Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Quotable Asimov

While reading a recent used bookstore miracle discovery--The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science by --I came across this section and laughed out loud. I now realize that this may possibly mark one of the geekiest moments of my life, but I pass it on to you regardless:

The puzzle to which I have referred began in 1794, when a Finnish chemist, Johan Gadolin, examined an odd rock which had been found near the Swedish hamlet Ytterby and decided that it was a new "earth." Gadolin gave this "rare earth" the name "yttria," after Ytterby. Later the German chemist Martin Klaproth (the discoverer of uranium) found that yttria could be divided into two "earths," for one of which he kept the name yttria, while he named the other "ceria" (after the newly discovered planetoid Ceres). But the Swedish chemist Carl Gustav Mosander subsequently broke these down further into a series of different earths. All eventually proved to be oxides of new elements named the "rare-earth metals." By 1907, 14 such elements had been identified. In order of increasing atomic weight they are:
  • lanthanum (from a Greek word meaning "hidden")

  • cerium (from Ceres)

  • praseodymium (from the Greek for "green twin," after a green line in its spectrum)

  • neodymium ("new twin")

  • samarium (from "samarskite," the mineral in which it was found)

  • europium (from Europse)

  • gadolinium (in honor of Johan Gadolin)

  • terbium (from Ytterby)

  • dysprosium (from a Greek word meaning "hard to get at")

  • holmium (from Stockholm)

  • erbium (from Ytterby)

  • thulium (from Thule, an old name for Scandinavia)

  • ytterbium (from Ytterby)

  • lutetium (from Lutetia, an old name for Paris)

Notice a trend? Apparently even chemists can get bored with naming new elements after a while... As the author himself puts it in an aside later the same page:

(Yttrium, though found in the same ores as the rare earths and similar to them in properties, is not a rare-earth metal. It is, however, named after Ytterby. Four elements honor that hamlet--which is overdoing it.)

While we are on this most obscure of topics, it should be noted that there are not only two elements named after France--Francium and Gallium--there is also an element named after gay Paris, Lutetium.

There. I have now alienated or just weirded out anyone who might possibly look at this blog.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Le Sigh

An ambitious lawmaker has successfully found a more successful waste of his time than just sitting around and taking bribes:

A US lawmaker has submitted a bill seeking honorary citizenship for Anne Frank, whose family sought in vain to secure refuge in the United States during World War II, his office said Monday.

Because all famous dead people should be US citizens. Who do you think's next?
A. Jesus
B. Julius Ceasar
C. Adam Smith
D. All of the above

Take your pick.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Good News For Overly Talky, Cerebral Film Fans

(By which I mean people like me.)

Cahiers du Cinema has simultaneously started publishing bilingually--in English--and online. The interface will quickly become the most annoying thing in the world, but for the moment it still has an old-fashioned charm. For a good sense of what you're getting into, check out the article on pp. 86-88 on the deconstruction of gesture in Jackie Chan's The Young Master. The magazine will clearly be available at http://www.e-cahiersducinema.com/ at some point in the future, but for now you can check it out here. Have fun!

(Thanks to twitch.)

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Don't Worry

Math anxiety saps working memory needed to do math:

"It turns out that math anxiety occupies a person's working memory," said Ashcroft, who spoke on a panel at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco.

Ashcroft said while easy math tasks such as addition require only a small fraction of a person's working memory, harder computations require much more.

Worrying about math takes up a large chunk of a person's working memory stores as well, spelling disaster for the anxious student who is taking a high-stakes test.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Easy Jokes

There are certain things that look inherently stupid. One of them is Carrot Top doing anything.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Links (briefly)


Double Damn.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Charles Krauthammer is a douchebag

Just so you know, I've given up on pretending that I can sound distinguished and educated so I can now publically admit that "douchebag" is my favorite word:

We have made a lot of mistakes in Iraq. But when Arabs kill Arabs and Shiites kill Shiites and Sunnis kill all in a spasm of violence that is blind and furious and has roots in hatreds born long before America was even a republic, to place the blame on the one player, the one country, the one military that has done more than any other to try to separate the combatants and bring conciliation is simply perverse.

Shorter Krauthammer, taken out of context: "I am now so desperate to save face that my arguments sound more like an apology to Saddam Hussein than a justification for my own goverment."

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