15 December 2010

Impossible Things are Happening Every Day

It's a big, wide, interesting world.  Every day, my RSS feed on Google Reader brings me something strange and fun... often, several things that are strange and fun.  I have a huge backlog of TEDTalks to watch, but in the mean time I've been reading up on all sorts of other interesting topics.

These articles are all about how the world is improving:

  • A History of Violence: All about the changing realities of mortality in every day life and how violence has decreased in the last hundred years.  Yes, with two world wars, decreased.  Fascinating stuff by an author whose books are rising on my "to read" list.
  • Genetic tests for fetuses: A new, safer method that uses very sensitive maternal blood tests to check for genetic factors.  This article gives me serious Gattaca flashbacks, but modern medical science still amazes me.  I also feel obligated to point out that the writer does a very responsible job of explaining the time needed for commercial viability and the systematic drawbacks to diagnostics that reveal so much information.
  • MRI of baby being born: The title sort of speaks for itself, but the image is amazing.  It apparently required a whole new set up for an MRI scanner, but this sort of imaging can provide a wealth of information never previously available.
  • History of Life Expectancy and Wealth: I've seen this graph in a TEDTalk previously, but the 5 minute video and mini-lecture is a better explanation of the data itself.  A cool look at how life really is getting better for most people, dramatically so in the last 150 years.
  • Recognizing Women in Science: A long article that I'm still working through, but so far it's fascinating and well worth the time.  The Royal Society of Britain is celebrating its 350th birthday this year, but women were not allowed to join until 1945.  The article takes a look at what the RS and other scientific societies lost by excluding women (who were already winning international prizes for their work!).
And these articles are about things we could be doing better:
  • Creative Groups: A short list of things to do with groups of people to inspire creativity.  I think his points about group size are incredibly important.  And of course, it all runs back to my devout wish to run a 21st century Parisian salon or British coffee house...
  • Building Your Own Personal Finance Manual: A cool idea, which would never have occurred to me because I'm innately horrified of writing in books.  I would use Smart Couples Finish Rich, if I were to do this.  What would you use?
  • Terry Pratchett on Alzheimer's: An article that reminds us that there are still demons to slay.  If there were ever a reason to encourage your children to become thinkers and researchers and scientists, this is it.
  • Science in the Public's View: I don't necessarily endorse everything this article says, but the overall point is a great one, as shown by the pathetic coverage of NASA's newly discovered arsenic-using life form.  The second bullet point in the article is the scariest to me: 44% of people surveyed could not name a scientist role model; the top three choices of the remainder were not scientists (Bill Gates & Al Gore) or not alive (Albert Einstein).  Stephen Hawking, anyone?  Neil deGrasse Tyson?  Brian Cox?  Brian Greene?  All of whom are regularly featured on news programs and TV specials.  And those are just physicists, for crying out loud...
And last but not least, for sheet entertainment value, this clip about a family dinner date (complete with the man who would go on to play Ward Cleaver), with commentary brought to you by Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Not for the easily offended (i.e. those without a working definition of sarcasm), but very funny for the rest of us.

What about you?  Discovered anything lately that just amazes you beyond words?

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