Have you ever wondered why a piece of toast always seems to fall with the buttered side down? Turns out it’s not an accident. Likewise, researchers have determined that amino acids, basic building blocks of life on Earth, have a high probability of forming based solely on the laws of thermodynamics. Thus if we ever do make contact with aliens, they may share some of the basic building blocks of our biology. (And they’ll be humanoid in shape… NOT!)
Archive for the 'Science' Category
Did you know that the Earth’s north magnetic pole isn’t fixed, and it moves about 40 miles per year? In fact, several years ago it left Canada and is now over international waters, heading towards Siberia. And since compasses point “north” towards the magnetic pole (versus the real north pole) this movement can have a tangible effect on compass readings. For example, the Tampa, FL airport recently changed its runway designators to account for the changes to magnetic north. This NOAA article shows the locations of the magnetic pole from 1831 to 2007.
The mineral zinc, which can be purchased inexpensively in pill form, is very effective at treating the common cold. Take it as soon as symptoms start to appear. This will reduce both the length of the cold and the severity of the symptoms.
In yet another example of science fiction turned real, researchers at Newcastle University have developed bacteria, named BacillaFilla, that seek out cracks in concrete and knit them together with glue. Then the bacteria self destruct (right, I’ve heard that one before…).
From the article: “[P]sychologists have long been known that the more psychopathic a person is, the more easily they can identify potential victims. Indeed, they can do so just by watching the way a person moves. In one study, test subjects watched videos of twelve individuals walking, shot from behind, and rated how easily they could be mugged. As it happened, some of the people in the videotapes really had been mugged—and the most psychopathic of the subjects were able to tell which was which.”
The travelling salesman problem is a famous optimization problem where you attempt to find the shortest path in a network that touches every node exactly once. The name comes from the idea of a travelling salesman who has a list of cities to visit—ideally he wants the shortest overall trip that hits each city once. This problem is fairly trivial to solve for a small number of cities, but it quickly becomes unsolvable as the number grows larger.
Quite surprisingly, however, recent research shows that bumblebees instinctively solve this problem (the “cities” are actually flower patches in this case). The experiment was only done with four flower patches, but it’s still pretty impressive that a brain the size of a grass seed can do this at any level. The hope is that further investigation will make it possible to create better computer algorithms to handle these sorts of problems.
During World War II, it was important for the allies to be able to estimate German tank production. The Germans made this task easier by using a simple range of serial numbers that began with “1” and were incremented by one for each new tank. Thus the allies could read the numbers off captured/destroyed tanks and use statistics to estimate the total number of tanks produced. After the war, when the production records were available to the allies, they found that the predicted number was nearly identical to the actual value, and that the estimate from traditional intelligence sources was off by a factor of five.
Researchers have discovered some interesting effects of background white noise. First, as the noise increases the perceived taste of food becomes blander and crunchier (which helps explain airplane food). Second, for students with problems focusing, white noise brought their performance level up to that of other students. Unfortunately, the noise worsened the performance of normal students—so there’s not a one-size-fits all solution here.
From personal experience, I like having background noise on all the time. For example, I turn on the radio when I go to bed. And back in my college days I had music playing pretty much 24/7. It seems to help. I know other people, however, who can’t sleep or concentrate when there’s noise in the background.
As regular Chad’s News readers already know, the current public-key encryption scheme will be useless once we build quantum computers with enough qubits. So scientists have been searching for an encryption method that’s less susceptible to quantum computing algorithms. Turns out that one such scheme was developed in 1978 by CalTech mathematician Robert McEliece. It’s safe from all currently-known quantum computing attacks. McEliece’s system is a bit unwieldy—the keys are very large—but expect to hear more about it unless a better quantum-safe method is found.
Researchers have proven, using mathematical techniques and a heavy amount of computing power, that 20 is the maximum number of moves necessary to solve any Rubik’s Cube configuration by the shortest method. This value is known as God’s number. They were able to mathematically reduce the number of unique patterns from 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 to a mere 1,090,175,792,696,524,800 (one quintillion). Then they used something on the order of 35 CPU years of processing to verify that each of the remaining combinations could be solved in 20 moves or less.
Thanks to Josh for this link.