Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

Making trouble today for a better tomorrow…

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Entries from August 2010

Double helix … in our stars or in our selves?

August 23rd, 2010 · Comments Off on Double helix … in our stars or in our selves?

L0029145 Detail of foilio showing Capricorn and Aquarius wit

Originally uploaded by medicospace

Substituting a fine Flickr image from the Wellcome Library London for the image I want but probably should not steal (a drawing by Crick of the DNA double helix) I suddenly realized something orthogonal to my original point.

1. Point of Crick’s drawing of double helix, shown in conjunction with a lot of his other lab notes and scribbles of molecular structures, diffraction patterns, etc. — making pictures of things lets us see structure instead of chaos.

2. Orthogonal point made by constellation image: making pictures of things lets us see structure that isn’t there!

One more thing I love about the Wellcome Library besides their wonderful slideshow: they have a copy of my science joke book in their History of Medicine collection.

Tags: Science · Wide wonderful world

The unreasonable beauty of August sunset

August 17th, 2010 · Comments Off on The unreasonable beauty of August sunset

The unreasonable beauty of August sunset

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

“Nature is profligate,” said Annie Dillard. Thousands of green leaves erupt from seemingly nowhere to cover an urban wasteland gone to seed — hundreds of little frog eggs float out over the spring pond that may add no more than one new grown-up frog this season — millions more blueberries get eaten in NH summers than ever manage to sprout into new bearing bushes.

Nature is profligate not only of mass and energy, but also of entirely senseless beauty. There is so much extra beauty everywhere going to waste if we don’t take just those few minutes away from our busy lives just to stand and take heed of our own part in this world.

Tags: New Hampshire! · Science · Wide wonderful world

The Nematode Diet

August 9th, 2010 · Comments Off on The Nematode Diet

"Hairy" nematode (Stilbonematinae), Bocas del Toro, Panama

Originally uploaded by artour_a

Why does peppermint-stick ice cream have to taste so darn good, when everyone knows that calorie restriction is Better? Or at least, calorie restriction makes nematodes live a long time, which surely must mean it could turn every one of us into a sleek superfit suntanned sexy sextillionagenarian.

Now consider this shortcut to glory: a diet of nematodes. Calorie-restricted nematodes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — with some crunchy nematode cysts for between-meals snacking.

If my nematode diet does not motivate you to eat a lot less than you do, I will be very very very surprised.

Tags: food · funny · Science · Wide wonderful world

More fascinating SciFoople (my word and I made it)

August 5th, 2010 · Comments Off on More fascinating SciFoople (my word and I made it)

Lots of us!

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

Here are just a few more of the fascinating people whose ideas helped make SciFoo 2010 such a treat.

Linda Stone It was great to see Linda Stone again working so energetically and creatively at pulling important ideas out of the subconscious and giving them good names, e.g. “continuous partial attention” and “email apnea.” She’s now thinking about play, or as she says, “the place where your passions find you.” Mapping the early play activities of scientists to their later work, she recommends Stuart Brown on the neuroscience of play, and wants more scientists to get in touch through her website, Early remarkabilities: programmers played at building things; physicists loved games of asking why; many neuroscientists zapped bugs with electricity.

Werner Vogels I first met Werner at an early Bloggercon–soon afterward he became tech guru at Amazon–so it was lovely to see him the same Werner Vogels after an infinite number of Internet years. He made a couple of really good contributions from the floor about “Citizen Science.” Amazon’s Mechanical Turk lets people do small tasks online for small amounts of pay — hunting for porn is a popular task, and a common one as companies filter user-generated-content. One big motivation for turks is having a clear task that fits into a short space of otherwise blank time.

Yoshiyuki Sankai He is an MD whose company Cybernics makes working exoskeleton pieces. One assemblage helps people walk, using their own nerve activity to move legs and feet. He showed us some remarkable videos of people standing up and walking after years of being confined to a wheelchair or bed.

Gary Bradski Gary works on a computer visualization program called Open CV, at Willow Garage. He gave a lightning talk about perception (“harder than vision,” to quote him). “What is an edge?” he asked, showing a photo where we could see lots of them. Then he focused in on just some of the different kinds of edges we perceive … discontinuities in depth, color, reflectance, texture, and surface orientation.

Debra Lieberman Debra is a professor at UCSB who designs interactive games that promote good health outcomes. I begged her to give a talk at my virtual/visual session, but she was already committed to speaking elsewhere that session. I did repeat for my group her definition of a game, which you will notice does not involve competition: “A game is a rule-based activity that involves challenge to reach a goal and that gives feedback to player on progress toward the goal.” (This is her definition as said across a dinner table and scribbled by me in my notebook, so please blame me rather than her for any flaws therein.)

Tags: Science · Wide wonderful world

Virtual/Visual Show and Tell at SciFoo 2010

August 2nd, 2010 · 1 Comment

Virtual/Visual Show and Tell session

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

One of the highlights of SciFoo for me was a talk by George Djorgovski from Caltech about understanding huge amounts of complex data. It was clear that several others in his audience had also devoted a lot of work to such questions, in diverse fields, so I volunteered to be the stone in stone soup, rounding up people and getting a space for a Show and Tell on great hacks for displaying complex data. Thanks to all who took part — I have been getting lots of feedback from people who really benefited from your talks. In far-too-short summary, in order of presentation:

Betsy Devine Subjective time as a factor in understanding complex data; using games and Second Life to get people to spend time engaging with your data.

John Cacioppo Displaying complex findings from social neuroscience about changes in social networks over time.

George Djorgovski Using the interactive 3D capabilities of Second Life to examine and share complex data from astrophysics.

Gary Flake Working with Pivot, an ambitious data-display tool from Microsoft Live Labs.

Richard Breiman Interacting with 3D information from CAT scans to (for example) detect polyps or simulate a complex operation before performing it.

Michael Weiss-Malik Using Google Earth tools to explore the Moon’s surface and interact with historic maps of different parts of it.

Rick Cavallaro Ways that Sportvision is adding computer-generated data such as the virtual first-down line to TV shows of sports events.

Ian Wright Teaching students about science by having them do experiments in Second Life to figure out that world’s laws of physics (somewhat different from ours!)

Arfon Smith New projects from the Galaxy Zoo websites creating new levels of feedback to users who are exploring the Moon and other astronomical objects.

Tags: Science · Wide wonderful world