Mars orbiter catches pic of Curiosity on its way down! | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine

The simple and sheer amazingness of this picture cannot be overstated. Here we have a picture taken by a camera on board a space probe that’s been orbiting Mars for six years, reset and re-aimed by programmers hundreds of millions of kilometers away using math and science pioneered centuries ago, so that it could catch the fleeting view of another machine we humans flung across space, traveling hundreds of million of kilometers to another world at mind-bending speeds, only to gently – and perfectly – touch down on the surface mere minutes later.

The news these days is filled with polarization, with hate, with fear, with ignorance. But while these feelings are a part of us, and always will be, they neither dominate nor define us. Not if we don’t let them. When we reach, when we explore, when we’re curious – that’s when we’re at our best. We can learn about the world around us, the Universe around us. It doesn’t divide us, or separate us, or create artificial and wholly made-up barriers between us. As we saw on Twitter, at New York Times Square where hundreds of people watched the landing live, and all over the world: science and exploration bind us together. Science makes the world a better place, and it makes us better people.

via Mars orbiter catches pic of Curiosity on its way down! | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine.

Purely awesome.

Brittany Wenger, 17, Wins Google Science Fair Grand Prize For Breast Cancer Diagnosis App

The Grand Prize winner of the science fair, for good reason, was a 17-year-old from Lakewood Ranch, Florida. Combining the fields of biology and computer science, Wenger wrote an app that helps doctors diagnose breast cancer, according to the description of her project on Google.

The type of computer program, called a “neural network,” was designed by Wenger to mimic the human brain: Give it a massive amount of information (in this case, 7.6 million trials), and the artificial “brain” will learn to detect complex patterns and make diagnostic calls on breast cancer. Her program used data from “fine needle aspirates,” a minimally invasive procedure that, unfortunately, is often one of the least precise diagnosis processes, according to Fox News. But Wenger is helping change that, as her program correctly identifies 99 percent of malignant tumors.

via Brittany Wenger, 17, Wins Google Science Fair Grand Prize For Breast Cancer Diagnosis App.

Very amazing and inspiring science projects from teenagers. See Brittany’s winning project here.

Synthetic Biology Incubator Launches

Yes, an incubator! Just for synthetic biology! It’s being hosted at Singularity University in Silicon Valley. Does anyone need any more convincing that there is a huge future in synthetic biology, through big leaps in both innovation and technology? The way we work with biology is changing, evolving, from observation to invention.

Looks like the incubator is providing resources, mentoring, and stipends for their chosen startups. Hopefully it will be like what tech incubators such as Y Combinator have done for computer startups – no doubt that many will fail or have to change their business plans and project ideas, but at the very least, there will be increased coverage and education about what synthetic biology is capable of.

“Teeming with ambitious ideas and some pretty futuristic potential, synthetic biology is an emerging multidisciplinary field in which the principles of genetic engineering are coupled with genome design software to capitalize on the plummeting cost of DNA analysis and synthesis. The approach is to construct artificial biological systems in a similar way that computer chips are made. The result is a broad array of potential technologies that could lead to a radical transformation across a variety of sectors, including medicine.”

There’s a great video at the end of the article that gives an intro to synthetic biology, too.

Source: http://singularityhub.com/2012/05/29/inaugural-synthetic-biology-incubator-synbio-launches-at-singularity-university/

Dan Barber’s Culinary Crusade – WSJ.com

“Butchering and eating animals may not be called kindness, but eating soy burgers that rely on pesticides and fertilizers precipitates destruction too. You don’t have to eat meat, but you should have the good judgment to relinquish the high horse. There is no such thing as guilt-free eating.”

WSJ Soapbox piece on food, sustainability, local diets, and the environment by Dan Barber, chef at Blue Hill at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. He discusses his opinions on what is best for humans to eat – best for us in a way that is healthy, and best for the earth in a way that is sustainable and logical – based on nutrient cycles, tracing the energy flow, and the inputs and outputs unique to different areas and their soils, as well as culture and our biological needs. Interesting ideas on “ecological intelligence” and an argument against vegetarianism (it’s always good to hear the reasoning behind both sides!).

“What I don’t like about sustainable foodies—and I’m considered one of them—is that we carry an air of preachiness about food. (No one wants to be told what to eat, whether it’s by your mother or by a group of holier-than-thou chefs.) But true sustainability is about more than just deciding to cook with local ingredients or not allowing your child to have corn syrup. It’s about cuisine that’s evolved out of what the land is telling you it wants to grow. As one farmer said to me, Food systems don’t last; cuisine does.”

Source: Dan Barber’s Culinary Crusade – WSJ.com

Colors and their names

Aatish Bhatia, a PhD student at Rutgers blogging at the Empirical Zeal, gives us a very fascinating read on how naming colors has affected our perception of colors and our visual worlds. A little bit of linguistics, a little bit of color theory, a little bit of visualization, a lot of interesting science. Think about it: we gave colors discrete boundaries and names, but they are more of continuous, fluid things.

Here’s some of the introduction that gets you started on thinking about how we partition color:

“Blue and green are similar in hue. They sit next to each other in a rainbow, which means that, to our eyes, light can blend smoothly from blue to green or vice-versa, without going past any other color in between. Before the modern period, Japanese had just one word, Ao, for both blue and green. The wall that divides these colors hadn’t been erected as yet. As the language evolved, in the Heian period around the year 1000, something interesting happened. A new word popped into being – midori – and it described a sort of greenish end of blue. Midori was a shade of ao, it wasn’t really a new color in its own right.

“One of the first fences in this color continuum came from an unlikely place – crayons. In 1917, the first crayons were imported into Japan, and they brought with them a way of dividing a seamless visual spread into neat, discrete chunks. There were different crayons for green (midori) and blue (ao), and children started to adopt these names. But the real change came during the Allied occupation of Japan after World War II, when new educational material started to circulate. In 1951, teaching guidelines for first grade teachers distinguished blue from green, and the word midori was shoehorned to fit this new purpose.

“In modern Japanese, midori is the word for green, as distinct from blue. This divorce of blue and green was not without its scars. There are clues that remain in the language, that bear witness to this awkward separation. For example, in many languages the word for vegetable is synonymous with green (sabzi in Urdu literally means green-ness, and in English we say ‘eat your greens’). But in Japanese, vegetables are ao-mono, literally blue things. Green apples? They’re blue too. As are the first leaves of spring, if you go by their Japanese name. In English, the term green is sometimes used to describe a novice, someone inexperienced. In Japanese, they’re ao-kusai, literally they ‘smell of blue’. It’s as if the borders that separate colors follow a slightly different route in Japan.”

Source: The crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains (part I)

Read part II here.

1 Hour in Square’s World | Wired.com

Take a look at this infographic published in Wired last week that shows an hour of transactions that were performed through Square. Square is a rapidly-growing payments platform that makes it possible for anyone to accept credit cards, using their main feature, the free (yes, free) little white square credit-card-swiper that you might have seen at small businesses or places where people exchange money that has traditionally been more cash-focused because of temporary or mobile conditions (such as flea or farmer’s markets). Anyone can sign up and get a reader, and the app is free on phones and iPads, so if you lend out a lot of money to your friends and they never have cash to pay you back, here’s an option for you. The reader is free but every transaction gives a 2.75% cut to Square.

Square is also trying to push a mobile payments platform that lets you pay via your phone, without needing any card, at local businesses that you frequent or just want to check out. The businesses must be listed in the Square directory, meaning that they’re all set up to accept money that way, and you can just walk in and add purchases to your tab on your smartphone, which gets confirmed at the register (iPhone and certain Android devices only, at the moment). Not only does it cut out the need for carrying your wallet, as Square emphasizes, it also encourages recognition between local, smaller businesses and their frequent customers. Or even just any customers.

Square is definitely not the only mobile payments platform out there, but they’ve been pushing hard to get their little white block out there, and the map is fascinating to look at. I can’t say it’s a favorite device of mine, because I’ve used and experienced it before and it’s always been finicky and difficult to work with — mostly in problems getting the cards to swipe and register, which seems to be more of the hardware. I’m always scared it’s going to break, because it’s connected to your device through the headphone jack. While it’s great that they’ve worked so hard to get their product and app out, I think that their reader can probably be improved, and it’s interesting that they’re sort of letting everyone test-drive the hardware on such a large scale when it’s not quite reliable yet. But clearly that has been working for them, looking at this map.

1 Hour in Square’s World | Wired Business | Wired.com

What Are Those Circles?

The circles represent single transactions going through the Square payments system during a one-hour period on a recent Thursday afternoon–the larger the circle, the bigger the dollar amount of the sale. These transactions happened around 4 p.m. Eastern. So think happy hour in New York, and lunch hour in San Francisco, where Square is based. A busy period for Square and the merchants who use it.