Making Mars Ours

As long as we've known the general layout of the solar system, our nearest neighbors have fascinated us, maybe Mars most of all. Early scientific and fictional imagination about Mars was often driven by the idea that our neighboring planet was strange, but not ultimately that different from Earth. H.G. Wells’s Martians had some trouble … Continue reading Making Mars Ours

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Why Slide Rules Rule

I've wanted to write about this since the abacus post, but I didn't want to do two calculating posts too close together. According to my calculations, an acceptable interval has now elapsed, so here we go! Older readers, you may think this post isn't for you, but even if using a slide rule is etched … Continue reading Why Slide Rules Rule

How We Mutate

A few months ago, I read an article explaining that geneticists have recently found an important difference between humans and octopi. They have eight limbs! Weird, huh? No, OK, the real discovery was that octopi and squids both adapt to their environment in a completely different way from humans. They can change physical characteristics quickly, … Continue reading How We Mutate

Linguists Hate This One Weird Trick!

Seriously, they do. That's because it's wrong. What is it, you ask? Look no further than your average semi-accurate Renaissance faire. Ah yes, there it is, right between the oversized turkey leg stand and the fairy-windchime store—"Ye Olde Dresse Shoppe." It's a pretty standard way to express that you're trying to recreate a "historical" sensibility. … Continue reading Linguists Hate This One Weird Trick!

Weird (Pseudo)Science: Alchemy

Alchemy is one of those pieces of history that refuses to stay in the past. Remnants of alchemy lurk all around us today, in astrological signs, the classical four elements (air, water, earth, and fire), and the recently repopularized Philosopher’s Stone. Most of these are tiny details, fragments of what was once an incredibly complex philosophy millennia … Continue reading Weird (Pseudo)Science: Alchemy

GPS Alternatives: The South-Pointing Chariot

One of last week's Google doodles was in honor of the 115th anniversary of the discovery of the Antikythera mechanism. This is a fascinating device that many people consider to be one of the earliest analog computers (using physical processes or quantities instead of symbols to keep track of information) and it definitely deserves its own … Continue reading GPS Alternatives: The South-Pointing Chariot