Categories
Science

Remembering Zipf’s Law

A good friend of mine many years ago mentioned Zipf’s Law to me one time during a discussion. I remember being fascinated by it – named after the linguist George Kingsley Zipf – and then moving on as your brain so often does. This was years before the notion of the “long tail” and other such power law notions were demonstrated by the Internet, among other things.

Today, Steven Strogatz, a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University, was the guest columnist for Olivia Judson’s “The Wild Side” blog on the New York Times site. His column, titled “Math and the City“, brought Zipf back to life again for me. If you’ve not read it, be sure to check it out – fascinating stuff!

Categories
San Francisco/California Science

The New California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park

IMG_0205.jpgI attended a private event last night at the newly redone California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. The facility is truly amazing – compared to the stodgy (but still fun!) old building.

I wasn’t able to take the time to go through the Rain Forest – that’s apparently a special treat – but did get to watch the Fragile Planet show in the new version of the Morrison Planetarium – which claims to now be the largest all-digital planetarium on planet Earth.

Categories
Science

The Mind that Changed The World

George Will’s column in today’s Washington Post is about Albert Einstein.

One hundred years ago a minor Swiss civil servant, having traveled home in a streetcar from his job in the Bern patent office, wondered: What would the city’s clock tower look like if observed from a streetcar racing away from the tower at the speed of light? The clock, he decided, would appear stopped because light could not catch up to the streetcar, but his own watch would tick normally. “A storm broke loose in my mind,” Albert Einstein later remembered.

Categories
Current Affairs Science

Progress in Health Care Economics

Alex Tabarrok writes about laser eye surgery being one example of great technology and market forces delivering very high patient satisfaction at declining prices as the market has expanded. I’ve not had the surgery but several of my friends who have are real evangelists for having it done.

Categories
Science

Capturing Fire

There’s a great story by Guy Gugliotta in this morning’s Washington Post about the discovery of controlled fire 790,000 years ago at a campsite on the banks of the Jordan River by a team from Hebrew University.

Regardless of researchers’ differences about who captured fire, or when, there is little argument that being able to control and use it marked a huge milestone in human evolution. Besides encouraging migration, fire also changed the human diet by making meat more palatable and vegetables softer and easier to eat. Humans grew larger and stronger.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, fire enabled human ancestors to fend off marauders and feel comfortable and safe at night. Control of fire, said Harris and others, was a key innovation in helping transform humans from prey to predators.