13 Dec

BBC News – Cambridge University puts Isaac Newton papers online

The notebooks in which Sir Isaac Newton worked out the theories on which much classical science is based have been put online by Cambridge University.

More than 4,000 pages have been scanned, including his annotated copy of Principia Mathematica, containing Newton’s laws of motion and gravity.

Newton wrote mainly in Latin and Greek, the scientific language of his time, and was reluctant to publish.

The university plans to put almost all of its Newton collection online.

The papers mark the launch of the Cambridge Digital Library project to digitise its collections.

As well as Principia and Newton’s college notebooks, the Newton Papers section of the online library contains his “Waste Book”.

The large notebook was inherited from his stepfather, and scholars believe it helped Newton to make significant breakthroughs in the field of calculus.

via BBC News – Cambridge University puts Isaac Newton papers online. One of the geniuses of all time.

08 Nov

Prop Store – Butter Cup Valley

It was the Spring of 1982. In the Southern California desert region known as Buttercup Valley, cameras were rolling on a film called BLUE HARVEST: HORROR BEYOND IMAGINATION. A SoCal science-fiction nut named Mike Davis had heard rumors about the production just having gotten under way. He and his pals decided to pack up some camping supplies and go check it out. This was the 1980s, a time when film productions were able to remain much more secretive than they do today, due in large part to the producers being able to stem the flow of information much more effectively in the absence of the internet. But just Earthling spies do their best work when boots are on the ground, so too would Mike Davis and his network of Bothan spies.

None of these Bothans died to bring us this information, but they did get sand everywhere imaginable (and unimaginable). The photography that follows is a never-before-published archive of private shots snapped on set during the filming of RETURN OF THE JEDI.

via Prop Store – Butter Cup Valley. Behind the scenes photos of Return of the Jedi, what more do you need to know?

12 Apr

Spaceflight Now – Discovery heads into retirement

Technicians in bay No. 2 of Kennedy Space Center’s Orbiter Processing Facility remove shuttle Discovery’s forward reaction control system (FRCS) on March 22 as part of the ship’s transition and retirement processing. The FRCS will be completely cleaned of all toxic fuel and oxidizer chemicals, which are used for the steering jet system while a shuttle is in orbit. NASA says the FRCS will then be put back into Discovery to help prepare the shuttle for future public display.

via Spaceflight Now – Discovery heads into retirementt. Incredibly cool photographs and just a little bit sad.

24 Jan

Kickstarter – Standing Up To The Experts by Orlando Wood

In a small room in Austin, Texas, a group of fifteen people are single-handedly deciding what is taught to the next generation of American children. The highly politicized fifteen-member Texas State Board of Education is currently going through the once-in-a-decade process of rewriting the teaching and textbook standards for its nearly 5 million schoolchildren. And when it comes to textbooks, what happens in Texas affects the whole nation.

Texas is the nation’s largest textbook market. Unlike other states, that allow their districts to pick and choose what books they buy, Texas buys them centrally – making Texas unbelievably influential on the standards that Textbook publishers use as a basis for their textbooks. Over the last 10 years, the textbook from this board found its way in upwards of 65% of American classrooms.

Over the course of the current review, the board has been focusing on infusing the school curriculum with broader conservative and religious themes. In Science, there has been an insistence on questioning the theory of evolution. And during the review of the history standards, the more conservative members have attempted to define the United States as a Christian nation goverened by Christian principles , and emphasize "American Exceptionalism," the notion that America is special and destined to lead the world.

Simply put, our goal is to shed light on this important issue and the key players in this process — we will explain their goals, explore the scope of their influence, and delve into the personal motivations behind their actions. We’ve been invited into their homes and have held intimate interviews with each of the members of the board and key decision makers and campaigners close to the issue.

via Kickstarter – Standing Up To The Experts by Orlando Wood. They’ve already reached their goal and then some but this looks like an awesome project.

24 Jan

Cosmic Variance – Scientists Aren’t Always Complete Idiots

Nobody is harder on scientific theories than scientists are. That’s what we do. You don’t become a successful scientist by licking the metaphorical boots of Einstein or Darwin or Newton; you hit the jackpot by pushing them off their pedestals. Every one of us would love to discover that all of our best theories are wrong, either by doing an astonishing experiment or coming up with an unexpectedly clever theory. The reason why we have the right to put some degree of confidence in well-established models is that such a model must have survived decades of impolite prodding and skeptical critiques by hundreds of experts.

via Cosmic Variance – Scientists Aren’t Always Complete Idiots. Something that I notice that non-scientists seem to make as an assumption about scientists is that it’s this static idea, ideas are rarely challenged and the big shots are always right and never assumed to be wrong. In a conversation with a friend, who’s getting her Master’s in Mathematics, one of the professors at the university is working on disproving her doctoral thesis. This is one of the greatest things about science it never assumes itself to be 100% accurate or correct. However that doesn’t mean that there isn’t consensus on issues that given the current knowledge the current theory is correct and valid simply because it’s always open to be attacked or disproven.

10 Jan

The New Yorker – The battle over the Constitution

A great deal of what many Americans hold dear is nowhere written on those four pages of parchment, or in any of the amendments. What has made the Constitution durable is the same as what makes it demanding: the fact that so much was left out. Felix Frankfurter once wrote that the Constitution “is most significantly not a document but a stream of history.” The difference between forty-four hundred words and a stream of history goes a long way toward accounting for the panics, every few decades or so, that the Constitution is in crisis, and that America must return to constitutional principles through constitutional education. The two sides in this debate are always charging each other with not knowing the Constitution, but they are talking about different kinds of knowledge.

via The New Yorker – The battle over the Constitution. Covers the history of the ratification, the document itself and how it’s been used to argue all sides in a debate including gun control. Pretty interesting stuff.

03 Jan

The New Yorker – Sorting out the Senate

In the nineteenth century, filibusters were rarer than visible comets. For most of the twentieth, they were still rare—about as frequent as solar eclipses—and reserved for special occasions, such as killing civil-rights bills. Now they and their bastard offspring, the secret “holds” that allow a single senator to pigeonhole a bill or a nomination, are as common as sunsets—and as destructive as tsunamis. It is taken for granted that without the support of sixty of the hundred senators, the number needed to invoke “cloture,” nothing emerges from the Senate alive. The minority can’t quite rule, exactly, but it can, and does, use the rules to ruin. Even when something does get through, the marginal cost of that fifty-ninth or sixtieth vote is severe. In the absence of the filibuster, the health-care law would offer a public alternative to private insurance, the financial reform would be strong enough to close off the likelihood of another meltdown, and the very rich (and their heirs) would pay something closer to their fair share of taxes. Nearly two hundred qualified nominees for executive and judicial offices would be on the job instead of in limbo. And a climate-and-energy bill, a bill to require corporations to be open about their political spending, the DREAM Act, and dozens of other worthy measures—all of which passed the House and had majority support in the Senate—would now be the law of the land.

via The New Yorker – Sorting out the Senate. In Congress it isn’t majority rule, it’s super-majority rule.

20 Oct

FiveThirtyEight – The Most Overrated Concept in Elections Analysis: Momentum

In general elections, the direction in which polls have moved is not predictive of the direction in which they will move.

Thus, it is usually wrong to say that a candidate is gaining ground in the polls — present tense — or that her position is improving. Instead, you should say that the candidate has gained ground or that her position has improved.

via FiveThirtyEight – The Most Overrated Concept in Elections Analysis: Momentum. Another post from FiveThirtyEight that shows why I love reading it, no spin just the facts. A sorely missing concept in reporting especially political reporting.

12 Aug

This Is What I Think – Traditional Marriage Perverts the Tradition of Marriage

Over a summer of research, I learned a lot of surprising facts about the history of marriage and weddings, but by far the most shocking discovery of all was that the tradition of marriage-as-we-know-it simply did not exist in those days. Almost everything we have come to associate with marriage and weddings — the white dress, the holy vows, the fancy cake and the birdseed — dates back a mere 50 or 100 years at the most. In many cases less.

via This Is What I Think – Traditional Marriage Perverts the Tradition of Marriage. Traditional marriages, not so traditional.

01 Aug

The New Yorker – Filibusters and arcane obstructions in the Senate

The weakened institution could no longer withstand pressures from outside its walls; as money and cameras rushed in, independent minds fell more and more in line with the partisans. Rough parity between the two parties meant that every election had the potential to make or break a majority, crushing the incentive to coöperate across the aisle. The Senate, no longer a fount of ideas, became a backwater of the U.S. government. During the Clinton years, the main action was between the White House and the Gingrich House of Representatives; during the Bush years, the Republican Senate majority abdicated the oversight role that could have placed a vital check on executive power.

via The New Yorker – Filibusters and arcane obstructions in the Senate. Lot of interesting analysis behind why the Senate out of all the bits and pieces of government is weirder and more prone to hindering government rather than actually governing.