Archive for January 28th, 2013

January 28, 2013

Mary Roach


Mary Roach is an American author, specializing in popular science. She currently resides in Oakland, California. To date, she has published four books: ‘Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers’ (2003), ‘Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife’ (2005), ‘Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex’ (2008) and ‘Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void’ (2010).  Roach was raised in Etna, New Hampshire.

She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wesleyan University in 1981. After college, Roach moved to San Francisco and spent a few years working as a freelance copy editor. She worked as a columnist, and also worked in public relations for a brief time. Her writing career began while working part-time at the San Francisco Zoological Society, producing press releases on topics such as elephant wart surgery.

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January 28, 2013


Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex was written by Mary Roach in 2008. The book follows the winding history of science and its exploration of human sexuality, going back as far as Aristotle and finally ending with recent discoveries about the origination and anatomy of the female orgasm. Throughout, Mary Roach provides a humorous and often very personal view—both as a participant and observer—of humans, scientists, animals, and sex machines.

Of the book’s numerous accounts, Roach discusses artificial insemination of sows in Denmark, the notorious history of sex machines, as well as much discussion and commentary on Kinsey’s notorious attic sex experiments. Her footnotes provide additional humor; as in a sentence which includes several DSM diagnoses listed as acronyms she adds ‘And from HAFD (hyperactive acronym formation disorder).’ In the book, Mary Roach describes a session in which she and her husband Ed volunteer to have sex in a 20-inch-diameter (510 mm) MRI tube in the interests of science. During the experiment, a doctor looks on, making suggestions, and finally telling Ed that he ‘may ejaculate now.’

January 28, 2013

Charles Wheelan

Naked Economics

Charles Wheelan is the author of ‘Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science,’ a 2002 book that attempts to translate basic economic issues into a format that can be easily read by people with little or no previous knowledge of economics. In 2013, he published a follow-up called ‘Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data.’

In 2009, he was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate in the special election for Illinois’s 5th congressional district, the seat vacated by Rahm Emanuel. Wheelan graduated from Dartmouth College, where he was a member of Alpha Delta fraternity. From 1997 to 2002, he was the Midwest correspondent for ‘The Economist.’ Wheelan is a regular contributor to the ‘Motley Fool Radio Show’ on National Public Radio and to the ‘Eight Forty-Eight’ program on WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio.

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January 28, 2013

Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) is a proposed research centre at the University of Cambridge, intended to study possible catastrophic threats posed by present or future technology. The co-founders of the project to establish the center are Huw Price (a philosophy professor at Cambridge), Martin Rees (cosmology and astrophysics professor and former President of the Royal Society) and Jaan Tallinn (a computer programmer and co-founder of Skype).

Among the risks to be studied by the proposed center are those that might arise from developments in artificial intelligence, a risk likened in some press coverage to that of a robot uprising à la ‘The Terminator.’ Speaking about this case, Professor Price said, ‘It seems a reasonable prediction that some time in this or the next century intelligence will escape from the constraints of biology.’ He added that when this happens ‘we’re no longer the smartest things around,’ and will risk being at the mercy of ‘machines that are not malicious, but machines whose interests don’t include us.’

January 28, 2013


No climbing the Reichstag dressed as Spider-Man

Buildering (also known as urban climbing, structuring, or stegophily) is the act of climbing on (usually) the outside of buildings and other artificial structures.

The word is a portmanteau, combining the word ‘building’ with the climbing term ‘bouldering’. If done without ropes or protection far off the ground, buildering may be dangerous. It is often practiced outside legal bounds, and is thus mostly undertaken at night-time.

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January 28, 2013

Security Through Obscurity

Security through obscurity is a pejorative referring to a principle in security engineering, which attempts to use secrecy of design or implementation to provide security. A system relying on security through obscurity may have theoretical or actual security vulnerabilities, but its owners or designers believe that if the flaws are not known, then attackers will be unlikely to find them. The technique stands in contrast with security by design and open security, although many real-world projects include elements of several strategies.

Security through obscurity has never achieved engineering acceptance as an approach to securing a system, as it contradicts the principle of ‘keeping it simple.’ The United States National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) specifically recommends against security through obscurity in more than one document. Quoting from one, ‘System security should not depend on the secrecy of the implementation or its components.’

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January 28, 2013

Don’t stuff beans up your nose

‘The little boy’s mother was off to market. She worried about her boy, who was always up to some mischief. She sternly admonished him, ‘Be good. Don’t get into trouble. Don’t eat all the cabbage. Don’t spill all the milk. Don’t throw stones at the cow. Don’t fall down the well.’ The boy had done all of these things on other market days. Hoping to head off new trouble, she added, ‘And don’t stuff beans up your nose!’

This was a new idea for the boy, who promptly tried it out.’ In our zeal to head off others’ unwise action, we may put forth ideas they have not entertained before. It may be wise not to caution against such possibilities. Prophylactic admonition may trigger novel mischief. As the popular saying goes, ‘don’t give ’em any ideas.’

January 28, 2013

First Law of Holes

The First law of holes is a proverb attributed to British politician Denis Healey. It states, ‘If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.’

The meaning behind this proverb is that if you find yourself in an undesirable situation (‘the hole’), such as an argument with others, you should not ignore the situation or attempt to continue what you were doing (the ‘digging’), as it can make the situation worse. It has been cited numerous times by other politicians and in books.