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Ahm’a Merkin!

A 1970s Italian parody of American pop songs, featuring pretty convincingly English-sounding gibberish.

And then, the reverse, from Who’s Line.

Score one for circadian rhythms

As of today, I have officially graduated without ever having pulled an all-nighter – for me, a minimal night’s rest is the way to go if productivity is the goal.  But I’ve seen enough of the beginning and ends of them to appreciate how they could be fun, in a mildly manic/deranged way.

Occam Sock ‘em

The limitation of Occam’s Razor:
Ancient cosmology, like Aristotelian physics, has become a modern archetype for ‘wrong’ science, primarily because in our present-day arrogance we have applied Occam’s razor retrospectively and concluded that those old astronomers were idiots. (Funnily, Occam himself never applied his razor to astronomy, so there we are: we’re better at being Occam than Occam was.) But this is tremendously unfair, because actually the ancients weren’t wrong, at least not in the sense we usually mean.
You can’t exactly blame [them], can you? To the naked-eye observer, it really does look as if the Earth stands still and everything else circles around it. We, who are so big on Occam’s razor, can hardly criticise the ancients for assuming this simplest of theories was the correct one. They saw what appeared to be the skies circling round the Earth. There was no good reason, at the time, to question this simple and elegant explanation of observed conditions.
From a very good article on how ancient cosmology shows how plausible wrong theories get perpetuated.

A “holy crap” moment

Craig Venter and Hamilton Smith, the two American biologists who unravelled the first DNA sequence of a living organism (a bacterium) in 1995, have made a bacterium that has an artificial genome—creating a living creature with no ancestor (see article). Pedants may quibble that only the DNA of the new beast was actually manufactured in a laboratory; the researchers had to use the shell of an existing bug to get that DNA to do its stuff. Nevertheless, a Rubicon has been crossed. It is now possible to conceive of a world in which new bacteria (and eventually, new animals and plants) are designed on a computer and then grown to order.

More here.  Yes it’s only bacteria, and yes it was merely a reconstituted, already existing genome – the argument over whether this act constitutes creating life will be one for the philosophers.  But what is important is the development of a platform for creating organisms with custom-made genomes.  Instead of laboriously inserting genes one by one via plasmid recombination, we can now create a bacterium with any combination of genes we choose – provided of course that they can survive.  Genomics research will get a big boost, potentially followed by a lower barrier to entry for DIY genomics hobbyists.  This is a Big Deal.

A very good paragraph

In a world where arbitrary norms are derided, the rules can be written and rewritten as often as is convenient to keep the walls as erected as possible between acceptable people doing acceptable things and unacceptable people doing unacceptable things. Dressing correctly shifts away from standards that can be adhered to and [is] defined entirely by who is and is not engaging in them. By the time people far down the social pole get word, you can change it all over again. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as communication has increased, fashion not-quite-norms shift faster and faster to the point that it’s impossible to keep up.

More here.  This echoes a core intuition of mine: that many forms of ostensible egalitarianism in practice merely lead to an equally steep hierarchy that is just less transparent.  Thus my position on the eating club task force was that hobbling the clubs would be a bad thing.  Exclusive cliques would remain, but rather than having a neon sign pointing to where the status-seekers should queue up, we’d have less democratic institutions like The Tribe, which would make things even more difficult for those not already well connected.

So bad it’s awesome

From here:

In the early days after the discovery of x-rays, Edison received two requests in the mail, one from an apparent voyeur asking him to fit a set of opera glasses with x-rays and the other asking him to “Please send me one pound of X-rays and bill as soon as possible.”

Thought of the day (night?)

If they ever uploaded my brain, my upload will tell them it’s not conscious, just to shut up the philosophers.


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