The Drake Equation

Information is Beautiful has an excellent interactive chart up at the BBC covering the Drake Equation. I remember studying the equation, which estimates the number of civilizations that might exist in our galaxy, in an astronomy class called “The Search for Extraterrestrial Life” at the University of Texas. Why wouldn’t I take that elective? It was actually less fun than I thought it would be, but it was still very interesting. Apparently they no longer offer the course, or at least not this semester.

The Greatest Silence

tgs-poster.jpgI missed this last night, both because I don’t have HBO, and because I was playing my last soccer game. If you have HBO, record and torrent it, because I can’t find it anywhere yet. This year’s Special Jury Prize at Sundance went to The Greatest Silence:

Since 1998 a brutal war has been raging in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Over 4 million people have died. And there are the uncountable casualties: the many tens of thousands of women and girls who have been systematically kidnapped, raped, mutilated and tortured by soldiers from both foreign militias and the Congolese army.

The world knows nothing of these women. Their stories have never been told. They suffer and die in silence. In The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo these brave women finally speak.

The HBO page for the film is here, if you want to find the schedule. If any of my friends with cable and a DVR want to record it for me, I’d be grateful. There’s an interview with the director here. The HBO trailer:

The NYT celebrates the semicolon

I’m a big fan of the semicolon, and apparently so is the New York Times. I had to share this gem from their feature:

One of the school system’s most notorious graduates, David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial killer who taunted police and the press with rambling handwritten notes, was, as the columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote, the only murderer he ever encountered who could wield a semicolon just as well as a revolver. Mr. Berkowitz, by the way, is now serving an even longer sentence.

And this, I thought, was an apt description:

In literature and journalism, not to mention in advertising, the semicolon has been largely jettisoned as a pretentious anachronism.

Americans, in particular, prefer shorter sentences without, as style books advise, that distinct division between statements that are closely related but require a separation more prolonged than a conjunction and more emphatic than a comma.

“When Hemingway killed himself he put a period at the end of his life,” Kurt Vonnegut once said. “Old age is more like a semicolon.”

I personally love anachronisms; that’s probably why I love semicolons.

Adam Curtis Documentaries

Tony has really outdone himself by posting a series of excellent BBC documentaries that will keep me busy for a good while. Tony astutely posits:

Adam Curtis’ interpretation of current events viewed through a historical and political lens is a tour de force in explaining the absurdity and cognitive dissonance of our current reality.

Childrens Hospital Boston’s interactive learning site

Childrens Hospital Boston has some really cool stuff on its web page:

Experiment with Childrens virtual neuron to see what conditions are needed to make it fire and what happens when you connect it to other neurons. This interactive feature also provides step-through animations illustrating how electrical currents move through the cell and how it passes signals on to other neurons.

Science loses an advocate in Texas

This is not only idiotic, it’s infuriating:

After 27 years as a science teacher and 9 years as the Texas Education Agency’s director of science, Christine Castillo Comer said she did not think she had to remain “neutral” about teaching the theory of evolution.

“It’s not just a good idea; it’s the law,” said Ms. Comer, citing the state’s science curriculum.

But now Ms. Comer, 56, of Austin, is out of a job, after forwarding an e-mail message on a talk about evolution and creationism — “a subject on which the agency must remain neutral,” according to a dismissal letter last month that accused her of various instances of “misconduct and insubordination” and of siding against creationism and the doctrine that life is the product of “intelligent design.”

I honestly can’t believe people are still having this so-called “debate.” On the one hand, you have a theory based on sound science. On the other, you have an unprovable philosophy based on reasoning and faith, having nothing to do with science. One of those belongs in a science classroom, and one doesn’t. No one should have to remain impartial about that.

Update: Appropriately scathing NYT editorial here.

Another free language learning tool

Mango Languages:

Mango beta is an online enterprise-level language learning system freely available to everyone. Learn at your own pace with a suite of features that make language learning more engaging and fun.

I really need to get on this. Learning more languages is one of my life-long goals, but I haven’t been taking any steps in this direction. With all of the free resources available, I really don’t have an excuse.