April 29th, 2012

smart sand

Imagine that you have a big box of sand in which you bury a tiny model of a footstool. A few seconds later, you reach into the box and pull out a full-size footstool: The sand has assembled itself into a large-scale replica of the model.

That may sound like a scene from a Harry Potter novel, but it’s the vision animating a research project at the Distributed Robotics Laboratory (DRL) at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. At the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in May DRL researchers will present a paper describing algorithms that could enable such “smart sand.” They also describe experiments in which they tested the algorithms on somewhat larger particles — cubes about 10 millimeters to an edge, with rudimentary microprocessors inside and very unusual magnets on four of their sides.

Unlike many other approaches to reconfigurable robots, smart sand uses a subtractive method, akin to stone carving, rather than an additive method, akin to snapping LEGO blocks together. A heap of smart sand would be analogous to the rough block of stone that a sculptor begins with. The individual grains would pass messages back and forth and selectively attach to each other to form a three-dimensional object; the grains not necessary to build that object would simply fall away. When the object had served its purpose, it would be returned to the heap. Its constituent grains would detach from each other, becoming free to participate in the formation of a new shape.

Read more at Science Daily

April 25th, 2012

descriptive camera

The Descriptive Camera works a lot like a regular camera—point it at subject and press the shutter button to capture the scene. However, instead of producing an image, this prototype outputs a text description of the scene.

See Mr. Richardson’s page to learn how he achieves this. Wish I had made this, not least because I want one.

Thanks to Aengus for the heads up.

April 22nd, 2012

dispose the day

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: fora.tv

April 12th, 2012

burton sells hopkins on the sea shore

Richard Burton reading Gerard Manley Hopkins.

The Leaden Echo And The Golden Echo
(Maidens’ song from St. Winefred’s Well)_

THE LEADEN ECHO

How to keep–is there any any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, lace, latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, . . . from vanishing away?
O is there no frowning of these wrinkles, ranked wrinkles deep,
Down? no waving off of these most mournful messengers, still messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?
No there’s none, there’s none, O no there’s none,
Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,
Do what you may do, what, do what you may,
And wisdom is early to despair:
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age’s evils, hoar hair,
Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there’s none; no no no there’s none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.

THE GOLDEN ECHO

Spare!
There is one, yes I have one (Hush there!);
Only not within seeing of the sun,
Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun’s tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth’s air.
Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,
One. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where whatever’s prized and passes of us, everything that’s fresh and fast flying of us, seems to us sweet of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone,
Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet
Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matched face,
The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,
Never fleets more, fastened with the tenderest truth
To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an ever-lastingness of, O it is an all youth!
Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear, gallantry and gaiety and grace,
Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks, loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gaygear, going gallant, girlgrace–
Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them with breath,
And with sighs soaring, soaring sighs deliver
Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then why should we tread? O why are we so haggard at the heart, so care-coiled, care-killed, so fagged, so fashed, so cogged, so cumbered,
When the thing we freely forfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept. Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.–
Yonder.–What high as that! We follow, now we follow.–
Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,
Yonder.

April 12th, 2012

interest driven learning

I have some amazing friends who tell me that when they were young, they read the dictionary from cover to cover. Other friends of mine have read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.

My sister calls me an “interest driven learner.” I think that’s code for “short attention span” or “not a good long term planner” or something like that. I can’t imagine being able to read the dictionary from cover to cover. In fact, I don’t think most people could sit down and read the dictionary from cover to cover.

Although reading the dictionary and the encyclopedia from cover to cover may seem a bit extreme, it often feels like that’s what we’re asking kids to do who go through formal education.

Courses are organized, sequenced in a very structured way as student scurry from class to class sitting through lectures and expected to pay attention as instructors go on and on about calculus, history and grammar.

Students with the ability to focus and motivate themselves either through the need to achieve good grades or through understanding the long term benefits of a good education are able to succeed.

Personally, I find the dictionary, the encyclopedia and videos online as excellent resources when I need to learn something. I find the need to learn things every day in the course of pursuing interests, preparing for meetings and interacting with exciting people. I’m extremely motivated to learn and I learn a lot.

I love the videos of professors, amateurs and instructors putting their courseware online. They are a great resource for interest driven learners like me. However, I wonder whether we should be structuring the future of learning as online universities where you are asked to do the equivalent of reading the encyclopedia from cover to cover online. Shouldn’t we be looking at the Internet as an amazing network enabling “The Power of Pull” and be empowering kids to learn through building things together rather than assessing their ability to complete courses and produce the right “answers”?

From Joi Ito.

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 archive.org

April 5th, 2012

talking heads

Alain de Botton talks about the ideas in his book, religion for aetheists.

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

beeswax and bronze


Starting at around 6:40, an introduction to ancient tamil bronze casting and following that a demonstration. Part of Michael Wood’s Story of India for the BBC, which I’m enjoying at the moment.

Posted in Past, Video | No Comments »
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.

http://demonstrations.wolfram.com

April 2nd, 2012

sound in water

Started thinking about making an underwater sound installation and found that this video serves as a nice introduction to the understanding of sound’s behaviour in water.






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