Heroes of Science Volume III, now +21

HeroesofScience_Fullsize_V3_tinyprev I've just posted the third edition of Heroes of Science, which features another 21 science heroes, including Brian Greene, Peter Higgs, Lawrence Krauss, Wolfgang Pauli, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Albert Michelson and Edward Morley, Andrei Sakharov, David Hilbert, Lord Kelvin, Emmy Noether, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Andrew Wiles, Norman Borlaug, Barbara McClintock, Tim Berners-Lee, Steven Pinker, B F Skinner, Konrad Lorenz and Edward O Wilson!

You can check it out at DeviantART, and there's an FAQ over here.

Thanks, everyone, for your support and comments on the various incarnations of the Heroes of Science figures. You can find more posts on colonpipe.com about them by clicking this linky thing here.

On climate change, because nothing's sacred

Opinions. They're like arseholes: everyone has one, and they all stink. For what it's worth, here's mine, vis-a-vis climate change. You can take it or leave it. It's pretty brief. I don't care if climate change is 'real'. The net outcome of having people, in general, do the correct thing outweighs any political shenanigans that are going on behind the scenes.


Let's suppose that climate change is real. What's the best we can hope for? The best we can hope is that people will comply with the basic instructions they're being not-so-subtly given. Look after the environment. Switch to alternative fuels. Be energy efficient. Waste less. Use less. Be, in general, healthier -- both in your life, and for the planet you live on. What's the worst we can hope for? We're screwed.

Now let's suppose climate change is not real. I don't have an opinion either way. As I said above, I don't care if it's real or not. I do believe, however, that the underlying issues are very real: We will, one day, run out of fossil fuels. It's inevitable. They're non-renewable. Once they're gone, there are no more. We need to find alternative energy sources, and if they're ultimately renewable ones, they'll eventually end up cheaper, more reliable, and more efficient than what we're currently using. We need to look after our environment. Whether all of the crud we're pumping into the atmosphere is causing climate change is entirely moot, the point is: we're pumping it into our atmosphere. We're having small-scale, detectable effects on our immediate surroundings. We live in smog-covered cities. We need to, generally speaking, clean this shit up. So, supposing climate change is not real, our best-case scenario is a cleaner, more efficient, more advanced world than the one we live in. What's the worst we can hope for? Well, I suppose we can live in shit.

It's an option.

As an addendum: I find the whole climate change debate to be akin to the argument than man never walked on the moon. At the end of the day, unless you're a climate scientist in your own backyard, you're relying on other people to supply you with the data you're basing your argument on. Often, those people are the ones you're arguing against, a task that has some pretty obvious flaws. You can believe what you please when it comes to man walking on the moon, at the end of the day, the people holding all of the proof are the ones trying to convince you. Unless you've got a spaceship of your own, you'll never know for certain. I'm starting to think climate change is an awfully similar argument from the average Joe's perspective.

Seeing colours: I am a synesthete

Synesthesia is a neurological condition wherein one associates abstract, intangible things such as numbers, letters, words, musical notes or chords with sensory information usually associated with something physical, like colours, tastes or physical sensations. The most common form of synesthesia is grapheme-colour synesthesia. In this condition, one associates numbers, letters or words with colours. I have this condition. I've always had it. I assumed it was normal. I thought everyone saw colours when they thought of numbers, letters and words.

Wikipedia's page on synesthesia is fairly in-depth. There's also a website called the Synesthesia Battery which has an online test you can take to determine if you're synesthetic or not. (I took the test, and its results weren't as conclusive as I'd hoped for my own experiences. I feel that the test relies more on the user being able to repeatedly recognise fairly similar colours with very little margin for error than actually acknowledging when two quite similar colours are selected. I'm sorry, my brain doesn't function in HSV values.)

This is my alphabet. I own it. Hands off.

Whack the link below to keep reading, if you're into numbers and colours, and the unnatural marriage thereof.

Brady Haran's Numberphile, one of my favourite YouTube channels, recently posted a follow-up to their previous video on the subject of synesthesia. I've embedded both episodes below for your perusal:

And the follow-up:

I notice that these videos tend to avoid the subject of grapheme-colour synesthesia for letters and words, but I suspect there's a conscious decision at play considering the YouTube channel hosting them is dedicated largely to numbers.

I've included my own synesthesia alphabet above, for fun. It seems to me that my perception of grapheme-colour tends to be related largely to the geometric shape of the characters, with the following specifics:

  • sharp angles seem to tend towards green and olive
  • right angles lean towards brown, with "F" and "T" being very specifically brown. "L" strikes me as green, though
  • Rounded shapes tend to take on a yellow hue
  • "A", as recounted by many synesthetes, is almost always represented as red
  • The three middle vowels are very neutral

My perception of numbers is more interesting:

Numbers ahoy!

There's less consistency, here. But, surprisingly, there's actually some logic, and much like Alex in the Numberphile videos, it seems to be largely factorial.

  • One and zero are neutral, much like the vowels in the alphabet
  • I have a suspicion that four is red largely because of its resemblance in form to the letter "A". If this is the case, my own mental association made this connection many years before Leetspeak was ever a thing
  • A similar thing no doubt applies to five and its resemblance to "S"

The factorial nonsense comes into play when you organise the numbers:

synes_evenTwo, four and eight are warm coloured numbers.



Three, six and nine are cool.

I've found limited practical applications for my "abilities". One of the few is that in data entry work, I find that I can error-check data fairly efficiently by relying on the colours associated with figures. If a figure is supposed to be the same in two different locations, it's plainly obvious to me if it's not the right "colour".

Larger numbers are generally a gestalt of the colours represented by the figures that comprise them, with the hues blending across the figure. Some specific really big numbers have weird habits: One million (1,000,000) appears blue, presumably due to the connection with the letter "M", and one billion (1,000,000,000) appears green, again because of the letter "B".

Musical notes and chords also have coloured connections for me, again largely governed by the letters that associate with them.

chordsWhen notes become flat or sharp, they change their appearance slightly. Flat notes (or chords) become darker. E flat actually becomes darker than its default state, black, but I can't represent this in a picture because there's nothing darker than black! Sharp notes and chords take on a desaturated look, with an ethereal kind of rusted vomit colour that I've been unable to represent graphically. (Come to think of it, I'm appalled by my description of it, too. Rusted vomit? Nice.)

Minor chords reflect a paler, ice-cream texture. Other chord types, 7ths, augmented chords, diminished chords, etc, have their own peculiar qualities.

I find it exciting to think about the possibility that synesthesia may be the only quantifiable example of qualia at work. Qualia is a collective term for all the little things that happen inside your mind, that you can't directly share with another person. For example:

  • The age-old psychological litmus test: Do you see colours the same way I do? Is my red your blue? Does it matter?
  • What does a strawberry taste like to you?
  • What does a noise sound like to you?

Sensory information is fickle, and the idea that we all sense things the same way is largely untestable. The most frustrating (or perhaps relieving) thing about this problem is that it makes no difference in the end. If I see a stop sign as what I call "red", and you see it as what I call "blue" (but what you call "red"), it makes no difference, because we both call it "red" and stop at it.

Synesthetic responses could be the missing link for qualia. Many synesthetes report similar associations between colours and characters. Brady's second video (embedded above) includes a chart of reported synesthetic connections from his readers. It may be possible that this kind of information proves the existance, and uniqueness of qualia.

Oh, and Porcupine Tree have an awesome song from their 1992 album Up The Downstair entitled Synesthesia. You should go buy it from Burning Shed.

Heroes of Science: Norman Borlaug

We are the Borlaug: Resistance is....fertile? Click to enlarge. Continuing the Heroes of Science series, here's Norman Borlaug. An agronomist, humanitarian and Nobel laureate, Borlaug has been labelled the "father of the Green Revolution" and the "Man Who Saved A Billion Lives" for his work in developing high-yield and disease-resistant varieties of wheat. Borlaug took home the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

For more heroes, click here. For the original, click here. For frequently asked questions and answers, click here.

Heroes of Science: Konrad Lorenz

Konrad Lorenz: Geese not included. Click for bigger image. It's about time the Heroes of Science included an ornithologist. Here's Konrad Lorenz, ornithologist, zoologist and ethologist. He's the guy who (along with Douglas Spalding, a century beforehand) developed the idea of imprinting in birds, and was awarded the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his discoveries in social behaviours.

More heroes here, FAQ here, thanks for your support!

Twitter: Gibson & Atwood like Heroes, disagree about clothing choices

It's been a while since the Heroes of Science gathered any attention, so I was surprised to be informed that William Gibson and Margaret Atwood had a brief discussion about them over Twitter:

..I did say it was a brief discussion.

Extra love to the others who joined in on the conversation to point out the lack of women in the original image. Check out the FAQ for reasoning behind this, and also check out the sequel for more scientists (and more women!).

Thanks for your continuing support, folks!

(Thanks to Derek for the tip.)

Heroes of Science: Edward O. Wilson

Edward O. Wilson: Click to make bigger-ish. Still continuing the Heroes of Science series: Here's Edward O. Wilson, biologist, sociobiologist, theorist, naturalist, myrmecologist and author. And probably the world's number one authority on ants. (No, he probably didn't wear a tie with ants on. Sorry. Artistic license.)

More about Heroes of Science on the FAQ. Thanks for your support!

Heroes of Science: Peter Higgs

Yet another continuation of the Heroes of Science series, here's a figure of Peter Higgs, the fellow at CERN after whom the Higgs Boson, Higgs Field, and Higgs Several-other-things are named.

Here're the first bunch of figures (well, first and second, really), and some FAQs. Enjoy!


Heroes of Science: Wolfgang Pauli

Wolfgang Pauli -- click to embiggen, cromulently. Continuing the Heroes of Science series, here's Wolfgang Pauli. Pauli was one of the pioneers of quantum physics, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1945, and rocked the crap out of a pair of pinstriped trousers.

More Heroes of Science shenanigans can be found on DeviantART, here, here and here. You can find Frequently Asked Questions about the fake figure series here, and everything that I've posted about the damn things here. Information, if nothing else, is in abundance.

Thanks for your continuing support, you little supporter, you.

Heroes of Science: Lord Kelvin

William Thomson, First Baron Kelvin, aka Lord Kelvin. Click to enlargify. In continuation of the Heroes of Science fake action figure series, here's Lord Kelvin, the chap responsible for developing the absolute scale of temperature, which he aptly named the Kelvin temperature scale -- thus ensuring he'd live on eternally in the minds and memories of science geeks and anyone who's ever tried to set white balance on a digital camera.

You can also find this image over on DeviantART if you're not comfortable viewing or commenting on it here, or feel your action figure examining experience would be enhanced by the greenish grey viewing experience of a DeviantART window.

Heroes and Champions

I haven't given up on the Heroes of Science series, and I'm working on adding some new faces to the collection. Here's a nameless preview of the entire cast so far -- Click on the image for bigger, but not much bigger.

This is all part of a spreadsheet I've been using to visualise how the final poster-sized image will work out. So far I've completed two columns and almost one entire row! Please bear in mind that these little people take about 2 hours each to create.

On a similar note, here's an awesome piece of art along the same vein as Heroes of Science. This one's entitled "Champions of Reason", and is by graphic designer and comic artist Saejin Oh:

"Champions of Reason", by Saejin Oh.

You can view the full-sized image over at Art of Jin, and you can even download a humungous PSD version of the image, should you wish to non-profitly print one and hang it on your wall.

Heroes of Science

In November, I created an image called "Heroes of Science Action Figures", in which I digitally altered some Star Trek action figures to resemble famous scientists. It went a little bit viral, and has (to date, Jan 2013) some 230,000 views on DeviantART. Click on the image (or here) to view the full-size image on DeviantART.

I've since created a "sequel" to this image, featuring all of the original scientists (with Neil deGrasse Tyson now sporting his famous Celestial Vest), plus an additional 26 new heroes. I managed to fulfil a few requests, included a few more female scientists to offset the alarmingly testosterone-laden original image, and squeeze in another couple of my own personal heroes of science.

I also created a FAQ page for the project, answering in tedious detail a bunch of questions and criticisms the graphic has received.

Click on the image (or here) to view the full-size image on DeviantART. It's massive.

As an added bonus, here's the 27th new figure. I created the image of a Yuri Gagarin action figure before I made the decision not to include anyone who was involved in the space race/space age/space program. The reasoning behind this was entirely practical: it opened a gigantic can of worms, and I would have no choice but to include another fifty figures to do the space era justice! Maybe one day I'll make another graphic specifically for that task. :D

Yuri Gagarin, the first human being to enter outer space. You can read about him here!

Thank you everyone who's supported this crazy infographic.

Science rocks.

Beautifully designed creatures.

Humans. Not much thought went into our design. (In fact, no thought went into our design. We were not designed. We evolved from earlier life forms through natural selection. But I'm sure you knew that.) I wrote this update in my head at about 3AM this morning, and in due process of sleeping, I've forgotten pretty much all of the funny bits. So I shall attempt to salvage something of it. Humans. Pathetic creatures. Allow me to explore this.

Teeth. Teeth are designed with chewing in mind. They're designed to crush, kill, destroy things so as they might easily be contended with by the remainder of the digestive tract. Teeth are unaccustomed to the company of sugar, which makes their steely exterior whither and squeal, before disappearing like a young bride's petticoat on her wedding night. Which is probably purely accidental. The sugar aversion, not the disappearing undergarments. I mean, how could the alleged "Creator Of Everything" ever have figured that EVERY FUCKING SINGLE THING WE EAT CONTAINS SOME FORM OF SUGAR?

And furthermore, just to add COSMIC INSULT to injury, our teeth are the only parts of our frail bodies that have no capacity for self-repair whatsoever (citation needed). Get a cavity in one of your teeth and all it can do is become a larger, more ferocious cavity. Until it cavitates your entire head, and you become a walking ugly wound. With bits of broccoli in.

So yes. Poorly designed, these munchers are. Particularly as, evolutionarily, they - as in all animals - are built with the forethought that the beings who's heads they're wedged in will eventually develop dentistry, lest they struggle through their meagre existances IN ETERNAL AGONY because they ate one too many licorice straps when they were eleven.

Bollocks on the outside. I mean, COME ON.

Fingernails, toenails. Oh, the vicious legacy our nails share. Once they were to glisten on sharpened edge as they served as violent talons of destruction on the very fingertips of a primordial human ancestor as he stabbed and clawed his way through the flesh of a mammoth. Or a dormouse. Or whatever took his prehistoric fancy.

Now, they're little more than an irritation. Puny, pathetic things we must keep trim lest we be accused of being girly. Weak, pathetic shards of crap designed to split, shred and fall away when not constantly moisturised and kept in pristine condition. Also numbering among the single most succeptible body parts for aiding paper cuts and other minor but exceedingly painful injuries.

I mean, hangnails? The "Creator of Everything" clearly skipped breakfast before focusing his attention to the hands of the human being. Tsk, tsk.

Bollocks. On the OUTSIDE. I'm just gonna milk this one for all it's worth.

Lack of body hair. Truly the weakest species on the great planet of Earth would have to be the only one thereon that must MANUFACTURE its own protection from the elements.

I'm not saying I'd like to see human beings develop an uncontrollable rash of fur -- my taste in women shrieks that should that be the case, stocks in Gilette will suddenly skyrocket -- but surely it was more than a caveman slipping the skin of a murdered yak over himself that triggered every follicle on the human form to flop off into the tundra.

Still, it broaches another subject I daren't start unnannounced:

Pubic hair. ..why do we even have the stuff? It's awkward, it promotes odours (yay, now I can be fed even more inappropriate advertisements!), it gets caught in things (..er..like zippers. And undergarments. And oo-er what were YOU thinking?) and it's just generally icky. I shall digress speedily before I start chanting playground rhymes and giggling.

Nose hair. For some reason, when every other strand of fur decided to make a mass exodus to some place less maloderous, General Nostril Follicle and his band of swarthy followers stood their ground and remained fast at their posts. To this day, they remain in hiding, only to appear and silently ambush their intended victims on or around his 60th birthday, at which point human physiology suddenly decides to kick in a few extra hormones and present its owner with a pristine bush of bristling nose blossoms. "What," wonders the human, "is to become of me that only great clods of nose hair can save me from?"

And now a few courteous replies, specifically to the likes of Dan, Rev, and Nicki:

Bollocks on the outside. IN A SMALL SACHEL.

Ear hair. Along with odd nasal foliage around the age of senility, the human body also decides to kick a few hormones into the aural cavities and covers the innards of the ear with a pelty layer of totally superfluous fur. Nothing can explain the need for this, although it's possibly conducive to loss of hearing in the elderly. They're not deaf, their ears are full of hair.

Eyebrows. Eyebrows are useful. They do actually keep things like sweat from draining straight down the slope of our elegant non-neanderthalish foreheads and into our eyesockets. However, as Rev points out, there really is no need for eyebrows with dimensions bordering on elderly ear-hair sizes. I mean, Eugene Levy is not normal, man.

Menstruation. Surely there could have been easier ways to dispose of the unused lining of the uterus. Just think, if The Creator Of Everything had invented the zip-lock bag before he whipped up the uterus, maybe it could have just plopped out at an appropriate moment pre-sealed inside a small plastic pouch.

Thanks to all and sundry who have contributed to this little article, such as it is. Thank you to the reader, also, for perusing it as a piece of comedy and not a serious document on the plausibility of the existence of a creator. Just sayin'.