Thursday, April 30, 2009

But what happens when you enter the sequence into the FTL computer?

The WHO set their Swine Flu phasers to Def-Con 5 yesterday, while encouraging everyone to keep calm and carry on.  That is now significantly easier to do, thanks to a piece of music composed by Stephan Zielinski. Its name? "Swine Flu Hemagglutinin":

Swine flu has been sequenced.  More out of curiosity than anything else, I wrote code to translate a key gene into a piece of ambient music. The algorithm I used is a bit complicated, but just in case you’re curious: since the gene is expressed as a surface protein antibodies can sense, it’s considered as a string of amino acids.  Each beat corresponds to one amino acid, and the piece is in 3/4 time, so each six measures would correspond to five turns around the alpha structure.  (I’m weaseling because I haven’t the foggiest idea how the protein actually gets folded.)  Amino acids with side chains that are neither aromatic not aliphatic control the piano and organ: the nine non-hydrophobics the piano, and the four hydrophobics the organ. The three amino acids with aliphatic side chains control the low synthesizer, while the four with aromatics control the percussion.

You can download the song at Stephan's website here. It's a soothing bit of ambient electronica, perfect for staving off that rising sense of panic.  

photo: Colorized transmission electron micrograph depicting the A/New Jersey/76 (Hsw1N1) virus, while in the virus’ first developmental passage through a chicken egg. This is an H1N1 strain of influenza A. (Credit: Dr. E. Palmer; R.E. Bates)


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In his house the rock god waits dreaming

Science fiction and metal are just two things that seem to naturally go together.  Test your knowledge of classic rock and pulp fiction with io9's quiz Album Cover or Book Cover? Answers will be posted on Wednesday are up!

Monday, April 27, 2009

How to Hang a Clothesline

Since my new digs have no dryer, (silly Europeans) I am faced with the task of figuring out how to hang a clothesline in the wilderness of my back garden. So I bought a pulley, a plastic green line, and something called a "line tightener" that looks more like it belongs in the Tower of London.

There is a lot of crap internet guides out there regarding this subject, mostly detailing how to hang the clothes, (really, people?), but few and far between on how to build a good (or easy) clothesline where you use screws and eyehooks and pulleys and whips and such (okay, I'm exaggerating with the whips). Look no further, Fun In The Making has a good one (with pictures!) for a quicky-poo dealy using a cleat (also it has recycled sweater pillows, and beer can slug traps, and other crafts made from recycled materials!), but if you're serious enough to buy lumber, Homeschooling 101 has the definitive guide (pole diggers!).

Though clothesline are a good idea for the environment, they are also almost impossible to get away with in the United States. Check out the recent New York Times article, "To Fight Global Warming, Some Hang a Clothesline," to see why your neighborhood probably prohibits the practice.

Otherwise, remember to hang clothes by the seams, use liquid fabric softener (or be fit for a nasty, cardboard -like surprise) and pray for no rain.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Coolest Ten Foreign Words the English Language Needs

And speaking of alien, has a list of "The Coolest Ten Foreign Words The English Language Needs". I've been trying to remember Mamihlapinatapai ever since I read it in Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue, (the book this flavor is named after incidentally) because it happens so dang often. Now, if I could only figure out how to work Mamihlapinatapai into a conversation and still look cool...

You know of some more foreign words? You know what to do.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Letters. We get letters. Stacks and stacks of letters.

io9 has compiled a list of 13 alien languages that have established alphabets - and downloadable fonts.  Some were created for a specific purpose, like Futurama's Alienese, used to write background in-jokes for fans.  Others were born out of the fandom's passion for a fictional world or culture - see Klingon or the 118 letter Kryptonese alphabet.  All of them acknowledge in some way the Welsh proverb  "Cenedl heb iaith, cenedl heb galon." 

"A nation without a language [is] a nation without a heart" 

Friday, April 17, 2009

6 Projects That Could Change Publishing for the Better

The London Book Fair is in full swing next week, and in honor of shaking up the book industry, (and publishing in general, you magazine and newspaper people) I suggest Michael Tamblyn's video on, "6 Projects That Could Change Publishing for the Better".

Not the usual yadda yadda, Tamblyn (CEO of BookNet Canada) unashamedly points out that interesting things can happen in tough times, especially when recessions force people to think in new ways. Far from finger pointing, he admonishes the institutions resistance to change with humor and the precision of a surgeon and suggests the industry is on the brink of revolution, where we can decide what we want that revolution to be.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Apoplectic, Apocalyptic Aporia

An aporia is an expression of doubt or perplexity, typically a feigned one where the speaker then asks his audience about how he should proceed.

It is the quintessential rhetorical weapon of nagging wives and husbands. Of the smarmy, overly analytical work mates prone to waxing, eloquent on your perceived stupidity. The device is often delivered at the top of the lungs like a screaming wraith, blowing back the hair of one's audience and peeling off the paint as demonstrated by this quote from Parker Posey's character in Party Girl:

I guess you didn't know we have a system for putting books away here? No, I'm curious. You were just randomly putting that book on the shelf, is that it? You've just given us a great idea. I mean, why are we wasting our time with the Dewey Decimal System when your system is so much easier? Much easier! [shouting now] We'll just put the books anywhere. Hear that, everybody? Our friend here has given us a great idea! We'll just put the books any damn place we choose! We don't care, right?! Isn't that right?

The wonderful thing about aporias is they can be illustrated with great lengths of exaggeration laden heavy with sarcasm. Also, its similarity to the words "apocalyptic" and "apoplexy" in assonance and rhythm (both from different Greek roots uncoincidentally) lends itself to wonderful constructions such as "Don't levy your aporical justice at me!" or "If you don't dial back that aporic tirade, you'll burst a corpuscle."

Just doing my bit to help people win arguments everywhere.

P.S. I'd love to hear if you can remember an aporiac tirade from a movie, too (See how I did that? Three constructions! English is wonderful). I was sure there was one in Ghostbusters somewhere...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

And always whirling, whirling to freedom

 Artist / programmer Jared Tarbell has created an addictive and hypnotic applet that spins virtual galaxies to life.

The Orbitals is a collection of particles operating on one simple rule: choose another particle in the system and orbit it with a fixed radius at a constant velocity. In this variation, a single root particle is instantiated in the center of the stage. All other particles introduced to the system fall into orbit at some level. Initially particles orbit at a fairly fast velocity. Over time, they slow so that their positions, orbit paths, and parent connections can be clearly rendered.
Don't be surprised if you get a sudden urge to break out your old Spirograph.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Nine Words You Might Think Came from Science but Which Are Really from Science Fiction

I couldn't be more pleased about, "Nine Words You Might Think Came from Science but Which Are Really from Science Fiction

," from the Oxford University Press new publication Brave New Words (It won the Hugo, baby!). So what if I did a report in the ninth grade on Star Trek, The Original Series (they MADE us choose an icon from the 60's!). I was morally obligated to school my classmates on the true origins of subspace and the jet-injector. Amaze your friends!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

10 Best Geeky Last Words

Wired has compiled a list of the, "10 Best Geeky Last Words".

They are sublime.

My favorite?
Go away. I'm all right.
-H. G. Wells

Find your own.

If you know of some other gems, post them in comments.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The high, untrespassed sanctity of space

Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/P.Slane, et al.

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory recently snapped this shot of energetic particles streaming from a pulsar—the rapidly rotating core left behind after a very massive star exploded as a supernova.

Known as B1509, the pulsar is thought to be about 1,700 years old and lies roughly 17,000 light-years from Earth.

The tiny pulsar is just 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) wide. But it is spinning so fast—it makes a complete rotation about every seven seconds—that the particles it spews have created a nebula spanning 150 light-years.