Sunday, 23 September 2007

Basil of the Magic Mirror

This is not Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, this is real. Someone has patented a magic mirror inhabited by a craggy-faced butler called Basil. Boffins at Theme Addicts Inc claim he can give you "real-time information about people walking up your driveway, entering the yard, standing at your front door, or anything else your current home security system is set to monitor".

More crazy patents.

Image: tatlin

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Microwaves madness

They're coming for me, I know it. Wherever I turn there's another new innovation designed purely to make me feel guilty about what I'm eating. Whether it's little coloured wheels on food at Sainsbury's (which are usually a dismal disc of red, screaming out that my favourite snack is a heart attack waiting to pounce) or a mobile phone which checks my diet (strange, but true - click for story).

And now these god-forsaken, good-for-nothing, do-gooder scientists have been at it again - they've produced a microwave that can assess the fat content of what you're cooking. No doubt if I try to cook something too unhealthy it'll be programmed to dump it in the bin, give me a clip round the ear and prepare a wholesome lentil casserole instead. Bah humbug.

Still if you like that kind of thin you can read about it here. But I wouldn't - you'll only get depressed.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Mayan Multiplication

I’d like to share with you a wonderful piece of knowledge I picked up at an informal lecture on realism in science given by Dr Chris Hooley at St Andrews. While arguing for anti-realism he gave an example of a time when a method worked and yet was so fundamentally wrong.

The Mayans were an ancient civilisation who used a very odd technique for doing long multiplication which, amazingly, worked. They also believed that even numbers were evil because their symmetry was too perfect to be ‘of this world’.

Let's take two random numbers to multiply

246 x 666

Their method was to half one of the numbers and double the other over and over, like so


They did not have a concept of fractions and so rounded to the nearest number when they came across halves. As they believed that even numbers were evil they ignored the lines with even numbers on the left leaving us with


And amazingly if we add the numbers on the right we get 163836 which is indeed the value of 246 x 666. Try it at home!

The argument was that even though we can use a method over and over again, and it might always give us the answer it does not mean that the method holds any truth. As shown here by crossing out the ‘evil’ numbers the Mayans found a novel way to multiply. It's odd to think that everything we ‘know’ could just be the same as the Mayans, just simply ways of doing things that don’t actually tell us the truth about our world...

Image: Sanja Gjenero

Monday, 17 September 2007

You're no friend of mine

Despite the plethora of social network sites available to one and all on the tinternet, there have been rumblings this week amongst the blogging community that we don't actually have many new friends as a result. It seems face to face verbal combat is still the best way of making new acquaintances.

I find that all rather disappointing - firstly, because I don't get out much and secondly, because that means that it's unlikely that Tatiana from Latvia really wanted to be my friend after all. I'm merely being used for numerical embellishment.

Am I the only one to have been violated in such a manner? Maybe we should set up a group (and become friends).

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Food testing chicken poisoned

When a Chinese man started vomiting blood after having drank a small amount of bottled water his family got suspicious - had he been poisoned?

Rather than just pour the water away they decided to investigate. Unable, at short notice, to get their hands on any chemical sampling machines, they used a chicken.

The fowl gratefully slaked its thirst before keeling over in a crumpled, and decidedly dead, heap.

Across China scandals abound about dodgy and dangerous produce, made on the cheap with little regard for safety. However, they are under-reported in the West and will remain so until one of these shipments makes its way in our supermarkets - only then might we start wondering about the other costs of our cheap society.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Le Voyage dans la Lune

105 years ago this very day, the film from which this iconic image comes was released, quite possibly to the tune of champagne glasses tinkling and, if we let our imaginations run away with us a little, can can dancers high kicking. Because what is widely considered to be the first film of the science fiction genre came from - you've guessed it - France.

A Trip to the Moon's visual effects were ahead of its time but the Méliès brothers' representation of future space exploration will draw at least a twitch of a smile from today's viewer. While six entrepid astronauts prepare to propel themselves skywards using a giant cannon, a flock of hat waving sailor girls flutter around in daring pantie-sized shorts.

It's worth a watch.

Image: W