Bill Nye (b. 1955) is an American science educator, comedian, television host, actor, writer, and scientist who began his career as a mechanical engineer at Boeing. He is best known as the host of the Disney/PBS children’s science show ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’ and for his many subsequent appearances in popular media as a science educator.
Joey Skaggs (b. 1945) is an American prankster who has organized numerous successful media pranks, hoaxes, and other presentations. He is considered one of the originators of the phenomenon known as ‘culture jamming’ (subverting media culture). Skaggs has numerous aliases including: Kim Yung Soo, Joe Bones, Joseph Bonuso, Giuseppe Scaggioli, Dr. Joseph Gregor, and the Rev. Anthony Joseph. When not pranking the media, Skaggs earns his living by painting, making sculptures and lecturing.
StarTram is a proposal for a maglev space launch system. The initial Generation 1 facility would be cargo only, launching from a mountain peak at 3 to 7 km (1.9 to 4.3 mi) altitude with an evacuated tube staying at local surface level; it has been claimed that about 150,000 tons could be lifted to orbit annually. More advanced technology would be required for the Generation 2 system for passengers, with a longer track instead gradually curving up at its end to the thinner air at 22 km (14 mi) altitude, supported by magnetic levitation, reducing g-forces when each capsule transitions from the vacuum tube to the atmosphere.
American physicist James R. Powell invented the superconducting maglev concept in the 1960s with a colleague, Gordon Danby, also at Brookhaven National Laboratory, which was subsequently developed into modern maglev trains. Later, Powell co-founded StarTram, Inc. with Dr. George Maise, an aerospace engineer was at Brookhaven from 1974 to 1997, with particular expertise in reentry heating and hypersonic vehicle design.
A vactrain (or vacuum tube train) is a proposed, as-yet-unbuilt design for future high-speed railroad transportation. It is a maglev line run through evacuated (air-less) or partly evacuated tubes or tunnels. The lack of air resistance could permit vactrains to use little power and to move at extremely high speeds, up to 4,000–5,000 mph (6,400–8,000 km/h). At that speed, the trip between London and New York would take less than an hour, supplanting aircraft as the world’s fastest mode of public transportation.
Travel through evacuated tubes allows supersonic speed without the penalty of sonic boom found with supersonic aircraft. The trains could operate faster than Mach 1 without noise. However, without major advances in tunnelling and other technology, vactrains would be prohibitively expensive. Alternatives such as elevated concrete tubes with partial vacuums have been proposed to reduce costs. In 2010, researchers at Southwest Jiaotong University in China began developing a vactrain to reach speeds of 1,000 km/h (620 mph), intended to be completed in 2020.
A transatlantic tunnel is a theoretical tunnel that would span the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe possibly for such purposes as mass transit. Many variations of the concept exist, including a tube above the seabed, a tunnel beneath the ocean floor, or some combination of the two. Some proposals envision technologically advanced trains reaching speeds of 500 to 8,000 km/h (310 to 5,000 mph). The main barriers to constructing such a tunnel are cost with estimates of between $175 billion to $12 trillion as well as the limits of current materials science. Additionally, existing major tunnels, such as the Channel Tunnel and Seikan Tunnel in Japan, despite using less expensive technology than any yet proposed for the transatlantic tunnel, struggle financially.
A 1960s proposal has a 3,100 miles (5,000 km)-long near-vacuum tube with vactrains, a theoretical type of maglev train, which could travel at speeds up to 5,000 miles per hour (8,000 km/h). At this speed, the travel-time between New York City and London would be less than one hour. A more recent variation, intended to reduce costs, is a submerged floating tunnel about 160 feet (49 m) below the ocean surface, in order to avoid ships, bad weather, and the high pressure associated with a much deeper tunnel near the seabed. It would consist of 54,000 prefabricated sections held in place by 100,000 tethering cables. Each section would consist of a layer of foam sandwiched between concentric steel tubes, and the tunnel would also have reduced air pressure.
‘Tunnel Through the Deeps‘ (also published as ‘A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!’) is a 1972 alternate history/science fiction novel by Harry Harrison. It was serialized in ‘Analog’ magazine beginning in the April 1972 issue. The title refers to the construction of a submerged floating-tube pontoon bridge/tunnel across the Atlantic Ocean. In the novel, America lost the Revolutionary War, George Washington was shot as a traitor, and the colonies are, in 1973, still under the control of the British Empire. The divergence point between this world and our own occurred far earlier, however, when the Moors won the battle of Navas de Tolosa on the Iberian peninsula, on July 16, 1212. Thus it was that Spain was unable to become unified, owing to the survival of an Islamic presence in its territory, and therefore could not finance the expedition of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Instead, it was John Cabot who discovered America, just a few years later.
The protagonist, Captain Augustine Washington, is a direct descendant of George Washington, and labors in his ‘traitorous’ shadow. Captain Washington and Sir Isambard Brassey-Brunel (descendant of Isambard Kingdom Brunel) get together to link the heart of the British Empire with its far-flung Atlantic colony in North America, although they fall out over Augustine’s wooing of Isabard’s young daughter, Iris, and as a result of disputes over engineering techniques. However, the two are reconciled on Sir Isambard’s deathbed, and the lovers later marry.
Nathan Sawaya (b. 1973), is a New York-based artist who builds custom three-dimensional sculptures and large-scale mosaics from popular everyday items and is best known for his work with standard LEGO toy bricks. His unique art creations are commissioned by companies, charities, individuals, museums and galleries all over the world. He first came to national attention in 2004, when he left his job as an attorney to work full-time as a LEGO artist. After working for the LEGO company less than six months, he branched off and in 2004 opened an art studio in New York City. As a professional artist, Sawaya is no longer an employee of the toy company, however he has been officially recognized by The LEGO Group as a LEGO Certified Professional. To date he is the only person ever to be recognized as both a LEGO Master Builder and a LEGO Certified Professional.
Sawaya has created some of the most recognizable art out of LEGO in the world, including a 7-foot (2.1 m)-long replica of the Brooklyn Bridge, a life-size tyrannosaurus rex, a 6-foot (1.8 m)-tall Han Solo frozen in carbonite. His signature pieces include human form sculptures titled ‘Yellow,’ ‘Red,’ and ‘Blue.’ He had his first solo art exhibit in the Spring of 2007 at the Lancaster Museum of Art. ‘The Art of the Brick’ is the first major museum exhibition in the U.S. to focus exclusively on the use of Lego building blocks as an art medium.
‘Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human‘ (2009) is a book by British primatologist Richard Wrangham forwarding the hypothesis that cooking food was an essential element in the physiological evolution of human beings. Humans are the only species that cook their food and Wrangham argues Homo erectus emerged about two million years years ago as a result of this unique trait. Cooking had profound evolutionary effect because it increased food efficiency by permitting human ancestors to spend less time foraging, chewing, and digesting. H. erectus developed via a smaller, more efficient digestive tract which freed up energy to enable larger brain growth. Wrangham also argues that cooking and control of fire generally affected species development by providing warmth and helping to fend off predators which helped human ancestors adapt to a ground-based lifestyle. Wrangham points out that humans are highly evolved for eating cooked food and cannot maintain reproductive fitness with raw food.
Critics of the cooking hypothesis question whether archaeological evidence supports the view that cooking fires began long enough ago to confirm Wrangham’s findings. The traditional explanation is that human ancestors scavenged carcasses for high-quality food that preceded the evolutionary shift to smaller guts and larger brains. Anglo-Irish novelist Oliver Goldsmith considered that ‘of all other animals we spend the least time in eating; this is one of the great distinctions between us and the brute creation.’ Nakedness was bestial, for clothes, like cooking, were a distinctively human attribute. In 1999, Wrangham published the first version of the hypothesis in ‘Current Anthropology.’
How to Solve It (1945) is a small volume by mathematician George Pólya describing methods of problem solving.
He suggests four steps when solving a mathematical problem: 1) First, understand the problem; 2) After understanding, then make a plan; 3) Carry out the plan; and; 4) Look back on your work — how could it be better? If this technique fails, Pólya advises: ‘If you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can solve: find it.’ Or: ‘If you cannot solve the proposed problem, try to solve first some related problem. Could you imagine a more accessible related problem?’
Thinking, Fast and Slow is a 2011 book by Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economics Daniel Kahneman which summarizes research that he conducted over decades, often in collaboration with cognitive scientist Amos Tversky. It covers all three phases of his career: his early days working on cognitive biases (unknowingly using poor judgement), prospect theory (the tendency to base decisions on the potential value of losses and gains rather than the final outcome), and his later work on happiness (e.g. positive psychology).
The book’s central thesis is a dichotomy between two modes of thought: System 1 is fast, instinctive and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The book delineates cognitive biases associated with each type of thinking, starting with Kahneman’s own research on loss aversion (the tendency to favor avoiding losses over acquiring gains). From framing choices (the tendency to avoid risk when a positive context is presented and seek risks when a negative one is) to attribute substitution (using an educated guess to fill in missing information), the book highlights several decades of academic research to suggest that people place too much confidence in human judgment.
Attribute substitution is a psychological process thought to underlie a number of cognitive biases and perceptual illusions. It occurs when an individual has to make a judgment (of a target attribute) that is computationally complex, and instead substitutes a more easily calculated heuristic (‘rule of thumb’) attribute. This substitution is thought of as taking place in the automatic intuitive judgment system, rather than the more self-aware reflective system.
Hence, when someone tries to answer a difficult question, they may actually answer a related but different question, without realizing that a substitution has taken place. This explains why individuals can be unaware of their own biases, and why biases persist even when the subject is made aware of them. It also explains why human judgments often fail to show regression toward the mean.
A heuristic [hyoo-ris-tik] (Greek: ‘find’ or ‘discover’) is a practical way to solve a problem. It is better than chance, but does not always work. A person develops a heuristic by using intelligence, experience, and common sense. Trial and error is the simplest heuristic, but one of the weakest. ‘Rule of thumb’ and ‘educated guesses’ are other names for simple heuristics. Since a heuristic is not certain to get a result, there are always exceptions.
Sometimes heuristics are rather vague: ‘look before you leap’ is a guide to behavior, but ‘think about the consequences’ is a bit clearer. Sometimes a heuristic is a whole set of stages. When doctors examines a patient, they go through a series of tests and observations. They may not find out what is wrong, but they give themselves the best chance of succeeding. This is called a diagnosis. In computer science, a ‘heuristic’ is a kind of algorithm (a step-by-step list of directions that need to be followed to solve a problem).
Closure or need for closure are psychological terms that describe the desire or need individuals have for information that will allow them to conclude an issue that had previously been clouded in ambiguity and uncertainty. Upon reaching this conclusion, they are now able to attain a state of ‘epistemic closure’.
The term ‘cognitive closure’ has been defined as ‘a desire for definite knowledge on some issue and the eschewal of confusion and ambiguity.’ Need for closure is a phrase used by psychologists to describe an individual’s desire for a firm solution as opposed to enduring ambiguity.
Apophasis [uh-pof-uh-sis] (Latin: ‘to say no’) refers, in general, to ‘mention by not mentioning.’ Apophasis covers a wide variety of figures of speech. The term was originally and more broadly a method of logical reasoning or argument by denial—a way of describing what something is by explaining what it is not, or a process-of-elimination way of talking about something by talking about what it is not. An example of this is the Wikipedia article: ‘What Wikipedia is not.’
Paralipsis is a rhetorical device wherein the speaker or writer brings up a subject by denying that it should be brought up. As such, it can be seen as a rhetorical relative of irony. Paralipsis is usually employed to make a subversive ad hominem attack. The device is typically used to distance the speaker from unfair claims, while still bringing them up. For instance, a politician might say, ‘I don’t even want to talk about the allegations that my opponent is a drunk.’ A political advertisement may say, ‘Vote for Smith for sober leadership,’ implying that his opponent, is an irresponsible drunk. Proslepsis is an extreme kind of paralipsis that gives the full details of the acts one is claiming to pass over; for example, ‘I will not stoop to mentioning the occasion last winter when our esteemed opponent was found asleep in an alleyway with an empty bottle of vodka still pressed to his lips.’