May 7th, 2012

dismantled by ants

via 3QD

May 1st, 2012

patterned by nature

Patterned by Nature was commissioned by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences for the newly built Nature Research Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The artwork, a collaboration between Hypersonic Engineering & Design, Plebian Design, and Sosolimited, celebrates our abstraction of nature’s infinite complexity into patterns through the scientific process, and through our perceptions. It brings to light the similarity of patterns in our universe, across all scales of space and time.

10 feet wide and 90 feet in length, this sculptural ribbon winds through the five story atrium of the museum and is made of 3,600 tiles of LCD glass. It runs on roughly 75 watts, less power than a laptop computer. Animations are created by independently varying the transparency of each piece of glass.

The content cycles through twenty programs, ranging from clouds to rain drops to colonies of bacteria to flocking birds to geese to cuttlefish skin to pulsating black holes. The animations were created through a combination of algorithmic software modeling of natural phenomena and compositing of actual footage.

An eight channel soundtrack accompanies the animations on the ribbon, giving visitors clues to the identity of the pixelated movements. In addition, two screens show high resolution imagery and text revealing the content on the ribbon at any moment.

Calming, wonderous LCD installation by multimedia artist Jeff Lieberman. Vimeo via BoingBoing

May 1st, 2012

the bilingualists’ brainstem responses

Speaking two languages profoundly affects the brain and changes how the nervous system responds to sound, lab tests revealed.

Experts say the work in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides “biological” evidence of this.

For the study, the team monitored the brain responses of 48 healthy student volunteers – which included 23 who were bilingual – to different sounds.

They used scalp electrodes to trace the pattern of brainwaves.

Under quiet, laboratory conditions, both groups – the bilingual and the English-only-speaking students – responded similarly.

But against a backdrop of noisy chatter, the bilingual group were far superior at processing sounds.

They were better able to tune in to the important information – the speaker’s voice – and block out other distracting noises – the background chatter.

More at BBC

April 14th, 2012

Bernie Krause

Dr. Bernie Krause, creator of Wild Sanctuary, explains how he recorded audio signals emitting from the trunk of a cottonwood tree while trying to record bat emissions. He decided the song derives from cells dying as a result of sucking in too much air while trying to maintain osmotic pressure.

Dr. Bernie Krause, creator of Wild Sanctuary, demonstrates that every living organism produces sound. This presentation focuses on the symbiotic ways in which the sounds of one organism affect and interrelate with other organisms, local and regional, within a given habitat.

Complete video at:

April 9th, 2012

the public domain review

I’ve only just acquainted myself with this website and already I am somewhere between impressed and in love… Two titles I’ve discovered via the site so far include Het Eerste Kabinet der Dieren and the Natural History of Shakespeare, and they are available online via

April 5th, 2012

Der Mensch als Industriepalast (in Bewegung)

I just found Frtiz Kahn’s fantastic 1927 poster, Man as Industrial Palace, on my old harddrive and wanted to post it. Looking up the history of the poster online, I discovered that a certain Henning M. Lederer has brought the poster to life with an animated short film. See it on vimeo, full screen.

April 3rd, 2012

garbage collection by ants and other demonstrations

I’m very impressed by the Wolfram Demonstrations Project. All manner of interactive scientific experiments and calculations. Gives fascinating insights into physics, biology, chemistry and and more. I could browse the site all day. So far I have enjoyed the demonstrations of the doppler effect and of garbage collection by ants the most. The accompanying text of the latter…

Assume there are many tiny pieces of garbage scattered on a 2D square space, where many ants are wandering to forage randomly. Each ant individual behaves according to the following very simple rules when it comes to a place where there is some garbage.
1. If the ant is holding a piece of garbage, it drops it off there.
2. If the ant isn’t holding any garbage, it picks up a piece of garbage there.
What would result from these rules? Are the garbage pieces going to be scattered more and more due to these brainless insects? Interestingly, these very simple behavioral rules let the ants spontaneously collect and pile up garbage and clear up the space in the long run. This model tells us how such emergent behavior of the collective is often inconsistent with our usual intuition.
This Demonstration simulates this model using a real-time agent-based modeling technique. Black dots represent ants. Yellow dots represent pieces of garbage. When more pieces of garbage are piled up at the same location, the color becomes darker.

February 13th, 2012

brain overworked?

Yes, it’s true people do yawn more at bedtime or after they’ve woken up and they do yawn when they’re bored (people even yawn in their sleep).

But yawning isn’t that simple. If it was, how could you explain that some paratroopers yawn before their first jump, as do some violinists before they go on stage and Olympic athletes before their event (Provine, 2005). These are hardly situations in which people are likely to be bored.

Many people believe that yawning gets more oxygen into the body or expels more carbon dioxide. But this is not true. The theory is now thought to be seriously flawed, if not plain wrong.

I like this theory that yawning has the function of cooling the brain.

January 18th, 2012

google brain visualized

Search by Image, Recursively, Transparent PNG, #1 from kingcosmonaut3000 on Vimeo.

Very neat. Via kottke:

This is mesmerizing: using Google Image Search and starting with a transparent image, this video cycles through each subsequent related image, over 2900 in all.

It gets more interesting the longer it goes on. It’s like watching a visualisation of the neural connections of a cyborg. Or something.

January 18th, 2012

caroline prisse

Dutch artist Caroline Prisse.

December 16th, 2011

read this then take a short break

Surprisingly interesting to learn how our eyes interact with computer screens…

The human focusing system responds very well to images that have well-defined edges with good contrast between the background and any letters and symbols. The eyes react very well to most printed material that consists of solid black letters on a white background. The eyes react very differently to electronically generated characters than to printed characters on a page. Characters displayed on a computer screen or video display terminal (VDT) are made up of many, many small dots or pixels. Pixels are the result of an electron beam striking the phospor-coated rear surface of the screen. Each pixel is brightest in the center, with the brightness decreasing toward the outer edges. When a light meter with a very small aperture is passed across a pixel, with the light amplitude being charted against the horizontal location, the pixel shows a bell-shaped curve (Gaussian), while the same light amplitude graph of a printed character forms an almost perfect square wave.

The eyes have a very hard time focusing on the pixel characters. They focus on the plane of the computer screen, but cannot sustain that focus. They focus on the screen and relax to a point behind the screen, called the Resting Point of Accommodation (RPA) or dark focus. The RPA is different for every individual, but for almost everyone, it is further away than the working distance to the computer. The working distance is the distance from the computer user’s eyes to the front of the screen. So, the eyes are constantly relaxing to the RPA, and then straining to refocus on the screen. It is similar to raising the arm in a position like when volunteering for something or voting by hand and pumping the fist open and closed 40,000 times. The raised arm would get tired, let alone the hand, which symbolizes the focusing that the eyes must do in an 8 hour day. The following diagram illustrates this:

More here.

Posted in Biology | No Comments »
December 16th, 2011

love at first bite

Photo: David Paul/Mark Norman.

Neatorama has a round-up of the most bizarre mating mechanisms in the animal kingdom. That of the Anglerfish seems so impossibly beyond our reality that it’s spine-chilling and awe-inspiring at once…

Anglerfish, a deep sea fish named for the spiny appendage on its head that it uses as bait to “fish” its prey, has an unusual mating habit. As it spends its time in the bottom of the ocean, finding a mate is a problem – but the species solved this evolutionary challenge beautifully.

At first, scientists were perplexed because they’ve never caught a male anglerfish. Also, all female anglerfish have a lump on their body that looks like a parasite. Only later did scientists discover that the lump is the remain of the male fish.

The tiny male anglerfish are born without any digestive system, so once they hatch, they have to find a female quickly. When a male finds a female, he quickly bites her body and releases an enzyme that digests his skin and her body to fuse the two in an eternal embrace. The male then wastes away, becoming nothing but a lump on the female anglerfish’s body!

When the female is ready to spawn, her “male appendage” is there, ready to release sperms to fertilize her egg.

More at Neatorama

December 11th, 2011

yeti farmers/farming yetis

The yeti crab is self-sufficient beyond belief when it comes to it’s dietary requirements.

The bristles that cover the crab’s claws and body are coated in gardens of symbiotic bacteria, which derive energy from the inorganic gases of the seeps. The crab eats the bacteria, using comb-like mouthparts to harvest them from its bristles (see a video of this on our YouTube Channel).

The bacteria in K. puravida gardens are closely related to species that live in other cold seeps and hot hydrothermal vents all over the world. “It looks like the bacteria may use the seeps as stepping stones, to create this global connected population that consumes the energy coming out of seeps and vents,” says Thurber.

Thurber thinks that K. puravida waves its claws to actively farm its bacterial gardens: movements stir up the water around the bacteria, ensuring that fresh supplies of oxygen and sulphide wash over them and helping them to grow. “This ‘dance’ is extraordinary and comical,” says Van Dover. “We’ve never seen this strategy before.”

More at Nature

November 24th, 2011

nature invents stem cell treatment…

Scientists are devoting countless research hours to treatments based on embryonic stem cells, differentiating these blank-slate cells from embryos into brain cells, light-sensing retinal cells, blood cells, and more to replace damaged or destroyed tissues in the body. Now, a new study in mice shows such that nature has arrived at just such a solution, too: When a pregnant mouse has a heart attack, her fetus donates some of its stem cells to help rebuild the damaged heart tissue.

More at Discover (via reddit)

Posted in Biology | No Comments »
November 17th, 2011

life on the inside

So far the Catalogue of Life has indexed over 1,368,009 species and the latest edition features a database from Jeya Kathirithamby of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology detailing Strepsiptera, a strange order of parasitic insect.

Strepsiptera are endoparasites – they live inside their host – with almost all females spending their entire lives inside the body of other insects and males emerging as free-living adults to mate before they die, just five or six hours later.

‘The females are totally endoparasitic for their entire life history (except in one family) and all that is visible of an adult female is an extruded cephalothorax,’ Jeya tells me. ‘The female is nothing more than a “bag of eggs”, having lost all structures such as eyes, antennae, mouthparts, legs, wings and external genitalia any other insect would possess.

‘This dramatic difference between male and female makes Strepsiptera interesting model organisms for studying such aspects as mating and reproduction.’

Jeya is a world authority on these parasites where males and females can have such different lives that they even choose entirely different hosts:

‘There is a family where the males parasitize ants and the females parasitize grasshoppers, crickets or mantids. Due to the extreme sexual dimorphism and dual hosts, the sexes could not be matched until recently. We have achieved this using molecular data.’

Surprisingly, although Strepsiptera can infect and live inside the host insect for almost its entire life, the host seems unaffected and can even have its lifespan extended.

More on Physorg: Parasite lives ‘double life’

November 17th, 2011

natural expression

“Ribonucleotides are simply an expression of the fundamental principles of organic chemistry … They’re doing it unwittingly. The instructions for them to do it are inherent in the structure of the precursor materials. And if they can self-assemble so easily, perhaps they shouldn’t be viewed as complicated.”

From an article in Wired from 2009 on experiments to emulate a ‘primordial soup’.

November 11th, 2011

composers as gardeners

Brian Eno on “the composer as gardener”:

Of course, I was also familiar with Cage and his use of randomness, and new ways of making musical decisions. Or not making them. What fascinated me about these kinds of music was that they really completely moved away from that old idea of how a composer worked. It was quite clear with these pieces, for example “In C,” that the composer didn’t have a picture of the finished piece in his head when he started. What the composer had was a kind of menu, a packet of seeds, you might say. And those musical seeds, once planted, turned into the piece. And they turned into a different version of that piece every time.

So for me, this was really a new paradigm of composing. Changing the idea of the composer from somebody who stood at the top of a process and dictated precisely how it was carried out, to somebody who stood at the bottom of a process who carefully planted some rather well-selected seeds, hopefully, and watched them turn into something. What we did have, though, was cybernetics. And I became very interested in the work of a cybernetician called Stafford Beer. In fact, I became friends with him, ultimately. Stafford had written a book called The Brain Of The Firm, The Managerial Cybernetics Of Organization, which came out, I think, in ’72 or ’73. And it was a very exciting book because it was essentially about this idea, again, unspoken at the time, of bottom-up organization, of things growing from the bottom and turning into things of greater complexity.

Now, you must understand why this was surprising at the time. It’s surprising for the same reason that evolution theory is still surprising to most Americans. Which is that the concept of something intelligent coming from something simple is very hard to understand. It’s not intuitive at all. The whole shock about Darwinian evolution is that simplicity turns into complexity. It’s not obvious that that should happen.

What happened in Stafford’s work was that he was talking about organization and how things organize themselves in this new way. And there was one sentence in the book which I think I still remember, he said ‘instead of trying to organize it in full detail, you organize it only somewhat and you then rely on the dynamics of the system to take you in the direction you want to go.’ And this became my sort of motto for how I wanted composition to be.

From a transcript of a talk found here in video & audio (via 3qd)

November 11th, 2011

survival benefits of schizotypy

Researcher Dr Daniel Nettle explained: “Creative types lead a bohemian lifestyle and tend to act on more sexual impulses and opportunities, often purely for experience’s sake, than the average person would.

“It’s common to find that this sexual behaviour is tolerated. Partners, even long-term ones, are less likely to expect loyalty and fidelity from them.”

But he said these “schizotypal” personality traits could manifest themselves in negative ways.

“A person with them is likely to be prone to the shadows of full-blown mental illness such as depression and suicidal thoughts.”

He said there could be an underlying evolutionary survival benefit that would explain why creative people continued to display schizotypal character traits.

“There are positive reasons, such as their role in mate attraction and species survival, for why these characteristics are still around.”

His work in Proceedings of the Royal Society B focused on 425 men and women, including a sample of visual artists and poets and schizophrenic patients, and their history of sexual encounters since the age of 18.

BBC Health (Nov 2005)

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