Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

iPhone 6 Pixels

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The first time you see an iPhone 6 or 6+ display, it looks considerably better than the previous generation iPhone (5S) despite having the same resolution. Bryan Jones, a photographer, explains it like this:

The first time you switch on an iPhone 6, you will be amazed at how clear the display is.  It looks even higher definition than the iPhone 5s which is a pretty nice display itself.  So, given that the screen of the iPhone 6 looks so much better than the iPhone 5s, I wondered what was different and ran into the lab for a quick capture of the iPhone 6 screen to see if any of the pixels had changed in size over the last little while.

Turns out, there’s some very subtle but significant refinements in the iPhone 6-generation of the device’s display.

When the iPhone 5 came out, Apple bonded the display to the glass in an effort to get the pixels closer to the surface and Apple has appeared to make the pixels in the 6 even closer still. ”Some of what we are seeing with the iPhone 6 may be a polarizing filter underneath the glass, but even so, the glass appears thinner and required less focus distance adjustment to get from the surface of the glass to the pixel on another microscope. I don’t know what that precise distance is in microns between the surface of the glass and the pixels, but it was a shorter distance as judged by rotation of the focus knob in the iPhone 6 vs. the iPhone 5. What this accomplishes is making the display appear to be higher resolution. The blacks are blacker, contrast is higher and colors are more vibrant, even with the same OS.

Attention to details that other companies would overlook in the name of cost savings or perceived irrelevance is what makes Apple Apple.

Book Review: The Art of Learning

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art of learning

Tim Ferriss, as part of his book club featuring books that dramatically impacted his life, said Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning is one of the books hedge fund managers have on their bedside tables.

After reading it, I can see why.

Like Ferris, this book will go down as one of the best self-improvement books I have ever read. It’s completely free of woo (woo, noun, Ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence or that appeal to mysterious occult forces or powers), and while Waitzkin has a technician’s mind, he details the learning process with concepts that are easy to understand and backed up with his own life experience.

If you just skimmed this book, you’d think this is a biography of Waitzkin himself, who at a very young age was a national chess champion. In fact, Waitzkin’s father wrote Searching for Bobby Fischer, a popular book that was made into an even more popular movie.


Spurious Correlations

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The cliché goes, ‘correlation does not equal causation.’ This means, of course, that just because Thing A correlates to Thing B, it does not mean Thing A caused Thing B. Tyler Vigen over at Spurious Correlations illustrates this in hilarious fashion. Here’s an example:

Spurious_CorrelationsClick to enlarge.

This is fantastic on so many levels. Be sure to check out Vigen’s other examples. Great stuff. This is an idea I wish I had.

Casual Friday: Starling Murmurations. (Hint: Worth Your Time. Trust Us.)

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Stop by here most Fridays and you will see a personal story, a parenting lesson I clumsily try to tie to something that happened the previous week, or our thoughts on leadership, grit and management culture. Sometimes, even though I can’t believe it myself, cat stories.

Not today. Today is a different kind of tangent.

I was recently forwarded this video about starlings and the flowing, bobbing patterns they create in a group (called a murmuration, incidentally).

I get sent a lot of videos and links, and candidly, most of them aren’t worth a Facebook post. This one, however, is genuinely mesmerizing: I watched it twice.

For the uninitiated, starling murmurations are like daytime, avian versions of northern lights: a half million starlings, all flying in tight formation, all following an invisible atmospheric pattern they detect in the air. But the science gives nothing away to the result, which can only be described as art.

I’ve never seen one of these personally, but you know it’s on my bucket list now. Great reason to travel to the English countryside, yes?

So, that said, please enjoy this video (make sure your volume is turned up to hear the narration and music), kick back with your coffee or tea, and chill out for a few minutes. I’m not embedding it here because you need to watch this full-screen, and that link will launch YouTube’s large player.

Have a great weekend.

(Hat tip to Jeff M. for the link)

Why Hot Water Freezes Faster Than Cold Water

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It’s Monday, and that might mean it’s counterintuitive science day. Up on the block: why does hot water freeze faster than cold water? It does, but it shouldn’t. Right? Wrong. The reason behind it is called the Mpemba effect, and a group of researchers think they’ve cracked the puzzle.

Now Xi and co say hydrogen bonds also explain the Mpemba effect. Their key idea is that hydrogen bonds bring water molecules into close contact and when this happens the natural repulsion between the molecules causes the covalent O-H bonds to stretch and store energy.

But as the liquid warms up, it forces the hydrogen bonds to stretch and the water molecules sit further apart. This allows the covalent molecules to shrink again and give up their energy. The important point is that this process in which the covalent bonds give up energy is equivalent to cooling.

In fact, the effect is additional to the conventional process of cooling. So warm water ought to cool faster than cold water, they say. And that’s exactly what is observed in the Mpemba effect.


Casual Friday: Sitting Is the New Smoking

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We’ve posted a bunch about health and nutrition before, and we got a bit nerdy. Maybe too nerdy (as if there’s such a thing). But today, we’re posting about health again, but we’ve cut out almost all the nerdy. Promise.

Today is about why sitting is killing you.

Sure, there are tons of articles out there about why sitting down all day is doing oceans of damage to your hips, glutes and spine, and can actually shorten your life. I’m not going to rehash all that. Instead, I’m going to ask you to view sitting as the new smoking, because it’s that bad for your health. And aside from ingrained habit, it’s pretty easy to change.

Arshad Chowdhury has a post entitled What Happens When You Stand for 2 Years, and it’s making the rounds. What different about this one than all the others is it’s a retrospective look on the benefits of standing from a guy who actually stood up at his desk for two years. It’s not theoretical, it’s experiential.


Defining Data Engineering

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Rafe Colburn over at has a smart post about how Big Data gets all of the attention, but Big Data wouldn’t be very effective without data engineering, which is different than data science:

Last year I started working in the world of Big Data, and at the time, I didn’t know that “data science” and “data engineering” were separate things. At some point, I looked at what my team is working on and realized that the distinction between the two is important, and that the team is firmly entrenched in the data engineering camp.

Data scientists get all the glory and attention, but without data engineering, there’s no way for data scientists to practice real science.

Very smart and interesting, seeing how this is the first thing I’ve read that differentiates ‘data science’ and ‘data engineering’. If you’re researching Big Data or have any interest in it whatsoever, this is a great read. Check it out.

What if Planets Were as Close to Earth as the Moon?

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Rosie Taylor for The Daily Mail:

Ron Miller, a former art director for NASA, used digital trickery to superimpose scale drawings of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune over the same landscape, highlighting the sheer size of the planets.

The incredible drawings imagine each planet to be 233,812 miles from Earth – the same distance at which the moon orbits.

Jupiter and Saturn are both amazing and terrifying. Wow.

Check the post out here.


The Promise of Big Data (& Dawn of 21st Century Problems)

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Cam Davidson-Pilon has an excellent blog post about 21st Century Problems. In it, he posits one of the best explanations of the promise of Big Data I’ve yet to come across:

21st Century problems are statistical problems

Statistical problems describe the space we haven’t explored yet. Statistical problems are not new: they are likely as old as deterministic problems. What is new is our ability to solve them. Spear-headed by the (constantly increasing) tidal wave of data, practitioners are able to solve new problems otherwise thought impossible. Consider the development of a spellchecker: in a deterministic approach, an algorithm for spell checking would have needed to incorporate context and complicated ideas from the language’s grammar (I shutter at the nested if statements ), unique only up to that language; whereas a statistical approach can be written in under 20 lines. The difference between the two approaches is that the latter has taken advantage of the presence of a large corpus of text — a very lenient assumption.

This isn’t another big data article, but its hard underestimate, let along imagine, what we will be doing with these casual data sets. Fields like medicine, that previously relied on small sample sizes to make important one-size-fits-all decisions, will evolve into a very personal affair. By investigating traffic data, dynamic solutions can be built that mimic past successes. Aided by machine learning, specifically recommendation engines, companies can invoke desires never previously thought about in our minds. Ideas like multi-armed bandits will motivate UI and AI development.

Consider Big Data in that context and suddenly it’s a far more powerful (and complex) idea than what a few whitepapers might have you believe.

Also, for contrast purposes, note how he describes most of the great technological accomplishments of the 20th century:

The technological challenges, and achievements, of the 20th Century handed society powerful tools. Technologies like nuclear power, airplanes & automobiles, the digital computer, radio, internet and imaging technologies to name only a handful. Each of these technologies had disrupted the system, and each can be argued to be Black Swans (à la Nassim Taleb). In fact, for each technology, one could find a company killed by it, and a company that made its billions from it.

What these technologies have in common is that are all deterministic engineering solutions. By that, I mean they have been created by techniques in mathematics, physics and engineering: often being modeled in a mathematical language, guided by physics’ calculus and constrained and brought to life by engineering. I argue that these types of problems, of modeling deterministically, are problems that our father’s had the luxury of solving.

Very smart analysis, and one I haven’t read before. Check out Cam’s whole post.

The Psychology of Procrastination

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Peter Bregman (whose blog posts I love, by the way), writes about the unspoken psychology of procrastination:

Here’s the thing: More often than not, our fear doesn’t help us avoid the feelings; it simply subjects us to them for an agonizingly long time. We feel the suffering of procrastination, or the frustration of a stuck relationship. I know partnerships that drag along painfully for years because no one is willing to speak about the elephant in the room. Taking risks, and falling, is not something to avoid. It’s something to cultivate. But how?


Which you get by taking risks, feeling whatever you end up feeling, recognizing that it didn’t kill you, and then getting on the board and paddling back into the surf.

If I’ve struggled with one major productivity demon, it’s procrastination. Some days I just dive in and muscle through my insane tasklist with reckless abandon; other days I find myself putting off petty, stupid things, tasks others would just simply do. Over the past two years, I’ve been much better about this, but I often wonder about the psychology that lies behind the fog of procrastination. Bregman’s view that we ‘fear the feelings’ that failure and rejection cause as the source of procrastination is a good one.

If this sounds like you, allow me to recommend Julian Smith’s e-book The Flinch and Steven Pressfield’s Do The Work and The War of Art. Those three books right there are life changing, and The Flinch is a free download on Amazon. I cannot recommend them enough.

But first, read Bregman’s whole post over at Harvard Business Review. It’s worth your time.