Category Archives: Science

Randall Munroe buys a house (or not)

sheep_TRP_comm Consider this question: How can a cartoon drawn by a physicist in Massachusetts impact the housing market in the Lake District of southern Chile? If you thought, oh, that sounds like one of those T. Rowe Price commercials that proclaim, “We understand the connections of a complex global economy,” that’s exactly what I intended… when I wrote it.

In the case of those five commercials, however, the opening is a teaser, for example, “How can power consumption in China impact wool exports from New Zealand, textile production in Spain, and the use of medical technology in the US?” The economic secret behind each combination goes unstated, but presumably if you become a T. Rowe Price customer, you will get the decoder ring, or a white paper, that will make it all clear.

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Long day’s journey into bitly

…with apologies to Eugene O’Neill.

For the past two years, I have checked in from time to time with bitly and added to my posts about what I found. What started as an amusing projection — how could the URL-shortening service evolve as they began to run low on 6-character hash strings? — turned somber, morbid, even sepulchral. Most recently, I wrote in The bitly dea(r)th watch that, because of Twitter’s DIY shortener,,

…it was [now] less a matter of when bitly would run out of unique hash strings and much more a matter of when the world might run out of bitly. Would the dearth become a death, not to put too fine a point on it?

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NBA announces European expansion: Geneva Colliders

NBA Commissioner David Stern astonished the American sports world and the international scientific community today by announcing that the league’s first European expansion team would be the Geneva Colliders.

“We have long thought that scientists in general, and high-energy physicists in particular, are a neglected part of our fan base. So the recent flurry of press coverage and public enthusiasm surrounding the discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN made this an opportune time for action.”

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Higgs confirms Gutting

Start with the composite photo above — left to right, the galaxy Messier 82 (M82) taken by the Hubble Space Telescope; the tip of a pine branch in Upstate NY taken by me; and a putative Higgs event from the Large Hadron Collider modelled by the CMS collaboration at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. Now ask yourself this: Could you explain to anyone else what is happening in each of these?… Yeah, I couldn’t either, though it wouldn’t stop me from trying! But really explain? No, not at the galactic or human or sub-nuclear scales. And yet as a species we know an astonishing amount about all three. How can that be? The answer is that there are two kinds of people involved, and we have learned to trust them both — scientists who dream up experiments, create measuring devices, and carefully analyze the results; and philosophers who help the first think about what it means to know something with confidence. More about one member of the second group later.

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