Friday, February 24, 2006

Do Dogs Know Calculus?

I found this article from Science News fascinating:

Calculating Dogs

Ivars Peterson

It all started with Elvis.

In 2003, mathematician Tim Pennings of Hope College in Holland, Mich., revealed to the world that his Welsh corgi, Elvis, appears to be solving a calculus problem when finding the optimal path to fetch a ball. In this case, optimal path means minimizing travel time.

When Elvis and Pennings go to the beach, they always play fetch. Standing at the water's edge, Pennings throws a tennis ball out into the waves, and Elvis eagerly retrieves it. When Pennings throws the ball at an angle to the shoreline, Elvis has several options. He can run along the beach until he is directly opposite the ball, then swim out to get it. Or he can plunge into the water right away and swim all the way to the ball. What happens most the time, however, is that Elvis runs part of the way along the beach, then swims out to the ball.

Depending on the dog's running and swimming speeds, the strategy that Elvis follows appears to minimize the time that it takes to get to the ball. Indeed, Pennings found by experiment that Elvis performs in a way that closely matches a calculus-based mathematical model of the situation.

"It seems clear that in most cases Elvis chose a path that agreed remarkably closely with the optimal path," Pennings argued in the May 2003 College Mathematics Journal.

Link (via

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

NYT: There's a Cafe Scientifique Near You!

This is an extremely cool idea - one worthy of spreading. Its seems so 1800s... interested citizens mingling with prominent scientists, learning about cool, cutting-edge science.

Science Comes to the Masses (You Want Fries With That?)


Published: February 21, 2006

DENVER, Feb. 20 — A scientist walks into a bar. More than 100 people are there, eager to hear all that she has to say and ask a lot of questions. No joke.

That's what happens at the Wynkoop Brewing Company here every month when Café Scientifique is held.

Science is not cold and remote in this setting. It's live, interactive, free and informal, with a drink or two. And other Café Scientifique meetings are popping up throughout the country and around the globe on campuses, in coffee shops, bars and even a church. The purpose is to make science accessible and even fun to anyone with the time to stop by.

"A lot of people come to see real live scientists — some of whom are extremely famous and prominent — and see how their brains work," said Dr. John Cohen, a professor of immunology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and the founder of the Denver Café Scientifique. "People don't often get a chance to do that. Some come to ask questions, others are content to listen."

The Denver Café Scientifique was established in 2003 and is the largest in the country to date, drawing about 150 people ( The topics vary from sleep to interstellar communication to Higgs bosons to nanotechnology, and they attract people of all ages and all occupations.

"Who would have thought you'd have standing room only at a geek event?" Dr. Cohen asked. He said he first read about science cafes in 1999 when they were catching on in England. "It just sounded like so much fun," he said. "I saw it as a reminder of the peripatetic philosophers who wandered the Agora in Athens." He imagined them, he continued, "stopping every so often to refresh themselves with a mug of wine from the local sellers."

It was an article in Nature by Duncan Dallas that inspired Dr. Cohen and others. Mr. Dallas, now a retired television producer, started Café Scientifique in 1998 with a note posted in a bar in Leeds, England: "Where, for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to discuss the scientific ideas and developments which are changing our lives."

He said he was inspired by French philosophy clubs; coincidentally, science cafes were starting up in France in the late 1990's. In an e-mail message, Mr. Dallas said that taking science out of the classrooms changes the expectations of the audience and the speaker — from lecturing to discussing.

"I believe that science is the most important force in our culture," Mr. Dallas wrote, "and is increasingly impinging on our public and personal lives, through subjects like genetics, neurology, pharmacology and evolutionary psychology. So public engagement with science is bound to increase in many forms over the next decade."

Café Scientifiques in Britain ( received public financing to get started, and dozens are now held around the country. In the United States some such cafes have no budgets and are independent — like the one in Denver — while others receive school and corporate help.

Two science cafes in New York — one in Syracuse and the other in the city — break from the tradition of free science to all and charge $5 to $10. Roald Hoffmann, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, is to be the host of an Entertaining Science cabaret at the Cornelia Street Cafe at 6 p.m. March 5 in Manhattan.

Sigma Xi, a scientific research society, was host to the first national gathering of Café Scientifique leaders this month in North Carolina to network and organize the movement.

Juliana Gallin, a 38-year-old graphic designer in San Francisco, started "Ask a Scientist" at the Bazaar Café two and a half years ago ( "I was trying to think of something interesting to do outside of my day job that would be more personally fulfilling than the typical volunteer opportunities I was encountering," Ms. Gallin said, noting that it was only later that she learned of the Café Scientifique movement.

In Seattle, Gretchen Meller, a research scientist, and a few of her friends had their first event last September in a local bookstore ( "If the general population is to vote on these issues eventually," she said, "they need the opportunity to ask questions."

Indeed the topics are sometimes taken from headlines. Café Scientifique Pittsburgh will be host to the author Pamela Winnick, who will discuss her book "A Jealous God: Science's Crusade Against Religion." The Pittsburgh science cafe was started by two science writers in 2004 and is held at the Penn Brewery every month. Tim Palucka, a 46-year-old freelance science writer, shows off the humorous side of Café Scientifique when he jokes that their motto should have been "Talk to a drunk scientist" instead of "Eat. Drink. Talk Science."

The topics are not always so funny. Tony Cox spoke here recently on "Risk Analysis and Public Health." Sipping on their microbrews, people listened and then rushed up to Dr. Cox to ask questions during a break before the official questions and answers began.

"It's almost like continuing education," said Lyda Ludeman, a 64-year- old retired I.B.M. systems controller. "And the great part is, they don't test you." Ms. Ludeman comes to Café Scientifique every month with a group of regulars, some wearing denim shirts with Café Scientifique logos sewn on the chest.

John Farmer, a 49-year-old advertising executive who attended with his girlfriend last month, said he liked to come to Café Scientifique occasionally to learn about different topics. "A lot people are intimidated by science," he said. "It's great to drink a beer and to brush elbows with these geeks who have very disciplined minds. Everybody can use a little more science in their lives."

If you're interested, you can find out where cafe scientifiques occur near you:

Here's one for Minneapolis:

And here's the calender for the next one:

Organizing Life: A New Evolution
Tuesday, March 14, 6–8 p.m.
Varsity Theater, Dinkytown
Free. Must be 18 or older to attend.
What evolutionary patterns link Earth's species, from microbes to birds to human beings? In conjunction with the Walker Art Center's exhibition “Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005,” the Bell Museum presents a special Café Scientifique on taxonomy, phylogeny, and evolution. Join biologist and Bell Museum Director Scott Lanyon for an introduction to a worldwide research effort that is equivalent in scope to the Human Genome Project, and find out how and why researchers like Lanyon are assembling an evolutionary “tree of life” that will organize the 1.7 million described species on Earth. To learn more about Smith’s artwork, which references taxonomy, visit

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Lancet Media Spot

While looking for a streaming web host site, I came across StreamLoad. I've uploaded the various Lancet media appearances here.

Its free to try, and seems to work well and has the capablility to host a lot of different media types. I've uploaded Real video and mp3's so far; I plan to experiment with some QuickTime as well. I paid $44 for an annual subscription that allows 24Gb of bandwidth. Because its sort of private, we don't have the copyright issues that a free, public service like Google has to be concerned with.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Mainstream Media Rox

The Twin Cities' Fox Channel 9, did 3 live segments from our offices this morning. It was a lot of fun - we analyzed several web sites with reporter M.A. Rosko, including the Fox 9 site and pointed out room for improvement.

We also got to show some of our "before and after" work on a couple sites and of course promoted our My-Site-Stinks contest. We got 18 submissions for the contest while we were on the air!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

15 Minutes of Fame - 2 more down...

The LancetCard design team is going to be on Twin Cities Fox 9 tomorrow morning throughout the morning - they're interested in our My Site Stinks contest to find the worst web site in the metro area. The winner will get 40 hours of our time to do an "eXtreme Web Makeover."

Tune in if you're in town! First appearance is supposed to be around 6:20am.

iPLod Cam

I'm testing out a small webcam from Creative as a possible way to keep our teams together over long distances - we're getting a lot of opportunities far from home, and haveing the ability to communicate, face to face, after a fashion seems important. Its cheaper to do now with so many hotels equipped with high speed internet and the cameras and software are virturally free. Combine that with a service like Skype, and you're talking video conferencing for nuthin'.

I've got the webcam hooked up for testing - its pointing at my iPLod treadmill desk at the office for now - have a look..... I might be writing on this blog as you watch.

Art by Katrina Affected Artists

Fellow blogger Shawn Lea has created a cool website where you can really support artists that have been affected by Katrina - by buying their art. When you need are, take a look here. Shawn writes: is a Web site I've created for Coast artists affected by Hurricane Katrina to promote and sell their work. I am slowly but surely getting more takers - I was on Mississippi Public Broadcasting this morning talking about the Web site and the Jackson newspaper published a small blurb about it today too. When you get ready for some new artwork, shop here first! ;) (And please forward this to others on your e-mail distribution list if you think they would be interested. The only way this site will help these artists is if I get the word out that it exists.)


Shawn writes a very fun blog called Everything And Nothing.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Interesting: The Caffeine Nap

I've done some long-distance driving in my life. When I lived in New Jersey, I would drive back to Minnesota in one, 24-hour shift. At times I got pretty sleepy and I know I've tried all the usual methods - hanging my head out the window, slapping my own face a few times, coffee, singing loudly along with the radio. All of which work for a couple minutes at best it seems.

Now comes new research on a possibly very effective method.

I found this on another blog, Achieve-IT!:

Sleep researchers at the Loughborough University in Britain did several tests on fatigued drivers to compare the effects of different methods for a driver can use to stay awake. They put the volunteers in driving simulators while they were sleepy and let them drive. Some of the tests included rolling down windows for cold exposure, blasting the radio and slapping oneself in the face to try to stay awake. But what researchers found worked the best was a Caffeine Nap.

The Caffeine Nap is simple. You drink a cup of coffee and immediately take a 15 minute nap. Researchers found coffee helps clear your system of adenosine, a chemical which makes you sleepy. So in testing, the combination of a cup of coffee with an immediate nap chaser provided the most alertness for the longest period of time. The recommendation was to nap only 15 minutes, no more or less and you must sleep immediately after the coffee.

There is more information at the Loughborough University Sleep Research Center website.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

My Two Minutes of Fame - Thirteen to Go

WCCO TV (Channel 4 to you Twin Citians) did a nice little piece on my treadmill desk after hearing about it on Jon Gordon's Future Tense show in the morning. I got to spend an hour or so with reporter Rick Fuentes and his trusy videographer Pete. Great guys.

I made compressed versions of the 5pm and 6pm stories - they're different... the 5pm version is longer, about 2 minutes and features a variety of things. The 6pm version is shorter by half, and has more talking heads.

The downloads are 5mb and 2.5mb - I don't have a streaming video server so the files have to be downloaded for viewing - sorry... the format is RealPlayer.

Click here for 5pm
Click here for 6pm