Liar-for-hire Tim Green will tell anyone anything — for a fee. As the founder of Paladin Deception Services, he will say what clients want him to say to anyone calling on his dedicated phone lines. He provides cover for cheating husbands, fake references for job-seekers and even “doctors” to confirm that someone needs a sick day.
Sperm cells have been created from a female human embryo in a remarkable breakthrough that suggests it may be possible for lesbian couples to have their own biological children. [Telegraph]
While the reasons for a male orgasm may appear to be a rather obvious incentive to mate and procreate, scientists have debated more on why a female organism exists. Many sex researchers have assumed that female orgasm rates correlated with fertility; the more she has, the more kids she’ll have. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that the orgasm induces physiological processes that stimulate pregnancy. No such correlation exists, says new research. [United Academics]
Forget patenting an invention. These days, companies patent conceptual categories for future inventions. During the first dot-com boom, Amazon famously patented the concept of buying things online with one click. More recently, companies have patented concepts such as scanning documents to an e-mail account, clearing checks electronically and sending e-mail over a wireless network. The problem with these kinds of abstract patents is that lots of people will independently discover the same basic concept and infringe by accident. Then the original patent holder — who may not have come up with the concept first, or even turned the concept into a usable technology — can sue. That allows for the kind of abusive litigation that has been on the rise in recent years. A lawsuit over an Internet advertising patent offered a key appeals court an opportunity to rein in these abstract patents. Instead, the court gave such patents its endorsement on Friday, setting the stage for rampant patent litigation to continue unchecked. A firm called Ultramercial claims to have invented the concept of showing a customer an ad instead of charging for content. The company has sought royalties from a number of Web sites, including Hulu and YouTube. Ultramercial’s patent isn’t limited to any specific software algorithm, server configuration or user interface design. If you build a Web site that follows the general business strategy claimed by the patent, Ultramercial thinks you owe them money. [Washington Post]
There’s such a blizzard of sensory information out there, the brain would be overwhelmed if it weren’t for a spotlight process of selective attention that allows us to focus. This means that once we’re tuned into certain aspects of the environment, we’re left blind to events outside of our selective attention – a phenomenon called “inattentional blindness.” Central to this line of reasoning is the idea of attention as a finite resource. It’s because our processing powers are depleted by the focus of our attention that we’re left blind to that which we ignore. However, a new study challenges the finite resource element of this story. Baruch Eitam and his colleagues say that irrelevance is enough to render information invisible even if we have plenty of resources available for processing that information. It brings a new spin to our understanding of inattentional blindness that’s not just about attentional load but also about salience and motivation. [BPS]
In this paper I distinguish principles from rules and standards and ask if there are norms that fit this description. I conclude that these may be moral principles but that there are no legal principles.
Another power law […] is Benford’s Law, which states that the distribution of digits in a lot of data are not even, but power law distributed. For example, in base 10, the number 1 should, all things being equal, appear 10% of the time. But in many data sources 1 appears around 30% of the time. This fact is actually used to help detect fraud in, for example, tax returns. [Oscillatory Thoughts]
The unavoidable truth is that sea levels are rising and Miami is on its way to becoming an American Atlantis. It may be another century before the city is completely underwater (though some more-pessimistic scientists predict it could be much sooner), but life in the vibrant metropolis of 5.5 million people will begin to dissolve much quicker, most likely within a few decades. […] South Florida is not the only place that will be devastated by sea-level rise. London, Boston, New York and Shanghai are all vulnerable, as are low-lying underdeveloped nations like Bangladesh. But South Florida is uniquely screwed, in part because about 75 percent of the 5.5 million people in South Florida live along the coast. And unlike many cities, where the wealth congregates in the hills, southern Florida’s most valuable real estate is right on the water. [Rolling Stones]
The nation has done a good job preparing for natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes. The difference between a disaster and a mega-disaster is scope.
Global warming has slowed. The rate of warming of over the past 15 years has been lower than that of the preceding 20 years. There is no serious doubt that our planet continues to heat, but it has heated less than most climate scientists had predicted. [The Economist]
Søren Kierkegaard’s Interpretation of Mozart’s Opera Don Giovanni [PDF]
The string of typographical symbols comic strips use to indicate profanity (“$%@!”) is called a grawlix.
Money shot [NSFW]