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Mar 2012 14

by Damon Martin

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”
~ Dr. Emmett Brown, Back to the Future

Remember the bit in Back to the Future when Doc Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd) utters that very line and flies away in his souped up DeLorean to take Michael J. Fox and his girlfriend 30 years into the future? He takes them to the year 2015, which is only 3 years from now. In Brown’s version of the future, all the cars had been converted to flying automobiles and we had air gliding skateboards, video walls, and instant pizza.

Were some of those ideas a little crazy? Sure they were. But thinking back 30 years ago, those sorts of things almost seemed possible. I mean look at 1985 compared to 1955 with regards to the advancements in science, technology and innovation.

Now in the year 2012, the United States of America is falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), while our creativity and innovation fails to come up with much of anything new outside of Apple releasing a new iPhone or iPad every year.

Famed astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson believes that a big reason that America is falling behind innovation-wise is due to the lack of funding the government has given over to NASA in the last several years. As our space program has dwindled so has our ability to think outside the box, and reach for the stars both literally and figuratively.

Tyson recently spoke in front of Congress where he made his case for why NASA’s funding is so important:

“During the late 1950’s through the early 1970’s, every few weeks an article, cover story, or headline would extol the ‘city of tomorrow,’ the ‘home of tomorrow,’ the ‘transportation of tomorrow.’ Despite such optimism, that period was one of the gloomiest in US history, with a level of unrest not seen since the Civil War. The Cold War threatened total annihilation, a hot war killed a hundred servicemen each week, the civil rights movement played out daily confrontations, and multiple assassinations and urban riots poisoned the landscape,” said Tyson. “The only people doing much dreaming back then were scientists, engineers and technologists. Their visions of tomorrow derive from their formal training as discoverers. And what inspired them was America’s bold and visible investment on the space frontier.”

Now Tyson points out very specifically that in realistic terms the reason why the US was so dedicated to the space race in the 60s had to do with the Russians’ own dedication to space exploration. The USSR launched the first manned missions into space and the only way the US could beat them was to land a man on the moon. Obviously that was a successful conquest, and, in the period directly following it, most people believed that within a couple of decades we’d surely have landed a man on Mars. Neil Armstrong first stepped foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, yet more than 40 years later our space exploration has essentially landed back on Earth with a dull thud.

‘We stopped dreaming’ said Tyson during an appearance on the popular HBO series Real Time with Bill Maher. “And so I worry, that decisions Congress makes, doesn’t factor in the consequences of those decisions on tomorrow. Tomorrow’s gone. They’re playing for the quarterly report, they’re playing for the next election cycle, and that is mortgaging the actual future of this nation.”

In that same interview, Tyson also points out that the financial bailout ($850 billion) that was completed to save the banks and Wall Street from complete collapse, is more than the entire 50 year tally of the budget for NASA.

The fact is Tyson is right and it’s not even all about landing a man on the moon or exploring the deepest reaches of space, as amazing as all that would be. So much technology was developed as a result of our race to the moon, and that also created work for millions of Americans. Technology launched or invented because of our out of this world endeavors includes Lasik surgery, scratch resistant lenses, cordless power tools, micro-sized electronics, and the list goes on…

But we stopped dreaming.

Even in the early 1980s when I was in elementary school, kids talked all the time about becoming astronauts and wanting to walk on Mars or being the first person to fly to Pluto. I vividly remember our teachers always showing the shuttle launches and how exciting that was to see for a kid growing up. Now our children’s dreams might take them as far as Washington, D.C. or New York City, but rarely do you hear anybody talking about flying to Mars, much less colonizing the moon.

As NASA’s budget continues to fall by the wayside while other programs flourish, and our war machine eats up billions upon billions of dollars, what dreams are we instilling in the next generation? We are obviously a long, long way from landing on Mars or even sending manned missions back into space. We can barely get funding for the technology that will help us peer far enough into space from earth so that we may one day learn the true origins of our universe.

Flying cars? Maybe Doc Brown should have shot for 200 years in the future given the trajectory we’re currently on.

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Dec 2011 21

by Bob Suicide

Bob Suicide’s Top 10 Geeky Books For The Naughty N’ Nice Nerd In Your Life

1. Book of Sith: Secrets from the Dark Side by Daniel Wallace ($62.98)

It may not arrive in time for Xmas, but be sure to stick a preorder for the Book of Sith (out February 10, 2012) under the tree because embracing the dark side with this multi-faceted tome will be well worth the wait!

2. Transformers Vault: The Complete Transformers Universe – Showcasing Rare Collectibles and Memorabilia by Pablo Hidalgo ($20.57)

Speaking of robots…how about ones in disguise? The Transformers Vault is filled with all kinds of nostalgic goodies for any die-hard fan who weeps at the mere mention of Bayformers, ahem, I mean that franchise that shall not be named.

3. ‪Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson ($17.49)

There’s no denying that Steve Jobs defined a generation of gadget-lovers — and often catered directly to us. This collection of vignettes culled from a series of 40 interviews puts his life and creative genius into perspective, and may inspire some wonderful New Year’s resolutions or dev. projects for 2012.

4.‪ Let the Right One In‬ ‬by John Ajvide Lindqvist ($10.85)

Sure, the original movie was amazing, and an American version was made (for better or worse), but the original novel is a wonderful gift to re-educate all those who think vampires sparkle.

5. ‪Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith ($11.19)

And, speaking of vampires and movies…Get it before the movie comes out so you can be up on all of the fanboy banter. I could never get into the Jane Austen novels. I’m just not a girlie girl. So, when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out I couldn’t jump on the bandwagon. But, a hatchet-wielding vampire hunter who gives one hell of an address is right up my alley.

6. ‪Packing for Mars‬: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach ($10.85)

I’m a big fan of this author’s witty take on in-depth research of interesting scientific topics. In fact, her book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is one of my all time Top Ten favorite reads! Cute, funny, and pun-ny, this book looks at the next frontier for space travel and gives you the 411 on how to prepare.

7. Why does E=mc2?: (And Why Should We Care?) by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw ($9.63)

This book is short and very easy to read. It’s a great stocking stuffer or quick holiday read for those who want a brief primer on physics — or to impress their friends at holiday parties (we all know what you’re doing!).

8. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks ($7.99)

From all accounts, the movie sounds like it’s going to destroy all of Max Brook’s amazing work. So be sure to get this book for every geek you know so we can all enjoy the story as it was meant to be.

9. The Walking Dead: Compendium One by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore ($31.24)

Speaking of zombies and original stories thereof, be sure to give that zed-head you love the original Walking Dead story!

10. SuicideGirls Comic Book Series Vol. 1 thru 4 – Written by Steve Niles and Illustrated by Cameron Stewart ($7.50 for the set!)

I could be a little biased, but I think this makes a great gift. Buy it now, or accept the consequences…


[Above: Bob Suicide in Gears of War]

Further reading: Bob Suicide’s Uber Geeky Gadget Gift Guide
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Nov 2011 28

by Damon Martin

In today’s America, I could easily say I was a Catholic, a Baptist, a Mormon, or a Muslim and likely get less criticism and hatred spewed at me than simply saying I don’t believe in any god or book that talks about a god. It’s for that reason that today I ‘come out of the closet’ and proudly say that I’m an atheist. I won’t apologize for that and hopefully more atheists will do the same.

At the University of Kansas recently, a group of students launched a campaign called ‘We Are Atheists‘ modeled after the famous ‘It Gets Better’ campaign focused around gays and lesbians.

The ‘We Are Atheists’ ideal is simply a way for more non-believers to come out and not be afraid to speak about their lack of belief in a god, or their belief in science or evolution, or whatever it is that brought them to decree that they are an atheist.

Co-founder Amanda Brown put together a five-minute video that’s being circulated around YouTube speaking about why she is an atheist and encouraging others to speak out as well.

It’s a similar ideal to that of famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins who started the ‘Out Campaign’ a few years ago. Dawkins created the movement with the exact same thought in mind:

“The Out Campaign allows individuals to let others know they are not alone. It can also be a nice way of opening a conversation and help to demolish the negative stereotypes of atheists. Let the world know that we are not about to go away and that we are not going to allow those that would condemn us to push us into the shadows”

Atheism is almost like a dirty word in American culture. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in May 2011 asked voters what potential traits would sway them negatively away from a political candidate. 7% said that a political candidate being a woman could sway them away, 33 % said a candidate being gay could push their vote the other way, while 46% said that a candidate who had an extra marital affair wouldn’t get their vote. As for atheists, well a whopping 61% said that that was a negative trait that would keep them from receiving a vote.

The fact is, not believing in god scares the general public because believing in god, any god, is something that’s so widely accepted, that society by default dictates that you have to believe in something to be accepted. It’s not enough that the Bible, Koran, or any other religious texts all disagree on where the world came from or how to get to heaven, that ultimately religious folks all believe in some magical spaceman in the sky – believing in anything rather than nothing is preferential when it comes to creating camaraderie.

The fact is I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in a higher deity, I don’t believe in the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon or any other religious text. I went to church as a kid and I thought I believed in god the same as everyone else around me. I had an aunt and uncle that took me to church with them and I felt accepted, and I felt like this was what I was supposed to do.

As time went on however, I realized that I never felt a ‘divine presence’ and when I read the Bible cover to cover, it literally scared the hell out of me. How could a god that was supposed to be so loving and forgiving be so selfish as to ask you to literally love him above everything else? How could this same god kill, murder, and have horrible acts done in his name on page after page after page?

I always joke with people that the easiest way to make an atheist is to have them read the Bible, but the reality is that it was a shock of reality for me as much as reading any book about science or even Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. There is however just as much wonder and amazing things in science as there will ever be in a book like the Bible, conversely there’s a lot less rape, murder, and genocide in a science text than a book talking about god.

I do have morals and none of them are based on the Ten Commandments or other religious beliefs that have been passed along. I know I shouldn’t kill a person because it’s simply wrong, not because god told me it was wrong.

With the holiday season just around the corner, I’m sure to have friends ask me about how I’ll celebrate Christmas, and I usually respond with the same thing every year: “It’s a day off from work.” But pushed deeper, I’ll happily explain that I don’t celebrate Christmas the same way that I don’t celebrate Easter or any other religious holiday.

Sure, Christmas is more about gift giving and seeing family now than anything to do with the supposed birth of Christ, but it’s something I’d rather not acknowledge and that’s my choice. The same way I don’t expect all of my friends to read the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, or follow the speeches given by Christopher Hitchens.

The fact is I’m an atheist and that doesn’t make me any better or worse of a person than anybody reading this article. But I refuse to be afraid to talk about why I don’t believe a god exists the same way so many Christians happily thank god when something good goes right in their life.

If that makes me a lightning rod for criticism, so be it. I know I’m not alone and I’m happy to stand up and make the statement.

I am an atheist.

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Nov 2011 16

Blackboards In Porn is a highly amusing site that claims to celebrate “pornographers who go the extra mile when set dressing classroom porn and actually write something on the blackboard.”

Its anonymous but obviously British editor and webmaster, who we’re reliably informed has a BEng in Electronic Engineering and an MA in Screenwriting, focuses his or her considerable analytical and creative skills on the equations, diagrams, and notations drawn on said boards, checking for accuracy and scouring for greater meaning.

Though not a porn site ourselves (we like to think we’re naughty but not nasty, and pinup rather than pornography), we thought it’d be fun to set BiP some homework. Thus we challenged ’em to set their logical prowess loose on the chalk boards of SuicideGirls. Here’s what BiP came up with while checking out Nina Suicide’s Back To School photo essay…

WORK HARD AND DO YOUR BEST

Lessons in Life – universal
Computer Science – A-level/undergraduate level

There can be few better exhortations to students than this. Working hard and doing one’s best will always produce the finest possible results, either in the classroom or on the playing field. After any exam or sporting challenge there is no failure if one can say afterwards “I did my best.” (England footballers please take note.)

A game of Noughts and Crosses is underway on the blackboard. If this has been done by a student then it should have been rubbed off immediately (see post #9 re Wilson and Kelling’s broken windows theory). But if this is actually part of the lesson then a gold star should be awarded as Noughts and Crosses is a great introduction to many mathematical and computer science concepts from combinations and symmetry to artificial intelligence.

A first question to pose to the class would be how many games of Noughts and Crosses are possible (the game tree size)? A naive answer would be 9! = 362,880 (assuming X always goes first). However, many games will be over before all the squares are filled, and many more are simply rotations and reflections of others (in effect there are not nine, but only three starting places: corner, centre and edge). Taking these into account gives an answer of 26,830.

Devising an algorithm to produce perfect play is also a favorite challenge, exploring ideas such as backwards reasoning and recursion. These can then be applied to other, more complex games such as Connect 4 and draughts, through to unsolved games such as Reversi, chess and Go (with its game tree complexity of 10360).

However, if this is an attempt to teach the strategy of perfect play then one must hope that the teacher has picked a very poorly played game to illustrate what not to do. Assuming that X’s first move was in the corner (always the best start: of the then 73 possible games, assuming perfect play on X’s part, 71 result in victory and two in a draw), then O has immediately blundered by playing the far edge instead of the centre (where his/her only hope of a draw can come from), resulting in what should be certain victory for X. X could then force a win by playing the centre, but has him/herself blundered by playing middle bottom. O can now snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat by playing centre or top right, leaving X to harp on about how the Wags should have been allowed to stay in the team hotel.

Despites its pedagogical pedigree, Noughts and Crosses quickly becomes futile when both players can easily force a draw. This was well-illustrated in WarGames, when the military supercomputer, equating the game to global thermonuclear war, evaluated all possible outcomes and remarked, “Strange game. The only winning move is not to play.” Failing that, just work hard and do your best.

8/10 An inspired choice of teaching material.

Visit blackboardsinporn.blogspot.com/ for more case studies on mathematics as featured in erotica.

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Oct 2011 05

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

– Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

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Sep 2011 21

by Bob Suicide

It’s a mantra that’s been around for as long as I can remember: “Be nice to the geek in class because, one day, they’ll be rich/own the company you work for/rule the world.” Harassed and ostracized by those in the more popular crowds, us geeks served as a cautionary tale; Don’t let your bullying go too far because you’ll pay for it later when the geeks inherit the earth.

And inherit the earth we have. But not quite in the glorious way we imagined.

Geek-tastic movies filled with superheroes and heroines have topped the box office, our conventions are over-flowing with fans, and everyone on the street collects and wears the geek-chic swag. We’ve ignited a mainstream love for comics and sci-fi, and helped line the coffers of the major comic book houses and movie studios along the way. But we’ve also done something a little more important; we’ve inspired a new generation of scientists, mathematicians, astronomers, and archaeologists.

And while Hollywood is able to market “geek” to the masses, the scientific community is also learning how to market both natural and social sciences to a public that is generally very wary of the S-word (“science” is literally a word meaning “knowledge” –– but somehow that’s threatening).

Most recently, a group of gamers are being heralded as saviors by the scientific community thanks to a protein folding game posted on Fold.it. The Foldit puzzle was created to add a third dimension that a microscope slide couldn’t provide. Targeting a monomeric protease enzyme, a cutting agent in the complex molecular tailoring of retroviruses (including HIV), Foldit allowed gamers to use their honed-by-Tetris spacial skills to create a 3D image of the protein molecule. As a result, scientists can better understand the molecule’s structure, how it causes many diseases (including HIV), and how to create drugs to properly inhibit these proteins.

While much of the press is spinning it as though “mere gamers” were able to solve a complex puzzle (in just 10 days!) which had previously stymied scientists for year, I like to think of it a different way. This “citizen scientist” movement is a brilliant symbiotic relationship that should be nurtured. In the case of this specific Foldit puzzle, scientists needed spatial reasoning from a human that a computer alone couldn’t provide. Meanwhile gamers love exciting challenges that provide more of a sense of accomplishment than a spot on a leader board. Indeed the players of Foldit appear to share my sentiment. The final piece of the protein puzzle was solved by someone with the user name “mimi” who wrote an email to MSNBC in support of the game,

“The game is not only an interesting intellectual challenge,” notes mimi, “but it also provides a unique society of players driven by both individual and team rivalry with an overall purpose of improving the game and the results achieved.”

This is people coming together to advance science and, in turn, to advance humanity. It isn’t just a one-off project either. There’s a deep and exciting “citizen science” movement making the rounds and there are other scientific puzzles that need our particular brand of geeky help. Here’s just a couple of examples:

Ancient Lives

This puzzle game works to decipher the Oxyrhynchus Papyri discovered in 1896. Due to the nature of papyrus and the age of the documents, mostly fragments have been found. Piecing the fragments back together then deciphering their contents would be a monumental task for even the most skilled team of researchers –– that’s where the game comes in. Linguistically inclined geeks can identify Greek symbols using a keyboard.

Galaxy Zoo

If first-person shooters are more your style, you can play Galaxy Zoo and hunt for Supernovae. When presented with three images — new, reference, and the subtraction –the gamer determines whether they’ve found a white-hot supernova in their cross hairs.

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While public interest in our geek culture might wane, this surge in popularity is providing lasting contributions to the scientific community. So let’s get over our hang-ups, and try to encourage it wherever we see it, even if it appears kind of “off” or “fad-ish.” Interest is interest. And maybe the next time you see someone taking a child’s DS away in favor of more so-called “worthy” pursuits, let ‘em know their child’s interest in gaming might be the key to curing cancer or unlocking the connection between quantum mechanics and general relativity. Essentially we need to spread the word that it’s OK to let little tikes “game on.”

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Aug 2011 12

by Damon Martin

Recent discoveries by scientists studying meteorites may very well prove everyone on Earth evolved from alien life forms.

Technically, extraterrestrial building blocks to be exact.

Several scientists studying meteorite fragments have discovered they contain the building blocks of DNA, strengthening previous theories that life on Earth may have been spawned from materials landing here from space. According to findings by scientists, meteorites that have landed on Earth contain all the necessary elements to create DNA.

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