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Linketies: Science Saturday (With A Brief State-of-the-Mike Report Included)
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After a not-quite-planned hiatus due to dealing with some offline personal matters, I'm going to start posting again. At least for a while. I still plan on transitioning away from Livejournal sometime in the near future, although my original plan of doing that over the summer is obviously shot. I've spent the last few months doing a lot of thinking and making quite a few big changes to my life -- all of which are for the better and working out very well so far.

I don't want to get into all the details now, since it would take too long and the details aren't all that interesting anyway (even to me). But for the Cliff's Notes version, I have a new apartment in northeast Portland, a cool new roommate, and I've decided to give up the entrepreneurial life, at least for the time being. I accepted an offer for a full-time position with a company in the international travel industry that comes with some incredibly cool co-workers, great pay and benefits, and a lot of growth opportunities. I've been there for a month and a half and I'm having a lot of fun so far. Between settling into the new place and hitting the ground running at the new job, I just haven't had the time to post here.

As much as various get-rich-quick schemes try to tell you otherwise, there can be advantages to being an employee rather than an entrepreneur, and that's definitely the case for me at this point in my life. For starters, I work 9 AM-5:30 PM Monday-Friday and I feel that, for the first time in a while, I truly have my evenings and weekends to myself. When I'm not at work, I don't have to worry about work. No need to worry about clients or administrative issues or thinking of "opportunities for additional revenue". I have the time to think about plans for finishing my degree, getting back to writing again, and just relaxing during my off hours.

With the life recap out of the way, I'll move on to the weekly list of articles about cool things going on in science and technology. Due to my new schedule, I'll be doing these on Saturdays now. "Science Saturday" has a better ring to it anyway and I'm happy to cede Science Fridays back to NPR, where they started. Without further ado . . .

  • Robot Rights: We've all heard the amusing anecdotes about people saying please and minding their manners when speaking to Siri. But our emotional responses in interactions with machines may go further than mere politeness. While it's true that we still think nothing of tossing out an old remote-control car, new research at MIT is finding that humans become disturbed when more sophisticated and social robots come to harm. In light of such findings, scientists have begun thinking seriously about codes of ethics for robotics. The time when philosophers, lawyers, and the general public will have to grapple with such issues seemingly isn't far off.

  • Ring Around The Moon?: Yet another example of a dawning Golden Age for the private space industry. A Japanese firm is proposing to orbit a ring of solar collectors around the moon and transmit the energy back to Earth. In light of the citizen backlash against nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster, I can't help but wonder if there might be a new boom in Japanese green energy projects.

  • The Clocks In Your Brain: Scientists have long known that a part of the brain called the hippocampus plays an important role in keeping track of memories of the past and may be important to actually keeping track of time as well. But a new experiment in which the the functioning of the hippocampus was blocked in rats is helping scientists to understand more about how our brains perceive and measure time. And things may not be quite as simple as first thought.

  • Floating Around The World: A firm based in Florida has plans to build a mile-long floating city that would boast 50,000 permanent residents. It would come complete with an airport, docking facilities, restaurants, schools, a hospital, and all the other comforts of home and would make one complete circuit around the world every two years.

  • The Aliens That Used To Exist: One factor that is seldom considered in the search for life in the universe is that we have to contend with unimaginably vast amounts of time along with the unimaginably vast distances. A civilization that died out a million years ago obviously won't be communicating with us. Fortunately, astrobiologists are developing a more sophisticated understanding of how life changes a planet's atmosphere, knowledge that may help us search for those alien life forms that used to exist but don't any longer. Of course, even the discovery of alien life that's currently extinct would be monumental, since it would be proof that life could and did evolve in a location other than Earth.

  • How Life Changes The Land: The presence of life not only changes the atmosphere, but also constantly affects and reshapes the land. Sophisticated new computer models are letting planetary scientists in Germany learn more about how biological life affected the physical evolution of the Earth's surface.

  • A Digital Lollipop: Digital technology already does a good job with sight and hearing and engineers are at work trying to replicate touch and smell too. But what about taste? Researchers in Singapore are working on ways to digitally reproduce the sense of taste and, surprisingly, the problem doesn't even seem to be all that complicated.

  • The Psychopath In You: Finally this week, imagine that you're a prominent neuroscientist. Now imagine that you're studying the brains of psychopaths. Now imagine that due to another research project, you happen to have brain scans for yourself and members of your family on hand. Now suppose you come to a brain scan that's an obvious textbook example of a psychopath and it is a scan for one of your family members. Suppose further that you just couldn't resist using that little number on the brain scan to find out which member of your family it belonged to. So then you type in the number of the brain scan, the one that is from a psychopath, and you discover that it's yours.


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