Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for the 'Science' Category

Triangular cloud falls over Tokyo?


Such a great image, captured over Tokyo and posted December 10 on the popular 2ch, futaba board.

And it’s not a hoax, nor a piece of chemical foam. It’s actually a cloud, it’s indeed a trail. Granted, it’s not actually falling. More pics and considerations after the jump!

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Colored Vibrating Sand, Buddhist Singing Bowls and Levitating Megaliths

Please turn down the volume, and appreciate Japanese artist Kenichi Kanazawa making colored sand dance in beautiful geometric patterns. Magic? Perhaps, but not supernatural.

This is version of what is better known as Chladni plates, as the table top is made of a plate of steel which vibrates when he rubs the rubber balls on its border, an effect similar to rubbing a crystal glass with wet fingers. The vibrating top then makes the sand jump and accumulate in nodal patterns.

Which is a perfect opportunity to present another non-quite-magical, but quite amazing phenomenon: Tibetan singing bowls, dating more than 4,000 years ago, which make water boil almost instantly!

Except that they are not actually boiling water, you wouldn’t be able to cook noodles with it. In a way somewhat similar to Chladni plates, and as Nature News Blog explains, what the bowl is doing is making waves in water which at a critical frequency separates and forms little droplets which can jump and even bounce over the rest of the water, making it look like it’s boiling. Check out above and below some wicked videos courtesy of Denis Terwagne and John Bush:

The phenomenon is non-linear and, thanks to LOST, has a very cool sounding name, Faraday instability, due to Michael Faraday himself, a scientific legend.

And speaking of legend, vibration and Buddhist monks, we come to the last link: acoustic levitation of stones, in the legend of monastery construction, Tibetan style.


Tibetan Monks levitate stones by using an acoustic levitation technique with the aid of drums in this 1939 sketch by Swedish aircraft designer Henry Kjellson. Click the sketch for the full fascinating story.

Acoustic levitation is real, and the grains of sand jumping as well as the droplets of water bouncing are a related phenomenon. And given that Buddhist monks had singing bowls which mastered this resonance, could they have levitated giant boulders with drums?

Unfortunately, we know for a fact they didn’t. You see, there’s a limit in the amount of energy a sound wave can carry, beyond which the sound just turns into a shock wave and the more energy you put into it, it simply turns into heat.

Interestingly, you can make shock waves so powerful that could actually make water boil, unlike the singing bowls, for instance, near a hypersonic jet, though that would be a very inconvenient way to cook noodles. But it’s impossible for thin air in resonating sound to make something like a heavy boulder levitate – granted, a very powerful shock wave could move large rocks, but that’s not something you would get with drums. That’s something you would get with explosives, and this is something we already do.

Well, I hope you’ve seen enough real wonders to allow for one adorable legend to remain just a very nice tall tale!

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Through the Eyes of a Statistician

The adorable video above, an entry to The American Statistics Association contest, shows the world “through the eyes of a statistician”.

Statistics is all around us and can be seen in the marks left by the actions of hundreds, thousands of people on objects such as a gas pump slot, as well as on a door handle (as it gets worn out, the corrosion will leave a normal distribution bell curve shaped pattern). On the other hand, the stains left by dripping oil from car engines on a parking lot will display a discrete Poisson distribution emerging pattern.

That reminded me of a funny fact: the “Adam” statue by Bottero at Time Warner Center in New York has a shining area that ends up contrasting against the rest of the sculpture. A tabloid even described the urge to touch the area as “irresistible”.

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Men may be more interested in the statues of the “Crazy Girls” casino in Las Vegas:

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Back to something less related to sexuality statistics – which turns the parts down there “irresistible” to groping – , I also remembered the story about a Buddhist monk who supposedly left his footprints on the wooden floor on which he had been praying for twenty years:

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My critical sense does not buy this story, mainly due to the way the footprints don’t seem to follow the foot parts that actually bear most of the weight, or at least should wear out the wood a bit more – especially the little toe area. Or maybe the peculiar way he is supposed to have been praying can indeed create those footprint patterns?

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Applied statistics, along with other fields of science, would let us put this story to test! [via The Five Best Statues for Groping]

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Two Nobel Prizes?


Just saw this photo of 16 year-old Marie Curie at Kuriositas, and it immediately reminded me of the Challenge Accepted meme.

Marie Curie, two Nobel Prizes, first female professor at the University of Paris, giving away patent rights for the good of mankind, dying by radiation poisoning due to her strenuous work, but not before raising two kids, one of which would also come to receive another Nobel Prize.

Marie Curie, like a boss.

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“Iconatomy”: Celebrities and Reification


In “Iconatomy”, Art Student George Chamoun, from Sweden, mixed movie icons from two different eras in a collage that’s even more outstanding because the pictures were not distorted in any way.


“What you see is a collage of two different people in each picture”, Chamoun  explains. “Did it take me a long time to find the right pictures? Hell yes it did!”

And the fascinating thing is that with his technique, Chamoun managed to make that fusion of faces happen inside our brains. Because as much as Audrey Hepburn may be very much like Natalie Portman:


They are not as identical as Chamoun’s collage initially suggests to our grey matter. To get to the bottom of it, did it take me a long time to find the pictures Chamoun originally used? Well, not that much, thanks to Google Reverse Image Search. Here they are:


Hepburn was wearing a hat, and I had to flip Portman’s image. Side by side, the differences may be highlighted, and I suggest you may review the collage above.

How could these similar but obviously different faces fuse themselves into one so very well? This must be a perceptual illusion, and I bet it has something to do with the Kanizsa Triangle.


Our brain fills in the gaps and we see a triangle that’s not actually there. It’s what Gestalt psychology calls Reification, the constructive aspect of perception, which is not something we feel but something we do.

Chamoun’s collage makes the two faces join exactly where they coincide – at the top of the hair, in the contours of the chin, for instance. Like the vertices of the illusory Kanizsa triangle, our perception does the rest and fills in the gaps, mixing two Hollywood stars in one face.

This illusion also exhibits the Gestalt principle of multistability, famous in the Rubin vase, whereas you can see a mixed face closer either to the Hollywood icon from the past or present.

All of this reminded me of another recent illusion, and one which may not look very, well, sophisticated. It’s what was called “Bubbling” or “Mormon Porn”.


“Mormons can’t look at porn, so they had to come up with a creative idea that would give them the illusion to watch nude girls without actually watching at… nude girls! They call it bubbling.”, they said.

I would call it Gestalt Porn. Sound classier. Or more explicit? Either way, it’s all in our minds.

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