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I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing that ever interfered with my learning was my education. I am Freeman Dyson, and I approve of this blog, but would warn the author that life as a heretic is a hard one, since the ignorant and the half informed, let alone those who should know better, will automatically trash their betters who try to enlighten them with independent thinking, as I have found to my sorrow in commenting on "global warming" and its cures.
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Wine Science: Myhrvold Makes Wine Taste Better – With A Blender

Nathan Myrhvold Blends Fine Wine – In a Blender

Winemakers Fooled in Blind Tests, Choose His Blend as Best

His Well Equipped Inventiveness May Promise a Malaria Breakthrough, Better Nuclear Reactor

A current Times Talk features Times man Jeff Gordinier interviewing the bouncy billionaire Nathan Myhrvold, who made a fortune at Microsoft helping to pick the pockets of consumers by selling them Windows systems that reliably ruined the working hours of all who used them. Having given up his job as Microsoft CTO Myrhvold spent some of his ill gotten gains on an enormous kitchen where he investigated the science involved in cooking, which has won him a TED talk and wide renown for a multi volume book on his findings, Modernist Cuisine, published in a rather inconvenient format that only a computer executive could love, but still a dazzling encyclopaedia of real food science which has comprehensively cornered the market in this wonderful topic. A smaller book, Modernist Cuisine at Home, came out recently.

Be that as it may, one result he claims is of interest to those who have long been impressed by the fact that high priced wines seem to fail to win first place in blind taste tests far too often to believe that they are reliably better than cheaper ones. Judges ratings of any wines in competition have been shown to be very inconsistent. The tests often lack rigor in design, moreover.

In the last ten years Fred Franzia of the label Charles Shaw has confirmed this suspicion by turning the retail wine business upside down by mass manufacturing cheap wine in California, maturing it in vast vats as big as grain silos for as short a time as six weeks and then selling it for $3 a bottle (New York price, $2 “two buck chuck” elsewhere) to win connoisseurs in Manhattan through Trader Joe’s on 14th Street. Rival Whole Foods picked up on this opportunity and now sells its own $2 or 3 bottles of red and white which are equally good.

Now Myrhvold is appearing on stage at TED and at the Times telling one and all that even expensive wines can be improves dramatically by simply decanting them into a blender and pressing the button for a half minute or so. He claims to have embarrassed and excited a top Spanish winemaker with a demonstration and a blind test which had him on the phone to his vineyard manager asking what the heck is going on, since he had chosen the blended version of his wine over the untouched. Myrhvold wrote a piece for Business Week on the topic, How to Decant Wine with a Blender.

Wine lovers have known for centuries that decanting wine before serving it often improves its flavor. Whatever the dominant process, the traditional decanter is a rather pathetic tool to accomplish it. A few years ago, I found I could get much better results by using an ordinary kitchen blender. I just pour the wine in, frappé away at the highest power setting for 30 to 60 seconds, and then allow the froth to subside (which happens quickly) before serving. I call it “hyperdecanting.”

Although torturing an expensive wine in this way may cause sensitive oenophiles to avert their eyes, it almost invariably improves red wines—particularly younger ones, but even a 1982 Château Margaux. Don’t just take my word for it, try it yourself.

But set up a proper blind taste test to avoid subconscious bias among the tasters. That’s a bigger problem than you might imagine. Researchers who examined the voting records of wine judges found that 90 percent of the time they give inconsistent ratings to a particular wine when they judge it on multiple occasions.

To avoid bias, use a “triangle test,” which is a scientifically rigorous way to test for a perceptible difference between wine prepared two different ways. Get as many judges as you can—10 is the minimum to get good statistics. Give each judge three identical glasses, and label the glasses X, Y, and Z.

Hyperdecant half a bottle of wine, and save the other half of the bottle to use for comparison. Out of view of the judges, pour an ounce or so of wine into each glass. The undecanted wine should go into two of the glasses, the hyperdecanted wine into the third, or vice versa. Vary the order of presentation among the judges so that not all are tasting the hyperdecanted wine first or last. Record which wine goes into which glass, and have the judges guess which two of their wines are the same.

You’ll probably find that hyperdecanting does clearly change the flavor of the wine. To determine with scientific rigor whether your tasters prefer the hyperdecanted wine requires a more complex trial called a “paired preference” test, or “square” test. But a blind side-by-side comparison works passably well, too, and requires no math.

Myhrvold is the ex-chief technology officer of Microsoft, co-founder of Intellectual Ventures, and author of Modernist Cuisine.

A recent PBS NovaScienceNow hour with David Pogue featured Myrhvold talking of his findings in this field.

Myrhvold is an example to the rest of us with his relentless curiosity in so many fields, one must add. Here is his latest invention, a way to combat malaria:Could this laser zap malaria? – TED

His comments seem more timely than ever as the latest malaria vaccine trial (Malaria Vaccine Candidate Gives Disappointing Results
By Donald G. McNeil)
has shown how difficult it is to develop a really effective vaccine for this deadly parasite, which excites only limited immunity by itself. The claim is that one third of infants less than a year old were successfully immunized:

Three shots of the vaccine, known as RTS, S or Mosquirix and produced by GlaxoSmithKline, gave babies fewer than 12 weeks old 31 percent protection against detectable malaria and 37 percent protection against severe malaria, according to an announcement by the company at a vaccines conference in Cape Town.

Last year, in a trial in children up to 17 months old, the same vaccine gave 55 percent protection against detectable malaria and 47 percent against severe malaria.

The new trial “is less than we’d hoped for,” Moncef Slaoui, chairman of research and development at Glaxo, said in a telephone interview. “But if a million babies were vaccinated, we would prevent 260,000 cases of malaria a year. This is a disease that kills 655,000 babies a year — 31 percent of that is a very large number.”…

Like an H.I.V. vaccine, one against malaria has proved an elusive goal. The parasite morphs several times, exhibiting different surface proteins as it goes from mosquito saliva into blood and then into and out of the liver. Also, even the best natural “vaccine” — catching the disease itself — is not very effective. While one bout of measles immunizes a child for life, it usually takes several bouts of malaria to confer even partial immunity. Pregnancy can cause women to stop being immune, and immunity can fade out if someone moves away from a malarial area — presumably because they no longer get “boosters” from repeated mosquito bites.

Of course, HIV is another kettle of fish altogether, since it confers 100% immunity all by itself. Apparently Donald McNeil is unaware of this fact, or has been confused by NIAID propaganda peddled with the incomparably inventive Dr Anthony Fauci at the helm.

The truth, of course, is that anyone suckered into an HIV test who comes out positive should remember that means he/she is full of antibodies, and even if you choose to believe HIV causes any trouble to any body, which good science firmly denies, you are therefore immune to it, if you contained any of it, which you don’t.

A positive HIV test is the most positive thing you could possibly score, and you should be very happy about it – except for the fact that a grotesque superstition fills the world and will make you the subject of a witch hunt, a lynch mob and crowd fear and disgust.

[spoiler title=”Two TED transcripts of Myrhvold talks – Malaria and penguin shit, Nuclear Reactor etc” open=”0″ style=”1″] (Press the Tab to see the text, if you wish)

We invent. My company invents all kinds of new technology in lots of different areas. And we do that for a couple of reasons. We invent for fun — invention is a lot of fun to do — and we also invent for profit. The two are related because the profit actually takes long enough that if it isn’t fun, you wouldn’t have the time to do it. So we do this fun and profit-oriented inventing for most of what we do, but we also have a program where we invent for humanity — where we take some of our best inventors, and we say, “Are there problems where we have a good idea for solving a problem the world has?” — and to solve it in the way we try to solve problems, which is with dramatic, crazy, out-of-the-box solutions. Bill Gates is one of those smartest guys of ours that work on these problems and he also funds this work, so thank you. So I’m going to briefly discuss a couple of problems that we have and a couple of problems where we’ve got some solutions underway. Vaccination is one of the key techniques in public health, a fantastic thing. But in the developing world a lot of vaccines spoil before they’re administered, and that’s because they need to be kept cold. Almost all vaccines need to be kept at refrigerator temperatures. They go bad very quickly if you don’t, and if you don’t have stable power grid, this doesn’t happen, so kids die. It’s not just the loss of the vaccine that matters; it’s the fact that those kids don’t get vaccinated. This is one of the ways that vaccines are carried: These are Styrofoam chests. These are being carried by people, but they’re also put on the backs of pickup trucks. We’ve got a different solution. Now, one of these Styrofoam chests will last for about four hours with ice in it. And we thought, well, that’s not really good enough. So we made this thing. This lasts six months with no power; absolutely zero power, because it loses less than a half a watt. Now, this is our second generations prototype. The third generation prototype is, right now, in Uganda being tested. Now, the reason we were able to come up with this is two key ideas: One is that this is similar to a cryogenic Dewar, something you’d keep liquid nitrogen or liquid helium in. They have incredible insulation, so let’s put some incredible insulation here. The other idea is kind of interesting, which is, you can’t reach inside anymore. Because if you open it up and reach inside, you’d let the heat in, the game would be over. So the inside of this thing actually looks like a Coke machine. It vends out little individual vials. So a simple idea, which we hope is going to change the way vaccines are distributed in Africa and around the world. We’ll move on to malaria. Malaria is one of the great public health problems. Esther Duflo talked a little bit about this. Two hundred million people a year. Every 43 seconds a child in Africa dies; 27 will die during my talk. And there’s no way for us here in this country to grasp really what that means to the people involved. Another comment of Esther’s was that we react when there’s a tragedy like Haiti, but that tragedy is ongoing. So what can we do about it? Well, there are a lot of things people have tried for many years for solving malaria. You can spray; the problem is there are environmental issues. You can try to treat people and create awareness. That’s great, except the places that have malaria really bad, they don’t have health care systems. A vaccine would be a terrific thing, only they don’t work yet. People have tried for a long time. There are a couple of interesting candidates. It’s a very difficult thing to make a vaccine for. You can distribute bed nets, and bed nets are very effective if you use them. You don’t always use them for that. People fish with them. They don’t always get to everyone. And bed nets have an effect on the epidemic, but you’re never going to make it extinct with bed nets. Now, malaria is an incredibly complicated disease. We could spend hours going over this. It’s got this sort of soap opera-like lifestyle; they have sex, they burrow into your liver, they tunnel into your blood cells … it’s an incredibly complicated disease, but that’s actually one of the things we find interesting about it and why we work on malaria: There’s a lot of potential ways in. One of those ways might be better diagnosis. So we hope this year to prototype each of these devices. One does an automatic malaria diagnosis in the same way that a diabetic’s glucose meter works: You take a drop of blood, you put it in there and it automatically tells you. Today, you need to do a complicated laboratory procedure, create a bunch of microscope slides and have a trained person examine it. The other thing is, you know, it would be even better if you didn’t have to draw the blood. And if you look through the eye, or you look at the vessels on the white of the eye, in fact, you may be able to do this directly, without drawing any blood at all, or through your nail beds. Because if you actually look through your fingernails, you can see blood vessels, and once you see blood vessels, we think we can see the malaria. We can see it because of this molecule called hemozoin. It’s produced by the malaria parasite and it’s a very interesting crystalline substance. Interesting, anyway, if you’re a solid-state physicist. There’s a lot of cool stuff we can do with it. This is our femtosecond laser lab. So this creates pulses of light that last a femtosecond. That’s really, really, really short. This is a pulse of light that’s only about one wavelength of light long, so it’s a whole bunch of photons all coming and hitting simultaneously. It creates a very high peak power and it lets you do all kinds of interesting things; in particular, it lets you find hemozoin. So here’s an image of red blood cells, and now we can actually map where the hemozoin and where the malaria parasites are inside those red blood cells. And using both this technique and other optical techniques, we think we can make those diagnostics. We also have another hemozoin-oriented therapy for malaria: a way, in acute cases, to actually take the malaria parasite and filter it out of the blood system. Sort of like doing dialysis, but for relieving the parasite load. This is our thousand-core supercomputer. We’re kind of software guys, and so nearly any problem that you pose, we like to try to solve with some software. One of the problems that you have if you’re trying to eradicate malaria or reduce it is you don’t know what’s the most effective thing to do. Okay, we heard about bed nets earlier. You spend a certain amount per bed net. Or you could spray. You can give drug administration. There’s all these different interventions but they have different kinds of effectiveness. How can you tell? So we’ve created, using our supercomputer, the world’s best computer model of malaria, which we’ll show you now. We picked Madagascar. We have every road, every village, every, almost, square inch of Madagascar. We have all of the precipitation data and the temperature data. That’s very important because the humidity and precipitation tell you whether you’ve got standing pools of water for the mosquitoes to breed. So that sets the stage on which you do this. You then have to introduce the mosquitoes, and you have to model that and how they come and go. Ultimately, it gives you this. This is malaria spreading across Madagascar. And this is this latter part of the rainy season. We’re going to the dry season now. It nearly goes away in the dry season, because there’s no place for the mosquitoes to breed. And then, of course, the next year it comes roaring back. By doing these kinds of simulations, we want to eradicate or control malaria thousands of times in software before we actually have to do it in real life; to be able to simulate both the economic trade-offs — how many bed nets versus how much spraying? — or the social trade-offs — what happens if unrest breaks out? We also try to study our foe. This is a high-speed camera view of a mosquito. And, in a moment, we’re going to see a view of the airflow. Here, we’re trying to visualize the airflow around the wings of the mosquito with little particles we’re illuminating with a laser. By understanding how mosquitoes fly, we hope to understand how to make them not fly. Now, one of the ways you can make them not fly is with DDT. This is a real ad. This is one of those things you just can’t make up. Once upon a time, this was the primary technique, and, in fact, many countries got rid of malaria through DDT. The United States did. In 1935, there were 150,000 cases a year of malaria in the United States, but DDT and a massive public health effort managed to squelch it. So we thought, “Well, we’ve done all these things that are focused on the Plasmodium, the parasite involved. What can we do to the mosquito? Well, let’s try to kill it with consumer electronics.” Now, that sounds silly, but each of these devices has something interesting in it that maybe you could use. Your Blu-ray player has a very cheap blue laser. Your laser printer has a mirror galvanometer that’s used to steer a laser beam very accurately; that’s what makes those little dots on the page. And, of course, there’s signal processing and digital cameras. So what if we could put all that together to shoot them out of the sky with lasers? (Laughter) (Applause) Now, in our company, this is what we call “the pinky-suck moment.” (Laughter) What if we could do that? Now, just suspend disbelief for a moment, and let’s think of what could happen if we could do that. Well, we could protect very high-value targets like clinics. Clinics are full of people that have malaria. They’re sick, and so they’re less able to defend themselves from the mosquitoes. You really want to protect them. Of course, if you do that, you could also protect your backyard. And farmers could protect their crops that they want to sell to Whole Foods because our photons are 100 percent organic. (Laughter) They’re completely natural. Now, it actually gets better than this. You could, if you’re really smart, you could shine a nonlethal laser on the bug before you zap it, and you could listen to the wing beat frequency and you could measure the size. And then you could decide: “Is this an insect I want to kill, or an insect I don’t want to kill?” Moore’s law made computing cheap; so cheap we can weigh the life of an individual insect and decide thumbs up or thumbs down. (Laughter) Now, it turns out we only kill the female mosquitoes. They’re the only ones that are dangerous. Mosquitoes only drink blood to lay eggs. Mosquitoes actually live … their day-to-day nutrition comes from nectar, from flowers — in fact, in the lab, we feed ours raisins — but the female needs the blood meal. So, this sounds really crazy, right? Would you like to see it? Audience: Yeah! Nathan Myhrvold: Okay, so our legal department prepared a disclaimer, and here it is. (Laughter) Now, after thinking about this a little bit we thought, you know, it probably would be simpler to do this with a nonlethal laser. So, Eric Johanson, who built the device, actually, with parts from eBay; and Pablos Holman over here, he’s got mosquitoes in the tank. We have the device over here. And we’re going to show you, instead of the kill laser, which will be a very brief, instantaneous pulse, we’re going to have a green laser pointer that’s going to stay on the mosquito for, actually, quite a long period of time; otherwise, you can’t see it very well. Take it away Eric. Eric Johanson: What we have here is a tank on the other side of the stage. And we have … this computer screen can actually see the mosquitoes as they fly around. And Pablos, if he stirs up our mosquitoes a little bit we can see them flying around. Now, that’s a fairly straightforward image processing routine, and let me show you how it works. Here you can see that the insects are being tracked as they’re flying around, which is kind of fun. Next we can actually light them up with a laser. (Laughter) Now, this is a low powered laser, and we can actually pick up a wing-beat frequency. So you may be able to hear some mosquitoes flying around. NM: That’s a mosquito wing beat you’re hearing. EJ: Finally, let’s see what this looks like. There you can see mosquitoes as they fly around, being lit up. This is slowed way down so that you have an opportunity to see what’s happening. Here we have it running at high-speed mode. So this system that was built for TED is here to illustrate that it is technically possible to actually deploy a system like this, and we’re looking very hard at how to make it highly cost-effective to use in places like Africa and other parts of the world. (Applause) NM: So it wouldn’t be any fun to show you that without showing you what actually happens when we hit ’em. (Laughter) (Laughter) This is very satisfying. (Laughter) This is one of the first ones we did. The energy’s a little bit high here. (Laughter) We’ll loop around here in just a second, and you’ll see another one. Here’s another one. Bang. An interesting thing is, we kill them all the time; we’ve never actually gotten the wings to shut off in midair. The wing motor is very resilient. I mean, here we’re blowing wings off but the wing motor keeps all the way down. So, that’s what I have. Thanks very much. (Applause)

TED video II on his general interests of great variety from penguin shit to new nuclear reactors.

So, I’m in Chile, in the Atacama desert, sitting in a hotel lobby, because that’s the only place that I can get a Wi-Fi connection, and I have this picture up on my screen, and a woman comes up behind me. She says, “Oh, that’s beautiful. What is it? Is that Jackson Pollock?” And unfortunately, I can be a little too honest. I said, “No, it’s — it’s penguin shit.” (Laughter) And, you know, “Excuse me!” And I could sense that she thought I was speaking synecdochically. (Laughter) So, I said, “No, no, really — it’s penguin shit.” (Laughter) Because I had just been in the Falkland Islands taking pictures of penguins. This is a Gentoo penguin. And she was still skeptical. So, literally, a few minutes before that, I downloaded this scientific paper about calculations on avian defecation, which is really quite interesting, because it turns out you can model this as something called “Poiseuille flow,” and you can learn an awful lot about the physics of the avian rectum. Actually, technically, it’s not a rectum. It’s called a cloaca. At this point, she stops me, and she says, “Who are you? Wha — what do you do?” And I was stuck, because I didn’t have any way to describe what I do. And so, in some sense, this talk today is my answer to that. It’s a selection of a random bunch of the stuff that I do. And it’s very hard for me to make sense of it, so I’m not sure that you can. It’s the kind of thing that I sit up late at night thinking about sometimes — often at four in the morning. So, some people are afraid of what I do. Some people think I am the nerd Tony Soprano, and in response, I have ordered a bulletproof pocket protector. I’m not sure what these people think, because I don’t speak Norsk. (Laughter) But I’m not thinking “monsteret” is a good thing. I don’t know, you know? So, one of the things that I love to do is travel around the world and look at archaeological sites. Because archaeology gives us an opportunity to study past civilizations, and see where they succeeded and where they failed. Use science to, you know, work backwards and say, “Well, really, what were they thinking?” And recently, I was in Easter Island, which is an incredibly beautiful place, and an incredibly mysterious place, because no matter where you go in Easter Island, you’re struck by these statues, called the moai. The place is 64 square miles. They made, so far as we can tell, 900 of them. Why on Earth? And if you haven’t read Jared Diamond’s book, “Collapse,” I totally recommend that you do. He’s got a great chapter about it. Basically, these people committed ecological suicide in order to make more of these. And somewhere along the line, somebody said, “I know! Let’s cut down the last tree and commit suicide, because we need more identical statues.” (Laughter) And, one thing that isn’t a mystery, actually, was when I grew up — because when I was a little kid, I’d seen these pictures — and I thought, “Well, why that look on the face? Why that brow?” I mean, it’s such a powerful thing. Where did they get that inspiration? And then I met Yoyo, who is the native Rapa Nui-an guide, and if you look at Yoyo’s face, you kind of figure out where they got it. There’s many mysteries, these statues. Everyone wants to know, how did they make them, how did they transport them? This woman in the foreground is Jo Anne Van Tilberg. She’s the leading archaeologist working Easter Island today. And she has studied the statues for 20-some years, and she has detailed records of every single statue. The one on the page here is the same that’s up there. One interesting problem is the stone isn’t very hard. So, this used to be completely smooth. In fact, in many of the statues, when you excavate them, the backs are totally smooth — almost glass smooth. But after 1,000 years out in the weather, they look like this. Jo Anne and I have just embarked on a project to digitize them all, and we’re going to do a very high-res digitization, first because it’s a way of preserving them. Second, we have these ideas about how you can algorithmically, then, learn a few of the mysteries about them. How long have they been standing in what positions? And maybe, indirectly, get at some of the issues of what caused them to be the way they are. While I was in Easter Island, comet McNaught was there also, so you get a gratuitous picture of a moai with a comet. I also have an archaeological project going on in Egypt. “Going on” is perhaps a little bit strong. We’re trying to get all of the permissions to get everything all set, to get it going. So, I’ll talk about it at a future TED. But there’s some amazing opportunities in Egypt as well. Another thing I do is I invent stuff. In fact, I design nuclear reactors. Not a joke. This is the conventional nuclear fuel cycle. The red line is what is done in most nuclear reactors. It’s called the open fuel cycle. The white lines are what’s called an advance fuel cycle, where you reprocess. Now, this is the normal way it’s done. It’s got the huge advantage that it does not create carbon pollution. It has a lot of disadvantages: each one of these steps is extremely expensive, it’s potentially dangerous and they have the interesting property that the step cannot be performed in anyone’s backyard, which is a problem. So, our reactor eliminates these steps, which, if we can actually make it work, is a really cool thing. Now, it’s kind of nuts to work on a new nuclear reactor. There’s — no reactor’s been even built to an old design, much less a new one, in the United States for 25 years. It’s the kind of very high-risk, but potentially very high-return thing that we do. Changing into a totally different field, we do a lot of stuff in solid state physics, particularly in an area called metamaterials. A metamaterial is an artificial material, which manipulates, in this case, electromagnetic radiation, in a way that you couldn’t otherwise. So, this device here is an invisibility cloak. It may not seem that, but if you were a microwave, this is how you would view it. Rays of light — in this case, microwave light — come in, and they just squish around the cell, and they come back the other side. Now, you could do that with mirrors from one angle. The cool thing is, this does it from all angles. Metamaterials, unfortunately — A, it only works on microwave, and B, it doesn’t work all that well yet. But metamaterials are an incredibly exciting field. It’s — you know, today I’d like to say it’s a zero billion dollar business, but, in fact, it’s negative. But some day, some day, maybe it’s going to work. We do a lot of work in biomedical fields. In this case, we’re working with a major medical foundation to develop inexpensive ways of diagnosing diseases in developing countries. So, they say the eyes are the windows of the soul — turns out they’re a window to a whole lot more stuff. And these happen to be my eyes, by the way. Now, I’m also very interested in cooking. While I was at Microsoft, I took a leave of absence and went to a chef school in France. I used to work, also while at Microsoft, at a leading restaurant in Seattle, so I do a lot of cooking. I’ve been on a team that won the world championship of barbecue. But barbecue’s interesting, because it’s one of these cult foods like chili, or bouillabaisse. Various parts of the world will have a cult food that people get enormously attached to — there’s tremendous traditions, there’s secrecy. And I’m trying to use a very scientific approach. So, this is my latest cooker, and if this looks more complicated than the nuclear reactor, that’s because it is. But if you get to play with all those knobs and dials — and of course, really the controller over there does it all on software — you can make some terrific ribs. (Laughter) This is a high-speed centrifuge. You should all have one in your kitchen, beside your Turbochef. This subjects food to a force about 50,000 times that of normal gravity, and oh boy, does it clarify chicken stock. You would not believe it! I perform a series of ghoulish experiments on food — in this case, trying to calibrate a mathematical model so that one can predict exactly what the internal cooking times are. It turns out, A, it’s useful, and for a geek like me, it’s fun. Theory is red, black is experiment. So, I’m either really good at faking it, or this particular model seems to work. So, another random thing I do is the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI. And you may be familiar with the movie “Contact,” which sort of popularized that. It turns out there are real people who go out and search for extraterrestrials in a very scientific way. In fact, almost everybody in the movie is based on a real character, a real person. So, the Jodie Foster character here is actually this woman, Jill Tarter, and Jill has dedicated her life to this. You know, a lot of people risk their lives in a brief act of heroism, which is kind of cool, but Jill has what I call slow heroism. She is risking her professional life on something that her own calculations show may not work for a thousand years — may not ever. So, I like to support people that are risking their lives. After the movie came out, of course, there was a lot of interest in SETI. My kids saw the movie, and afterwards they came to me and they said, “So, Dad, so — so — that character — that’s Jill, right?” I said, “Oh, yeah, yeah — absolutely.” “And that other person, that’s someone — ” I said, “Yes.” They said, “Well, you know that creepy rich guy in the movie? Is that you?” I said, “Well, you know, it’s just a movie! Come on.” (Laughter) So, the SETI Institute, with a little bit of help from me, and a lot of help from Paul Allen and a variety of other people, is building a dedicated radio telescope in Hat Creek, California, so they can do this SETI work. Now, I travel a lot, and I change cell phones a lot, and the one person who always gets updated on all my cell phones and pagers and everything else is Jill, because I really don’t want to miss “the call.” (Laughter) I mean, can you imagine? E.T.’s phoning home, and I’m not, like, there? You know, horrible! So, I do a lot of work on dinosaurs. I’m known to TEDsters as the guy that has sex with dinosaurs. And I resemble that remark. I’m going to talk about a different aspect of dinosaurs, which is the finding of them. Now, to find dinosaurs, you hike around in horrible conditions looking for a dinosaur. It sounds really dumb, but that’s what it is. It’s horrible conditions, because wherever you have nice weather, plants grow, and you don’t get any erosion, and you don’t see any dinosaurs. So, you always find dinosaurs in deserts or badlands, areas that have very little plant growth and have flash floods in the spring. You know, skiers pray for snow? Paleontologists pray for erosion. So, you hike around and — this is after you dig them up, they look like this. You hike around, you see something like this. Now, this is something I found, so look at it very closely here. You’ve got this bentonite clay, which is — sort of swells up and expands. And there’s some stuff poking out. So, you look at that, and you look up close, and you say, “Well, gee, that’s kind of interesting. What are all of these pieces?” Well, if you look closely, you can recognize, actually, from the shape, that these are skull fragments. And then when you look at this, you say, “That’s a tooth. It’s a big tooth.” It’s about the size of a banana. It has a big serration on the edge. This is what Tyrannosaurus rex looks like in the ground. And this is what it’s like to find a Tyrannosaurus rex, which I was lucky enough to do a few years ago. Now, this is what Tyrannosaurus rex looks like in my living room. Not the same one, actually. This is a cast, which I had bought, and then, after buying the cast, I found my own, and I don’t have room for two. You know. So, the thing that’s wonderful for me about finding dinosaurs is that it is both an intellectual thing, because you’re trying to reconstruct the environment of millions of years ago. It’s something that can inform all sorts of science in unexpected ways. The study of dinosaurs led to the realization that there’s a problem with asteroid impact, for example. The study of dinosaurs may, literally, one day save the planet. Study of the ancient climate is very important. In fact, the Mesozoic, when dinosaurs lived, had much higher CO2 than today, was much warmer than today, and is one of the interesting proof points for the effects of CO2 on climate. But, besides being intellectually and scientifically interesting, it’s also very different than the other things I do, because you get to hike around in the badlands. This is actually what most dinosaur research looks like. This is one of my papers: “A pygostyle from a non-avian theropod.” It’s not as gripping as dinosaur sex, so we’re not going to go into it further. Now, I’m also really big on photography. I travel all over the world taking pictures — some of them good, most of them not. These days, bits are cheap. Unfortunately, that means you’ve got to spend more time sorting through them. Here’s a picture I took in the Falkland Islands of king penguins on a beach. Here’s a picture I took in Alaska, a few years ago, of Orcas. I’d gone up to photograph Orcas, and we had looked for a week, and we hadn’t seen a damn Orca. And the last day, the sun comes out, the Orcas come, they’re right by the boat. It’s fantastic. And I get lots of pictures like this. Then, a little bit later, I start getting some pictures like this. Now, to a human audience, I need to explain that if Penthouse magazine had a marine mammal edition, this would be the centerfold. It’s true. So, there’s more and more activity near the boat, and all of a sudden somebody shouts, “What’s that in the water?” I said, “Well, I think that’s what you call a free willy.” (Laughter) There’s a variety of things you can learn from watching whales have sex. (Laughter) The first thing you learn is the overwhelming importance of hands. They don’t have them. (Laughter) I think Paul Simon is in the audience, and he has — he may not realize it, but he wrote a song all about whale sex, “Slip-Slidin’ Away.” That’s kind of what it’s like. The other interesting thing that I learned about whale sex: they curl their toes too. (Laughter) So — where do you go putting all of these disparate pieces together? You know, there’s a tremendous amount of wisdom in finding a great thing, passion in life, and focusing all your energy on it, and I’ve never been able to do that. I just — you know, because, yes, I’ll focus passion on something, but then there will be something else, and then there’s something else again. And for a long time I fought this, and I thought, “Well, gee, I really ought to buckle down.” And you know, when I was at Microsoft, that was so engrossing, and the whole industry was expanding so much, that it did tend to crowd out most of the other things in my life. But ultimately, I decided that what I really ought to do is not fight being who I am, but embrace it. And say, “Yeah, you know, I — this whole talk has been a mile wide and an inch deep, but that’s really what works for me.” And regardless of whether it’s nuclear reactors or metamaterials or whale sex, the common — or lowest common denominator — is me. That’s it, thank you. (Applause)[/spoiler]

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