Originally published on Fri August 30, 2013 1:57 pm
Credit Adam Cole / NPR
Olympians from the 1912 games seem a bit shorter, a bit scrawnier, a bit more ... average. Over the past century, elite athletes' bodies have changed a lot, and this evolution has been propelled by the laws of physics.
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This map is disturbing, once you understand it. It's a new attempt to visualize an old problem — the shrinking of underground water reserves, in most cases because farmers are pumping out water to irrigate their crops.
Yes, it was an amazing landing, an engineering triumph, a 150-million-mile slam dunk, spectacular in every way, except ... I think my grandpa would be disappointed. I'm not sure of this, since he died 50 years ago, but I have a hunch.
It starts with a handwritten letter he wrote back in 1907. He was a travelling salesman. He sold men's hats, and his job was to visit retailers all over the country. "One evening," he wrote, "train riding between Chicago and Kansas City or St. Louis, sitting the club car, I read a magazine, The Century..."
Can we make sense of the world without belief? This is the central question behind the faith and science dichotomy, and one that informs how an individual chooses to relate to the world. Contrasting mythic and scientific explanations of reality, we could say that at the extreme, religious myths attempt to explain the unknown with the unknowable, while science attempts to explain the unknown with the knowable. Much of the tension springs from the belief that there are two mutually inconsistent realities, one within this world (and thus knowable) and one without (and thus unknowable).
Originally published on Thu August 9, 2012 10:44 am
Credit Ayodha Ouditt / NPR
Shiny glass buildings are a hallmark of modern architecture, but for birds, that shimmer can be deadly. Every year, an estimated 100 million to 1 billion birds die by flying into glass windows. By studying how birds interact with buildings, architects and ornithologists are trying to create special features designed to keep birds alive.
Below, click around to see architectural features that can make buildings safer for birds — or more deadly.
Modern architecture loves glass. Glass makes interiors brighter and adds sparkle to cityscapes. But glass also kills millions of birds every year when they collide with windows. Biologists say as more glass buildings go up, more birds are dying.
Originally published on Tue August 7, 2012 9:36 pm
Credit JPL-Caltech / NASA
Our world seems so broken now and so much of it seems our own fault. The whole of our infrastructure — from highways to high schools, power-grids to public universities — seem on the verge of crumbling. The resources to repair or expand these arteries of public life are gone, we are told, in part because four years ago the economy was jerked to halt through (what appear to be) selective acts of titanic greed and apocalyptic mismanagement.
Many neuroscientists and philosophers think it ain't gonna happen, ever.
We're talking about building a machine that functions as the equivalent, or maybe as superior to, a human mind.
A synthetic brain doesn't have to be the exact equivalent of a human brain, but there are humans, the brilliant inventor Ray Kurzweil in particular, who hope one day to dump their minds into such a machine, boot up and go on living, disembodied, but mentally intact, forever.
It may take some time to pinpoint the exact cause of India's massive blackouts last week, but the underlying issue for India and many other parts of the developing world is that supply is struggling to keep up with the growing demand for power — an imbalance that can affect the reliability of electric grids.
Joe Palca describes the mood of NASA Mars scientists in the wake of the landing overnight, what the latest pictures and data are from the surface of the red planet and what mission scientists are going to do next with Curiosity.