Category Archives: Scientifically


After seeing a picture at Reddit (a biblical person riding a dinosaur) with a long winding comment thread, I found myself looking for statistics about fossil finds. More or less, I’m looking for the answer to the question of “Which continent has the most fossil finds?”.

The web is not particularly helpful: Enchanted Learning has a couple of pages dedicated to specific dinosaur finds per continent: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and Antartica.

Looking (skirmishly) at the Asia page (above), it seems to tell me that hardly any gigantic dinosaurs were found in that Middle East region, but, I guess, maybe this explains why there’s so much oil overthere (reminder: how oil forms). Additionally, it appears that most of the dino fossils appear to have been found in North America. You can make up your own mind about that.

Them links

Via Suzanne Vega’s site, I found out that she nowadays (also) blogs for the New York Time’s ‘Measure for Measure’ periodical. There are other musicians writing for that very same blog: the only (other) familiar author is Roseanne Cash.

You’re probably aware that music and mathematics are quite related: Pythagoras was quite interested in music and his theories form the basis of current musical notation. Anyway: Three music professors have come up with a new way to analyze and categorize music and notes.

I forgot to mention it in earlier (Ubuntu) entries: In a couple of days (5 to be exactly), the new Ubuntu is to be released, properly named ‘Hardy Heron’ (or rather 8.04). You can download (complete) test versions (RC3, I believe) from the ‘Ubuntu testing’ website. You can also upgrade your current 7.10 (“Gutsy Gibbon”) to this test version using Ubuntu’s Update Manager. If you’re curious what’s going to be new, here are “Hardy Heron”‘s release notes.

Update: I just updated to the RC of Hardy Heron. You should definitely install the compiz graphical effects manager by invoking ‘apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager’. The manager will appear in your System menu: have fun playing with the options.

Words to watch for

TheA Synchrotron words (or rather terms) to watch for in the next coming years are:

  • Gravitational Lensing: I’ve mentioned this topic before, and trust me, it’s the most discussed topic in my neighbourhood. Better yet, every morning, I wake up to the tune of the Gravitational Lensing-nettes. On the serious side, gravity appears to be one of the most successful methods to detect exoplanets: Just recently, astronomers found the first ever mirror solar system using this technique.
  • Synchrotron: The first time I read about this machine was on April the first and that, sir, is no joke (Slashdot thread). Actually, I’ve been planning to build one of those things in my backyard (what backyard, muhahaha), but like all things “cirque scientifique”1, these things just take time to build. That being said: A synchrotron is literally a particle accelerator that (in the end) produces high-intensity X-rays. I mention this word here, because, just today, thanks to the synchrotron, we’ve finally found the very first snake with legs.

In any case, if you were thinking about starting a barbershop quartet or something, I hear that the name “The Synchrotronnettes” is still available. That is, if you can actually pronounce it flawlessly.

1 If I think of ‘cirque scientifique’, I keep thinking of this video, “Breaking Down Science”, brought to you by the Everett Dance Theatre.

Aliens uh?

If you’re bored and feel for a challenge this weekend: I watched a couple of videos online that were interesting enought to share.

‘Alien Planet’ (1h:30m) is a documentary about an imaginative human mission to an inhabited planet (“Darwin IV”) 40 or some lightyears away. I added this video in my ‘recent links’ section last night but I thought it was worth mentioning here as well. The documentary is cheesy but interesting, particularly because of the great animation (done by a Montreal-based animation shop). I thought that the scientific explanations of other lifeforms (or the attempts thereof) were awkward. Also, what the hell makes George Lucas an expert. See also IMDB’s entry on this documentary.

There was a buzz around the January 30th ‘God Debate’ between Chris Hitchens and rabbi Shmuley Boteach. The host of that debate has put the full video online which can be watched at the 92Y site. It’s a long video too: one and a half hour, I believe.

And once again, I would like to remind you of that other video I posted in another entry, which is the one about gravity: ‘What on Earth is wrong with gravity’. While I’m not a fan of the way how Horizon presents these kind of heavy topics, in this case they do an excellent job in trying to explain what gravity is about, in exactly 1h:30m too.

Another one then.

For all: a good new year. At xsamplex, 2008 will be ‘more of the same': we’ll bring you the bad, the good and (if I can make some more time) more code.

You may have already read about this one: The Edge’s yearly question to scientists, authors and others. This year’s question is ‘What has changed your mind and why?’. If you’re bored for a couple, it may probably take you a couple of hours to get through all the submissions (Metafilter thread and Slashdot thread). Additionally, more commentary at the Guardian.

There were two astronomy articles that caught my eye, last night. The first one is about the mysteries of our (outer) solar system, specifically about the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud. The second one is actually a MetaFilter post about giant diamonds in space. The post links to an excellent site about stars.

The last link, is the one about the discovery of a 2500-year-old civilization in Russia. Actually, the find is at the bottom of Lake Issyk Kul (Wikipedia) in the Kyrgyz mountains. For a moment, I was thinking that it would be neat if news articles provided actual topography for these kind of locations.

Mars Express

I was reading about ‘the active glacier’, found by the ESA’s Mars Express earlier this week, which led me to look up the Mars Express website. Excellent (and amazing) imagery. My favourite one is the photo of the Cydonia region. While we’re at it, you may remember that (quite a while ago) Google launched maps for Mars, so here you go.

The ESA has been plugging away to make their websites as user-centric as possible: there are desktop downloads available in the form of screensavers and wallpaper. While I’m not really into screensavers (I have been running the same screensaver for ages, it appears: only recently I decided to switch to a screensaver depicting an aquarium in 3D OpenGL), I thought that the Mars Express wallpapers would have been interesting enough if they were available in the 16:9 resolution ratios (like 1280 x 800). They’re not and frankly, I’m too lazy to start cutting those images up.


Via MetaFilter: A NASA article about faster than light traveling, space colonization and science fiction. The article is an excellent overview of current propulsion techniques and what we’d need to travel to the nearest habitable planet.

If you’re into SF, Star-Trek and that and you are slightly unfamiliar with the paradoxes that traveling at the speed of light brings, you’re in for a disappointment. We don’t know enough about physics and we need (at least) make breakthroughs really soon now.

Charles Stross (author of Glasshouse and Halting State) has more sobering thoughts, highlighting the issues with sending a manned mission to (for example) Proxima Centauri: he notes that getting a vehicle at 10% of the speed of light requires the equivalent energy output of 400 megatons of nuclear missiles. Naturally, since we don’t want to overshoot Proxima Centauri, we need that same amount of energy to decelerate:

For a less explosive reference point, our entire planetary economy runs on roughly 4 terawatts of electricity (4 x 1012 watts). So it would take our total planetary electricity production for a period of half a million seconds — roughly 5 days — to supply the necessary va-va-voom.

Bruce Sterling wrote in 2004 (on colonizing Mars) that it’s a lot cheaper to colonize the Gobi desert than Mars. The two places are literally much alike: ‘they’re both ugly, inhospitable and there’s no way to make it pay':

On the other hand, there might really be some way to make living in the Gobi Desert pay. And if that were the case, and you really had communities making a nice cheerful go of daily life on arid, freezing, barren rock and sand, then a cultural transfer to Mars might make a certain sense.

More on this I will discuss in 2416, but I’m in a rush now: I have to travel to the future and tell the descendants of my twin-brother that they’re about to discover a wormhole to Proxima Centauri.


I‘m a Glacialisaurus action of EurekAlert, a site that provides scientific news and achievements in two-bite snack format. The only problem I have with the site is that the articles are short and (generally) don’t provide appropriate links. Take for example this one about that dinosaur find in Antartica: the article mentions digital images (by William Stout) but to actually find some samples, I needed some Google-Fu to see what that thing looked like.

EurekAlert does link to the magazine that features the (published) findings: however, to find detailed information about this, you need to dive deep into the site to find an abstract about the new dino, plus the magical (but technical) full article (PDF format!).

Coffee, huh

The BBC has an article about how coffee protects female memory: A French research team compared women aged 65 (and older) who drank more than 3 cups of coffee per day with those who only drank one per day. Those who drank more apparently showed less decline in memory tests over a four year period. The protective effect didn’t seem to apply to men and the results of the research suggest that women metabolize caffeine differently.

My eyes fell on the ‘See also’ section of that article which link to other (BBC) items on coffee research: Coffee may help relieve gym pain (07), ‘coffee boosts female sex drive’ (06), decaf coffee linked to heart risks (05) and caffeine does not raise blood pressure (02).

I think that covers all of coffee’s important properties. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you have to get up early in the morning, you definitely shouldn’t drink coffee at night.

Pray, tell, rain

I read that sm_corona_virus.jpgthe Orthodox Church of Cypres has ordered priests to pray for rain on December the 2nd of this year. It appears that this is a routine that has been done before, most recently when a comparable drought struck the island 9 years ago.

BBC also reports that scientists have created a detailed map of Antartica. The images come (primarily) from the Landsat spacecraft and there are plans to make the data available for use in software like ‘Virtual Earth’ and ‘Google Earth’. You may want to view the results right at LIMA, that is, if you can get through the bottleneck (yeah, yeah, it’s a popular site this week).

And last but not least, an excellent (long) article about retrovirusses at The Newyorker. The article discusses the influence virusses had (and have) on our body’s immune system and cancer, and (particularly) about how retrovirusses have become part of our DNA. There’s some interesting commentary about new approaches to tackle HIV (a retrovirus), for example, by accelerating its life cycle (the faster a cell reproduces the more errors it makes, eventually passing non-threatening DNA to future generated cells.). Mind-blowing read. You can read the follow-up discussing over at MetaFilter.

Klaatu barada nikto

When astronauts (or cosmonauts for that matter) from a different country get into a fight, which country’s law does apply? (via Slashdot) According to a 1967 treaty (Outer Space Treaty), states have legal jurisdiction within spacecraft registered (‘owned’) by them, which more or less compares with current maritime treaties. Imagine keelhauling with the CanadArm! Pirates of The Void. Yeeargh.

Earlier this week, researchers discovered a fifth planet around star 55 Cancri. The star itself is 41 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Cancer. This brought me to a couple of sites that track down ‘extra solar planets’. The first one is the Extrasolar Planet Encyclopedia, which truly reads like a 1995 website (Good memories). The second one is JPL’s ‘PlanetQuest’, which sounds like the title of a typical 80s adventure movie. That aside, both websites have excellent explanations how astronomers can detect planets around stars (PDF file!).

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but there’s going to be a remake of the 50s classic ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’, which will star Keanu (“Klaatu”) Reeves and Jennifer Connelly (@wikipedia). The last time I saw this movie was when I was way smaller and when everybody still had black and white TVs in their livingrooms.

More space

CBC Radio’s Bob Fournier touched on the Phoenix Mars today: the mission’s goal is to find out if the Mars can (and does) support life. Oh no, not again, you say: however, interestingly, Phoenix is landing closer to the (North) pole. Additionally, for a change, the lander is equipped with a miniature lab (sort of like the Viking landers, but then more advanced, because, well, it’s the 21st century).

Via MetaFilter I found this link to the ‘Seven Wonders of the IT World’, and frankly, some items on the list have me scratching my head. For example, Voyager I is listed (earlier at xsamplex). No really. I think most consider the Voyager missions as a tremendous scientific achievement. The only interesting quote:

How it communicates with Earth: Uses NASA’s Deep Space Network, a system of antennas around the Earth. There’s no IM out here: Signals traveling … take 14 hours one-way to reach Voyager.

The trick question: At what speed does sound travel in space and why is that?

Oh, yeah

There’s this excellent BBC documentary about Titan (the moon) and Huygens (you may remember the successful Huygens touchdown). If you’re a movie aficionado, pay attention to the music that accompanies many scenes. You may recognize some of them.

There’s a myth out there that you can’t run Disk Defrag and MediaPlayer at the same time. Or that you need at least 2 Gig to have MediaPlayer play smoothly. This is bullocks.

National Geographic has a great article about malaria and mosquitoes (more on malaria at the WHO).

I’m not sure if this one fits in this posting, but, remarkably, a couple of developers announced Sylph-Searcher, a program that promises fast searching through (Sylpheed) MH folders. Wait: the announcement was made in the Postgres developers mailing-list. Apparently, you can use a database to store all your important e-mails from within Sylpheed. This makes perfectly sense: I mean, do you remember your very first e-mail? 100 to 1 that you don’t have that one anymore and that you wished you saved it somewhere safely into a database.