ZERO POINT COMEDY is online

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ZERO POINT COMEDY is up, ready, and the result of over thirteen billion years of thermodynamic processes! (Okay, a result, but it’s pretty important to me right now).

Commenters keep asking for more science comedy so I’ve decided to call their bluff. ZERO POINT COMEDY would let me write more science, more often, with more research and more ridiculously wonderful hyperactive joy at just how awesome our species can be if we stop being dicks for like one second.

Come and see!

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Enjoy the Ultimate Energizing Diet Fad!

Some people say you shouldn’t add anything you can’t spell to your body. I’m not sure exactly how they said that while constantly reminding themselves of pyruvate dehydrogenase, adenosine triphosphate, and the presumably hypnotically-induced mantra of “adenine-guanine-cytosine-adenine-thymine” they must constantly incant to make sure they don’t forget a bit, causing their cells to disappear or die because of their anti-magical* thinking. But they still said it, which is why I offer to help with my incredible 100% Chemical-Free Raw Natural Diet.

*anti-magical: deliberately NOT using complicated words they don’t understand, in order to reduce their own abilities BELOW standard.

 

Stock Photo Scientists

"Of COURSE we have to wear lab coats, do you have ANY IDEA how toxic this chalk is?"

“Of COURSE we have to wear lab coats, do you have ANY IDEA how toxic this chalk is?”

The team celebrate proving the Non-Caucasian Exclusion Principle that only one type of each non-Caucasian can be present in any group shot.

The team celebrate proving the Non-Caucasian Exclusion Principle preventing more than one type of each non-Caucasian appearing in any group shot.

"How's the budget spectroscopy going Steve?" "BLUE!"

“How’s the budget spectroscopy going Steve?”
“BLUE!”

"Get a biology degree" they said.  "You probably won't spend your life working with open vials of piss." they said.

“Get a medical biology degree” they said. “You probably won’t spend your life working with open vials of piss.” they said.

"No safety glasses for me, huh? I only get to keep 77% of my eyesight, is that it?"

“No safety glasses for me, huh? I only get to keep 77% of my eyesight, is that it?”

"Who keeps leaving this child's model of DNA in our genetics lab?"

“Who keeps leaving this child’s model of DNA in our genetics lab?”

"I've explained this before. I've got the best sciencebeard so I get the only chair. No, I DON'T care, Sharon."

“I’ve explained this before. I’ve got the best sciencebeard so I get the only chair. No, I DON’T care, Sharon.”

"I'm just glad that all science can be done with Calc 101."

“I’m just glad that all science can be done with Calc 101.” 

"Look, it's not hard, because science is clearly colour-coded."

“Look, it’s not hard, because science is clearly colour-coded.”

"Of course I leave my hair like this while leaning over open vials of chemicals. Bonus: my split-ends now spit acid!"

“Of course I leave my hair like this while leaning over open vials of chemicals. Bonus: my split-ends now spit acid!”

"Do you think there are scientists in the world who AREN'T chemists?" "Stop being silly and help me mix these primary colors."

“Do you think there are scientists in the world who AREN’T chemists?”
“Stop being silly and help me mix these primary colors.”

all images property of iStock.

Auto-anthropology and Becoming a Better Idiot

Anthropology is the science and study of humanity and it may be the most important study we’ve got. Most sciences become useful in everyday life because of their results, but anthropology can improve your life right now with only an initial assumption: humans are something to be studied. We aren’t elite observers. We aren’t impartial intelligences. We weren’t magically disconnected from all the other animals when we added a sapiens. We’re stunningly sophisticated animals, but absolutely still animals, and that’s a fact we forget at our peril.

Some historical anthropology has been a bit “problematic”, which is how white guys say “We done fucked up that time” without ever admitting anything. People made the mistake of picturing others as bizarre species of exotic animal while forgetting that the exact same thing applied to themselves.

The lesson of anthropology is that our intelligence didn’t appear one day as an incredible biological computer. It emerged from millions of years of animal programming, and all of that increasingly obsolete garbage is still in there. We don’t start from zero, filling ourselves with wonderful knowledge to become ever smarter. We start several million years in the hole, stuffed with urges and impulses, a skullfull of biological bad wiring which would fuck our entire future for five minutes of oral sex and a pizza, because that’s all the needs it understands and as far as it knows we might be eaten by a jaguar tomorrow.

When we stopped risking death the every day, when we made it possible to stockpile food for the forseeable future, we rendered most of our own thoughts obsolete. But we’re still being driven by them. Every system we invent to serve us is screwed up by those screaming “MORE” and “MINE!” The acquisitive instinct alone has expanded beyond all conception and to warp the world like a societal black hole.

The mistake me we make is always thinking we’re thinking. Just because a thought is expressed in words doesn’t mean it isn’t animal. We’ve upgraded our ability to do everything with language, but the effects aren’t automatic. The improved decision-making systems using this most powerful of tools costs energy to employ. Logic, science, philosophy: they’re all specifically designed to work out the truth. But they do that by preventing us from making the mistakes we want to make. And we never want to be told we’re wrong.

But without these tools our internal dialogue devolves into an endless stream of psychological sexts and excuses to eat an entire bag of chips in our underpants. Because we call ourselves homo sapiens, but it’s still easier to be the masturbating monkey than the wise human. We have to make the effort if we want enjoy the benefits of both.


More thoughts with

The Anti-Alchemy of Particle Accelerators

One of the most popular pseudosciences in history was converting lead into gold, because pseudoscience is always about making money from the dull by not understanding how things really work. As with many ancient sillinesses technology has now double-enabled us to both do it, and to realize it’s not worth the effort.

The idea that elements are all made of the same parts and can be transmuted from one to the other turned out to be true. The problem is that smashing lead down to gold consumes far too much person-time and energy, both of which are far more useful than gold. In fact the original lead is considerably useful than gold (by a factor of four thousand in terms of annual global production). Especially when you discount imaginary applications like “this shiny stuff is more valuable than other shiny stuffs”.

Which is why I love the wonderful coincidence of superscience with antiquated bullshit: the RHIC and ALICE particle accelerators use gold and lead ions. High-energy alchemical colliders, converting both the most noble and base metals into understanding of the universe.

The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider uses gold not just because they’re heavy ions, which is kind of its thing, but because gold only has one stable isotope. (An isotope is another version of the same element with more or fewer neutrons – chemically identical, but it changes all the nuclear math). Which makes it relatively easy to know that all your gold nuclei are exactly the same. Because when you’re colliding hundreds of particles at 99.995% the speed of light, you don’t want the answers to be wrong because an ion added an extra one at the start.

At the Large Hadron Collider, A Large Ion Collider Experiment uses lead ions because they’re bigger, and bigger is better even at the subatomic level. The lead ion is the biggest stable ion there is, and it’s a double-magic number: both the protons and neutrons are arranged in perfectly filled spherical shells, making it a double-magic nucleus and as spherical as possible to simplify the collision calculations.

Leading to my two favorite things about this:

  1. Science enabling the word “magic” to actually mean something real and important, something which permeates everything, but something that most people still can’t see even though it’s all around and through us.
  2. The most sophisticated machine in the universe as we know it treats things as spheres to make the math easier.

The result is the exact inverse of alchemy: instead of failing to convert material due to lack of understanding, we convert material into understanding directly.


Superscience continues with

Scientists Discover Answer To All Scaremongering Headline Questions: “No.”

Will water give you cancer? Could peeing in buckets end all our energy troubles? Will the Large Hadron Collider destroy the Earth? Scientists have found a grand unified answer to all these problems and more, and the conclusion is “No.”

Corollary: “Duh.”

“Question marks are how you print bullshit lies without getting in trouble,” explains Doctor Sherlock Obvious of the Negative Excrement Institute. “If there was the least scrap of truth they’d report it as fact and it would be the story of the century. Deep in the scarred sewage trench that used to be a heart they know it’s bullshit, but they’ve reached the point where absolute toxic falsehood is an inconvenience instead of a reason not to print it. They’re scheduled to squat out something in the next twenty minutes, so they stick a question mark on the end to peddle noxious fearmongering bullshit.”

“It’s actually quite simple, like the click-bait headline writers. We’re hoping someone will make a browser plug-in which detects headline question marks and appends NO IT ISN’T.”

The question headline works by willfully misinterpreting the basics of the scientific method to achieve the exact opposite effect: a belief in things without evidence. The scientist can’t rule anything out entirely, so the scaremonger seizes the openness to new data to scream the absolute absence of any with “SO THERE’S STILL A CHANCE!”, whipping everyone up into a lather of bullshit. If you asked a taxonomist if there was such a thing as a unicorn, they’ll say that Equus Unus has never been observed.

“But can you definitely say there have never been any unicorns anywhere in the universe?”

“Of course not, though, haha, it’s extraordinarily unlikely…” but the bullshitter is already demanding that audiences be fitted with mandatory magical swords at all equestrian events to protect themselves from being headbutt-stabbed.

It’s the easiest way to not technically lie, and the easiest way to plant an idea while pretending to do the exact opposite. For example:

“Could io9’s stupidity damage the entire progress of the human race?”

No. Thank Thoth. But the idea has been planted with stuff like this.

(Source: morons at io9)

(Source: io9, who aren’t always so idiotic)

The story is another couple of lawyers manufacturing themselves a job by opposing the very idea of progress. Again. But instead of reporting “Unqualified lawyers manufacture bullshit case out of thin air”, io9 decided “Hey, those lying attention-thieves are on to a good thing! We’re on their side!” This time the lawyers are taking on an upgrade to the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. It’s an exemplar of the legal system as molasses poured into machinery of progress so that all kinds of insects can crawl in and get fat before being eventually crushed by the gears of progress their own parasitic existence has slowed.

It’s based on the appalling idea that democracy means unqualified assholes and experts have equal weight. They don’t. If you’re a lawyer: fine, you get to deal with law. Particle physicists don’t come into your courtroom and bombard you with antiprotons. But if you keep this bullshit up, maybe they should. Because the laywers apply their form of only-literally legitimate pedantry to fields where it has no function.

They write “The original [RHIC] report assumed the RHIC would only run for a planned 10 years. But thanks to program extensions, the RHIC is now entering its 15th year”. We know laywers change their minds about what you’re allowed to get away with every time a judge farts, but the laws of physics haven’t changed in the last five years.

“The machine has also been continuously upgraded since the report… The suitability of models and assumptions used in the original analysis might be profitably reappraised.”

It’s nice to see them reveal their real motivation with “profitably reappraised”.

The next trick is usually destroying probability by taking a 0.0000000001% chance of anything, then multiplying it by six billion people no the planet, then by thousands of collisions, and then you might as well multiply them by the 718 Pokemon to the power of twelve zodiac signs because you’ve already destroyed the concept of probability math. Simple multiplication of odds is to probability what throwing stones is to architecture: you can cause pain and fear, but you’re not making anything worthwhile.

The idea of particle acceleration destroying the planet is disproved by cosmic rays. The Earth has been bombarded by far higher energy particles than anything we can generate for its entire existence. If the entire universe can’t wipe out the Earth with stranglets, micro black holes, and other words these writers heard somewhere once but never really understood, then the scientists (who actually created those terms) thank you for the compliment. But their hardware isn’t quite as powerful as everything else ever put together.

We need to stop listening these bullshit headlines. We need to stop people from using the legal system like a media mafia. “Sure is a nice plan to upgrade you got there after finally extracting some funding from politicians who hate and fear what they don’t understand. Sure would be a pity if anything happened to it, like baseless scaremongering.”

A question mark at the end of a headline means “THIS IS LIES, CLOSE THE WINDOW.”


Continue your anti-anti-education with

The Glorious Meat Future

Moral quandaries are mere gaps in technology. Before, people didn’t even know that they could want a thing. After, it’s unnecessary or taken for granted. It’s only in between that people argue with themselves.

In the days of the caves people were hungry and hacked animals into delicious stips. The only worry involved in eating animals was making sure that they didn’t do the same to us. In the present we luxuriate in enough wealth to wonder whether we wouldn’t feel better about a traffic light diet, stopping all the red and only going on green dead things. And if we survive into the future technology will solve that problem too.

We’ve already got 3D flesh printers and embryonic stem cells. If we make it far enough we’ll have fusion-powered factories capable of turning energy directly into anything we need, and we’ll use it for flesh, just like we built a global supercomputer information network and used that for flesh.

This isn’t luxury: the primary problem for a population which refuses to compensate for a lack of predators is food supply. Our advantage is how we straddle such ridiculously mismatched energy levels. At the same time our bodies are scraping a few kilocalories from a slurry of pink slime, our buildings are pumping out megawatts of energy, while our brains are working out to replicate the sun itself. Right now the only connection between our bellies and fusion is the plant life, an immense chlorophyllic converter. It’s only a matter of time until we build a better one.

We could replace our digestive systems with an internal reprocessor to electrically undo all our metabolic waste, turning us into closed systems immune to hunger and thirst as we endlessly recycle our organic material. In the same we could use the internet for nothing but the broadcast of simple government instructions to optimize population work-efficiency. That is to say, bollocks to that.

We’ll be able to eat anything. When energy is the only input to our nanostructuring engines, we can program whatever we want instead of killing it. An initial flurry of poached panda, fried eagle, dolphin drizzled in reduction of white truffle. The inevitable attempts to be edgy by eating human flesh, upping the ante by cloning specific people, then a burst of baiting headlines wondering if hitlerflesh is kosher (only part of another iteration of “should we update our obsolete anathemas in the face of updated technology this time?”). Scraping some samples of fossilized dodo in a desperate attempt to generate a new product. Jurassic Burger doing reasonably well despite the impossibility of them having recovered any organic samples to work with.

And once we get that out of our systems, we’ll be able to have some real fun. Designer meats! Novel protein chains designed entirely for the ingester instead of the owner. Sacroplasmics structured for savour, myofibrillars made for maximum maceration sensation, collagen constructed for full-bodied texture and perfectly interspersed between fibres which will only ever experience muscle motion when they undergo peristalsis. It’ll make Wagyu Kobe beef look like frozen fish fingers.

We’ll eat all the organs of our imagination. The tongue-glorying granularity of high-gravity whale liver. The perfect chew of zero-gravity bird heart. Weekly updates of new designer flesh, freed from the restriction of waiting for our ecosystem-chef to evolve new menu items. The top rated designload on meatr by CrizzpyMan420. An ever-exanding feedback between cooking techniques and newly-specified materials. And everyone will be able to eat all of it.

(Which won’t stop some people from inventing reasons to object, as they always do, but as long as they enjoy objecting then the technology is helping them have a good time too.)

The future: it’s going to be delicious.

A Perfect Pulsar In The Cosmic Clockwork

Bonus material for my latest Cracked article on awesome stars, because it makes my day when the science articles do so well. The sweetest things in science are the problems. The best problem when talking about the universe is that there will always be more than you can cover. I could write a book and have to leave things out. I could write all the books and have to leave things out. Here’s one of them:

#3B The Perfect Pulsar In The Cosmic Clockwork

This was the binary system stirring spacetime like a giant spoon made of neutronium, sending out waves of gravitational radiation. What I didn’t have time to explain was why PSR J0348+0432 was so perfect.

A neutron star is as dense as matter can get without sinking out of all sight behind an event horizon. Even if light can escape, most matter can’t, and the neutron star grows as it consumes everything around it. If it’s spinning this creates jets along the axis, high energy particles squirted out at the poles. If the whole thing is rotating around another axis (imagine a wobbling spinning top – the top is spinning around its axis, but that axis is rotating around and around as well) these polar jets sweep out a circle around the universe. If you’re in the path of this beam, you’ll see a regular pulse as it sweeps past. That’s why it’s called a pulsar.

Source: ESO

Source: ESO

The most compressed mass engine possible thus powers a combination of a cosmic lighthouse and the speaking clock. These pulsars are the most accurate timekeepers possible: when you have for octillion tonnes spinning twenty five times a second, there’s very little you can do to stop it. That’s something twice the mass of the sun twisting at 1500 rpm. At least ten rotations in less time than it takes you to blink. And the whole thing made of solid neutronium: that’s a grindstone which could cut Mjolnir to powder and not even notice. It’ll run down eventually, as all things will, but you’d need to sacrifice a star to alter its timing in any way we’d be around to notice.

So you’ve got the most unstoppable clock in the universe, slap-bang in the middle of the spacetime distortion system we want to measure. It’s the most perfect experiment possible. If astrophysicists had access to God’s sandbox menus, that’s the experiment they’d build with their cosmic Gmod.

Theory predicts that the loss of energy in sending out gravitational waves will cause the pulsar and white dwarf to spiral closer together, shortening their orbit. The measurements matched this theory. The measurements were also 8.6 plus or minus 1.4 millionths of a second, per year, measured from over six thousand light-years away. That’s a measurement of one part in three thousand billion. That’s precision. That’s science. And that’s what people should remember the next time they see someone with shiny teeth and a chat show wibbling about “alternative” theories.

For more spectacular sciencery, I enjoy the echoes of creation known as Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations, and the pure plasmapunk that is the Z Machine.

Three Words of Wonder: Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations

The military is full of TLAs, Three Letter Acronyms, contractions of common phrases which seem intended only to convert even everyday things into an official code that outsiders can’t understand. Conversely, science is stuffed with three word phrases which people treat as technobabble, despite defining exactly what they do, representing extraordinary things with incredible compresion. For example: baryonic acoustic oscillations.

Baryons build most of everything you’ve ever experienced. Every atom consists of a technically massive nucleus made of baryons (protons and neutrons), lots of empty space, and a quantum dusting of leptons (electrons).

Acoustic Oscillations are mechanical waves, like sound, where air shakes back and forth when it’s set in motion by a drum beat or vocal cords. This air shakes the next bit of air, which shakes the next bit, which gets into your ears and shakes bits of your skull so that you can hear it and rock out to Daft Punk.

Put them together and you’ve got Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations, mechanical waves shaking the matter of almost everything. Which is exactly what happened. There are waves across the entire universe, sounds which shook all of existence back when it was small, and we can still see them. Waves half a billion light years across have been measured in the clustering of everything in the universe.

Our existence is a tiny blip in a cosmic sound. All of existence is still shaken, echoes of a universal harmony. That’s how amazing this science is: even trying to describe it causes involuntary poetry.

Every scientific phrase is like this: words which specify exactly what’s going on. That’s what words are for! They aren’t technobabble, they’re teaching, encoding cosmic understanding in a few syllables. Words are how we interpret everything. Not just communication but comprehension. Our brains are built out of protein and fat but the stuff inside – you know, the us – thinks in words. Our vocabulary is the LEGO we build our own minds from. We all start with the same boring set of two-by-four bricks. Adding extra words is how we get the cool space and dinosaur sets. Every word we don’t understand is a chance to permanently upgrade ourselves. And to better understand the awe of matter itself doing a Mexican wave across creation.

The Z Machine Is Science-Faction

“The Z Machine” sounds like something out of science-fiction, but it’s the largest X-ray generator in the world. Which sounds even more like science-fiction. And if it that’s what it sounds like, it looks like something Michael Bay would cut from a movie’s storyboards for being too awesome to exist with current special effects.

Which is why physicists built it with real current effects instead.

More lightning than Zeus enraged by Thor rubbing cats on him.

More lightning than Zeus enraged by Thor rubbing cats on him.

The PBFA-Z (Particle Beam Fusion Accelerator, Z-pinch version) subjects a target to a current of over 20 million amps – more than  six hundred simultaneous lightning bolts – and pressures of over 10 million atmospheres. It can reach temperatures of over two billion degrees and melt diamond. Which is the kind of amazing wrong-sounding you get when you adventure into physical realms beyond the calm, damp, and miniscule speck of reality which supports human bodies. You turn diamonds into Dali paintings.

Anyone can create high temperatures by adding Amperes – people with Christmas lights and a deeply misplaced sense of achievement learn that every year – but the Sandia system is piling power against the physical limitations of reality itself. Add enough energy to anything and it isn’t there anymore. The Z Machine is built to pour power into things without melting itself in the process. It’s so far beyond anything we normally understand about machines, it uses water lines to transmit power, and lightning bolts mean it’s working properly.

It’s pure plasmapunk, vast energies barely but definitely channeled by our brilliance.

Checking one of the 36 warp cores they apparently stole from the Enterprise

Checking one of the 36 warp cores they apparently stole from the Enterprise

Science-fiction is all about people and how they react to revolutionary advances. A common metric for the quality of these stories is how well developed those advances are. Science fact develops them as well as they can be – in fact, they only can be because science develops them – and how we react becomes the science-fiction story. Real science uses the world as a narrative. Society is an analog computer calculating stories in response to the ideas injected by the inventors. And the equipment looks every micrometer the part of a machine to change the world.

This is what they look like before the install the restraints and the British secret agent

This is what they look like before the install the transmission lines, target core, restraints, and British secret agent

(All images from sandia.gov)

For more glorious technojoy, behold 9 Badass Spacecraft Landings and 9 Amazing Laser Systems.