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Entries Tagged as 'Science'

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

Welcome to SciFoo 2010

July 31st, 2010 · Comments Off on Welcome to SciFoo 2010

Welcome to SciFoo 2010

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

We all lined up to get out pictures taken for this year’s SciFoo rogue’s gallery.

So many interesting amazing people in one place with so many great talks planned. People are here this year from the Galaxy Zoo (Chris Lintott and Arfon Smith) and I am especially eager to hear their session which will be called I think “Citizen Everything.”

My Flickr account (linked to from the photo) will probably be the best place to keep track of what cool things I happen to see here.

Tags: geeky · Science · Wide wonderful world

Galaxy Zoo hits big Time

March 30th, 2010 · Comments Off on Galaxy Zoo hits big Time


Originally uploaded by gwydionwilliams

One of the top ten stories in Time this week is about the progress of Galaxy Zoo, which they call “Among the most ambitious and successful online “citizen science” projects to date,” saying further:

Galaxy Zoo asks its participants to help classify galaxies by studying images of them online and answering a standard set of questions about their features. For instance: Is the galaxy smooth or bulging? Is it elliptical or spiral? If it’s spiral, how many arms does it have, and are they tightly wound or thrown open wide?

I got to see some of the project’s early stages (as described in a blogpost from 2008 “Ox. docs shocks!,” so I am especially delighted to hear that their innovative work is ongoing and still so productive.

Tags: England · Science · Wide wonderful world

John Brockman, founder of the feast

December 28th, 2009 · Comments Off on John Brockman, founder of the feast

John Brockman, founder of the feast

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

John Brockman and Katinka Matson were in Cambridge this weekend, throwing (as usual) an enjoyable party… which none of my iPhone pictures came out, but I like this one of John, seen here with just a bit of Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, the author of the (soon to be published) Bursts.

There was quite a bit of talk about the Edge question for 2010 (which remains secret until it gets published there January 1.) I was also very intrigued by the ongoing DNA mysteries that Ting Wu explores in her Harvard Med School lab — and by the diverse places that Katinka Matson finds the flowers for her humongous photographs. I also learned that Frank Wilczek considers evolution a very roundabout way to deliver paltry amounts of information. I am looking forward to reading Connected by Nicolas Christakis and James Fowler, especially the chapter that begins with epidemic laughter. And if I had been sitting closer to Marvin Minsky or Benoit Mandelbrot, I might have learned something novel from them as well.

And then there was the Harvest’s sticky toffee pudding! Thanks once again, John Brockman and Katinka Matson.

Tags: Boston · Cambridge · Frank Wilczek · Science · Wide wonderful world · writing

Why does my desk not already look like this?

December 6th, 2009 · Comments Off on Why does my desk not already look like this?

Mmm computer displays to dream on 3

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

I have seen the future and it is CERN.

The only reason our desks don’t all look like this right now is that you, yes you, haven’t yet realized how much you want this, and therefore computer and software manufacturers have not yet started to make it easy to get.

Brains are not computers and we have “evolved” our computers to supplement the places where we really need extra help — memory storage and processing, collaboration, number crunching, and visualizing stuff.

The trouble is that, because computer monitor square-footage has been very expensive in the past, we are used to short-changing ourselves on visualization. Instead of getting the full shiny benefit of all the ways our computer CAN help us think, plan, and imagine, we are resigned to the time-consuming hackage of layered or tiled windows cluttering up our lone monitor.

Old computers and old monitors are very cheap; it would be easy to maker-fy several onto the wall behind your desk for simultaneous and useful display.

But wouldn’t this create a problem, I hear you asking, with “continuous partial attention“?

Au contraire! — as the seasick Frenchman said, when asked if he wanted to eat. By keeping our very own plans and obsessions and interests on view, we would compete more successfully for our own brainspace against the binging and buzzing of multi-interruption.

What would you keep on your own five new computer screens? I am also mentally giving you a free sixth one, where you actually work on the stuff you do now.

Tags: Editorial · Science · Wide wonderful world

Real-time results from CERN’s ATLAS detector

December 1st, 2009 · 4 Comments

Real-time results from CERN’s ATLAS detector

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

Frank and I are in Bern on our way to CERN, as the LHC beams are finally online and being brought up to speed. The LHC beam got to Bern’s labs before we did.

But not much before we did — ATLAS recorded its first particle “splashes” on Nov. 20, not much more than a week ago.

The ATLAS group at Bern University focuses on data-acquisition and data-analysis. One of the many amazing things they showed us today is their giant realtime display of LHC information.

The lefthand side of the monitor (most of it not visible in this photo) shows many aspects of the LHC beam status. One young experimenter is here pointing to information about the most recent “event” recorded by ATLAS, from three different viewpoints. This was a cosmic ray event, which was superceded by a second cosmic ray event during the few minutes we stood looking at the monitor. (The beam status was “off” so collision events were not on view.)

The black rectangle with many particle tracks is a lovely revolving three-dimensional image of very the first beam “event” recorded by ATLAS. Wow.

I am definitely going to follow CERN on Twitter for more.

Tags: Frank Wilczek · Science · Travel · Wide wonderful world

Adult fare on YouTube, for a change..

September 5th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Yes, an entire calculus limerick, resurrected from my 1992 joke book, has been made into a YouTube video by my old friend Stu Savory. (Calling him my “good old” friend would make him sound older and less good, so I’ll leave it there.)

The limerick is a fine old mathematical chestnut, most likely created by a real practitioner who invoked Gausswhen trying to tie his cravat and thought of Klein bottles when he heard the milkman’s cart rumble by. With blessings upon Stu’s head, I am not that old.

I hope all my readers will show their support for YouTube’s new adult content by favoriting Stu’s video early and often.

Tags: funny · geeky · Metablogging · Science · Wide wonderful world

Good morning, Krakow sunshine

July 20th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Good morning, Krakow sunshine

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

Long ago, the legendary hero Krak killed a dragon here by feeding it animal skins he had stuffed with sulfur. He was just the first in a long line of clever people who have made Poland’s ancient capital one of our planet’s most interesting cities.

The European Physical Society is holding its 2009 High Energy Physics conference in Krakow, so Frank Wilczek and Betsy Devine are here, full of high energy, ready to re-meet and confer and visit salt mines and listen to beautiful music and (in the case of Betsy) of course to blog.

Last night was a prize dinner of unusual interest, honoring CERN’s Gargamelle collaboration for the first great discovery made at CERN. This was one of the first big discoveries in physics (said Frank, in his after-dinner speech) that he was around to watch happen in real time — a discovery that was strongly challenged by many, when it appeared.

So why is great work done back in 1973 getting its first international prize in 2009? Giving a prize to an experimental group (instead of to its top members) is unusual — and it’s a novelty long overdue. Experimental results have for decades been produced by teams that may often include several hundred people. The EPS had to change its bylaws to do this, and somebody should give them their own cleverness prize for having done so.

Tags: Frank Wilczek · Science · Travel · Wide wonderful world

Frank’s 1969 face in 2009 NY Times

July 15th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Frank’s 1969 face in 2009 NY Times

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

Claudia Dreifus had an interactive piece in yesterday’s New York Times online (July 14, 2009), interviewing people about their thoughts at the time of the first moon landing.

Gloria Steinem and Janis Ian were cute then but young Frank Wilczek was the cutest.

Tags: Frank Wilczek · Science · Wide wonderful world

The amorous singing oxygen atom is baaaack

June 14th, 2009 · Comments Off on The amorous singing oxygen atom is baaaack

The oxygen atom, thinking about the scientist Eve

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

From today’s NY Times Tierney Lab blog:

Dr. Wilczek, an M.I.T. physicist who grew up in Queens, sang a Gilbert and Sullivanish song, centered on the frustrations of an oxygen molecule in love with a human being.

The big revelation is that this physicist isn’t a bad a singer. He may have a bit of vibrato, but he’s also got a lot of bravado. And he definitely stayed on key for the entire performance.

After a while, he was so engrossed in what he was doing, that he began to move–though, I must report, he’s no James Brown. Nevertheless, the audience where I sat–heavy-duty academic types– had to repress their own desires to start dancing. Who says that scientists have to be solemn and boring?

Who indeed? The song was the re-setting by Marc Abrahams ( for his Ig Nobel opera Atom and Eve, in which Frank played the baritone lead to friendly acclaim.

And there was more Tierney Lab news from Frank’s appearances at the NY Science Festival–or perhaps I should say instead there was Nothing.

Tags: Frank Wilczek · funny · Science · Wide wonderful world