Archive for December, 2011

December 25, 2011

Jelly Christmas 2: Scientists discover neural basis of yuletide

by Lucas Wilkins

A team using advanced brain analyzers have discovered the true nature of Christmas. Using cutting-edge technology along with very very complicated statistics they have proved that Christmas lies entirely between our ears.

The experimenters at Lapin University placed a number of subjects into an expensive brain scanning machine and showed them a series of stimuli that invoked festive responses. When shown the stimuli the neurons in two parts of the midbrain – known as the corpus visci and corpus vini – lit up like a Christmas trees.

“We’ve found the grandmother neuron… but for Christmas!” said senior scientist Dr. Joulupukki – referring to the neurons that light up when you see your grandmother. “I call them the Grandfather Christmas neurons”, he quipped before a sustained period of forced laughter.

Some of the stimuli used by Joulupukki et. al.

December 23, 2011

Jelly Christmas 1: The N days of Christmas

by Lucas Wilkins

The song, Twelve days of Christmas raises a number of important questions, like who gives milkmaids as presents? and will this song ever end? But most importantly, it makes us ask: If every day was a day of Christmas (like some may wish), would it still be physically possible to sing the song?

Here’s how long it took to sing each verse on the John Peel show one year when the great man was still alive:

December 22, 2011

Another example of a computer…

by Lucas Wilkins

Calculation of greatest common divisors is a quite complex problem for a digital computer, but not for pendulums:

The pendulums line up at the edge with frequencies given by the common divisors of their individual frequencies. For example, here is diagram of a 6Hz and a 4Hz signal, you can see that they line up with a frequency of 2Hz:

The algorithm it solves it is thought to be NP (it gets slow pretty quickly). Even though the problem it solves is difficult in the usual sense, the python code to calculate it is actually quite short (though I have deliberately made it so here):

def gcd(a,b):
    return a if b == 0 else gcd(b, a%b)
December 13, 2011

Proofs of God in a photon

by Lucas Wilkins

I’ve been reading this article in the independent: “Proofs of God in a photon”. The article is ultimately about some anthropic principle stuff. But the comments are full of silly things that make reluctant to call myself a scientist in case I am associated with the authors. So, as therapy, I shall call a number of the commenters on their bullshit. First, a well meaning guy called Dan,

December 12, 2011

The Primordial Haze?

by Nathaniel Virgo

Here’s an interesting fact: apparently, chemical self-reproduction is easier to achieve in gases than in liquids.  This leads me to an interesting idea: maybe the very first steps in the origins of life took place not in the oceans  but in the atmosphere.  The mechanisms by which molecules can produce more of themselves are interesting, and in this post I’ll explore a bit about how such molecular reproduction (or, to use the technical term, autocatalysis) works.

December 11, 2011

Things whose existence is surprising. 3: Long egg machine

by Nathaniel Virgo

While we’re on the subject of Things Whose Existence is Surprising, here’s a another one. The reason this particular thing’s existence is surprising is that this machine solves a problem that most people would never have imagined was a problem.

That problem is this: imagine you’re in a cafeteria of some kind, eating some kind of egg salad.  This salad contains many slices of delicious hard-boiled egg. But, oh no, these egg slices are inconsistently sized. Worse, some of them don’t even contain any of the yolk.  If only there was some way to make every slice perfect, just like the ones that go right through the centre of the egg.

Click through for the solution…

December 11, 2011

Things whose existence is surprising. 2: Water slide simulator

by Joshaniel Cooper

The real life waterslide simulator:

December 10, 2011

A slight correction to the back alley pea and cup solution…

by Lucas Wilkins

In my previous post I said that the most likely back alley pea and cup “game” was in reality going to be:

where the “host” (the person running the game) just takes all your money and runs away. But, given this is the best thing for the host to do and you are still playing for some reason, it makes sense that the game would really play out more like:

where you run away with the money before they do. (thanks Jim)

December 8, 2011

Poll discussion: The Monty Hall Controversy

by Lucas Wilkins

The latest Jellymatter poll has been up for a while now, time to discuss what the correct solution is. As well as sounding like a question from a Voight-Kampff test, it is a “double trick question”, based on the Monty Hall problem. It was a little mean of me to post it with my own agenda in mind.

For me, the interesting thing about the Monty Hall problem is vehemency of those who argue for “switch”, option. The argument is nearly always unjustified. Whilst arguing this I will talk about how the problem has been stated in the past: It’s history shows how quickly someones brief, informal argument can change into an unintuitive answer to a ill-posed question and then into a dogmatic belief.

December 7, 2011

Example of a computer

by James Thorniley

I bought a cool toy. It cleverly computes the trajectory of a cute wagging tail without using a universal Turing machine, or anything similar.


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