Steven Pinker: Language as a Window into Human Nature

August 24, 2011

In this animation, Steven Pinker, experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and author of The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human NatureHow the Mind WorksThe Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature and more, shows us how the mind turns the finite building blocks of language into infinite combinations.

If this short intrigues you, I highly recommend the three books listed above. Fascinating, thought provoking material, exceptionally well-presented for the lay reader. Along with Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, Mr. Pinker is one of my dream lunch dates. . .

There are No ‘Colors’ There is Only Light

August 24, 2011

The grey tiles on the left look blue and the grey tiles on the right look yellow. But they are grey in each image.

Beau Lotto is appearing on the BBC’s Horizon show with a program called Do You See What I See?  about color perception where he explains that color (or colour) is not in the objects we perceive, but rather manufactured in our brains. The conclusion he draws from this is, I think, wonderful.

So we all see the world differently. Indeed, we have no choice about this because our experiences of the world are necessarily different. None of us sees the world as it is. In this sense we are all delusional, what each of us sees is a meaning derived from our shared and individual histories. This awareness, possibly more than anything else, provides an irrefutable argument for celebrating diversity, rather than fear in conformity. Which is liberating, since knowing this gives you the freedom (and responsibility) to take ownership of your future perceptions of yourself and others.

PETNet Will Track Contaminated Dog Food

August 24, 2011

The Week, a print and online news aggregator that I especially like, has a great article on PETNet, a new system set in place to share information about pet food contamination, a response to the 2007 pet food recall.

PETNet has more than 200 members — federal, state, and territorial government officials from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. They are charged with monitoring pet food safety and animal health, and, if they discover potential contamination or product defects within their jurisdictions, they can post information to the network, immediately alerting other members to potential problems. That sort of speedy, easy communication could prevent future pet food contamination problems from becoming out-of-control epidemics.

For the complete article, go here.


Escher’s Gravity Defying Waterfall: Illusion or Source of Unlimited Energy?

August 24, 2011

When I was in college it was a requirement that you smoked dope, leafed through a book of the amazing print work of Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher and said, “Oh, wow, man.” I don’t know if that remains on the curricula today.

If you are not already familiar with his work, you’ve got an incredible treat ahead of you. His work is a fascinating and unique combination of mathematical ideas, illusions and art.

The video above is an attempt at recreating, in the real world, one of Escher’s most popular images, the endless waterfall. Remember, this is an illusion. Can you figure out exactly how it was done?

Here are two clues: forced perspective, painted shadows. Oh, and a video editing program. See the YouTube channel for creator M.C. Wolles for the full explanation. Well done, Mr. Wolles!

Republican War on Science – Chris Mooney

August 24, 2011

I thought Chris Mooney’s book The Republican War on Science was required reading for anyone who supports a reality-based* approach to the topic of government and science. This is not to say that there aren’t Democrats with equally specious views on scientific issues, but the Republican Party seems to take an anti-scientific view point as, well, as an article of faith.

Here’s an update from Chris on the current presidential race and science.

The future health of the American economy will require a scientifically literate and technologically savvy work force. Just as there needs to be a clear separation of Church and State, there needs to a clear separation of Church and Education in our nation’s school.

You can argue that the Bible can teach you morality and ethics. I’d disagree due to all the rape, slaughter, incest and torture that are such a large part of the Old Testament, but that’s just my opinion. However, it’s certain you can’t learn atomic theory, fundamental biology, neuroscience, or how to create an effective nationwide wireless cell phone network from the Bible. That’s what should happen in publicly funded schools.

Because, believe me, if American students aren’t learning it, there’s a generation of Indian and Chinese students who are.


* In an October 17, 2004, The New York Times Magazine article by writer Ron Suskind, Karl Rove, the presidential aide quoted below, explained his view of the Republican take on ‘reality.’

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”



Web Design Round-Up: Muse from Adobe, HTML 5, Trends & Ideas

August 24, 2011

Adobe has released a free a beta of Muse, a new web authoring software that allows you to produce a high quality web site without writing code. In their promotion for Muse Adobe mentions that you can “focus on design rather than technology. . .as flexibly and powerfully as you do in Adobe InDesign.” So maybe this is neing pitched to print designers (and perhaps the average joe) who don’t want to get under the hood with HTML and CSS? People who want to learn more about web design sometimes decide to pursue online masters degree programs.

Certainly there’s a market for this, as an option for those who don’t need the power and flexibility of Dreamweaver, along with its steep learning curve.

I’ve always been amazed at how much of the functionality of the full Photoshop package that Adobe puts into Photoshop Elements. That’s one of the best bargains around for the non-print professional who wants to makes their personal photos look great. If the same ratio exists re: Dreamweaver to Muse, this could be a great niche product.


Wesley Fenion wrote a great piece on the Best and Worst Trends in Modern Web Design for the Tested site. I’d label it Highly Recommended Reading. Tested wants to be the site “for clever people who want to buy smarter, tweak better, hack harder and watch us destroy stuff.” Who can resist a Mission Statement like that?


Smashing Hub has a great piece on 10 Excellent HTML5 overlooked coding tools for creating games, forms, using the Canvas feature, determining browser compatibility and more. If you do web design on any level, you should check these out.




Cancer Sniffing Dogs – New Research

August 24, 2011

It’s been known for some time that dog’s amazingly sophisticated sense of smell can detect established cases of various cancers including melanomas, ovarian, colon, breast and lung cancers. Now Discover magazine has published research that shows that a dog can be trained to alert to the smell of lung cancer on your breath even if you’ve just had lunch or smoked a cigarette! Go here to read the entire article.

HTML5 vs Flash infographic

August 6, 2011

There’s a battle for animation in your browser that will begin seriously heating up over the next year. Will the video capabilities of HTML5 mean the end of Adobe’s Flash? How badly has Apple’s ban on Flash on mobile devices hurt the program? More than the poor implementations of Flash by web designers who value looks over content?

What about Adobe’s new Edge program; will it cannabilize Flash from within their San Jose headquarters?

My biggest complaint about Flash is that it slows down my access to the content I want to get at in web sites; restaurant sites are one of the worst offenders as a class in this regard. These animations also discourage repeat visits. It’s a very rare Flash animation on the web that bears repeat viewing, in my view.

Here’s an interesting infographic about Flash versus HTML5 (below). It will certainly answer some of the questions you have about the upcoming transition.

Click on image for larger size.