What does the near future hold? Let’s gaze into the crystal ball

Friday, 7 November, 2014

Where has twenty-fourteen gone? It seems like February was five minutes ago, and now here we are on the threshold of the silly season. Given then time has a perturbing tendency to… dematerialise, looking ahead just one year may not then be the best way to perceive time.

Thinking ahead three to four years might be better, it opens up a bigger time frame, one that shouldn’t pass as quickly as a twelve month period. This timeline of the near future, albeit hypothetical, most definitely hypothetical, could then be useful.

Twenty-nineteen looks like it might be interesting. Hypothetically.

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A star symbol means that the horse prefers not to wear a coat today

Thursday, 6 November, 2014

We’ve all seen at one time or another, horses wearing what appear to be protective, or warm, coats. But how do we know whether or not they’ve been saddled with said coat? What if it’s making them too warm for instance? Problem solved by the sounds of things, it now looks like it is possible to train horses to indicate their preference in this regard.

Using a simple series of easily distinguishable printed symbols, Mejdell’s group taught 23 horses to associate symbols with certain actions. The horses learned that one symbol meant “blanket on,” another meant “blanket off,” and a third meant “no change.” Once the horses had learned the meanings (which took an average of 11 days), the researchers gave them free rein to choose symbols and rewarded them with food for their selection, regardless of which symbol they chose. The team tested the horses under a variety of weather conditions, including sun, wind, rain, and snow, in Norwegian temperatures ranging from -15°C to 20°C (5°F to 68°F).

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How long is a chess piece likely to last in a game?

Friday, 31 October, 2014

When it comes to the longevity of chess pieces kings, unsurprisingly, survive the longest, followed, possibly surprisingly, by certain pawns.

This survival rate however is dependent upon them reaching the opposite end of the playing board, and being promoted, or exchanged for another more powerful piece, such as a queen.

The situation with the c-d-e pawns is very interesting. The most survivable central pawn is the White c-pawn (42%), while White’s d-pawn is the most doomed of all the chessmen (24%) – more so even than the knights (~26%). There’s a pleasing symmetry in the survival rates of the White and Black c- and e-pawns that suggests they’re frequently exchanged on the d-file. Bishops survive around 35% of the time, with the kingside bishops slightly more likely to survive than queenside ones.

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Listen to the crickets, they’ll tell you what the temperature is

Tuesday, 28 October, 2014

Crickets are synonymous with summer, that goes without saying, but did you know that it is possible to gauge the temperature from the rate at which they chirp?

Listening to the crickets in a meadow outside his home, Dolbear made a series of three observations: At 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the crickets chirped at a rate of 80 per minute, at 70 degrees, they chirped at 120 per minute, and at temperatures below 50 degrees, “the crickets had no energy to waste in music,” and retained a rate of 40 chirps per minute.

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How about that opening sequence from “Back to the Future” then?

Wednesday, 8 October, 2014

The opening title sequence of 1985 time travel classic Back to the Future is quite the feat of film production. Not only from a storytelling perspective, it serves as a neat introduction for what is about to follow, but also technically, being a single shot scene, to say nothing of what is happening, unseen of course, behind it all.

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Vaseline glass requires something with a little more kick… uranium

Friday, 3 October, 2014

Vaseline glass, also known as canary glass, which is highly collectible, doesn’t stand out solely on account of its name… it also emits radiation, by way of the uranium it contains, which gives off a greenish yellow glow when seen under a black light.

Everyone who collects Vaseline glass knows it’s got uranium in it, which means everyone who comes in contact with Vaseline glass understands they’re being irradiated. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the gaffer making footed cake plates in a glass factory, the driver loading boxes of lace-edged compotes onto a truck, or the tchotchkes dealer setting out vintage Vaseline glass toothpick holders and tumblers for prospective customers – all of you are being zapped.

The radiation content, by the way, poses no hazard however, the levels are far below those that occur around us naturally.

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You won’t believe how heavily ants weigh upon the world

Wednesday, 1 October, 2014

A definite trivia item… has the world’s population of ants ever outweighed the human population? Not surprisingly, the answer is yes, well, up until about two hundred and thirty years ago, that is:

But Ratnieks believes Wilson and Hoelldobler’s claim – though untrue in relation to today’s world population – would have once been accurate. “I think if we went back 2,000 years, certainly the ants would’ve outweighed the humans… but at roughly the time that America became independent [1776], or a little bit before that, that’s when we humans became more impressive in our weight than the ants,” he says. “We must also remember that humans are getting fatter all the time. We’re not just increasing in population, we’re increasing in fatness, so I think we’ve left the ants behind.”

I never realised that ants could possibly be as heavy was that…

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It would seem that the shoes we fill are not quite big enough

Thursday, 24 July, 2014

Human feet are, as a general trend, becoming larger. That’s because people, as a general trend, are becoming taller. So far, so good.

What I didn’t realise though is that an individual’s feet can change in size, and I mean become bigger, well after we’ve reach adulthood. That may explain why whatever size shoe you’ve been wearing for years has suddenly become too small…

Foot shape and size can change in small but meaningful ways throughout adulthood, yet time-starved shoppers increasingly order shoes online and forgo proper sizing by a trained salesperson. The need for better-fitting shoes comes with the news that our feet, like the rest of us, are getting bigger. The average shoe size is up about two sizes since the 1970s, according to a study released last month from the College of Podiatry, a U.K. professional group. Emma Supple, a consulting podiatrist for the College of Podiatry, says she believes the findings apply outside the U.K. as well. “We’ve all gotten taller and we need big feet to hold us up,” she says.

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Your particle accelerator, don’t leave home without it

Friday, 20 June, 2014

Particle accelerators, think the Large Hadron Collider, aren’t entirely about solving the mysteries of the universe… they also have a number of day to day applications:

Accelerators use electromagnetic force to accelerate charged particles. The resulting particle beams can be directed along the desired path, including to the outside of the accelerator walls. When a charged particle moves past an atom, it can interact with the electrons in that atom, knocking them out of their orbits and breaking bonds. That can cause some chemical compounds to fall apart and others to polymerize. The latter ability has been used in one of the earliest industrial applications of accelerators, stretching back at least to the 1980s: sealing potato chip bags and milk cartons. The potato bag is made from two layers of aluminum foil held together by glue. That glue would take too long to dry on industrial conveyor belts. “It would be sticky forever,” says Kephart – but electron beams can make it happen instantly. “With an accelerator you can polymerize that glue and it’s set.”

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It’s not a toy, it’s to make sense of three-dimensional geometry

Thursday, 29 May, 2014

Erno Rubik, the Hungarian architect who created the Rubik’s cube, that by the way turned forty the other week, originally designed the device to be a working model to help explain three-dimensional geometry, rather than a toy.

After designing the “magic cube” as he called it (twice the weight of the current toy), he realised he could not actually solve the puzzle. The more he moved the coloured squares, the more mixed up they became. “It was a code I myself had invented!” he wrote. “Yet I could not read it.” The cube, made up of nine coloured squares on each side, can be rearranged in 43 quintillion different ways. That is 43,000,000,000,000,000,000.

A fortuitous misapplication I’d say, it seems to me interest in a “working model to help explain three-dimensional geometry” would be somewhat limited, so to speak.

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