Monday, October 12, 2009

Montreal Photojournal: Mont Royal in Fall Colours

It’s been a while since I’ve brought out the camera here, so I dragged it around a bit this weekend. Mont Royal is in full swing colour-changing, so makes for good photos these days.

MontRoyalColoursOf course, it’s probably not that impressive if you live near real forests (as a kid, I never understood fall country-drive tourism, it was just too ordinary to me), but this is as close as it gets in Montreal.

Incidentally, I remembered Randall Monroe’s most recent xkcd comic while cropping the above image:


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Truism via graphical representation

I’m starting to be persuaded that any idiom may be represented in graphical form. Another graph from Indexed:

card2278 Source: Indexed by Jessica Hagy

The important assumption here is that cook#1 is not me.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

You know you’re in a hockey town when…..

Me: Wow, this grocery store is very quiet tonight, even for 9:00pm

Cashier: Don’t you know? There’s a Habs game tonight!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Where do you see yourself in 4000 years?

Thousands of years from now, what will we think about the biggest events in modern history? Sam Kean wrote recently on 3quarksdaily on this issue:

Will the Manhattan Project Always Exist?

Read the article. It will change your idea of what really is permanent on this planet over the long term.

This assumes that we will escape various forms of robot, zombie, asteroid, climate-change and/or Malthusian Armageddon that could easily crop up in the intervening time. Hmm, I should start a betting pool. Takers?

3quarksdaily: Will the Manhattan Project Always Exist?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Coffee contains – gasp! – CHEMICALS!!!!!!

Ever wonder just what is in a cup of coffee? At first, you might not want to.

coffeePhoto source: Simone♠13

On the short list, in addition to caffeine, your average brew also contains:

  • Dimethyl disulfide, which contributes to the odour of human waste
  • 2-Ethylphenol, a cockroach pheromone
  • Putrescine, a toxic breakdown product of rancid meat 

While I don’t believe the article writer set out to have this effect, a couple comments indicate he has in fact scared some readers. Of course, it all depends on how you want to take it. Some might be made uneasy at the mention of strange-sounding chemicals with scary qualifiers, and opt to eschew their coffee tomorrow morning. I, however am not about to abandon my sweet, caffeinated nectar of the gods morning cup just yet.

Coffee’s been around for a while now, and (debates about small effects on overall health aside) it’s safe to say that the compounds in coffee, especially at cup-a-day levels, are harmless. This presentation of facts is a good illustration that one shouldn’t be scared of something just because it has chemical names attached to it. The unknown is scary and chemicals particularly intimidating, but any everyday material could be made to sound scarier if placed in the right light.

That cup your coffee’s in? Aluminum and silicon oxides
The table it’s sitting on? Reducing sugar polymers and lignins
The spoon you mixed with? Smelted iron-carbon alloy

You don’t even want to know what sort of nasty phytochemicals are in that banana you were about to eat.

The point being, just because you can name something chemically (and even describe potentially unsavoury places it might be found in nature or industry), that doesn’t make it bad for you. When someone says that a product contains (cue spooky music) chemicals, that person is trying to scare you, usually to buy their product. Case in point:

Note that they never say those chemicals are not present in their product (they are), just that they are present in the competitors. Sneaky bastards.

Anyways, that said, I’m thirsty. I’m off to grab a nice cold glass of dihydrogen monoxide.

Wired Science: What’s Inside a Cup of Coffee?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Ig Nobels Awarded

Forget those other awards coming out next week, the Ig Nobel awards were awarded last night.

For the uninitiated, the Ig Nobels are awards that celebrate research that “makes you laugh, then makes you think”. They’re doing a great job of promoting interesting science, I always enjoy seeing who wins.

Winners this year:

  • VETERINARY MEDICINE PRIZE: Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson of Newcastle University, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK, for showing that cows who have names give more milk than cows that are nameless.
  • PEACE PRIZE: Stephan Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael Thali and Beat Kneubuehl of the University of Bern, Switzerland, for determining — by experiment — whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle.
  • ECONOMICS PRIZE: The directors, executives, and auditors of four Icelandic banks — Kaupthing Bank, Landsbanki, Glitnir Bank, and Central Bank of Iceland — for demonstrating that tiny banks can be rapidly transformed into huge banks, and vice versa — and for demonstrating that similar things can be done to an entire national economy.
  • CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Javier Morales, Miguel Apátiga, and Victor M. Castaño of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, for creating diamonds from liquid — specifically from tequila.
  • MEDICINE PRIZE: Donald L. Unger, of Thousand Oaks, California, USA, for investigating a possible cause of arthritis of the fingers, by diligently cracking the knuckles of his left hand — but never cracking the knuckles of his right hand — every day for more than sixty (60) years.
  • PHYSICS PRIZE: Katherine K. Whitcome of the University of Cincinnati, USA, Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard University, USA, and Liza J. Shapiro of the University of Texas, USA, for analytically determining why pregnant women don't tip over.
  • LITERATURE PRIZE: Ireland's police service (An Garda Siochana), for writing and presenting more than fifty traffic tickets to the most frequent driving offender in the country — Prawo Jazdy — whose name in Polish means "Driving License".
  • PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE: Elena N. Bodnar, Raphael C. Lee, and Sandra Marijan of Chicago, Illinois, USA, for inventing a brassiere that, in an emergency, can be quickly converted into a pair of gas masks, one for the brassiere wearer and one to be given to some needy bystander.
  • MATHEMATICS PRIZE: Gideon Gono, governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers — from very small to very big — by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent ($.01) to one hundred trillion dollars ($100,000,000,000,000).
  • BIOLOGY PRIZE: Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu, and Zhang Guanglei of Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Sagamihara, Japan, for demonstrating that kitchen refuse can be reduced more than 90% in mass by using bacteria extracted from the feces of giant pandas.