Interesting stuff for November 2008

The month is nearly over, so here’s another collection of interesting stuff I’ve found online.

  • New blogs and video channels have been popping up, from the multi-author SkepticBlog to the official Monty Python Youtube channel.
  • We keep finding new stuff on Mars. One recently reported example was the discovery of opal-like minerals on the Red Planet. I’ve heard no suggestion of there being actual opals, but should you ever want to send me a gemstone then a genuine Martian opal will do just fine.
  • Your dose of humour this month comes from Conjugate Visits, in the form of some most amusing examples of failed editing, from “dog for sale: eats anything and is fond of children” to “mixing bowl set designed to please a cook with round bottom for efficient beating“.
  • So another Egyptian pyramid has been discovered beneath the sand. In other news, an ancient grave site in Europe reveals some interesting information.
  • Earlier this month, everyone was talking about the recent exoplanet discoveries. I went and updated an old post of mine with a Fomulhautian constellation.
  • I learned things I hadn’t previously known about sonar (in particular, its volume) from this post.
  • One of the big science news stories this month was the revelation that Homo Erectus females had wide hips. This is interesting because part of the popular folk version of human evolution is that female hip width hasn’t had time to catch up with the increased size of the human brain, and that this explains why giving birth is often traumatic for women of our species. Yet the new evidence proves that during at least some parts of our history, evolution has acted in the opposite direction: to give women narrower hips, not wider.
  • Some details on phonetic discrimination and vocabulary acquisition of babies.
  • Could life have an influence on the dynamics of continental drift?
  • From bioephemera, an article on the history of cigarette advertising, in particular of appeals to science.
  • What macroscopic single-celled organisms get up to when they don’t think anyone’s looking.

I recently installed the SkipR plugin for Windows Media Player, which essentially gives you two extra buttons – one to skip 15 seconds forward, and one to skip 15 seconds backward. This is useful in many situations, for example you might want to skip forward if you understand whatever is currently being explained on the track you’re listening to and want to quickly move along to the next topic, and you might want to skip backward if you were starting to doze off and didn’t quite catch the last thing you heard. The plugin is advertised as primarily good for skipping advertisements, which I regard as bad marketting because its uses are so much broader than that.

Unfortunately the plugin is rather buggy, but it’s still useful despite that. Instead of strictly rewinding fifteen seconds, the back button tends to go back to the last point it went back to, and it often gets stuck at a certain point, needing to be pressed multiple times before going back beyond it. It’s also a little clumsy in that you have to click on it to activate it, and it gets deactivated if you click on, say, one of the regular Media Player buttons (e.g. Pause), but I get the impression that this is really a limitation in the customisability of Media Player itself. In addition to the buttons, it can be operated by the mouse wheel, but I don’t use it that way. (An idea for improvement would be to allow the user to configure how the mouse wheel operates, namely whether up should correlate with forward and down with backward, or whether it be the other way around. Up is in fact forward, which is the opposite of what I would find intuitive.) The plugin does not come with any documentation, the presence of which would be an improvement in my opinion.

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