Thursday, November 11, 2010

A New Kind of Robotic Gripper

Universal robotic gripper based on the jamming of granular material

How Cats Drink

I had always heard that the raspy hairs on the cat's tongue were what enabled it to lap up water so neatly. Not at all. The cat flicks the tip of its tongue into the water which shoots up a stream of water and the cat, with perfect timing, closes its jaws over the stream to capture it - four times a second! See For Cats, a Big Gulp With a Touch of the Tongue in The New York Times

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Spidan Diving

I've been diving in Sipidan and Mabul in Malaysia for the past couple of days.  Two of the highlights were a purple hairy squat lobster (not a lobster but a tiny crab that lives on sponges and looks pretty much how it sounds) and a pair of sea moths or dragonfish, which at first glance look like a 3 cm long bit of scum sitting on the sand but are actually intricate little creatures under a cheap magnifying glass.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Atlantic Deep Water Reversal

Warm water sinks in the North Atlantic, forming a deep water current which flows southward at the bottom of the Atlantic all the way to Antarctica.  This has a profound effect on our climate - for example, contributing to the warm temperatures Europe enjoys despite its northernly latitude.  However, during the last Ice Age the deep Atlantic current may have actually been reversed, flowing instead from south to north.  See Reversed flow of Atlantic deep water during the Last Glacial Maximum in Nature.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Reionization Early Galaxies

According to the theory of the Big Bang, the cosmic microwave background was formed when then the temperature cooled so that that electrons and protons could combine to form atoms of neutral hydrogen. Currently however, the inter galactic medium consists mainly of ionized hydrogen gas.  When and how this gas became reionized is one of the biggest puzzles in current cosmology.    See Early star-forming galaxies and the reionization of the Universe in Nature.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

At the moment I'm in Kota Kinabula, Malaysia on the island of Borneo.  Earlier this afternoon I wandered into a little bookstore near my hotel, browsed through the classics section and idly picked up a copy of  The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe, which is often credited as one of the earliest detective stories.  I just read it.  If you, dear detective, browse back a few posts in this blog, you may be able to perceive a tiny bit of a correlation between that story and my own recent activities.  The correlation was not premeditated:   I'm not sure if I've actually read Poe's story before, - but if I did, it was long ago and I definitely didn't remember the pertinent coincidence, because I was amusing myself by trying to figure out the mystery as the story went along. 

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Unintuitive Mathematics

Some mathematical methods can seem rather unintuitive in practice and worse, sometimes yield startling and uninintuive results - for example Goedel's incompleteness theorem and Cantorian set theory.  Terence Tao continues his discussion of mathematical techniques in The “no self-defeating object” argument, and the vagueness paradox.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Why Medical Studies are Often Wrong

Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science in the Atlantic Magazine.
Much of what medical researchers conclude in their studies is misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out wrong. So why are doctors—to a striking extent—still drawing upon misinformation in their everyday practice? Dr. John Ioannidis has spent his career challenging his peers by exposing their bad science.

A Clever Auto Security Attack

An electronic car lock jammer (inexpensive and readily available) can be used by thieves to prevent a car owner from locking their car.  After the owner leaves the vicinity of their  unlockable car, the robbers collect any valuables left inside.  See Thieves jam key-fob lock signals in mystery car thefts:  Tech-savvy blaggers lift swag leaving windows intact

Problem Solving Strategies in Real Analysis

Fields medallist Terence Tao let's us in on his problem solving strategies - many of which are specific to the subject he was teaching, Real Analysis, but some of them are more generic. 


I just spent a week at an Orangutan sanctuary in Malaysia. Unsurprisingly, they have a great sense of balance - Harry was standing on my arms waving his hands in the air with the greatest of ease, somewhere in between these frames alas.