I don't know what to say about the Tsunami news; it is just horrible. The death toll has passed 155,000, and will doubtless continue to climb... Australian Tim Blair has posted a great summary of the situation, including a gruesome scoreboard of the 7,000 tourists killed, by country. Amazon's donation counter for the American Red Cross now stands at $12.6M, from 157,000 individual donations. Wow.
Michael Dorf explains Why It's Unconstitutional to Teach "Intelligent Design" in the Public Schools. You'll have to read it, but the essential argument is that ID is not a scientific theory, and hence it amounts to teaching a particular religion's views. I think this is exactly right, ID is a religious view - even its cagiest proponents do not disagree - and as such has no place in public schools. [ via Panda's Thumb ]
Carl Zimmer discusses The Whale and the Antibody. "All of the living animals with an antibody-based immune system descend from a common ancestor, and none of the descendants of that common ancestor lack it. That means that the antibody-based immune system evolved once, about 470 million years ago." Cool. Now that's a scientific theory in action.
The New and Improved SETI, courtesy of space.com. "The new year is sure to be memorable, as glossy new instruments come on-line. Success in SETI depends on speed: how quickly can you check out large expanses of celestial acreage? Well, SETI is about to seriously crank up its speed, and metaphorically trade in chariots for jets." Among the new instruments is the Allen Telescope Array (pictured), which will have 350 antennae, each 20' in diameter.
The Economist: Meritocracy in America. "Whatever happened to the belief that any American could get to the top?" The problem is the point of view. This article and many observers assume that social mobility is the key to meritocracy. Instead, we have intellectual mobility. As our society has become more "efficient" at sorting based on skills, classes are increasingly stratified by intellectual standing. And since - wait for it - intellectual standing is substantially hereditary (whether generic or socially transmitted), this intellectual stratification is largely self-perpetuating. Both ends of the bell curve are moving away from the center. [ via John Robb, who notes "Societal ossification in the face of extreme global competition (from both economic and system competitors) is bad, bad news". But the good news is that the intellectual stratification effect is mitigated by immigration, and hence global competition actually works against it. ]
Josh Newman finds a terrific analogy to explain his new Long Tail Releasing project: escape fire. "As you readers doubtless know, it's far too late. We movie folks can't put out a fire so readily embraced by our customers. We can't even make it safely past some legislative crest. Instead, we have to use that same fire ourselves. Only by leveraging technology, by tearing down the assumptions about how the movie business works, about how movies make money, and starting from scratch, does a film company have any chance of making it through." I love it.
Check this out - the Quzzle. The Economist (!) says it is a "hard, simple problem". You just have to get the pink block to the upper right corner by sliding. It's simple. And it requires 84 moves...
When I encounter a puzzle like this, I give it ten minutes. If I can't figure it out, I write a program to solve it, which is more fun anyway :)
Of course if you get bored with that one, here's one called Super Century which requires 138 moves (to get the pink block to the center/bottom). I love the Internet.
Finally, here we have the homemade tank. Click through to watch a video of this thing in action; it appears to have some serious horsepower. I am not making this up. [ via Engadget ]