Tag Archives: Science

Why fresh-squeezed orange juice turns bitter.

Several times recently I have squeezed a large number of oranges, enjoyed some of the delicious fresh-squeezed juice, and then been disappointed by the rest the next day. It tastes bitter, and becomes worse rapidly. This turns out to be the result of naturally occurring limonoate A-ring lactone (aka "LARL," a tasteless substance) breaking down into limonin, which is very bitter tasting. The amount of LARL varies between oranges and throughout the growing season. If there’s any way to arrest the conversion of LARL to limonin in the home-squeezing process, I don’t know about it. 

Everything is turning into iron.

Iron-56, the most common isotope of iron, is what all material in the universe “wants” to be. That is, the nuclei of matter is all gradually exhausting its energy, and iron-56 is the form of matter with the lowest energy per nucleon. Eventually, stars will turn into iron—huge balls of iron. Everything will be iron. The good news is that this won’t happen for 10^1500 years, a period of time so long that we can’t really grasp it. That’s a quingentillion years away. For comparison, there are probably no more than 10^81 atoms in the entire universe, so 10^1500 is just a mind-bogglingly long amount of time. The universe right now is just over 10^10 years old, so you can see that it’s really just a mewling infant at this point. 

The trajectories of life-bearing meteorites from Earth.

Some Japanese researchers did the math on the fate of the billions of tons of rocks and water that were tossed into space when Earth was hit by an asteroid 65M years ago. It turns out that much of that material probably bore life, and it wound up not just on the Moon, but also on on Mars and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Some of the ejecta (about 1,000 rocks) would have even wound up on an Earth-like planet orbiting a red dwarf star, located 20 light years away. This math tells us that life would only have needed to evolve at 25 sites throughout the Milky Way for these sorts of spores from those planets to have seeded the entire galaxy with life. 

Unsurprising research finds that some homophobia is rooted in homosexuality.

A team spanning three universities has published a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finding that people who claim to be straight, but have a strong attraction to people of the same sex, tend to be hostile towards gays because gays remind them of their own repressed tendencies. Those subjects’ parents tended towards authoritarian, and held similarly strong anti-gay views. The purpose of the study was to investigate the cause of the routine discovery that people with strongly anti-gay views are closested and gay themselves. 

PPP’s survey of likely Republican voters in Mississippi and Alabama is really something.

Forget the presidential race—the other responses are pretty amazing. Only 14% believe that the presidentis is Christian (45% believe he’s Muslim, 41% don’t know). Just 26% believe in evolution. One in five believe that interracial marriage should be a crime, with just 67% supporting its legality. It’s little wonder that these two states generally show up at the bottom of nearly any state index of success or well-being. 

Links for November 25th

  • BBC News: CO2 climate sensitivity ‘overestimated’
    Of all that is very clearly known about global climate change, the one connection that is not well understood is the quantity of climate forcing that results from each unit of CO2. That is, exactly how much additional heat can the atmosphere store for each each ton of CO2 that is added to it? One new study proposes that the existing model might be too pessimistic, basing that on the authors' theory that the last ice age wasn't as cold as has been believed. Their theorized rate of increase is still globally catastrophic, but comparatively speaking, it would be good news. The team's paper is published in Science magazine.
  • Wikipedia: Franksgiving
    In 1939, President Roosevelt made the annual declaration of a day of Thanksgiving—as had been done such President Washington—but selected the third Thursday in November, rather than the traditional last Thursday. That was at the request of retailers, who didn't want to violate the taboo of starting Christmas sales before Thanksgiving, but were worried that the fourth Thursday would fall too late in the year—November 30—to give them enough sales time. The moved date split the country, both along partisan lines and along state lines. Many states declared Thanksgiving holidays on the third Thursday, some on the fourth. This was repeated in 1940 and 1941, but it was settled by Congress, who officially designed the annual holiday as being the fourth Thursday, as of 1942.
  • American Radio Relay League: US Amateurs Now 700,000 Strong!
    There are more ham radio operators in the U.S. than ever before. Over 700,000 now. When I got licensed, in the early nineties, there were just under 500,000 licensed operators. I was one of the first people to get a codeless license, meaning that I didn't need to learn CW (aka Morse code); if that new class of license hadn't been established, I couldn't have passed the test. These days, I don't think CW is required for any of the three license classes—Technician, General, and Amateur Extra—which has surely helped this surge in licensing. (Fun fact: Long-time ARRL president Harry Dannals, aka W2HD, is a Charlottesville resident.)

Links for October 24th

  • Big Think: What’s the Plural of Texas?
    When Texas joined the union, it was with the condition that they have the ability to form four additional states from their land, allowing a total of five Texases. That's a right that they've never given up, which has resulted in occasional movements in support of Texas divisionism.
  • Kevin Drum: Climate Skeptics Take Another Hit
    Physicist, climate change doubter, and climate skeptic poster child Richard Muller thinks Al Gore's exaggerating and doubts the accuracy the hockey stick graph. Funded by the Koch Foundation, Muller started the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project to do his own climate research. BEST published its first paper this week and concluded that Earth is warming very rapidly, that historic temperature data reconstructions are accurate, that global temperature stations are highly reliable, and that the urban heat island effect is irrelevant. Said Muller: "Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the US and the UK." Well, that's awkward. This is how science works.
  • Reuters: More Americans believe world is warming
    A poll conducted by Reuters has found that 83% of Americans believe in global climate change, compared to 75% last year. That includes 72% of Republicans and 92% of Democrats. It's the #1 concern of 15% of people. 27% believe that humans have nothing to do with it, while 71% figure it's caused at least in part by us. That dwindling percentage of people who don't believe in climate change is more hardened in their position than ever, with 53% of them being certain that there's no such thing as climate change. Let's see how that works out for them.

Links for October 20th

  • Planet Money: What If We Paid Off The Debt?
    Back in the good old days—before President George W. Bush, before fighting two wars, before September 11th, before a huge tax cut paid for with debt—it looked very much like the entire debt would be paid off by 2012. In producing the final Economic Report of the President, a researcher looked into what would happen when that happened. As it turned out, it would be terrible. Treasury bonds make the investment world go 'round. No debt, no t-bonds. The conclusion of the never-published report was that it was important to maintain some debt in order to maintain treasury bonds.
  • The New York World: Women ride in back on sex-segregated Brooklyn bus line
    A Brooklyn bus—part of the city's public bus line—is franchised to a private company, though generally indistinguishable from any other city bus, intended to serve the Hasidic community in Williamsburg and Borough Park. It's the bus line's rule that women have to sit in the back of the bus. You can see how this story progresses. The issue of religious freedom vs. civil rights vs. free enterprise isn't wholly open-and-shut but, as a rule, anybody making an argument that a certain class of people should have to sit in the back of the bus automatically loses the debate.
  • American Geophysical Union: Words matter
    This vocabulary guide accompanies an article ("Communicating the Science of Climate Change") in the October issue of Physics Today, explaining to research scientists that some of the words that they use to communicate among themselves simply confuse the public. "Manipulation" of data means simply to process it, but the public thinks it means to tamper with it. A "scheme" is just a plan, but that's perceived as being illicit. A "theory" is the basic unit of scientific knowledge, but people think a theory is different from a fact. These are important, as has been observed with natural selection ("evolution is just a theory!") and global climate change ("those hacked e-mails said that were manipulating the data!").

Links for August 25th

  • Bloomberg: Climate-Change Scientist Cleared in Closing of U.S. Data-Altering Inquiry
    The National Science Foundation has completed its inquiry into UVA/Penn State climatologist Michael Mann. They have entirely exonerated him, finding no evidence of any wrongdoing whatsoever. That's the same result as Penn State's investigation, the NOAA's inspector general's investigation (which was done at the request of Sen. Inhofe), and the UK's investigation. 100% of investigations agree: "Climategate" was bullshit.
  • NPR: Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve
    Evangelical Christian biologists are facing facts: Adam and Eve are impossible.
  • Reuters: How to get $12 billion of gold to Venezuela
    Blogger Felix Salmon ponders the problem of how Hugo Chávez intends to move 211 tons of gold from Europe to Venezuela. Though lots of people (and countries) own gold as a part of a diversified investment portfolio, only survivalist nuts actually have the gold physically. It's been nearly a century since gold in this quantity has been moved across national borders, for good reasons.

Links for August 11th

  • Wikipedia: Ellis Island
    The waters around the Statue of Liberty are owned by New Jersey, but the land on which the statute sits is owned by New York. The adjacent Ellis Island is largely owned by New Jersey, which the Supreme Court ruled in 1998 has the right to all parts of the island that were created via infill after 1834. That leaves about 20% of the island (which I've been told includes the gift shop) in New York, and the remainder in New Jersey.
  • National Geographic: "Sea Monster" Fetus Found—Proof Plesiosaurs Had Live Young?
    Two plesiosaurs nested like Russian dolls seems like a pretty good indicator that they gave birth to live young, rather than laying eggs. There's good reason to think that other marine dinosaurs gave birth to live young, but usually to lots of little ones, while plesiosaurs would have given birth to human-like numbers of offspring, raising the possibility that they actively raised their young in a social sense.
  • The Guardian: Birmingham’s Muslims and Sikhs debate response to tragedy
    Three Middle Eastern men were killed in Birmingham this week, the victim of a hit-and-run as they stood guarding a gas station against roving English looters. This is the account of an impromptu meeting outside the same gas station, 24 hours later, of 300 Muslim and Sikh men. The unorganized bunch showed up expecting to march in protest, but after prayers, discussion, and votes, they collectively made a decision that probably surprised most of them.
  • Naval Company Inc. Line Gun
    I have occasionally wondered how utility companies run lines across rivers, ravines, etc. Here's a video about one company's shoulder-mounted, black powder mini-cannon. That seems like a great toy.

Links for June 27th

Links for May 30th

  • New York: How Not to Talk to Your Kids
    Po Bronson summarizes research on self-esteem, praise, and children. Kids who are praised for their intelligence freeze when faced with tasks beyond their intelligence. But kids who are praised for their effort quickly learn to relish challenges, and their learning improves accordingly. I was definitely in the latter group, as a kid—years of having teachers praise me for being smart (for which I deserved zero credit) left me with no idea of how to handle assignments that I couldn't just breeze through. I'll take persistence over smarts any day.
  • Public Policy Polling: Electoral Consequences of the Rapture
    PPP took a presidential poll to determine what the result of the 2012 presidential election would be if all of the people who believe that they're going to be raptured were raptured last week. In short, Barack Obama does very, very well.
  • Physorg: Electron is surprisingly round, say scientists following 10 year study
    If an electron were blown up as wide as the solar system, it would be spherical to the width of a hair. That's very, very round.

Links for May 10th

  • IBM Many Bills: A Visual Bill Explorer
    IBM is doing some really interesting work with legislation here. In my own work on Richmond Sunlight, I've long treated the text of the bill as a black box, doing very little with the text of bills. IBM demonstrates here that there's actually some valuable data to be gleaned from the actual words within the bill. Their interface is lousy—the site is hard to use—by I really admire their original thinking.
  • Think Progress: In Washington, You Don’t Need To Know Anything About Policy To Be a Senator Or Chair Important Commissions
    Former Senator Alan Simpson knows disturbingly little about Social Security and, indeed, history and math, especially for the guy who is the co-chair of the President Obama's budget commission.
  • Wikispecies: Free Species Directory
    From the Wikimedia foundation, Wikispecies is like Wikipedia, but for species. One entry for every species. They're up to 265,369 articles.
  • Wall Street Journal: Grandparents and Grandkids Connect Via Facebook, Twitter and Texting
    My grandfather kept up with his grandchildren—and we kept up with him—via Facebook until shortly before his death last year. My grandmother had photos and status updates cherry-picked from Facebook and e-mailed to her—delivered via her HP Presto e-mail printer—until her death last month. Of course, the ability to assign grandparents (and grandchildren) to a specific group to limit access is helpful, too—kids need not share everything with their elders.

Links for May 5th

  • Snopes: Obama Lends $2 Billion to Brazilian Oil Company
    Heard the one about how the President Obama is spending billions on offshore drilling…in Brazil? Snopes rates it “mostly false.” This is another case of conservatives getting riled up about something that's not true and dates from President Bush's time in the White House.
  • ThinkProgress: Exxon Makes $30.5 Billion, So GOP Votes Unanimously To Give Them Tax Breaks
    All the Republicans and 7 Democrats in the House voted to block a bill that would cut $1.8B in annual subsidies to the oil industry. Republicans voted unanimously to keep them in March, too. Remember, kids: welfare is bad, unless it's going to the world's most profitable industry.
  • NASA: Results of Epic Space-Time Experiment
    I love theoretical physics. Albert Einstein came up with all of these ideas about how space and time should work, based solely on doing math on paper, and as science catches up with him, we keep finding that he's right. In this case, Einstein forecast that mass should curve spacetime. For instance, the mass of Earth should cause the very fabric of the universe to twist and warp around it. By launching some gyroscopes into space seven years ago—containing the most perfect spheres ever made—and observing how their spin drifts, it was observed that Einstein's calculations were spot-on. NASA's work on the project began 47 years ago, culminating in this magnificent confirmation of how the universe works.

Links for April 6th

Links for March 21st

  • Stack Overflow: Regular expression to search for Gadaffi
    How do you identify "Gadaffi" (and its many, many variants) in an block of text? With this regular expression. \b(Kh?|Gh?|Qu?)[aeu](d['dt]?|t|zz|dhd)h?aff?[iy]\b looks like the winner. Bonus points go to the guy who figured out that it can be matched with Soundex, which is probably a better way to deal with this problem.
  • xkcd: Radiation Chart
    I have frequently linked to xkcd because it's funny. But this time it's straight-up interesting. Randy Munroe has put together a chart that contextualizes the doses of ionizing radiation received from various activities. This provides a perspective that's timely—in light of the Japanese nuclear reactor situation—and also full of comparative values that might make you rethink your notion of what is and isn't safe. Note that what doesn't appear on this chart is radiation from a cell phone. That's because it doesn't produce ionizing radiation.
  • Mathematically Correct Breakfast
    A möbius sliced bagel. Mmmm…math.