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04 May 19:46

House Panel Holds Hearing On "Politically Driven Science" - Without Scientists

by samzenpus
sciencehabit writes: Representative Louie Gohmert (R–TX) is worried that scientists employed by the U.S. government have been running roughshod over the rights of Americans in pursuit of their personal political goals. So this week Gohmert, the chair of the oversight and investigations subpanel of the U.S. House of Representatives' Natural Resources Committee, held a hearing to explore "the consequences of politically driven science." Notably absent, however, were any scientists, including those alleged to have gone astray.

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26 Apr 18:13

Carbonate Geophysics, Japan and YouTube

by Prof. Christopher L. Liner
Just returned from a trip to China and Japan.

China included a side trip to Beijing for a visit with the BGP President Guo Liang. The main China event the Gravity and Magnetics (GEM) conference in Chengdu co-sponsored by SEG and CGS (Chinese Geophysical Society). About 300 attended GEM including 50 from outside China. I did not see the giant Panda that Chengdu is famous for, but we did take a wonderful tour of a temple district and experienced a traditional Hot Pot restaurant. An side story to GEM Chengdu 2015 was my spending time with Dr. Jie Zhang professor at China University of Science and Technology. More importantly (for me) is that Jie is the Founder and Chairman of GeoTomo a software company that specializes in earth modeling and imaging. In dinner conversations it came up that my MArkUP group at the University of Arkansas was shooting shallow seismic data to solve geological problems. To make a long story short, Jie offered to donate the flagship GeoTomo software, called TomoPlus, for use in research and teaching at U of A. Thank you Jie!

In Japan, my host was Dr. Jun Matsushita (University of Tokyo) who spoiled me relentlessly. Had a very good meeting with SEG Japan president Dr. Saito, executive of the SEGJ board members Dr. Chiba and Dr. Osawa. I wish to publicly thank Dr. Matsushita and the University of Tokyo for treating me like a king in Japan.

Yours truly at the iconic building of the University of Tokyo
Carbonate Geophysics

On 24 April I gave a short talk on Carbonate Geophysics at the JOGMEC research office. I have posted that talk in two parts to YouTube.  Enjoy.

01 May 19:30

Should You Get a Tesla Home Battery? Let Physics Explain

by Rhett Allain
Should You Get a Tesla Home Battery? Let Physics Explain

Tesla announced a battery for your house, the Powerwall. What are some interesting physics questions to consider for this new battery?

The post Should You Get a Tesla Home Battery? Let Physics Explain appeared first on WIRED.

01 May 19:37

Why Telemedicine Needs to Redesign the Doctor’s Appointment

by Azra Raza

Kyle Vanhemert in Wired:

Dot_doc4-582x608Talking to doctors via video chat is the future. Talking to doctors via text message is the even better future we should hope for after that. A new partnership between insurance provider UnitedHealthcare and three leading telemedicine companies will make virtual doctor’s visits a reality for many Americans. The insurer is putting telemedicine on par with a trip to the doctor’s office, effectively saying a video visit is as good as brick-and-mortar check-up. It’s a significant step into the future of healthcare, and it points to an interesting design challenge. Setting aside for a moment the complex thicket of regulations governing telemedicine: When it comes to staying healthy, what’s the ideal user experience? NowClinic, Doctor on Demand, and American Well, the companies partnering with UnitedHealthcare, focus on a fairly straightforward brand of telemedicine: Letting patients confer with doctors over video. Their apps aim to virtualize the doctor’s appointment as it’s existed for decades. There are reasons you might want that. Video visits can make quality health care more accessible to people in rural areas. For the rest of us, they may simply be more convenient. An on-demand video appointment means no leafing through germy back issues of People in a waiting room. Brian Tran, product lead for Doctors on Demand, says he wants patients to think of the experience as “FaceTime with a doctor.”

Still, this version of telemedicine isn’t as easy as pointing a web cam at a physician. “We want to balance the elegance of a consumer app with a real clinical encounter,” says Katie Ruigh, American Well’s VP of Product. By “real clinical encounter,” Ruigh means all the stuff that make you feel you’re in the hands of an expert: the formal setting, the white coat, the stethoscope in the pocket. Ruigh says American Well encourages doctors who work at home to create a suitable back drop for video appointments, even suggesting in some cases that they hang their framed diplomas on the wall within the frame. She also points out that American Well looks for “webside manner” when evaluating doctors; when you’re not meeting face to face, things like eye contact and attentive listening become more important to the overall experience.

More here.

01 May 21:25

What Satellite Data Tells Us About Nepal’s Brutal Quake

by Neel V. Patel
What Satellite Data Tells Us About Nepal’s Brutal Quake

GPS and satellite data of this week's 7.8 earthquake in Nepal show just how much Earth got moved.

The post What Satellite Data Tells Us About Nepal’s Brutal Quake appeared first on WIRED.

02 May 19:47

Why we need physical books

by S. Abbas Raza

William Giraldi in The New Republic:

ScreenHunter_1171 May. 02 21.47Not long into George Gissing’s 1903 novel The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, you find a scene that no self-respecting bibliophile can fail to forget. In a small bookshop in London, the eponymous narrator spots an eight-volume first edition of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. “To possess those clean-paged quartos,” Ryecroft says, “I would have sold my coat.” He doesn’t have the money on him, and so he returns across town to his flat to retrieve it. Too broke for a ride on an omnibus, and too impatient to wait, he twice more traverses the city on foot, back and forth between the bookshop and home, toting a ton of Gibbon. “My joy in the purchase I had made drove out every other thought. Except, indeed, of the weight. I had infinite energy but not much muscular strength, and the end of the last journey saw me upon a chair, perspiring, flaccid, aching—exultant!”

A pleasing vista onto the early twentieth-century life of one English writer, Gissing’s autobiographical novel is also an effusive homage to book love. “There were books of which I had passionate need,” says Ryecroft, “books more necessary to me than bodily nourishment. I could see them, of course, at the British Museum, but that was not at all the same thing as having and holding them”—to have and to hold—“my own property, on my own shelf.” In case you don’t quite take Ryecroft’s point, he later repeats “exultant” when recalling that afternoon of finding the Gibbon—“the exultant happiness.”1 Exultation is, after all, exactly what the bibliophile feels most among his many treasures.

More here.

04 May 18:10

First Look At Gwendoline Christie As The Force Awakens' Chrometrooper

by Lauren Davis

Thanks to Vanity Fair, we’ve been getting the best look at the new characters from Star Wars: The Force Awakens we’ve had so far. Now they’ve released an image of Game of Thrones actress Gwendoline Christie in her chrome Stormtrooper armor as another new character, Captain Phasma.


04 May 04:30

The Looty-Wallahs (Who Owns Antiquities?)

by Leanne Ogasawara

by Leanne Ogasawara

Cixi's portraitHe was one of the most famous art connoisseurs in Chinese history. And he was also known for walking the streets of Hangzhou dressed in the fashions of 500 years earlier. When asked why he did it, he replied, “Because I like the styles from back then.” But, in fact, everyone knew there was more to it than that. Madman Mi, as Mi Fu was also lovingly known to people of his time, served for a brief time at the court of Emperor Huizong, just prior to the fall of the Empire. Believed to be of Sogdian blood, it was through his mother’s connections at Court as a Lady-in-Waiting and Consort of Emperor Shenzong that he was able to enter the official bureaucracy without ever having had to take any of the official examinations. 

But --alas-- despite his excellent connections, Mi Fu was never particularly "career-oriented" --as he remained till the very end devoted to the creation, study and collection of art. His passion started while he was still quite young, and he has described in his writings how his mother more than once sold her ornamental hair combs in order to fund his collecting while he was still only a child.

To call him an eccentric would only be an understatement.

For not only did he walk the streets dressed in clothes from the Tang dynasty, but he was also known for introducing himself and bowing to especially fine specimens of garden rocks, which were of the type he collected; often addressing them politely as “elder brother.” Greatly admired by Emperor Huizong for his knowledge and style, he was appointed Director of the Calligraphy and Painting Institute at Court, where the Prime Minister was said to have observed, “Mi Fu is the kind of person we must have one of, but cannot afford to have two of!” Even though his knowledge was formidable, his personality was such that he didn’t last long at Court.

Spending his later years roaming the waterways of the country on his houseboat, named, “The Mi Family Calligraphy and Painting Barge,” he managed to acquire an immense collection of important works of calligraphy, painting, ancient bronzes, and other antiquities. His acquisitions were sometimes of a dubious method as he was known to have replaced some originals of borrowed works with replicas, and on more than one occasion threatened suicide to friends who wouldn't agree to sell their masterpieces to him. He was also reported to have stolen the plaques from temple gates because they provided fine samples of a particular style of calligraphy. His foibles were usually forgiven, though, because of course he was considered a genius. All in the line of duty? What Mi Fu was unable to acquire, he managed to at least find the opportunity to view, and therefore his knowledge of Chinese art was encyclopedic.

Chinese art history is full of charismatic and playful collectors, like Mi Fu (most of whom not only had encyclopedic knowledge of art history but were established artists in their own right). See, for example, Michel Beurdeley's delightful book on Chinese art collectors through the centuries...I have been fascinated with art collecting practices for years now and love to read books about quirky collectors--definitely some of my favorite collectors of history have come from China!

Right now, however, I am reading a book about American collectors, called The China Collectors. Specifically about American collectors of Chinese art, it tells the tale of some of the greatest collectors from this country, like infamous silk-roader Langdon Warner (the model for Indiana Jones) and George Kates (of the Years that were Fat); as well as big money names such as Charles Lang Freer, two generations of Rockefellers and Arthur Sackler, "the Grand Acquisitor." Many were Harvard men and few come off looking very good.

I just kept thinking, "there are no Mi Fus in this book, that's for sure."  

Setting the tone for the entire book, it opens with a graphic description of the looting of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing (1860). The looting occurred at a time when foreign Western powers (especially the British and the French) were circling around China like vultures. Declining the British demand to meet face-to-face in Beijing, the Chinese emperor then up and left the capital all together. Offended, the "allied" British and French forces decided to "teach him a lesson," which resulted in the looting and burning of the Summer Palace in a manner that is difficult to understand. 

The loot included tremendous amounts of treasure (in particular huge pearls and other jewels) as well as porcelains and silks and fabulous glass and ivory objects. I have a book, originally published in Italy, with an engraving of the chaos that took place just before the order was given to burn the Palace to the ground. You can see the Western-style Palace to the East (designed by none other than Giuseppe Castiglione) and many Chinese temples and gardens unfolding toward the West. In the center of the engraving are the allied French-British soldiers who are dancing all dressed up in concubines' silks, loaded down with their looted jewels, prancing on the lawn under parasols and fans.

In 1861, Victor Hugo wrote a passionate letter, which has become rather famous, where he  described the looting as, "'Two Robbers' broke into this museum, devastating, looting and burning, and left laughing and hand in hand with their bags full of treasures; one of the robbers is called France and the other Britain." When news reached the Emperor, he was astounded by the barbarity of the barbarians and caved to their demands: Tianjin would be opened to the foreigners and foreign missionaries would be allowed to preach and build churches in the interior of the country. 

The China Collectors mentions this interesting story that took place amidst the sacking of the Summer Palace, when British Captain Hart Dune found a pack of small dogs with a "grotesque oriental appearance." Grabbing them up in the melee, the dog-loving officer requested and was given permission to present one of the "Pekinese" to Queen Victoria. Guess what the queen named the dog? Yep, Lootie. And little lootie yapped in the royal apartments until 1872.

You just can't make this stuff up.

If the title of the book didn't tell you all you need to know then this scene would, I suspect. This was, after all, a time when just a handful of countries controlled most of the rest of the world. Art collecting in the West (especially since the time of Napoleon) is characterized by a kind of appropriation that would be hard to find anywhere else--past or present. Westerners are not the first people to appreciate and collect foreign art, but I cannot think of any case where it went hand-in-hand with cultural appropriation in quite the same way. Japanese collections do, of course, contain foreign treasures but I feel hard-pressed to come up with looting of the kind we see in the West. From Napoleon, to Hitler to the silk roaders, they were not collecting art as much as they seemed to be collecting cultures. Not to mention ancient Roman and Venetian collectors of antiquities from Greece and Byzantium.

Gentile_Bellini_003One of the great defenders (not surprisingly) of encyclopedic museums, Philippe de Montebello, seeking to underplay the connection these museums have with looted artifacts, suggests that the first encylopedic museums didn't even exist in European capitals at all. However, I am not convinced the Topkapi and Hermitage museums are comparable on this count. I could be wrong, but I don't believe either collection came about as a by-product of an imperialistic enterprise. The Topkapi is well known for its Ming porcelain--but I was always under the impression that these items were purchased fair and square.

The essay by Philippe de Montebello appears in James Cuno's book the debate over antiquities, called Whose Culture. It is a fabulous book. Perhaps my favorite essay was by Kwame Anthony Appiah. I am a huge fan of his work, and I do find his arguments on the need for encyclopedic museums to stand as places of cosmopolitanism. It is world-enhancing and eye opening to experience art from other cultures. So, museums like the Met are meeting places that serve to resist provincialism, he argues. Appiah is also compelling in connecting the debate to ideas of nationalism by asking, 

What does it mean, exactly’, he writes, ‘for something to belong to a people? Most of Nigeria’s cultural patrimony was produced before the modern Nigerian state existed. We don’t know whether the terra-cotta Nok sculptures, made sometime between 800 BC and AD 200, were commissioned by kings of commoners; we don’t know whether the people who made them and the people who paid for them thought of them as belonging to the kingdom, to a man, to a lineage, or to the gods. One thing we know for sure, however, is they didn’t make them for Nigeria.

That said, still, with some notable exceptions (like Sherman Lee of Cleveland Museum fame, for example), the men in China Collectors just don't end up looking very good. They appear greedy and predatory to say the least, too often swooping in like vultures when countries are in chaos... These are guys we find literally peeling off wall paintings from the caves in Dunhuang. Thinking of the silk-roaders, for example, they knew the chaos of the country would allow for massive bargains and carted great treasures out for a song--some even went as far as to excuse what they are doing, declaring that the art would not survive the chaos or upheavals that the countries were experiencing. But,in fact, more was lost than saved (for example, some of the finest frescos that were peeled off walls and put "safely in museums of Dresden, were utterly lost during wartime bombing. This is just one example).  

Finders keepers?

A glance at Hobson-Jobson will tell you that the word loot comes into English from Hindi-ultimately deriving from Sanskrit. It entered the English language between the Opium Wars and the Crimean War and means It means plunder and pillage. In 1858, the younger Lord Elgin--who interestingly the grandson of the Lord Elgin of Elgin Marbles fame was a main player in the sacking of the summer palace in China-- had this to say about loot:

There is a word called loot, which gives unfortunately a venial character to what would in common English be styled robbery.

Loot or robbery, can you come up with this kind of massive transfer of art capital in a foreign museum today that was not a byproduct of European and American colonialism? The Harvard men in the China Collectors also loved the culture of China. That is clear--and yet in the book they come across as grand appropriators more than anything else.... On amazon, one reviewer suggested that this book is a great companion to Hopkirk's Foreign Devils on the Silk Road. I agree! And just like in that book, as you marvel at how outrageous these men were, it's hard not to be impressed by their pure gall!

As children of the Enlightenment, public museums embody not just some of the best of Enlightenment philosophy but some of the worst as well (with ideas concerning custodianship serving as harbingers for later concepts of social Darwinism, for example). In the end, I have never really been a huge fan of encyclopedic museums--especially, I dislike seeing what are national treasures removed from their countries of origin. Whether its Winged Victory in the Louvre or Elgin Marbles can anyone really not say these things are ill-gotten gains and really belong in their countries of origin? It's not that I am saying that no art should leave it's country of origin. I am only talking about 1) the greatest treasures--something that people can more or less agree on that are crucially significant to a particular culture--somehow representing cultural patrimony of the the Elgin marbles or certain Chinese imperial treasures that were taking during looting; those items that are not only deeply significant to a given country (I say this acknowledging that the artists themselves in all probability did not intend their art to be forever linked with a specific culture or location).  And 2) items that were also taken in a manner not on the up-and-up. And even then, I think repatriation should come with a demonstrated ability for the country to preserve the art work--for humanity's sake.  

While the spirit behind the great museums is enlightened, filing its rooms with beautiful but stolen treasures is not. While each case is unique, isn't it time for our temples of our highest ideals to do the enlightened thing? The Chinese, as described in the last chapter of China Collectors, are taking matters into their own hands, however. Buying Chinese art voraciously to bring it home, they are also trying to buy the contents of the Chinese collection (and other art works) from the Detroit Institute of Art.

How the mighty have fallen...?  

Both books (China Collectors and Whose Culture) are highly recommended. Also loved Rogues Gallery and Chasing Aphrodite. And Loot (my favorite of all). 

 More posts on art: How Should We Think About Bamiyan? and Falling in Love with a Beautiful Bronze

Great review of Whose Culture

The National Palace Collection's The calligraphic World of Mi Fu's Art

Painting at top: Empress Dowager Cixi portrait painted by Katharine Augusta Carl (1865–1938)

Painting in center: Sultan Mehmet II by Bellini 

Digital Reconstruction of Bezeklik by Ryokoku (Japanese researchers)--if you can find a copy see my Digital Bezeklik in Kyoto Journal's Silk Road Special Issue!


04 May 14:00

Read This Before You Freak Out Over Gene-Edited Superbabies

by Nick Stockton
Read This Before You Freak Out Over Gene-Edited Superbabies

This is the promise of embryonic gene editing: that our species can genetically vaccinate itself against disease, from Alzheimer’s to cystic fibrosis.

The post Read This Before You Freak Out Over Gene-Edited Superbabies appeared first on WIRED.

28 Apr 23:20

William Gibson On How Ignorance May Keep Your Novel From Becoming Dated

by Esther Inglis-Arkell

The 2006 anniversary edition of Neuromancer starts with an introduction by William Gibson, in which he muses on how the novel stayed fresh during over two decades of frantically evolving technology. The answer might be ignorance.


30 Apr 20:04

The perfect notepad for writing passive-aggressive notes

by Rob Beschizza
30 Apr 12:24

Agario is a horribly addictive browser game

by Rob Beschizza

You are a blob, wandering around and absorbing smaller blobs to grow. (more…)

30 Apr 13:20

David Simon on Baltimore's Anguish: Freddie Gray, the drug war, and the decline of “real policing.”

by Zujaja Tauqeer

Bill Keller's interview with David Simon, creator of HBO's The Wire on The Marshall Project:

SIMON-3The situation you described has been around for a while. Do you have a sense of why the Freddie Gray death has been such a catalyst for the response we’ve seen in the last 48 hours?

DS: Because the documented litany of police violence is now out in the open. There’s an actual theme here that’s being made evident by the digital revolution. It used to be our word against yours. It used to be said — correctly — that the patrolman on the beat on any American police force was the last perfect tyranny. Absent a herd of reliable witnesses, there were things he could do to deny you your freedom or kick your ass that were between him, you, and the street. The smartphone with its small, digital camera, is a revolution in civil liberties.

And if there’s still some residual code, if there’s still some attempt at precision in the street-level enforcement, then maybe you duck most of the outrage. Maybe you’re just cutting the procedural corners with the known players on your post – assuming you actually know the corner players, that you know your business as a street cop. But at some point, when there was no code, no precision, then they didn’t know. Why would they? In these drug-saturated neighborhoods, they weren’t policing their post anymore, they weren’t policing real estate that they were protecting from crime. They weren’t nurturing informants, or learning how to properly investigate anything. There’s a real skill set to good police work. But no, they were just dragging the sidewalks, hunting stats, and these inner-city neighborhoods — which were indeed drug-saturated because that's the only industry left — become just hunting grounds. They weren’t protecting anything. They weren’t serving anyone. They were collecting bodies, treating corner folk and citizens alike as an Israeli patrol would treat the West Bank, or as the Afrikaners would have treated Soweto back in the day. They’re an army of occupation. And once it’s that, then everybody’s the enemy. The police aren’t looking to make friends, or informants, or learning how to write clean warrants or how to testify in court without perjuring themselves unnecessarily. There's no incentive to get better as investigators, as cops. There’s no reason to solve crime. In the years they were behaving this way, locking up the entire world, the clearance rate for murder dove by 30 percent. The clearance rate for aggravated assault — every felony arrest rate – took a significant hit. Think about that. If crime is going down, and crime is going down, and if we have less murders than ever before and we have more homicide detectives assigned, and better evidentiary technologies to employ how is the clearance rate for homicide now 48 percent when it used to be 70 percent, or 75 percent?

More here.

28 Apr 12:48

One Way You Can Help Nepal Right Now: All You Need Is A Computer And A Little Time

by Adele Peters

With just a few clicks, you can help make a map that will assist aid workers in getting to those in need.

For relief workers in Nepal after the massive earthquake on April 25, one of the challenges is just knowing where to go: Most roads and buildings don't exist on a map. But that's a situation that's changing, hour by hour, as thousands of volunteers around the world build a detailed digital atlas of the earthquake zone as part of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT).

Read Full Story

30 Apr 13:20

Disaster-Relief Tech Goes All-Out In Nepal

by matt stevenson
Disaster-Relief Tech Goes All-Out In Nepal

The devastated people who live among the aged brick cities and temples that crumpled in Nepal’s 7.8 earthquake may soon be on a faster path to recovery thanks to an array of technologies—both new and old—that can help locate survivors, ease the fears of those searching for loved ones, and get food and medicine into […]

The post Disaster-Relief Tech Goes All-Out In Nepal appeared first on WIRED.

30 Apr 17:19

Here are Houston's biggest quality of life problems

by Joe Martin
It might come as no surprise to Houstonians, but one of the biggest problems that plague the city's quality of life today is traffic. That's according to the 2015 Houston Area Survey from Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research. The problem is tied to Houston's continued population growth, which doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon, Dr. Stephen Klineberg, director for the Kinder Institute, told the Houston Business Journal. Traffic is the biggest problem in the Houston area,…
29 Apr 16:49

Kilauea’s Summit Lava Lake is Overflowing

by Erik Klemetti
Kilauea’s Summit Lava Lake is Overflowing

The lava lake at the summit of Kilauea is overflowing, creating lava flows in the summit crater.

The post Kilauea’s Summit Lava Lake is Overflowing appeared first on WIRED.

28 Apr 15:30

Teaching kids how to code with Minecraft

by Arun Gupta

[caption id="attachment_76107" align="alignright" width="180"]Buy Minecraft Modding with Forge. Buy Minecraft Modding
with Forge
.[/caption]I am jealous of kids these days. The sheer breadth and depth of technology and software at their disposal is staggering, everything from Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and Scratch to Minecraft, Python, and iOS app development. What’s even more profound to me is how fluent they are in using and interacting with these technologies. And yet during this process of assimilation, they are mastering fundamental mathematical concepts, like trigonometry, by figuring out how to shoot an arrow in Minecraft, as opposed to the classical way of learning the formulas. Or in learning how to program in Python, they are creating a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Or in understanding basic circuits, they are building a traffic light using Arduino or Squishy Circuits.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be involved with Devoxx4Kids, a Not-for-Profit, 501(c)(3) registered organization in the U.S., whose goal is to deliver Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) workshops to kids at an early age around the world. We delivered over 40 workshops in the U.S. alone last year on topics ranging from Python, Scratch, and Minecraft modding to NAO robots, Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and Little Circuits. Globally, we’ve delivered over 350 workshops and connected with approximately 5,000 students, with over 30% girls. Attendees from these workshops often leave with unique and inspirational stories to share.

Our Minecraft Modding workshops require no prior programming experience. Attendees are elementary school students, primarily from the 4th and 5th grades. During these workshops, we focus on developing simple mods, such as creating a stack of 64 potatoes when you type the word “potato” into the chat bar of the game. Such simplicity allows us to dive in and explain some of the most fundamental concepts behind Java. For example, with the potato mod, students develop an understanding of the Java Development Kit (JDK), they discover how to run a program using Eclipse, as well as how to work with classes, methods, strings, integer variables, and if-statements. The excitement of creating new mods, such as spawning an Ender Dragon, alerting a user when a creeper is spawned, and turning snowballs into arrows, allows students to learn even more fundamentals like the “for loop,” comparing objects, and !, &&, and || operators.

It’s gratifying to witness the amount of progress and “fluency” our students achieve in these workshops. Students often ask to see different variations of a mod every week, and with the help of my son, Aditya, who is an experienced Minecraft player and modder in his own right, we will sit down and create these mods. One of the most exciting moments for me came during the 7th week of a recent workshop when the code for a mod was displayed on the projector without an explanation. To my surprise, the students were able to read the code and explain the meaning. I had goosebumps seeing how quickly their Minecraft vocabulary was helping them to become a Java programmer. I’ve seen professional developers complain about ceremony around Java “syntax.” But I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about the language: it’s meant to be read by both computers and humans. Further details about this effort are explained in my blog post, Minecraft Modding Course at Elementary School — Teach Java to Kids.

The gamification of education is becoming a reality these days. My first grade son is learning mathematics by playing a game and hitting on a robot’s head to traverse through a maze, whereas my oldest son is learning Java concepts by modding Minecraft. I think this is a natural evolution. Given the speed with which technology is expanding and becoming an omnipresent part of our identity, it’s important to keep our kids engaged and enthused while learning. What’s more, we should also be teaching our kids how to be producers of software and content — and not just consumers. They may not pick up Computer Science as their subject of choice in high school or college. But workshops like these, with a focus on fun and interactivity, will at least ensure they are not alien to technology, and programming more broadly. This is how we can provide a competitive edge to our kids for many years to come.

Editor’s note: If you are interested in learning more about Minecraft modding, pick up a copy of Arun and Aditya’s latest book, Minecraft Modding with Forge. You can also check out a replay of their live webcast, Create Minecraft Mods In Less Than an Hour with Forge.
28 Apr 16:20

Water could have been abundant in the first billion years

How soon after the Big Bang could water have existed? Not right away, because water molecules contain oxygen and oxygen had to be formed in the first stars. Then that oxygen had to disperse and unite with hydrogen in significant amounts. New theoretical work finds that despite these complications, water vapor could have been just as abundant in pockets of space a billion years after the Big Bang as it is today.
28 Apr 18:00

The io9 Guide to Discworld

by Katharine Trendacosta

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld might look intimidating — there are 40 books, and they’re humorous fantasy, which seems like it could be an acquired taste. But everybody should read at least one Discworld book, because they’re wonderful, and there’s something for everyone. Here’s our complete guide to Pratchett’s masterwork.


22 Apr 19:28

Daredevil Recaps: “Rabbit in a Snowstorm” and “In the Blood”

by Dan Van Winkle

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 12.28.49 PM

Daredevil episode 3 takes a bit of a break from the superhero stuff to remind us that Matt Murdock and co. are real people with a law practice to run. Please enjoy this episode of Law & Order: MCU.

We start off with some dude in a bowling alley.


No, not THE Dude in a bowling alley. Oh, fine. Close enough.

He asks the wrong guy to share a lane and then conspicuously doesn’t make an effort to get away when said guy’s goons approach. Oh man, he’s in troub—HOLY CRAP he opens a can of whoopass on the goons and then pulls a gun on the main guy, whose parents clearly didn’t teach him to share. OK then. Let’s call our bowling friend Walter for now.


Walter, put the piece away.

Too bad for Walter, the guy who sold him the gun failed in his guarantee that it wouldn’t jam, so Walt has to teach the bad sharer a lesson with his fists and a bowling ball instead.


The cops show up and arrest him, and he says he wants a lawyer.


…We can relate to that.

Karen, Foggy, and Matt all meet up back at the office in varying states of readiness for the day after their ill-advised activities the night before—drinking and partying for Karen and Foggy, and getting beaten senseless while saving the day for Matt. Our friend in the suit from the first episode, who won’t tell anyone his name—not a bit suspicious—shows up at the law office and says his company wants to put Murdock and Nelson on retainer.

By way of explanation as to why they’d be interested in such a small company, he provides a bit of insight into Matt and Foggy’s past as local boys who graduated law school with flying colors and set up their own shop on their home turf despite some pretty great offers they could’ve taken. Those little do-gooders.

He offers them what we can only guess by Foggy’s facial expression is an absurd amount of money


But Matt’s not into it, so suit guy changes tactics to “take a sexist swipe at Karen.” You know, classy business man stuff.

Oh, and he mentions her murder charges—or lack thereof—and Matt is more sure than ever that something’s not right. Classy business man, obviously prepared for this, tells them to check out one of his employer’s cases for themselves to get a better idea of how worth it all the zeroes on their paychecks would be. He gives them a file and tells them where to be to help lawyer someone who turns out to be our friend Walter, the sharing enthusiast.

Foggy questions him—his actual name is John Healy—before Matt joins in, and even Foggy’s slightly malleable moral compass tells him they shouldn’t take the case. He’s gone and realized that maybe there are limits to what he’ll do for $$$$. Character growth!

In an unexpected turn of events, Matt swoops in and says they’ll take it, because his moral compass has been overridden by his freely spinning bullshit-ometer (basically a real power of Daredevil’s) which was set off by suit guy and should theoretically get sorted out in the course of this case.

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 12.43.25 PM

New York Bulletin journalist Ben Urich, who showed up earlier in the episode as he tried to get inside info on this new crime wave, is having an old school vs. new school “I want to do some real journalism” argument about digging into what’s going on in Hell’s Kitchen with his boss. I guess Netflix couldn’t get Aaron Sorkin to direct the news guy scenes as there’s not a whole lot of walking while talking, but they did throw in a solid dig at bloggers working in their underwear for good measure, so close enough.

(Hey, it’s usually very fancy underwear, I’ll have them know.)

While Matt and Foggy continue to have a disconcerting chat with their less-than-reputable new client who all but admits to being an employee of suit guy and a paid killer, the man in the suit himself is over at the bowling alley’s arcade machine also extolling the virtues of sharing.

i got next

“I got next.”

and grabbing Healy’s gun from where he stashed it underneath the machine.


“Hi kids! Stay in school!”

Matt and Foggy finally come to an understanding on taking Healy’s “self defense” case.

matt foggy fist bump

The brosecution rests, your honor.

And plan their next move while Karen disappears to work on her own legal troubles. She’s in hot water for breaking an NDA with Union Allied over the information she leaked to the press in episode 1. The now-dissolved company’s lawyers are offering her a bunch of money and protection from any legal action in exchange for her silence on their actions going forward, and she’s significantly more hesitant about all those zeroes than some of our other heroes.

Our journalist friend stops by a hospital to deal with his… wife’s? medical care insurance coverage issues—the same hospital Claire Temple works at, it seems, judging by an administrator saying her best nurse is out. I wonder why.

claire temple best nurse

Claire Temple: Best Nurse.

Matt and Foggy are working some long hours on this case, and Matt lays down the law—har har—on Karen taking long lunches while they’ve got so much work to do. Although, I kind of suspect Matt’s concerned that there’s something going on with her and isn’t just trying to be a dick.

And hey! There’s Foggy doing some actual lawyering in a courtroom! Matt’s pleased with his performance, but distracted by jurors’ heartbeats and suit guy’s watch, which he can hear because he’s Daredevil. You do remember that he’s also a superhero, right? I just wanted to make sure you didn’t forget amid all the legal intrigue.

The juror with the telltale heart meets some guy in an alley who’s clearly blackmailing her for her decision in the case, and when she leaves, Daredevil busts in to remind us all this is a superhero show—with his fists. And some Batman voice. At the thug’s expense.

hug it out

“Was the super hearing thing too subtle? I HAVE POWERS btw.”

He… convinces the guy to get the juror dismissed and leave her alone forever by being generally terrifying. Then, he convinces the jurors to acquit his client on self defense charges by being generally terrific.

Suit guy and Leland Owlsly argue over why they didn’t just murder Healy like they tend to do to everyone else who bothers them in order to give suit guy an excuse to explain it to the audience/preemptively head off Internet arguments about it.


“Maybe so I can get Murdock more deeply involved in the plot. DUH LELAND. Amateur.”

Matt and Foggy successfully get Healy cleared of charges in the courtroom, but he has not been cleared in the COURT OF DAREDEVIL, who proceeds to beat the name of suit guy’s employer out of Healy. He does this in the totally safe manner of jabbing a shard of glass into the guy’s neck until he talks, because as previously established with fire extinguishers and throwing people off buildings, he does not GAF.

Healy finally gives up Fisk’s name as suit guy’s hermit employer shortly before, er, disposing of himself out of fear for what his punishment will be.

[headimpale.gif not found... because yuck.]

Probably kind of a good thing for Murdock that Healy’s not around to tell the tale, because a 2 for 2 involvement of Daredevil with Matt Murdock’s legal cases miiiiiight raise some eyebrows. Seriously, quit punching where you eat, Matt.

Meanwhile, Wilson Fisk himself is appreciating some art and getting flirty (for Fisk, anyway) with a gallery employee when the episode leaves us with its reveal of the series’ big bad.

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 12.28.49 PM

“Are you sure it’s a white rabbit? I see a ghost. Lololol.” -paraphrasing.

Keep reading for episode 4, “In the Blood.”

22 Apr 20:53

Op-ed: Don't bet on oil prices coming back anytime soon

by Jay Wall
No matter what the economic pundits tell us about our economy having become diversified, if you live in Houston, you’re in the oil business. The past six months have seen oil prices plummet. In response, oil companies have slashed their capital spending by more than 40 percent, sold noncore assets, frozen new hires, reduced salaries, cut staff, reduced or eliminated dividends and put surplus office space on the sublease market. They have done all this to bring costs in line with cash flow, hoping…
20 Apr 23:01

Myth or monster? Explore Loch Ness with Street View

by Lat Long

Like the world’s best legends, the Loch Ness Monster transcends the everyday and exists at the edges of possibility. It rises above the sightings and the hoaxes; the claims and counter-claims; the tourism, the nationalism—and even the assassination plots. It lives in the telling of stories. Whether or not you believe, most people hold a romanticized vision of the creature that, legend has it, plumbs the depths of the Loch. Affectionately known as “Nessie,” she exists in folklore, dances in childrens’ imaginations, and seeps into our society and teachings, inspiring everything from pop music to pop culture to pulp fiction.

In 1934, the “Surgeon’s Photograph” was released, claiming to show the monster in the misty waters of the lake. It’s the most iconic photo in the history of Loch Ness—and may be one of the most elaborate hoaxes of our age. Today, to celebrate the anniversary of its release, we're bringing 360-degree Street View imagery of Loch Ness to Google Maps, so you can go in search of Nessie yourself.

Sail across the freshwater lake and take in its haunting beauty, made darker still by the peat particles found in its waters. Let the Loch unlock the spirit of your imagination, where the rippling water, tricks of the light, and drifting logs bring the legend of Nessie to life. Adrian Shine, leader of the Loch Ness & Morar Project, has been engaged in fieldwork in the Highlands since 1973 and was an integral part of the Street View collection. As a true Loch Ness expert, Shine has logged more than 1,000 Nessie sightings and offers scientific explanations for why people claim to have seen Scotland’s mysterious cryptid.

Formed of a series of interrelated bodies of water, including the River Oich to the south and the Bona Narrows to the north, Loch Ness stretches for 23 miles southwest of Inverness. Although it’s neither the largest Scottish loch by surface area nor depth, it is the largest by volume, containing more freshwater than all the lakes of England and Wales combined. And at almost 800 feet deep, there’s an entire world below the surface, giving rise to the Nessie legend.

To take you on a tour of what lies beneath, our partners at the Catlin Seaview Survey dived deep under the surface of the lake, collecting imagery along the way. You can imagine Nessie nestling within these dark, peat-filled waters, waiting for the right moment to breach the surface into the Scottish sunlight above.

A diver from the Catlin Seaview Survey collecting underwater imagery of Loch Ness

Wherever you stand on the Nessie debate, the legend lives on—even in the digital era. There are more searches for Loch Ness than there are for other U.K. institutions like Buckingham Palace and the Peak District. And as we celebrate Loch Ness with today’s Doodle, we hope you can enjoy some of the most history-laden and breathtaking imagery the highlands have to offer with Street View in Google Maps.

By Sven Tresp, Program Manager, Street View Special Collections
22 Apr 15:14

On Rock Classification

by (Suvrat Kher)
Two interesting articles:

1) In the Journal of Sedimentary Research (behind paywall) Kitty Milliken proposes a tripartite classification of fine grained sedimentary rocks, those with grain assemblages with greater than 50% of particles by weight or volume less than 62.5 µm (4 Phi). There are a number of names for these types of rock; mudstone, claystone, pelite, argillite to name a few. This classification categorizes the rocks according to the composition, thereby indicating the source of the grains. Composition in turn controls to a large measure bulk rock properties upon burial and interaction with fluids, thus enabling general predictions about their economic and engineering qualities.


A tripartite compositional classification is proposed for sediments and sedimentary rocks that have grain assemblages with greater than 50 percent of a weight or volume of particles smaller than 62.5 µm (4 Phi). Tarl (terrigenous–argillaceous) contains a grain assemblage dominated by more than 75 percent of particles of extrabasinal derivation, including grains derived from continental weathering and also volcanogenic debris. Carl (calcareous–argillaceous) contains less than 75 percent of particles of extrabasinal derivation debris and among its intrabasinal grains contains a preponderance of biogenic carbonate particles including carbonate aggregates. Sarl (siliceous–argillaceous) contains less than 75 percent of particles of extrabasinal derivation and contains a preponderance of biogenic siliceous particles over carbonate grains.

These three classes of fine-grained particulate sediments and rocks effectively separate materials that have distinct depositional settings and systematic contrasts in organic-matter content and minor grain types. In the subsurface the grain assemblages that define these classes follow contrasting and predictable diagenetic pathways that have significant implications for the evolution of bulk rock properties, and thus, assigning a fine-grained rock to one of these classes is an important first step for predicting its economic and engineering qualities. For purposes of description these three class names can be joined to modifier terms denoting rock texture, more precise compositional divisions, specific grain types of notable importance, and diagenetic features. 

2) In Earth Magazine, a delightful article (open access) titled Geologic Column: The Rumpelstiltskin Factor by Ward Chesworth, professor emeritus at the University of Guelph, Canada.

Chesworth muses on the importance of naming objects and whether it is better to be a "lumper" or a "splitter" i.e. whether it is better to organize variation in to as few groups as possible or whether it is better to draw finer and finer distinctions and place a smaller range of variation into its own distinct cubicle.

An excerpt:

Excessive splitting can lead to problems, though. If an overly meticulous taxonomist kept on splitting hairs ad absurdum, we would wind up with a classification resembling an advanced case of logorrhea, the kind of thing guaranteed to drive working geologists to the brink. C.B. Hunt staged his own rebellion against this tendency when he considered the plethora of names invented for minor igneous intrusions. He expressed his displeasure by sarcastically concocting one more, cactolith, which he described as “a quasi-​horizontal chronolith composed of anastomosing ductoliths whose distal ends curl like a harpolith, thin like a sphenolith, or bulge discordantly like an atmolith or ethmolith.” He insinuated it into his 1953 U.S. Geological Survey professional paper on the Henry Mountains of Utah, and from there it crept under the radar into the first edition of AGI’s very own “Glossary of Geology.” Unfortunately, some humorless jobsworth banned it from all subsequent editions.

Sprinkled with more anecdotes, this is a fun read.

15 Apr 16:47

Anti-municipal broadband group tries to silence a critic

by Jon Brodkin

An organization that tries to convince state legislatures to impose limits on municipal broadband sent a cease-and-desist letter to one of its critics that is refusing to stay quiet.

The fight is happening between the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Credo Action. ALEC opposes municipal broadband projects and writes model legislation that limits the authority of cities and towns to build their own telecommunications networks. About 20 states have passed such laws.

Credo Action is the advocacy arm of cellular phone company Credo Mobile, whose revenue funds its advocacy. Credo lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to preempt state laws that limit municipal broadband, criticizing ALEC along the way.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

14 Apr 17:00

The Fault in Our Sentences

by Roxie Pell

Hit young adult novels may spread like wildfire, but they don’t grow on trees. The Times profiles Julie Strauss-Gabel, a YA editor known for whipping her writers into shape:

The last thing you want is an author saying, ‘That’s what’s selling right now, so that’s what I’m going to write.’ That’s the point at which a trend gets icky.

Related Posts:

31 Mar 15:36

A new way to navigate the streets of Google Maps

by Lat Long

Over the years, we’ve updated Google Maps to make it more accurate, comprehensive and useful.
From imagery of the coffee shop down the road to the Taj Mahal, or turn-by-turn navigation that helps you get to your first date on time or find your way to a famous landmark...we’ve worked hard to give people the best possible experience of the world around them. And today we’re introducing our most ambitious update yet: PAC-Maps.

With local place information and Street View, it’s easier than ever before to find where you’re going but there’s never been anything to let you know where *not* to go. With this update, we’ve added imagery of dangerous virtual beings, starting with Pinky, Blinky, Inky and Clyde. When navigating fruit-filled streets, determine at a glance which turns to pass to evade ghosts and get where you’re going safely. When you’re feeling a bit peckish, you can simply gobble up a few pac-dots or a cherry and keep on nommin'. PAC-Maps makes navigating around select locations as simple as left, right, up or down.

Experience all the benefits of #PACMaps on desktop and on the latest version of Google Maps on Android and iOS. This is just the beginning, so stay tuned for more Maps fun such as zombie incident alerts and intergalactic Street View. Oh, and be sure to check out what our friends at Ingress are up to. It looks like PAC-MAN chomped his way over to the real-world!

Posted by Michelle Luo, Product Manager
10 Apr 08:17

Do Marine Animal Lineages Evolve Toward Larger Body Size Over Time

by (Suvrat Kher)
aka Cope's Rule-

I like these big questions about the history of life and I am fascinated and very impressed when palaeontologists take up such questions. It is incredibly laborious and time consuming work, to go through archival data on fossils and often generate new data from museum specimens and older compilations describing fossil taxa.

A recent study in Science Magazine:

Cope’s rule in the evolution of marine animals - Noel A. Heim, Matthew L. Knope1, Ellen K. Schaal, Steve C. Wang, Jonathan L. Payne

Cope’s rule proposes that animal lineages evolve toward larger body size over time. To test this hypothesis across all marine animals, we compiled a data set of body sizes for 17,208 genera of marine animals spanning the past 542 million years. Mean biovolume across genera has increased by a factor of 150 since the Cambrian, whereas minimum biovolume has decreased by less than a factor of 10, and maximum biovolume has increased by more than a factor of 100,000. Neutral drift from a small initial value cannot explain this pattern. Instead, most of the size increase reflects differential diversification across classes, indicating that the pattern does not reflect a simple scaling-up of widespread and persistent selection for larger size within populations.

What that means is that the size increase is not due to a uniform increase across all animal groups. Rather, groups that were larger very early in animal evolution have diversified disproportionally more than smaller sized groups. Why should that happen? The authors suggest that there may be advantages to being larger, such as, ability to move faster, to capture larger prey and to burrow deeper for protection and exploiting additional food resources.

That would seem to make larger animals more resilient to background extinction and make larger sized lineages longer lived. But why would that make larger animals more speciose? i.e. why would larger sized animals species split into more new species than smaller sized animal species? ..because that is what is the claim, that throughout the history of animal evolution larger sized species gave rise to more new species than smaller sized ones (differential diversification). In fact, one could make arguments favoring higher rates of speciation in smaller sized organisms, such as, their ability to disperse over greater geographic area resulting in greater chances of populations getting reproductively isolated resulting in new species, their ability to survive better during environmental crises (survivor fauna after mass extinctions tend to be smaller bodied, mass extinctions seems to kill of larger bodied species disproportionately). If mass extinctions differentially kill off larger bodied species, then is the observed trend really a series of trends, each reset at the aftermath of the crises, resulting in small pioneer /survivor fauna evolving towards larger size. There could be a physical limit to how small one could become and the only direction for size to vary (either through drift or natural selection) would be towards a larger size. I am just speculating without even reading the paper, the authors do mention that drift from a small initial size does not explain their findings, but it would interesting to know what role mass extinctions might be playing in disruption or amplifying trends.

So although a trend is apparent, the answers are not all clear cut. It would also be interesting to group the trends according to life habits, i.e. planktonic versus benthic, sessile versus mobile  and see if any of these life styles particularly favors evolution towards larger size.

Eurekalert has a summary of the study

04 Mar 13:48

Inheritance of Anger

by Azra Raza

Robert Minto in Open Letters Monthly:

MarioMario Vargas Llosa’s father was a cruel man who abandoned Mario and his mother for ten years and then returned to tyrannize them. Vargas Llosa became a writer in order to annoy him. In his memoir A Fish in the Water he writes,

It is probable that without my progenitor’s contempt for literature I would never have pursued so obstinately what at the time was a game, but was gradually to turn into an obsessive and pressing need: a vocation.

But is the struggle of a son with his father an honorable source of direction for life? Or does Vargas Llosa’s origin story undermine his whole life’s work by identifying it with childish rebellion? In his new book The Discreet Hero, he seems to be wrestling with this problem. The Discreet Hero is two stories told in alternating chapters which intersect only in seemingly unimportant ways but really serve the purpose of commenting on shared themes. In Letters to a Young Novelist, he calls this structure by the odd term “communicating vessels.” He names it one of just three or four of the “primary techniques” of novel writing: a clue to any reader of his own novels about just how seriously he takes the doubled narrative. The other clue is that fact that he’s used the technique over and over again, even in his autobiography (which splices the story of his boyhood together with the story of his campaign to become President of Peru).

...In The Discreet Hero, the very tool Vargas Llosa uses for the analysis of power is turned on his own power by examining what is for him the foundational struggle of the vocation for literature. Would the healthy outcome for him have been, back when he first began to write, to confess to his father that it was all a lie, and never to write again, like Fonchito and Edilberto Torres? This is the kind of earnest reflection a literary mind conducts at the age of 79. It is a reason to read The Discreet Hero on its own account and — especially — as self-reflection on the origins of a great artist. I, for one, am glad Mario hated his father.

More here.

04 Mar 16:00

What’s Wrong With Online Education—and How to Fix It

by Kunal Chawla
There are many things right with online education—like the plethora of free and easily accessible content developed by Udacity, Coursera and others. In particular, online education excels at teaching while using... read more