar

Directions

In a blender, combine all ingredients and process for about 30 seconds. Pour into a chilled glass.

Yields 1 drink

Realize it's a big and strong drink.  It is slightly more than 1 of our margarita glasses holds, and it's nearly 3 shots of rum per "drink".  You could probably get away with about 2/3 as much rum (probably cut back the sugar if you did) for something less high octane.

Damn though, it's seriously tasty.  This alone might be reason enough to best our season record of 21lbs of picked blueberries.

Wineberries

Susan and I were out black raspberry berry picking this weekend when we can across a type of berry neither of us could readily identify.  A camera phone picture, and some internet searching later and we figured out what it was.

Wineberries are an asian berry species that were brought here to cultivate with raspberries as they have hardier stock.  They since went invasive.  All the reading says they are edible, though you mostly want to strain out the seeds because they are quite hard.  These are different than Thimbleberries (which I used to call Roseberries as a kid) mostly in their leaves looking more like raspberries and the berries are in this prickly sheath before maturing.

It looks like they are about 2 weeks away from being ripe, if my berry sense is any good.  I wonder if they'd make for good ice cream...

A Tale of Two Freezers

The last thing you want to hear at midnight is "the icecream has turned to soup" when your wife wanders to the downstairs chest freezer to get some home made icecream out.  Granted, because it was boozy icecream, it was mostly a good early warning sign (everything else seemed frozen).  Given that I've got a bunch of remote temperature sensors that my computer collects data on, Susan put one in, and I figured we'd see what things looked like in the morning.

As you can see, the trend line was not going in the right direction.  8 am this morning we realized we needed a new freezer by the end of the day if we wanted the contents of the old one to survive.  We got it back to the house and installed by 10am.  Susan moved everything over at noon, and the old one is no longer a freezer.  So now we have an actual chest freezer again, and I've got a new project to figure out if the old one is fixable in any cost effective way.

Coming soon to Where is Io

The last Where is Io release was a few weeks ago.  That's because I've been working through a new chunk of math that I'll need for a few new features.  One of the things I needed was rise and set times for Jupiter and the Sun, which quickly turned into all the planets (because it's basically no additional work to fill it in for everything else).

The application is evolving in it's own direction into a more general solar system almanac, which makes me wonder if a new name is going to be in order on the next release (probably called 2.0 because of so many changes).  Name suggestions are welcomed.