foxtongue: (canadian)

alt-text: i hear smashing glass in my head, ever time i laugh


I awoke a little panicked, aware of a certain dreadful absence of pinging alarm, not quite damning my day job, but coming close to it. The entire morning thing seemed insurmountable. It had been a long, unexpected evening, the sort I am generally familiar with, but never actually had, so all I wanted to do was sleep in. Drinks in a bar, an invitation up, my cue to pass out chastely on half of a hotel bed, that's how it goes, how it suits my blood. But he was impossibly sweet and it seemed, after an indeterminate sleepy amount of cuddling, that my desire to cling to the familiar had evaporated somewhere, possibly seared from existence by his fiercely protective intellect, and the only path available was towards a new choice.

We went to the Aquarium after dinner later that night, (foreign dishes in a basement, the beginning of my stories, the tragic litany, the darker side of a thousand and one nights), me to crash the party, him with legitimacy, both with an equally sound purpose. Mine was to sneak in, the better to get me into even more later. We split up right away, once it was assured I had successfully bluffed past security, and that was that, I was on my own, a mercenary butterfly released into the opening party of the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

It's startlingly easy to make fast friends at the beginning of conferences. There are always a few people who've been attending since the dawn of time, but the majority of the crowd are strangers thrown together or people who've only known each-other tangentially or on-line, so the ground is primed for the sort of introduction that doesn't generally fly in public, where you simply walk up like a little kid to a friendly looking face and say, "hi!".

I almost immediately fell in a lovely women, Shauna, a fellow burner from Berkeley I knew I would like, then together, after taking pictures with the sharks, we found Elizabeth, there for CNN, best characterized by her amazing smile, as permanent as the moon. We chatted about the fish and science and wondered about the whale, elusive and grand, sequestered in an area of the aquarium that the conference hadn't rented. Occasionally I drifted away, encountering new conversations and faces, making mental notes for later, attaching myself here and there, but made sure to keep swinging back to touch base, so as the night progressed, as I fluttered, I forged a little group with which to found a conspiracy.

Eventually we made a feint at sneaking past security to see the whale, but we'd gained mass, our core blossoming as we went into an unwieldy six or seven, too many to slyly saunter into an area we weren't supposed to go. Then, sadly, after some magic with the otters and the dolphins, it was time to leave, the staff ushering us past the sleeping octopus and the shimmering glass cube of tiny blue fish that look like living streaks of light to a queue in the the parking lot for the hired buses that were shuttling everyone back downtown. I lost my partner in the crush, perhaps because I lingered too long, loitering in a hope to find him, yet I found surprisingly good company in his wake - Alan, Estrella, and Marc, who I first met inside as part of the attempt on the beluga tank. They wanted to walk, but didn't know the way, so I put aside my concerns regarding my misplaced self as less important than the possibility of an entire lost group and appointed myself their guide.

The walk home was beautiful, if long. Mostly I fell in step with Marc, who I pressed for details about the Ig Nobels and traded stories of odd employment paths, but got on well with Alan, too, who possesses a Patient Zero level of infectious cheer. By the time everyone peeled off for their separate hotels, we'd discussed several adventures, planned a couple more, and all traded business cards, a habit I was to pick up even more as the conference went on. (The trick is to remember later which card goes to which face).

My fellow turned out to be table camping with the rest of his crew at the hotel bar, which I walked through on a whim, hoping to stumble across where he might be, my lack of cell phone again a strangely crippling artifact of the shockingly recent past. I joined them, of course, and was immediately taken with RJ, a clever young man from Waterloo University who was sitting at my end of the table. I spent the rest of the evening pulling ideas from him, chatting about clean energy and the internet, until the table finally dissolved, leaving me and mine to drift upstairs into the sweet oblivion that promises endless wonder but only ever delivers tomorrow.
foxtongue: (Default)
  • Globe&Mail: LulzSec hackers reportedly brought down by own leader.

    Woke up in a massive hotel bed in the sky, fluffy and white and perfect, after an evening of late night hot-tubbing and room service, with a cell phone next to me connected to London. On the table in the main room is a small black robot that walks and dances, next to a package of Dita Von Teese brand bottled Perrier brought in from Paris. The laptop's spring loaded keys light up blue and it runs facial recognition password software which loads quickly but doesn't like the lighting.

    Today is the booze run, checking and fixing the stickers, booking the arcade machines, planning for the Whistler cabins, setting up the staff room, and programming our phones to talk to the white plastic surveillance bunny, so we can instruct it to say ridiculous things. (We're all addicted to the creepy bunny. It watches you masturbate). Tomorrow the conference starts all proper like and then the real fun begins.
  • foxtongue: (26th birthday)
    Sally Adee, a science writer lucky enough to try a DARPA experiment that uses targeted electrical stimulation of the brain during training exercises to induce flow state for a New Scientist article, has some really fascinating things to say about what it was like:
    The experience wasn't simply about the easy pleasure of undeserved expertise. When the nice neuroscientists put the electrodes on me, the thing that made the earth drop out from under my feet was that for the first time in my life, everything in my head finally shut the fuck up.

    The experiment I underwent was accelerated marksmanship training on a simulation the military uses. I spent a few hours learning how to shoot a modified M4 close-range assault rifle, first without tDCS and then with. Without it I was terrible, and when you're terrible at something, all you can do is obsess about how terrible you are. And how much you want to stop doing the thing you are terrible at.

    Then this happened:

    The 20 minutes I spent hitting targets while electricity coursed through my brain were far from transcendent. I only remember feeling like I had just had an excellent cup of coffee, but without the caffeine jitters. I felt clear-headed and like myself, just sharper. Calmer. Without fear and without doubt. From there on, I just spent the time waiting for a problem to appear so that I could solve it.

    It was only when they turned off the current that I grasped what had just happened. Relieved of the minefield of self-doubt that constitutes my basic personality, I was a hell of a shot. And I can't tell you how stunning it was to suddenly understand just how much of a drag that inner cacophony is on my ability to navigate life and basic tasks. [...]

    Me without self-doubt was a revelation. There was suddenly this incredible silence in my head; I've experienced something close to it during 2-hour Iyengar yoga classes, but the fragile peace in my head would be shattered almost the second I set foot outside the calm of the studio. I had certainly never experienced instant zen in the frustrating middle of something I was terrible at. There were no unpleasant side effects. The bewitching silence of the tDCS lasted, gradually diminishing over a period of about three days. The inevitable reintroduction of self-doubt and inattention to my mind bore heartbreaking similarities to the plot of Flowers for Algernon.

    I hope you can sympathize with me when I tell you that the thing I wanted most acutely for the weeks following my experience was to go back and strap on those electrodes. I also started to have a lot of questions. Who was I apart from the angry little bitter gnomes that populate my mind and drive me to failure because I'm too scared to try? And where did those voices come from? Some of them are personal history, like the caustically dismissive 7th grade science teacher who advised me to become a waitress. Some of them are societal, like the hateful ladymag voices that bully me every time I look in a mirror. Invisible narrative informs all my waking decisions in ways I can't even keep track of.

    What would a world look like in which we all wore little tDCS headbands that would keep us in a primed, confident state free of all doubts and fears? Wouldn't you wear the shit out of that cap? I certainly would. I'd wear one at all times and have two in my backpack ready in case something happened to the first one.
    foxtongue: (geigerteller)
    Novel technology could potentially seek out cancer cells and cause them to self-destruct:

    Using the DNA origami method, in which complex three-dimensional shapes and objects are constructed by folding strands of DNA, Douglas and Bachelet created a nanosized robot in the form of an open barrel whose two halves are connected by a hinge. The DNA barrel, which acts as a container, is held shut by special DNA latches that can recognize and seek out combinations of cell-surface proteins, including disease markers. When the latches find their targets, they reconfigure, causing the two halves of the barrel to swing open and expose its contents, or payload. The container can hold various types of payloads, including specific molecules with encoded instructions that can interact with specific cell surface signaling receptors.

    Douglas and Bachelet used this system to deliver instructions, which were encoded in antibody fragments, to two different types of cancer cells -- leukemia and lymphoma. In each case, the message to the cell was to activate its "suicide switch" -- a standard feature that allows aging or abnormal cells to be eliminated. And since leukemia and lymphoma cells speak different languages, the messages were written in different antibody combinations.

    "We can finally integrate sensing and logical computing functions via complex, yet predictable, nanostructures -- some of the first hybrids of structural DNA, antibodies, aptamers and metal atomic clusters -- aimed at useful, very specific targeting of human cancers and T-cells," said George Church, Ph.D., a Wyss core faculty member and Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, who is Principal Investigator on the project.
    foxtongue: (Default)
    This past week was a crucible. I did something I've never done before and come out of it like a phoenix from flame, a new thing, my impurities burned off, the corrosion washed away. If I play my cards right, I will never be the same again.

    It started with the unlikeliest thing, choosing while being chosen, seducing while being seduced, a photograph then a note, a reply then a phone number. Within ten minutes I was dressed, throwing a toothbrush in my bag, hopping for the door as I pulled my shoes on, still talking, fleeing from my life and towards the cab at my door. Another ten minutes and I was downtown, stepping from the vehicle, saying hello, saying thank you and good evening, everything set in motion, the confluence of a thousand superficial things coming together for this perfect fact, two impossibly complementary strangers in a hotel bar.

    When any uniform magnetic field is applied across the cloud chamber, positively and negatively charged particles will curve in opposite directions, according to the Lorentz force law with two particles of opposite charge.

    Just over a week later I am exhausted, every muscle of my narrative stretched, a pile of serious sounding business cards in a small pile on my desk, an entire new life hovering in the wings, waiting for me to settle in, work hard, and accept. I have moved back into my apartment, reintroduction shock and all, taken the appropriate pills, and abandoned nearly every scar I've ever gathered, given away like baby teeth as a gift to a new and extraordinary friend. My time away was a radiant miracle, equal parts unexpected and compassionate, as lucky as a random mutation that betters a species, the dream like paths of the particles seen in a cloud chamber made flesh. Now all that's left is to take what I've gathered, sort my thankful thoughts, and dig in and write.
    foxtongue: (Default)
    How Companies Learn Your Secrets:

    The only problem is that identifying pregnant customers is harder than it sounds. Target has a baby-shower registry, and Pole started there, observing how shopping habits changed as a woman approached her due date, which women on the registry had willingly disclosed. He ran test after test, analyzing the data, and before long some useful patterns emerged. Lotions, for example. Lots of people buy lotion, but one of Pole's colleagues noticed that women on the baby registry were buying larger quantities of unscented lotion around the beginning of their second trimester. Another analyst noted that sometime in the first 20 weeks, pregnant women loaded up on supplements like calcium, magnesium and zinc. Many shoppers purchase soap and cotton balls, but when someone suddenly starts buying lots of scent-free soap and extra-big bags of cotton balls, in addition to hand sanitizers and washcloths, it signals they could be getting close to their delivery date.

    As Pole's computers crawled through the data, he was able to identify about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed him to assign each shopper a "pregnancy prediction" score. More important, he could also estimate her due date to within a small window, so Target could send coupons timed to very specific stages of her pregnancy.

    One Target employee I spoke to provided a hypothetical example. Take a fictional Target shopper named Jenny Ward, who is 23, lives in Atlanta and in March bought cocoa-butter lotion, a purse large enough to double as a diaper bag, zinc and magnesium supplements and a bright blue rug. There's, say, an 87 percent chance that she's pregnant and that her delivery date is sometime in late August. What's more, because of the data attached to her Guest ID number, Target knows how to trigger Jenny's habits. They know that if she receives a coupon via e-mail, it will most likely cue her to buy online. They know that if she receives an ad in the mail on Friday, she frequently uses it on a weekend trip to the store. And they know that if they reward her with a printed receipt that entitles her to a free cup of Starbucks coffee, she'll use it when she comes back again.

    "We have the capacity to send every customer an ad booklet, specifically designed for them, that says, `Here's everything you bought last week and a coupon for it,' " one Target executive told me. "We do that for grocery products all the time." But for pregnant women, Target's goal was selling them baby items they didn't even know they needed yet.

    "With the pregnancy products, though, we learned that some women react badly," the executive said. "Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We'd put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We'd put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance.

    "And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn't been spied on, she'll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don't spook her, it works."


    And they're hostile about it, too:

    When I sent Target a complete summary of my reporting, the reply was more terse: "Almost all of your statements contain inaccurate information and publishing them would be misleading to the public. We do not intend to address each statement point by point." The company declined to identify what was inaccurate. They did add, however, that Target "is in compliance with all federal and state laws, including those related to protected health information."

    When I offered to fly to Target's headquarters to discuss its concerns, a spokeswoman e-mailed that no one would meet me. When I flew out anyway, I was told I was on a list of prohibited visitors. "I've been instructed not to give you access and to ask you to leave," said a very nice security guard named Alex.
    foxtongue: (moi?)


    Two doctors, Billy Cohn and Bud Frazier, from the Texas Heart Institute successfully replaced a dying man’s heart with a device—proving that it is possible for your body to be kept alive without a heart, or a pulse.


    Link.
    foxtongue: (my confession)
    deconcrete: Neil Harbisson’s third eye:

    "Neil Harbisson introduces himself as the first cyborg ever legally recognized by any Government (2004). He was born colour-blind; so he can only see in black and white (Achromatopsia disorder). An electronic device implanted in his neck allows him to translate colours into sounds. The camera that hangs from his forehead 24/7 was accepted as part of his British passport photo. By that very fact, the camera became congenital and not prosthetic to his body anymore. Thanks to it, light frequencies are captured and translated into sound frequencies by the chip, which in turn sends them to his brain. He literally listens to colours with his electronic eye. A standard eye perceives light, tone and saturation. Harbisson’s organic eyes perceive light, but tone is converted into sound, and saturation into volume through his third eye."


    Tiny, mild hints of synesthesia have been slipping back into my life, like the waterproofed nylon pouches at work that smell like zippers running over my teeth or the barest trace of a taste being associated with a name, the way "Gavin" sometimes seems like a small white stone sitting on the center of my tongue. Though the experience is oddly natural, a far away corner of my brain fills with dread every time I notice it happening. To say I am concerned would be an understatement. Is this how it starts, the family madness? Are some six essential cells in my temporal lobe flickering in seizure? I do not know how to tell.
    foxtongue: (Default)
    "We just completed the 12 -- foot diameter, 500 foot deep vertical shaft for the 10,000 Year Clock."
    We used a mining technique called raise boring. Take a look at the video -- it's an interesting operation. Instead of drilling down from the top, you pull a large diameter reamer up to the surface from the bottom using a smaller diameter pilot hole -- more efficient than a top-down drill because the rubble isn't fighting gravity. It rains down beneath the advancing bore and gets hauled out a horizontal shaft at the bottom. Our next major step will be cutting the spiral stairway using a robotic stone cutting saw. In parallel, we're also manufacturing and testing the Clock components.
    foxtongue: (Default)
    What does it feel like to fly over planet Earth?



    A time-lapse taken from the front of the International Space Station as it orbits our planet at night. This movie begins over the Pacific Ocean and continues over North and South America before entering daylight near Antarctica. Visible cities, countries and landmarks include (in order) Vancouver Island, Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles. Phoenix. Multiple cities in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. Mexico City, the Gulf of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, El Salvador, Lightning in the Pacific Ocean, Guatemala, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Lake Titicaca, and the Amazon. Also visible is the earths ionosphere (thin yellow line), a satellite (55sec) and the stars of our galaxy.
    foxtongue: (Default)
    Dark matter may be an illusion caused by gravitational polarization of the quantum vacuum.

    If matter and antimatter are gravitationally repulsive, then it would mean that the virtual particle-antiparticle pairs that exist for a limited time in the quantum vacuum are "gravitational dipoles." That is, each pair forms a system in which the virtual particle has a positive gravitational charge, while the virtual antiparticle has a negative gravitational charge. In this scenario, the quantum vacuum contains many virtual gravitational dipoles, taking the form of a dipolar fluid.

    "We can consider our universe as a union of two mutually interacting entities," Hajdukovic said. "The first entity is our `normal' matter (hence we do not assume the existence of dark matter and dark energy), immersed in the second entity, the quantum vacuum, considered as a sea of different kinds of virtual dipoles, including gravitational dipoles."

    He goes on to explain that the virtual gravitational dipoles in the quantum vacuum can be gravitationally polarized by the baryonic matter in nearby massive stars and galaxies. When the virtual dipoles align, they produce an additional gravitational field that can combine with the gravitational field produced by stars and galaxies. As such, the gravitationally polarized quantum vacuum could produce the same "speeding up" effect on the rotational curves of galaxies as either hypothetical dark matter or a modified law of gravity.
    foxtongue: (see the sky)
    To celebrate my insanely exciting travel/adventure news, I've been blasting my facebook with the good times virus. Here's a round-up of some of the cheerful links, as well as a few extras:

  • A video of Mariachi Connecticut serenading a beluga whale at the Mystic Aquarium.

  • A video of a plane to plane skydive, taken by one of the skydivers.

  • A Swedish man was arrested for trying to split atoms in a home kitchen reactor. "Mr. Handl, 31, said he had tried for months to set up a nuclear reactor at home and kept a blog about his experiments, describing how he created a small meltdown on his stove. Only later did he realize it might not be legal and sent a question to Sweden's Radiation Authority, which answered by sending the police."

  • Revival, Beats Antique's brand shiny new music video.

  • One of the best sci-fi trailer-teasers ever made. (I wish it were for a new favourite television show, but no, it's for a terrible video game).

  • According to Gawker, Newt Gingrich might have paid for the majority of his Twitter followers.

  • Art installation: books rupturing through a wall of an advertising agency in a building that used to be a library.

  • Starting next August, U.S. insurance providers will be required to cover all FDA-approved birth control methods.

  • Timelapse of 3D printout of Stephen Colbert’s head.

  • Explain like I'm five, simply worded answers to complicated questions.

  • Fastest Shave Ever.
  • it begins

    Jul. 10th, 2011 03:46 pm
    foxtongue: (Default)
    Jellyfish Invade Four Nuclear Reactors in Japan, Israel, Scotland:
    Four nuclear reactors in Japan, Israel and Scotland were forced to shutdown due to infiltration of enormous swarms of jellyfish, which clogged the plant's cooling system.

    Earlier this week, the Orot Rabin nuclear power plant in Hadera, Israel was forced to shutdown when a swarm of jellyfish blocked the plant's water supply which is used as a coolant.

    The string of jellyfish surges began a week before with a reactor in Shimane, Japan. And in a week's time two reactors at Torness power station, operated by EDF, in Scotland had to be shutdown as the seawater used as coolant was inundated with jellyfish.
    foxtongue: (Default)
    World's first womb transplant planned.

    Eva Ottosson, 56, has agreed to take part in a groundbreaking new medical procedure, which if successful could see her donate her uterus to her 25-year-old daughter Sara.

    Doctors hope if the transplant is successful Sara, who was born without reproductive organs, could become pregnant and carry a child in the same womb from which she herself was born.

    “She needs the womb and if I’m the best donor for her… well, go on. She needs it more than me. I’ve had two daughters so it’s served me well.”
    foxtongue: (Default)
    Hacking can take control of a car through an infected music file:

    But their most interesting attack focused on the car stereo. By adding extra code to a digital music file, they were able to turn a song burned to CD into a Trojan horse. When played on the car's stereo, this song could alter the firmware of the car's stereo system, giving attackers an entry point to change other components on the car.
    foxtongue: (Default)
    Novelty Seekers and Drug Abusers (might) Tap Same Brain Reward System.

    The space shuttle Discovery had its final launch today. I watched from home, glued to my laptop screen, as the entire process played out over live streaming video from Florida, while Tony watched it with me over messenger, cheering for the crew from his Microsoft office in Redmond. We were a small slice of the future right then, together though separate, witnessing history through now common technology, eyes on an image televised live from the side of a rocket roaring with fire into outer space. The number of viewers at the foot of the screen declared that we'd shared the experience with over 30,000 other people. Beautiful. With that number there and Tony's words on the screen, it was the first time in almost a week that I haven't felt lonely.
    foxtongue: (moi?)
    blue whale skeleton

    The skeleton of a blue whale presides over the 3rd annual "Bake a Cake for Darwin" event at Vancouver's Biodiversity Museum.

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    foxtongue

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