Archive for category Uncategorized


Posted by on Tuesday, 14 February, 2012


Facebook? What you need is a dog.

Dear Mr SASB: My so-called friends think I’m a loser. Maybe they have a point. I’m  an uncoordinated klutz. I have braces and zits. Still. I’m like “screw them. I’ll just hang out on Facebook where it’s cool”. My old friends? They totally sucked anyway. My dad says this is unhealthy. He says I should check with Mister SASB who considers himself a frugging expert in almost everything. So? Are you cool with this or what? – EmilyKickMe4

Listen,you little pipsqueak, I AM an expert on everything. Everything that matters.

Teenagers aren’t on the list.

So your real friends think you’re a ditz and treat you like a putz. But on Facebook you ARE someone. A new person with a wall of your own. It’s not real life, but who cares? Whatever works.

Let’s look at the science.

Amanda Forest and Joanne Wood wondered about this exact thing. Can you really slip out of your old skin, slip a social network over your bones, and be better off?

The article in Psychological Sciences says no.

If you have an ” I am pathetic” sticker on your personality it will follow you to Facebook and Google+. Low self esteemers can’t stop putting themselves down. Not even in the digital world . Pretty soon their new online pals start to think of them as dweebs just like the flesh-and-blooders did that they thought they had left behind. Bad as real life is, at least, when people find you annoying you can see it on their faces. Not on Facebook. I know what the name says but those “faces” aren’t real. Just pixelated images which don’t give the kind of feedback that is needed.

The article by Forest and Wood implies you shouldn’t run away from your troubles. You should face them. If you are your own worst enemy, don’t try to make it better on Facebook. Get a dog.



Image credits go to MISTER SASB (our Luna on the left,  her boyfriend, Bailey, on the right).


Posted by on Saturday, 26 November, 2011


A fella shows up at his church and says to the priest, Father, I have three things to confess. I didn’t do my penance like you asked me to last week, I didn’t put any money into the poor box today, and I told my kid I don’t have time for his stupid jokes. Well, says the priest, let’s not get bogged down with all the religious stuff when you’re lousing up yer kid’s life!

Not that funny? But, you know what? That priest had a point. According to Dr Elena Hoicka (a developmental psychologist, University of Stirling, Scotland) you need to yuck it up some with your kids.


Here’s the thing.

Hoicks’s work shows it’s important to interact, using jokes and pretending. If you think you’re too much of a stiff to pull this off, there are even tips to help you  loosen up (brandy?).  Knowing how to joke, they say, helps kids make friends, deal with stress, and think creatively.

Does MISTER SASB think this is crazy important science? Is this what Einstein WISHED he could do?

Tell me this. How could it hurt?


Thanks (again) xkcd for the image:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 Generic License.

Looked At A Whale

Posted by on Saturday, 1 October, 2011

Science doesn’t always HAVE to be rigorous. Casual observation is part of the deal . You have a chance to watch? You watch. You think Darwin knew he was coming up with evolution when he was chasing birds?

In September, Tom Greene, Dave Arnoth, and Robert Hoffman  (Robert Hoffman being Mister ScienceAintSoBad’s first cousin) took these photos of a blue whale about 3 miles offshore near Redondo Beach, CA. They were sailing an F-27 Corsair trimaran, named SEA WING (Fairwind Yacht Club, Marina del Rey).

There are  8,000 to 14,000  blue whales .  They’re big guys (the whales). The largest animals on earth.



Credits: Thanks to Tom Greene for the great shotsThey were taken using a Canon EOS 30D with 300 mm lens.   Tom, incidentally, retired from the Coast Guard and is a graduate of the Coast Guard Academy.


Posted by on Friday, 15 July, 2011



In the modern age, innovation has been one thing we could count on. The flow of new ideas has been torrential. In fact, new systems and devices made innovation easier. We made stuff that made stuff that made stuff. Innovation fed on itself until a trickle turned into a stream turned into an avalanche.

Until recently.

At the beginning of this century ( in FACT, wasn’t it  RIGHT after all the worry about the Y2K clock thing that never happened?) the impulse to innovate faded. The faucet got “plugged up”, says Edgar Biteme, writing for Annals In Global Progress. “It’s hard to understand. After the invention of  Cell-O-Heater,” (cellulite zapping  pad sold on As Seen On TV) ” it’s like the sail collapsed. We’ve been drifting ever since.”

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad doesn’t know if Biteme’s right or not, but it’s a fact that the US Patent And Trademarks Office is empty these days. I was there Monday and  it took 10 minutes to find anyone. Most of the staff were “dialing for dollars”. Pathetic. They were calling up FORMER inventors to see if they might, possibly, have anything new they could send over. The occasional application they do get these days is usually a stupid little change to  an old idea.  One of the examiners, Sam Strichtrich said “Hey. Don’t quote me, okay? But, if a trivial piece of crap application does cross my desk, I’m gonna grant it. We all are.We don’t want to admit how bad things really are.”

I guess I quoted him.

When’s the last time you saw a new technology on store shelves? Same, same, same. Right? The hot industries are the ones that specialize in repainting and repackaging stale products . It’s sad.

There are plenty of theories as to what’s going on.  Biteme, himself, thinks the problem can be traced right back to the educational system which emphasizes the classics – Greek, Latin, and ancient Hebrew. “Nobody,” according to Biteme, “studies engineering, science or, even, business, these days. It’s a big turn off to students who don’t want to be seen as money grubbers.”

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad knows you’re worried. But you shouldn’t be. The age of science and technology was totally exhausting. I could barely keep up with it all. Now I get to kick back and relax.

You too.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – ADDED LATER – – – – – – – – – – –

Mister ScienceAintSoBad has been getting messages from people who liked this article a little bit TOO much.

Let me ask you something. Have you ever told a silly joke and had someone take you seriously and then felt terrible? Hey. Yer car’s on fire! No, no, no. I was just KIDDING! I didn’t mean to scare you?

The article is (or was intended to be) a parody. It’s all made up. I thought (hoped) it would be obvious since we’re drowning in innovation and it’s more or less impossible to keep up with the escalating rate of change.

It’s the responsibility of the writer – MY responsibility – to figure out how to be kinda funny without making the reader feel like a chump. I didn’t quite get there today. Sorry. I accept full responsibility and do not feel you “fell for” anything. I’m not a professional writer. Just an engineer who writes for fun. No intent to deceive. Believe me.

Innovation’s fine. Don’t worry.

Image: We appreciate the use of the image from Flickr Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.


Posted by on Sunday, 27 February, 2011



In November of 2009, I wrote an article (first one of this blog series) about “app phones”. (Smartphones.) At the time, the IPhone was blazing brilliantly through the firmament as Android (Google’s then new Iphone competitor) sat on a rock, watching  wistfully.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad‘s article was about Google’s (turned out to be successful) Droid app phone. Which has a physical keyboard.

I liked the phone. (Good job, me). For the wrong reason.

My article was about physical keyboards on phones – those  compromis-y fingers-don’t-fit-things that slide under.

In my article,  I clarified, nicely, the concept that I, and only I, “get it” where keyboards are concerned. I explained that physical keyboards mean you don’t have to use up precious screen space which I (not too originally) termed “real estate”. The “soft” (simulated) keyboards that show up on those teeny screens subtract from space you need to SEE what you are editing or writing (said I).

Why nobody ELSE observed this silly mistake on the part of phone innovators, I can’t say. But MISTER ScienceAintSoBad has, as mom used to say, “a real head on his shoulders”.

Doesn’t he?

Strangely, though, for all their supposed advantages, I don’t have a physical keyboard on my own phone.

Isn’t that curious?

Well my mom (same one) used to say (about real estate) that they’re not making any more of it.

Which is true of the ground-y kinda real estate but not so true of the touch – screen-y kind. After all, phones ARE getting bigger. Some of the newer models come with handles on each end so your buddies can help you portage them through the weeds.

Which does make screen “real estate” less of a big deal. Doesn’t it?.

Still. MISTER SASB, at the moment, has a modest screen on his modest Android phone (a Droid Eris) and, yet, even I, feel no need for a clumsy sliding keyboard with clicky keys. So where was I wrong?


Here’s where.

First of all, having gotten around to trying them, I gotta say that even the best of those miniaturized keyboards are kinda tough. OK for texting, I suppose, but you won’t be doing your thesis on one.

Bear in mind, I’ve seen teenagers use these things at jet speed without even looking.

But that’s teenagers. I’m not even gonna GO there.  I’m talking about NORMAL people. OK?

Anyway, my real problem is that I was still thinking INSIDE that notorious “box” everyone talks about. I’m a touch typer and I’m used to a physical keyboard on my own PCs. And isn’t an app phone/smartphone a smallish PC?


Not really. See. That was my mistake.

It isn’t.

Because, with an app phone (and unlike a PC)  you can hold it up to your ear. Or put it in your pocket. Or walk into a sink hole, holding it in front of yer face.

As computers go, app phones are so personal that they’re INTIMATE. They go where you go. And that’s different, isn’t it? So you might use it in the doctor’s office.. Or propped up in bed. Or at the PO-lice station.

Handy indeed.

So popular “apps” tend to emphasize mobility. GPS and maps. Store payments. Casual entertainment and games.

Fart apps are popular.

So why sit straight up on your butt while your writing?

No reason.


I use mine standing, slouching, reclining, and upside down (me, that is). In other words, at times, and in ways, that call for a more innovative approach to inputing information.

And thus (and, at last)  my point.

“Soft” keyboards? More than you can count. There are dozens and dozens – hundreds, actually – available as free and paid apps on the various smartphones. Big keys and small keys. All kinds of key arrangements and even new approaches to typing, itself. One that’s  catching on, involves sliding the finger from key to key. The technique’s hard to describe. Swipe and Slide-It are two keyboards that use this strange but effective approach. At first, it’s seems ridiculous. But, you learn the keyboard, and the keyboard learns you. Gradually, your own vocabulary drains into the thing and your typing speed gets faster and faster. I AM still faster at a full sized keyboard, but I’m surprisingly good, glissading around that Slide-It thing . There’s also a peculiar side benefit. It’s kinda fun.

And do the pop up keyboards REALLY get in the way of what you’re editing, as I claimed in my first review? Well sure. Kind of. But it’s like anything, you get good at making it go away. You can flip yer ‘board up to type and down to look. Up to type and down to look.

It works. It really does.


Why type if you can slide? And why slide if you can dictate?

Seriously. I’ve been using my phone to, for example, to right this article.

right? Did I say right? Well. Not perfect, I admit.

But, like the sliding keyboards, the dictation software which is basic  to the Android phones (but certainly available on other phones) is adaptive. As I have, tentatively, used it more and more for serious writing, I am starting to appreciate the speed advantages of the voice input cycle. You speak a bit, correct the boo boos, and speak some more. You get good at this.It’s faster and easier than it sounds.

(It would have to be.)


I tried out the “soft” keyboard on the new XOOM tablet  computer . Sliding? Voice recognition? Why would you do that? This is a keyboard that fits your fingers and works great. I haven’t tried the equivalent trick with an IPad but, surely, that’s nice too.

The benefits of ultra-portable, ultra-smart devices are already becoming clear but the best way to talk back at them is  still evolving.


attribution: Photo belongs to compscigrad’s photostream. License:
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.


Posted by on Friday, 31 December, 2010



Happy New Year.


MISTERScienceAintSoBad gets cross eyed, skimming the enormous flow of scientific and technical things blowing through this world of ours. As a blogger, it can be tough to figure out which of the many, many reports and papers and studies are important.

In case you ever wondered, this waterfall of innovation isn’t normal.

Throughout human history, normal was where nothing much improved.  We lived in cold houses lit by candles. If we were seriously ill, we were “cured” with such things as leaches and mercury. And famine, and pestilence surrounded us constantly.

That was a good year.

Even today lots of human abodes are dark at night.

And have no toilet.


Normal, for us homo sapiens,  isn’t where you toss out half the junk in your house because who, really, wants a Palm Pilot anymore when the technology is SO outdated?

Normal isn’t “They just announced a cure for this or  that.” Normal isn’t “Let’s, seamlessly,  locate our tech support in Bangladesh.” And normal isn’t where you sit around thinking about some new twist on an existing idea that might make you rich.

That’s OUR normal, where people sit around constantly thinking up new stuff. We’re surrounded by the constant turmoil of innovation in science and technology which has been going on and on since before you were born. Unless yer about 180 years old.

Like me.

But the age of innovation’s a blip. How YOU managed to land here instead of in the age of living a short, terrible, painful life is beyond ME.

Even the IDEA of coming up with new stuff – innovating – is, itself, an innovation. They really didn’t THINK that way “back in the day”. They tried to survive. That was plenty to think about.

Nobody’s SAYING you should appreciate it. After all, SOMEBODY had to drive instead of walk, be warm instead of cold, get cured instead of suffer, be free instead of enslaved (or a serf or a peasant or a servant), use iPhones, airplanes, Facebook and have electrically warmed socks.

Somebody. Why NOT you?

Before you say it, I do know that this wonderful technology crap may kill us yet.

I skim THOSE papers too.

But MisterScienceAintSoBad’s on duty. He’ll make sure you know if anything terrible shows up on the technology front.

Meanwhile, do have a happy, safe new year. And (a non-scientific metaphor) count yer blessings.



Posted by on Friday, 15 October, 2010



No two people have the same fingerprints.

That’s how come we get to put people in jail or stick ’em in the lectric chair based on fingerprint evidence. It’s “incontrovertible”

How DO we know that fingerprints are unique? That no two people have the same ones?

Well.. see.. that’s the thing.

Experts such as Simon Cole (New York Times) say its’ a lot of hooey. It’s just “folk wisdom”. Fingerprint matching, says Cole, isn’t nearly as reliable as we grew up thinking it was.

How many whodunits have you read where the bad guy left prints on the wine glass? If they matched, he’s catched.


You’ve always accepted that this was completely true. You don’t want to get into an argument with your own brain, do you?


from an article in Wikipedia about fingerprints:

“Despite the absence of objective standards, scientific validation, and adequate statistical studies, a natural question to ask is how well fingerprint examiners actually perform. Proficiency tests do not validate a procedure per se, but they can provide some insight into error rates. In 1995, the Collaborative Testing Service (CTS) administered a proficiency test that, for the first time, was “designed, assembled, and reviewed” by the International Association for Identification (IAI).The results were disappointing. Four suspect cards with prints of all ten fingers were provided together with seven latents. Of 156 people taking the test, only 68 (44%) correctly classified all seven latents. Overall, the tests contained a total of 48 incorrect identifications. David Grieve, the editor of the Journal of Forensic Identification, describes the reaction of the forensic community to the results of the CTS test as ranging from “shock to disbelief,”..

Not so good, eh? Get yourself a mediocre fingerprint technician and who KNOWS what fate has in store. (Latents, by the way, are prints that don’t show up till you “dust em”).


Maybe there’s a better way.

Dr. Mark Nixon (and others) at the University of Southampton say that  the little swirly thing in the ear,  the helix, is durn good for telling us apart with close to 100% accuracy. That’s what we’re looking for, right? 99+ %?  Will “earprints” replace fingerprints at Scotland Yard?

Not likely, according to A Wild at the University of Rhode Island (That’s as much identification as your gonna get; he’s one of Mister ScienceAintSoBad’s best kept secrets). Wild reminds us that accuracy isn’t enough. Criminal types, he says, would have to start scattering photos of their own ears around crime scenes or, perhaps, begin pressing the sides of their heads against corpses, for ear detection to have any forensic value. Whereas it is hard to avoid leaving fingerprints and DNA behind, your average perpetrator can probably figure out how to keep his ears off the walls.


To be fair, Dr. Nixon and his colleagues probably had different applications in mind for the ear identification technique such as biometric screening. For that purpose, with further development, it may well turn out to be useful.


Photo Credit: FBI (Thanks, guys.)

“Virus” Implicated in Plane Crash

Posted by on Wednesday, 25 August, 2010



In 2008, in Madrid,  an airplane took off with its flaps and its slats retracted.

It didn’t work out.

The flaps aren’t there to look pretty. When you stick ’em out like that, you’re looking for some extra lift as the aircraft struggles up into the sky. Not that a mistake in setting the flaps is a big deal, really. Nice Mister Computer’ll remind you to make the necessary adjustments.

Unless, of course, Mister Computer’s got his own problems.

In the case of  Spanair Flight 5022, Mister Computer had a virus – a trojan, actually. An article by Leslie Meredith (we always like to give credit) on, writes that the investigation of the NTSB discovered that there was no power to the take-off warning system. No slats. No flaps. No warning.

154 passengers died. 18 survived.

The central computer system got itself infected. Most probably from a USB “memory stick” or such.

The lesson? You knew it anyway. Computers can kill you lots of ways these days. You just can’t BE too vigilant.

The question?

Any PARTICULAR reason you can’t hang the writer of the malware that brought down an entire aircraft with 172 souls on board? MisterScienceAintSoBad hopes, with all his heart, there’s a way.


Posted by on Thursday, 29 July, 2010



My brother-in-law’s still a handsome guy in his mid seventies. He’s fiercely loyal to my sister and his kids, a “drivin’ fool” who runs his magnificent RV across country at the drop of a beanie, and he’s the “go to guy” in the family when it comes to automotive questions.

But for several years, he’s been battling cancers acquired (probably) during his military service.

R’s been in remission for seven years thanks to the remarkable work of Dr. Shimon Slavin (International Center for Cell Therapy & Cancer),  a pioneer in immunological therapy. Recently, however,  a mass was discovered on one of R’s kidneys.

The kidney has to go.


R had to decide between an open incision or laparoscopy, the new “modern” approach, which involves manipulating tiny tools inside the abdominal cavity while observing with a tiny video camera. Laparoscopy is all done through small holes in the abdomen rather than through a large incision and can mean faster recovery and less scarring.

“You’re the science guy, R said.  What do you think? Should I take a chance on laparoscopy?”

“Well, the recovery’s easier with laparoscopy,” I said. “What’s not to like?”

“Here’s the thing,” he said. “I’m afraid they’ll have to chop up the kidney to remove it. I wouldn’t want all that cancer juice sloshing around in me.  Who knows what other organs could be affected.”

R’s fears certainly seemed reasonable. In fact, surgeons do worry about “spills”, cells that drip from an instrument during surgery.  So I called Angelo Tortola (Venture Technologies) who designs the tools used in these procedures. He also makes the training simulators that surgeons use to perfect their techniques.

After explaining a little about my brother-in-law’s background and describing the problem, I asked him if he could help.

“You called the right guy,” he said. “I had to give up one of my own kidneys about two years ago.”

Since Angelo had never mentioned this to me, I was very surprised.

“You’re OK now, right?”

“Completely. The cancer was fully contained. But I have a story.”

“Don’t let me stop you.”

“My doctor was ‘old school’. He was determined to go with an open incision.  Even after I asked about laparoscopy, he stuck to his position. Safer. Best result.

“But the more I read, the more I wondered.  Finally, I set up an appointment at Mass General Hospital in Boston with a leading surgeon – one who I happened to know did a lot of laparoscopic procedures.

“After reviewing my situation, he said I would be a good candidate for laparoscopy but I could choose an open procedure if I wished.

“I asked him about the relative advantages. He said that laparoscopic removal of a kidney was just as safe as an open procedure with lower risk of certain complications during recovery.

“So, I asked, how do I decide?

“Well, he said, with the open procedure it’ll take you longer to get back on your feet.

“How much longer? I asked.

“With the open procedure, it could be up to a year till you are fully normal, he said. With laproscopy, you should be functional within a few days.”

“Now THAT,” Angelo said, “is an amazing difference. And, you know what? He was right.  A couple of weeks later, I was on an airplane, on the way to a meeting.”

I asked Angelo about R’s concern. Does the kidney get chopped up before it is removed?

“Not to worry,” Angelo said. “That’s not how they do it. The organ is removed in one piece. And everything’s placed in a plastic bag before removal.

“You tell your brother-in-law that either choice is safe. It’s up to him.”

Teen Angst: Cure For Acne? Cure For Backpacks?

Posted by on Saturday, 17 April, 2010



We were once beautiful. Even Fink. Once, we were healthy. supple and unblemished.

Except for the nasty zits which would lie dormant until a few days before something important like a first date, a prom, or a bar mitzvah when they would BURST into glorious Technicolor blotches, humiliating and depressing us.

And obliterating our dreams of becoming ex-virgins.


Well thank YOU, Dissaya “Nu” Pornpattananangkul, for coming up with a zit-killer DECADES too late.  I don’t believe ther’re any virgins left  in high school to benefit from this work  but Pornpattananangkul  (am I pronouncing that right?) has developed a drug delivery system based on gold nanoparticles which deliver  lauric acid directly to the (very) offending lesions.


Pornpa.. Pornpatt.. WHATEVER! .. is gonna be a terrific engineer. But there’s some science yet to be done. Will it REALLY work? Side effects? Cost?

A great first step and the article says human testing may follow soon.

ScienceAintSoBadEngineeringRating = 10

ScienceAintSoBadScienceRating? Let’s hope we hear more.


I can ONLY ride the Nostalgia Dunebuggy so far. MISERABLE and PATHETIC  as our young lives were, we didn’t walk to school leaning forward.

School books have gotten so heavy in the last five years, that obesity’s become the only REMEDY for the struggling future generations that we call kids or (sometimes) just annoying. In fact, their parents are EGGING THEM ON to gain a few pounds. “Hey. EAT that! You wanna get pulled over backwards by your books and lie there like a DOPE with yer arms and legs wavin’ around?”


Eric v.d. Luft, PhD (Syracuse) did a little research on WHY the books are so engorged.


Fat margins, fat paper, and lots of jazzy color illustrations.

You know fer SURE some kid’s gonna be too loaded up to dodge a runaway foreign car.

Too much backpack mass. This is all just a GIFT to pediatric orthopedic surgeons.

‘course the ultimate solution is a digital child. Did I say “child?”. I MEANT, of course, BOOK.  An eBook.

Not a specially  original thought.  Electronic book readers are catching on among adults.  There’re a LOT of choices. Kindle, Sony’s E-reader, The Nook (Barnes and Noble), ALL kinda smart phones, netbooks,  the Ipad (and it’s soon-to-be competitors), and so on. There’re way more “initiatives” then MisterScienceAintSoBad is in the mood to discuss. (Example).

The technology’s there. It’s even affordable. Text book publishing, parents, and teaching institutions are trying to catch up with  it.


According to the IEEE Spectrum, the world’s robot population’s about 8.6 million souls.

Well. Not souls, exactly.

You know what I mean.