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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Recompose: an actuated surface controlled by gestures

Recompose: an actuated surface controlled by gestures: "recompose01-640x418.jpg

This remarkable gesture-controlled, actuated surface was created by Anthony DeVincenzi and others at MIT. Perhaps Mio I-zawa, creator of pulsating mechanical brains and cuddly elastic cells, could stretch a skinlike membrane over it to create a Oiuja board for David Cronenberg.

Recompose [MIT via Creative Applications]


Heidi Taillefer's Venus Envy painting

Heidi Taillefer's Venus Envy painting: "Heidi Taillefer - Venus Envy

Heidi Taillefer created this stunning painting titled 'Venus Envy.' Taillefer is best known for painting the poster art for Cirque du Soleil's 'Dralion.' von Scaramouche Gallery is now offering limited-edition lithographs of Venus Envy. Heidi writes:

The painting “Venus Envy” is a work emphasizing the beauty and potency of women and motherhood. The name “Venus Envy” is a play on words of the Freudian “Penis Envy”, and implies the enviable female advantage of being the carrier of new life. With the predominance of taboos and limitations against women in so many cultures throughout the world, the piece exposes with pride and irreverence, female characteristics, whether beautiful or unsettling. It is an attempt to absolve women of their generally complex nature, and free them from harsh social standards foisted upon their physical, social, and spiritual selves. It also explores the sensuality of pregnancy, and the mystical and intimidating power with which it was once regarded.

'Venus Envy' prints (von Scaramouche)


Captain Beefheart's "10 Commandments of Guitar Playing"

Captain Beefheart's "10 Commandments of Guitar Playing": "I haven't played a stringed instrument since high school, but 'Captain Beefheart's 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing' sounds like damned good advice for whatever you're passionate about.

...2. Your guitar is not really a guitar

Your guitar is a divining rod. Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you're good, you'll land a big one.

3. Practice in front of a bush

Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush doesn't shake, eat another piece of bread...

7. Always carry a church key

That's your key-man clause. Like One String Sam. He's one. He was a Detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. His song 'I Need a Hundred Dollars' is warm pie. Another key to the church is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin' Wolf's guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty -- making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he's doing it.

8. Don't wipe the sweat off your instrument

You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.

Captain Beefheart's 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing

(via Making Light)

(Image: Trout Mask Replica, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from seventime's photostream)


HOWTO get a tractor out of mud

HOWTO get a tractor out of mud: "

A fun video of an ingenious (and apparently incredibly dangerous) method to get a stuck tractor out of the mud. (via Jim Mason)


Death and the velvet worm

Death and the velvet worm: "

There's something oddly soothing about hearing David Attenborough say the words, 'soft, slumpy legs.' Almost like he's talking about Winnie the Pooh, rather than a carnivorous worm that eats its prey alive.

How does the velvet worm trap creatures long enough to slowly consume them? In the video, you can see it spraying out a sticky, quick-hardening slime that engulfs a cricket and renders it motionless. The trick, according to some cool research written about by bloggers Brian Switek and Scicurious, is that the slime is 90% water. Once exposed to air, the water evaporates out, leaving behind an ever-tightening net.


US house prices fall to 1890s levels (where they usually are)

US house prices fall to 1890s levels (where they usually are): "

According to Case-Shiller/S&P, US housing prices have fallen to levels not seen since the 1890s (adjusted for inflation, of course), in 11 of 20 markets. It looks like this is slightly skewed by the serious economic problems in rustbelt cities, which is not to say that things aren't pretty terrible -- and the same analysis predicts a further decline of 15-20%.

Some years back, Yale Professor Robert Shiller produced a long-run nominal home price index for the U.S. by fusing together data that had been gathered from a number of historical archives.

Shiller then adjusted the index for inflation revealing the very interesting fact that, in real terms, prices for U.S. homes changed very little over the span from 1890 to the mid-1990s.

This might come as a surprise to many since recent 'common sense' notions held that homes were always a great investment carrying the implication that they must typically increase in value yet, the reality is that over the long run home prices must stay in-line with changes in the level of income (the source generally used to fund the home cost) or else typical households would not be capable of making a purchase.

Home prices falling to level of 1890s


Best Rare Bird Photos of 2011: National Geographic

Best Rare Bird Photos of 2011: National Geographic: "

Marilyn Terrell of National Geographic tells Boing Boing,

A Japanese red-crowned crane flailing in midair to impress a mate and a pair of orange-bellied parrots (fewer than 150 left) on a branch in Tasmania are some of the strikingly beautiful images of avian rarities among the winners in the first annual World's Rarest Birds international photo competition.

Above, photo by Shane McInnes: the extremely rare kakapo of New Zealand.

This picture of the large, flightless bird approaching the camera snagged first place in the 'critically endangered or extinct in the wild' category. Only 124 animals remain in the wild--the species has been largely wiped out by introduced predatory mammals such as feral cats.

View the whole gallery here


Egg substitute: "Real Egg Product"

Egg substitute: "Real Egg Product": "egg-sub.jpg

When I want a substitute for an egg, I insist that the egg be substituted with an egg. (Thanks, Wendy!)


Remote controlled cockroach

Remote controlled cockroach: "RoboRoach-Slide.jpg

Our pals at Backyard Brains (makers of the terrific SpikerBox kit, which allows you to study the electrical impulses of insect neurons) are developing circuitry to control which direction a cockroach walks.

By modifying the HEXBug toy 'Inchworm' circuitry to deliver pulses, we stimulated the antenna nerves of the discoid cockroach to 'trick' the cockroach into turning upon command. Stay tuned! as we make the preparation easier, more reliable, and lighter!

Working RoboRoach Prototype (Via Make)


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Let us now praise infamous alchemists

Let us now praise infamous alchemists: "Raimundus_Lullus_alchemic_page.jpg

The George Sarton Memorial Lecture—an annual presentation on the history of science, which takes place as part of the AAAS meeting—is rapidly becoming one of my absolute favorite lecture series. (C'mon, we all have a list of favorite lecture series, right?) In 2010, the Sarton Lecture introduced me to the story of how scientists came to use the concept of averages—remaking science from an art, into, well, a science.

In 2011, the topic was alchemy. According to speaker Lawrence Principe of Johns Hopkins University, alchemy has an unfairly bad rep. Sure, turning lead into gold is a pipe dream. But alchemists weren't the total nutters they're often made out to be. Instead, while their theories were often silly, the work of alchemists still managed to be very important and influential, forming the backbone of several major fields of science. These guys were were wrong, the Economist writes, but wrong in interesting ways.

The real problem with alchemy ... was that it was not sceptical enough. Alchemical theories were not stupid. For instance, lead ore often contains silver and silver ore often contains gold, so the idea that lead 'ripens' into silver, and silver into gold, is certainly worth entertaining. The alchemists also discovered some elements, such as phosphorous. But in the end, too many alchemists would not let go of their theories, even as knowledge advanced.

To illustrate how alchemists were thus bamboozled, Dr Principe conducted an alchemical experiment using the notebooks of George Starkey, an alchemist who was born in Bermuda, educated in Massachusetts and then lived in England, where he worked alongside Boyle. The experiment which Dr Principe reconstructed showed just how alchemists might truly have believed they were thinking the right way about the transmutation of metals.

Following Starkey's recipe, a formula that took weeks to prepare, Dr Principe made what Starkey had believed was philosophical mercury--a crucial ingredient of the Philosopher's Stone that would ripen lead into gold. Alchemical theory was rife with botanical analogies of ripening, growth and seeding. When Dr Principe prepared philosophical mercury (actually an amalgam of mercury, gold and a small amount of antimony) according to Starkey's instructions, a strange thing happened. As it solidified, it grew into a treelike structure. For someone primed by his theory to see transmutation as akin to a biological process, this must have been a wonderful confirmation that he was on the right line, and that the Philosopher's Stone was just around the corner.

It was not, of course.

There's more great insight on alchemy—and its connection to neuroscience—on Carl Zimmer's blog, The Loom.


3D printed food-sculptures

3D printed food-sculptures: "

Cornell University and the French Culinary Institute are collaborating to modify 3D printers to output delicious, detailed, edible objects. They puree materials such as 'chocolate, cheese and hummus to scallops, turkey, and celery' and feed them to at Fab@Home open-source 3D printer. Shown here is a tiny Space Shuttle made of ground scallops and cheese.

'It lets you do complex geometries with food that you could never do by hand,' said Jeffrey Lipton, a researcher and graduate student at the lab...'

'...I can imagine creating really interesting textures using meat with the same technique,' [Dave Arnold, director of culinary technology at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan] told Spark. 'Imagine [a food] almost like a meatloaf that absorbs sauce like a sponge. That is cool -- much cooler to me than printing some ersatz steak.'

3D printers create edible objects

Printing Food (Cornell University)

(Image: Cornell University/French Culinary Institute)