Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Have you seen this bee?

A neuroscience center in Scotland is looking for their bees, after four bee hives were stolen from their labs today, according to Reuters.

One scientist is quoted as saying "Clearly whoever did this knows what they were doing and how to handle bees."

Have you seen me?
So beekeepers of the world, beware.  There are bee-nappers out there who are skilled, prepared, and apparently stealthy.  I can only imagine what sort of rig you'd need to steal four hives' worth of bees, much less what kind of motivation.  

Dr. Chris Connolly, the lead researcher of the project, speculated that the bees might have been pilfered for breeding purposes, or to be sold to specialty beekeepers. They're estimated to be worth about $3.3 million dollars.  

I'm kind of hoping this turns into a hostage situation.  A ransom note will appear at the lab, written in honey.  Connolly will talk to the bee-nappers over the phone, and he'll demand to talk to one of the queen bees to confirm that she's okay.  The bees will quietly plan an escape, and that one charismatic super-bee will organize the others, engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the lead bee-thief, risking her life as her sister-bees flee to safety.  She'll be wounded and weakened, but she'll live!  

Paramount pictures must surely already be working on the script, and I for one can't wait to see that movie.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Crowd-Sourcing Safety?

Guards in protective gear near the
Fukushima-1 nuclear plant's main gate,
Al Jazeera news reports that a group of techies involved with the Toyko HackerSpace are heading a project to make information about radiation levels in northeast Japan more accurate and available to those living there.

Safecast.org has been handing out Geiger counters to residents and running them around the affected areas around the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant.  The information is updated to the website, which aggregates data from government agencies and charity organizations who are also watching radiation levels.

The goal is to provide information that is more transparent, regularly updated, and localized than is currently available.  People in Japan are already living in perpetual uncertainty, not knowing whether another plate-tectonic  event is about to ravage what meager stability they have forged.  The inconsistent reports of radiation levels in the air, the food, and the water leave people essentially making decisions blind.  

There's a lot that could be said about the responsibility of government in disaster situations.  The problem in Japan doesn't just amount to a lack of government response - it's also an issue of transparency.  Numbers that are reported are hard to contextualize because the radiation-measuring process isn't clear and residents have no way to fact-check the information.  

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Embargo System

A water bear, crazy-looking
 but decidedly terrestrial.
Image credit: NASA.
Do you know where your science news comes from?

A lot of the most prestigious journals for scientific publications put out information in a cloak-and-dagger style known as the embargo system.  They select media outlets that they consider appropriate or legitimate enough for their purposes and send them information on upcoming publications.  The chosen media outlets get the info in advance of publication as long as they agree not to breathe a word to anyone until the embargo is lifted.

It's kind of an alien concept for a lot of journalists, and it can be pretty problematic for news in general.  In November of last year, the internet just about peed its pants over this NASA announcement:
NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.
Speculation about the discovery of ET ran pretty rampant.  Unfortunately, the journalists who knew the truth (that scientists had discovered a certain bacteria that could exchange phosphorus for arsenic in its DNA) couldn't quell the media clamor because they were sworn to secrecy.

Even worse, when the information went fully public, it seemed like a let-down.  Although the findings were significant and have implications for finding life in places once considered inhospitable, the truth didn't sound anywhere near as exciting as the rumors.

Ultimately the secrecy and hype did a disservice to science.  Maybe it's time we rethink the system.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

NASA's Robonaut 2 - Sophisticated Automaton, Evidence of Nerdery

NASA is currently counting down to space shuttle Discovery's final launch, but this notable last is also a first.  The crew aboard Discovery includes the world's first humanoid robot destined to be an active member of the ISS crew: the Robonaut 2.  That's right.  It's R-2.

But this R-2 is much more dexterous and only slightly less adorable than the Star Wars version.  And if NASA's images of the earth-bound Robonaut are any indication, space is about to get a little dorkier.  Here are some of my favorite images from the R-2's website and Flickr photostream:

Gotta beef up before launch, that torso-only spacesuit leaves 
little to the imagination. 

R-2, you're so vain.  I bet you think that article is about you.
(note: it is)

Yeah, being an advanced robot is alright.  But check out this sweet smartphone.
 (note: R-2 maintains its own Twitter feed)
An earlier version of the Robonaut. His hatred for the Jedi is
only mildly assuaged by his shiny new ears.   
If you don't come down from there, we're blasting off without you.
(note: the chariot is for mobility on earth, only the torso is going to space.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Nerd Wordles

If you haven't seen Wordles yet, it's definitely worth checking out.  It's a free web graphic creator that turns text into art. The interface is easy to use, and the results are fun and fascinating, whether you're probing trends in your dream journal or in the Wall Street Journal.

The idea is simple:  You provide the text, and the program creates an image that mashes all the words together based on how commonly they are used.  The larger the word appears in the graphic, the more often it showed up in the text.

Here are some wonderfully nerdy Wordles that I created.  You can see more under my Wordle creator pseudonym: Salamandarzu.

From Einstein's "The Meaning of Relativity," which is made up of three lectures Einstein gave at Princeton in 1921.

Wordle: Einstein: The Meaning of Relativity

From the transcript of the pilot episode of Star Trek Enterprise, "Broken Bow," which originally aired September 26, 2001.  In this episode, the crew first makes contact with the Klingons.

Wordle: Star Trek Enterprise, pilot episode

From a transcript of Richard Feynman's lecture, "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom," presented to the annual meeting of the American Physical Society in 1959.  In this presentation, Feynman envisioned future progress at the nano-scale.

Wordle: There's Plenty of Room at the Botton

From the text of "The Hacker Manifesto," also known as "The Conscience of the Hacker," sometimes called the cornerstone of the ethical hacking movement.  It was written by a hacker who called himself "The Mentor," and was originally published in in 1986.

Wordle: The Hacker Manifesto, by the Mentor

The transcript of the final episode of Carl Sagan's Cosmos, entitled "Who Speaks for Earth." The episode originally aired in 1980.

(This image is housed on my blog ,
because I can't rotate it on Wordle.)