Geek stuff Archive
I'm going to do something different today - I'm going to highlight a YouTube channel that I personally really enjoy, and that I think might be a good fit for OSNews readers as well. I plan on doing this more often, since I feel a text/article-only focus leads to OSNews missing out on a bunch of really great and informative content. The channels I'll be recommending will all be focused on technology and science, and since I have a deep disdain for the stereotypical spammy, clickbaity YouTube channels, you can be assured I'll only be recommending truly informative and quality channels.
I'm going to start off with a channel called PBS Space Time.
Space Time explores the outer reaches of space, the craziness of astrophysics, the possibilities of sci-fi, and anything else you can think of beyond Planet Earth with our astrophysicist host: Matthew O’Dowd.
Matt O'Dowd spends his time studying the universe, especially really far-away things like quasars, super-massive black holes, and evolving galaxies. He uses telescopes in space to do it. Matt completed his Ph.D. at NASA's Space Telescope Science Institute, followed by work at the University of Melbourne and Columbia University. He's now a professor at the City University of New York's Lehman College and an Associate at the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium.
Space Time does not shy away from hardcore astrophysics, covering subjects like quantum field theory, quantum physics, the theory and mathematics of black holes and other astrophysical phenomena, and much more. Videos range from 10-15 minutes, and many subjects are spread out over many videos - the content is in-depth, purely scientific, and definitely not always easy to grasp. I'm currently watching Planck's Constant and the origin of quantum mechanics, just to give you an idea of what to expect.
There's a decent back catalog of videos to enjoy, so if this is your cup of tea, you've just got a whole bunch of new tea to drink.
There is a borderland between waking life and the uncharted wilderness of sleep that we all traverse each night, but we rarely stop to marvel at the strangeness of this liminal world. If we do, we find that it is full of hallucinations both wonderful and terrifying, a mental goulash of reality and fantasy.
Usually we pass through this state of half-wakefulness on our way to deep sleep within minutes. We may experience microdreams during the transition, but the content of these microdreams appear to be random and we usually don't have any memory of them when we wake. A team of researchers led by MIT doctoral candidate Adam Horowitz wants to change that.
Horowitz and his colleagues at the MIT Media Lab have developed a relatively simple device called Dormio to interface with this unique stage of sleep. Their hypothesis is that this liminal period between wakefulness and sleep is a fount of creativity that is usually lost in the ocean of sleep. The thinking is that if you’re able to descend into that stage of sleep and return to consciousness without descending deeper into sleep, you will benefit from the intensely associative thinking that characterizes the strange microdreams experienced during the transition to sleep.
There's so much we don't know about sleeping, dreaming, and the brain as a whole, that I'd be quite nervous about using devices like these before we have a better understanding of our brain. Still, if it works, this is quite cool.
Fifty years ago today, on 8 September 1966, Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek appeared on television for the first time - and forever changed the world. There's an endless string of articles all over the web, but as one of those Deep Space Nine fanatics the rest of the Trek world rather not talk about, this great article by Annalee Newitz really struck a cord with me.
Without this stubborn nugget of hope at its core, DS9 would be more like the 2000s version of Battlestar Galactica - a story about space mysticism and war that's laced with a fatalism about humanity. Ron Moore was an executive producer on DS9 and the creator of BSG, so the overlap makes sense. But on DS9, we are immersed in a world where our faith in the basic decency of intelligent beings can remain unshaken. Whether solid or liquid, most of the creatures who live on the space station always do the right thing. And most importantly, the good guys prevail not just because they are good, but because they are able to put their ideals to practical use. More than TNG and Voyager, DS9 helps us understand how humans got from the Bell Riots to social democracy in space. Our heroes do it by resisting imperialism and inequality and by allying themselves with other people who do. That's why the Federation has struck a deal with the Bajorans rather than the Cardassians.
Thank you, Mr. Roddenberry.
Ever since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, evolution has been the grand unifying theory of biology. Yet one of our most important biological traits, consciousness, is rarely studied in the context of evolution. Theories of consciousness come from religion, from philosophy, from cognitive science, but not so much from evolutionary biology. Maybe that's why so few theories have been able to tackle basic questions such as: What is the adaptive value of consciousness? When did it evolve and what animals have it?
The Attention Schema Theory (AST), developed over the past five years, may be able to answer those questions. The theory suggests that consciousness arises as a solution to one of the most fundamental problems facing any nervous system: Too much information constantly flows in to be fully processed. The brain evolved increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for deeply processing a few select signals at the expense of others, and in the AST, consciousness is the ultimate result of that evolutionary sequence. If the theory is right - and that has yet to be determined - then consciousness evolved gradually over the past half billion years and is present in a range of vertebrate species.
I know this really isn't what you'd generally expect to be posted here, but the concept of consciousness - one of a small set of words in the English language I cannot spell from the top of my head without making errors - is one of those things that, when you think too deeply about it, you enter into a realm of thinking that can get deeply uncomfortable and distressing, like thinking about what's outside the universe or what "existed" "before" (quotes intentional) the big bang.
Personally, I'm one of those insufferable people who ascribes the entire concept of consciousness to the specific arrangement of neurons and related tissue in our brain and wider nervous system - I don't accept religion or some other specific magical thing that makes us humans (and dolphins? And chimpansees? And whatever else has some level of consciousness?) more special than any other animal in terms of consciousness.
I also don't like the controversial concept of splitting consciousness up into an easy and a hard problem, because to me, that just opens the door to maintaining the religious idea that humans are somehow more special than other animals - sure, science has made it clear some other animals have easy consciousness, but humans are still special because we are the only ones with hard consciousness. It reeks of an artificial cutoff point created to maintain some semblance of uniqueness for homo sapiens sapiens so we can feel good about ourselves.
You can take the whole concept of consciousness in every which way, and one of my recent favourites is CGP Grey's video The Trouble With Transporters, which, among other tings, poses the question - if you interrupt your consciousness by being teleported or going to sleep, are you really the same person when you rematerialise or wake up?
NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the "habitable zone" around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another "Earth."
All the recent successes in space - Philae/Rosetta, New Horizons, the never-ending stream of discoveries from Keppler, like this one - actually make me sad, because it makes me wonder how much more we could've achieved and discovered has we not developed this anti-science and pro-war climate we've been living in for a while now.
Maybe these new achievements will reignite the hunger for space. We can hope.
Leonard Nimoy, the sonorous, gaunt-faced actor who won a worshipful global following as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the television and movie juggernaut "Star Trek," died on Friday morning at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 83.
"Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most... Human."
Carol Pinchefsky contemplates commercial skipping DVRs, and other tales of really good technology that vanished, in 7 Awesome Bits of Tech That Just Freakin' Disappeared. As Pinchefsky writes: "...It got me thinking about awesome technology that we somehow ditched. The airship? Awesome. Slide rules? Awesome awesome. Mir Space Station? Boss-level awesome. And now just thinking about wristwatches with calculators makes me suffer a sense of short-term nostalgia (as in Douglas Coupland's Generation X). Here are some of the coolest features and products that we’ve lost along the way to 2012.