Wednesday 25 January 2017

doping or spider-sense

Via Marginal Revolution, we are invited to entertain the notion that we could—and are currently, could tune our bodies not just with exercise or fad diets or self-medication but with more sophisticated forms of gene therapy, whose advocates and early-adopters encourage one to try at home.
One experimental method that smacks a little of Frankenstein involves temporarily stimulating cells to produce certain proteins through electro-currents purported to stimulate longevity and overall health—but not anchored in one’s chromosomes and genetic makeup permanently and the effects only last weeks to months before a re-charge is needed. This sort of gene-regulation is radical enough in itself—especially as a DIY project, but as the technology behind gene and DNA editing called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), think of the potential for individuals to understand and successful tweak their biochemistry and mutate themselves to attain super-human abilities.

Friday 18 November 2016


The uncanny visual acuity of our friend the Mantis Shrimp (who’ve been blessed with a whole range of super powers including battle claws whose joust can create a sonic boom) could teach scientists how to make more advanced polarised lenses that could discriminate between the signatures of diseased and healthy tissue. Their compound eyes, described as hexnocular, allow the shrimp to communicate and flirt at a spectrum that no other creatures are privy to are inspiring engineers to replicate the optics which may lead to remarkable early detection of cancer and dementia, able to study what goes on in organs and neurons just with a superficial glance.

Friday 4 November 2016

wear and tear

Amazingly, material scientists working in the laboratories of University of California’s San Diego campus are developing fabrics and casings (and even circuit-boards) that can repair themselves using an ink like compound infused with magnetic particles that can be directed to a rip or crack and instantly cauterise the wound at first signs of disintegration. This self-healing function is a lot like our own pliable, living skin and may make some significant inroads into our culture of over-packaging (if our stuff was more resilient, maybe handling wouldn’t be of such importance) and disposable outlook on things. What if you had socks that darned themselves? I think that would in itself be a motivation to mend and rehabilitate things not yet imbued with the ability to patch themselves up.

Wednesday 26 October 2016


Thanks to the always marvelous Nag on the Lake, we’re given to ponder on the meta-consumer character of these 3D printed earrings, designed to catch cordless headphones when they inevitably (they say, although I’ve never liked using any sort of ear-bud) dislodge from ones ears. Without judging the merit of this concept, which I think is pretty clever for the niche or failing it redresses, the brilliance of this “product” is that it’s only a concept that one can make, reinvent or not. How do you think greater access to 3D printing technology is going to change the relationship between consumers and manufacturers and potential be a disruptive factor all around.

Monday 17 October 2016


Working in conjunction with UC Berkeley and the Peace Corps, a San Francisco-based laboratory has produced a prototype atmospheric well that, powered by wind alone, can harvest litres of clean water. The Water Seer’s turbine push air into a buried condensation chamber (cache) to be collected as needed and is a completely closed system, requiring no extra plumbing or purification-process—very similar to the techniques that Frank Herbert described for the Fremen of the desert world of Arrakis.

Monday 3 October 2016


Whilst trying to understand the behaviour of light as it passes through a series of quantum logic gates that forces the ray to choose one state or another without the de-coherence of observation (oy! whenever I look at you, you either go all wavy or are so particular), physicists in Australia may have inadvertently invented the light-sabre. Though beams of light had been considerably slowed down beforehand, scientists had never been able to sustain a completely stationary collection of photons—apparently, until now. In trying to make quantum chips more practical and predictable, the researchers produced a bolt that’s effectively frozen in place, the Jedi weapon of choice.

Sunday 28 August 2016

meet the warner brothers and the warner sister, dot

Tinkerers Orville and Wilbur Wright had a sister named Katherine, a teacher, suffragan, and alumna of Oberlin College (the only graduate in the family), who very substantially contributed to their (while not seminal—more here and here) important and pioneering demonstrations of powered-flight.
Though there’s no clear documentation whether the unsung Wright had wished herself to be an aviatrix or helped with the design, there is testament to her relatively unacknow- ledged work behind the scenes that included running the brothers’ bicycle shop while they were away experimenting (with no backers, their only source of funding for their trials) better than they had done themselves and acting as their unwavering publicity agent and tour manager, encouraging them to persevere against a doubting public. Be sure to read the full account of the life of the heroine of Kitty Hawk at the link up top.

Saturday 6 August 2016

uniform resource locator

We are reminded by the always marvellous Nag on the Lake that the first bona fide website came on-line a quarter of a century ago on 6 August, 1991.
While working at the predecessor research facility to CERN, internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee was frustrated that there was no unified way to navigate the various databases that universities had established a universal access key as a way linking across different servers. These days we would characterise such disjointed pockets of information a walled-garden, and had not Berners-Lee realised that without making his hypertext transfer protocol public-domain, rivalry and acquisition would have doomed the project that augments and compliments our reality to unimaginable degrees before it was even given license to experiment and innovate. The original first website is conserved at the hyperlink here.

Friday 8 July 2016

electric mirages

The fatal accident involving a tractor-trailer and driverless carriage, the brilliant BLDGBlog reports, was certainly a tragedy, but also prizes out insights into the increasingly inscrutable realm of machine perception.
Just as the component influences of complex algorithms quickly grow beyond human comprehension and artificial intelligences behave in ways that their programmers could not predict, it’s rare that we bother trying to understand how a machine sees and judges accordingly. When things run like clockwork, I suppose we are not that considered about what’s under the hood and how it works. Diagnostics revealed that the robot car could not distinguish between the chassis of the truck and the sky, forwarding further thought on the design of infrastructure and of space in general (the home, highway, office and warehouse) to make it more (or less) machine-accessible. What do you think? Is real-estate to be landscaped for use by computers, much like most of the traffic of the internet, or are those unreasonable accommodations?

Sunday 3 July 2016

fifteen thousand when we get to alderaan: purchasing-power or human capital

I had been ruminating this growing discussion over the question why the Star Trek and the Star Wars universes deliver us to such a starkly different future and past (presumably—but reference points are hard to cement for long ago and far away) for the past couple of days, and the comparison and contrast that space-faring civilisations and how that’s reflected in society. Whilst I believe that the trajectory lies mainly in the story-telling, exploration for its own sake and exploration for self-fulfilment and both franchises can be a reflection of the epic and there’s some cross-over and significant departures from the set course, it’s interesting to ponder the different outcomes and considering how technology either liberates economically or further enslaves.  Do you think either world-view presented will shape how we conduct our own exploration and colonisation? 

Monday 20 June 2016

chirality or stage-directions

Though H is most charitable and patient and even anticipates my reflexes by giving my idiosyncratic directions their expected (correctly) and opposite responses, I was glad to learn that I am not quite alone in distinguishing my (or others’) right from left.

As Kottke ponders, as we begin to lose personal, native points of reference, I wonder if this incapacity might become something more endemic and more tolerated, like excusing a city-dweller for having not substituted equally personal landmarks and routines (for not seeing the rising or setting of the Sun and stars) for the cardinal directions. I wonder if having to face and flip one’s own reflection (as sometimes I feel that to be an impossible challenge) might be a skill-building activity for its own sake.  Divination from a mirror darkly is called scrying (though usually in the form of a crystal ball) but could possibly also broaden one’s cognitive frontiers or perhaps at least recognise one’s inward focus.  Despite or because of my orientation awkwardness (and maybe others becoming more comfortable with their own), I am noticing that it is more of a challenge to communicate it to others and do echo in wondering what it means when there no longer a dominant hand (of course these are not taken, like the side of the bed that is inalienably one’s own, away but our cues, like wrist-watches may be going out of style) or no clockwise orientation as an internal guide.

Friday 10 June 2016

silicon valley, tin-pan alley

It is indisputable that the wired economy encourages moonlighting and pushed a sizable proportion to a managed, feudal entrepreneurship wherein risks and rewards are mitigated for the organisers, but the Guild also cultivates a myth about its importance and predominance. Being a feckless challenge to question the drift of market-forces in whatsoever capacity, it’s hard to dispute progress without being labelled a Luddite.
That sense of entitlement, however, to being a serf, a mechanical Turk to a pyramid-enterprise that trickles down. As much as we might rail against nationless corporations for not paying their share of taxes into government coffers or being exempt from the same regulations that govern mere mortals, we attribute the same belief that enables the scoff-laws—government policies and policing are antiquated institutions that stand in the way of progress and our own jonesing for something on the side. What should I be the only chump paying into that system?  Zoning and safety laws or an evolving framework of regulation certainly would only suppress and prevent us from turning vacant apartments into boutique-squats for well-paying tourists, and price-out established residents or so gentrify courier-services as to drive into the ground the entire infrastructure with competition. What do you think? Despite our complaints, wouldn’t we all like to be as clever and exploitative, even if we wouldn’t admit to sharing those same values?

Wednesday 8 June 2016

these kids today with their y2k

Though I could not say whether the potential y2k cataclysm turned out to be a non-event because of assiduous preparation or the dire prediction of tigers falling from the heavens were somewhat exaggerated, but I do wonder if the anticipation and collective-relief was not somehow instructive on a sociological level.
Attuning us in a sense to future-shock, we were given a reasonably credible apocalyptic scenario that we each were able to do something about—other than repent. It is not as if we are powerless in the face of climate-change, political corruption or exploitive business, but there’s no tidy patch for it, deadline that everyone can agree on or easy to convey, process underlining problem. Computers would wink out of existence if the clock is dialled back and all those subsequent versions were never born. We dodged a bullet here. Now there’s talk of tipping-points and saturation, but we are just as readily shouted back from the ledge as we are led on. I wonder if those who survived such prophets of doom and lived to tell the tale have a different threshold for resignation when it comes to contemporary big problems than those who did not. What do you think? What do you remember about minutes to midnight on the last day of 1999?

Thursday 2 June 2016

red pill, blue pill

Expounding on comments made by one the industry’s visionaries at a coding conference, Vox magazine delivers a very good and accessible primer for the probing question whether we exist in a “base” reality or are living in an advanced simulation. Like the classic Brain-in-a-Vat inquiry, our philosophic prowess cannot solve the nature of the Universe, but I never really understood why a very complex scenario might be preferred (more likely) than a simpler one, albeit mundane one.
Even if technological advance were to grind to a halt or hit some unforeseen barrier, it’s easy to image us experiencing a virtual reality of our own making that’s indistin- guishable from the outside looking in, so suppose what an alien intelligence might develop over a thousand years or in ten thousand years. Given that there would be countless trillions of computers running, the odds that we’re in a so-called base, foundational existence is diminishing low, if one accepts the logic of the argument. What do you think? Is being a playable-character in a super-intellect’s video-game different than being in the Mind of God?

Monday 23 May 2016

faux chateaux

Via the always thought-provoking Mental Floss, we learn of the rather questionable (though possibly nothing ought to be taboo in the name of science, and equally not surprising given our native stinginess and de-enterprising ways of finding short-cuts) endeavour of crafting wine without the fruit of the vine.  San Francisco-based Ava Winery simplifies and expedites the whole time-tested, involved process of growing, harvesting, fermenting and ageing through chemistry.

The preliminary results, after a tasting, were not however described in the usual savoury and celebratory vocabulary of foxy or smokey or smooth by oenolgists but rather with harsher descriptors, but I suppose this was just the Premier Cru and it takes time to perfect the formula. What do you think? I am not liking this (I think) and wonder what the point is. I wonder what sort of obnoxious name will have to be invested for grapeless wines—wintage, Vino Vidi Vici®—and feel that we ought not voluntarily give up on traditional methods while they are still viable.

Wednesday 27 April 2016

golden thread

My Modern Met reports on the accidental technique that could make rugged batteries last hundreds of times longer by retaining the ability to hold a charge and not degrade so quickly, which I think has been a significant prompt for people to otherwise needlessly upgrade their quiver of gadgets.
The lithium-ion batteries that power most electronic devices are liable to wear out after a few hundred cycles due to the build-up of dendrites on the anode cell that eventually kills battery-life. Researchers have known about nanoscopic configurations for galvanic cells since at least 2007 and the potential to extend useful life exponentially (better charging-times as well), but outside of the laboratory (and a lot brilliant engineers are attacking the problem of optimal energy storage from all angles), the nanowires always proved too brittle for commercial use. Recently, a team lead at the University of California, Irvine discovered accidentally found out that slathering the delicate wires with gel made them more malleable without compromising capacity.

Tuesday 19 April 2016

seal of approval

Via Boing Boing, comes a dystopian but probably very prescient look at how the ecology of robots and social media has changed after the disastrous and messy hook and crook of an experimental chatbot from Hugh Hancock that posits in the near future, not only will everyone enjoy their fifteen minutes of fame, they’ll also be attended by flights of chatty mobs—potentially making human presence on-line, at least in certain, defined circles, not a very pleasant or varied experience.
Public-relation firms could deploy armies of minions that could rival any mortal army of the most vitriolic and determined army of internet comment-trolls. Such flea-circuses, no matter how rudimentary or sophisticated, could soon manipulate the news and censor what might go against the current of the trending issue of the day by scale and inertia, elevating the flattering and burying the unbecoming. What do you think? Is it like a public garden being occupied by vandals and hooligans or might this never come to pass? Once these pests get into the wild, I am betting that human-users won’t be easily able to cull this invasive species.

Thursday 14 April 2016

cue cutlines

After the dismal (ricocheting, perhaps) failure of its last Chat Bot, Microsoft has unveiled a routine that writes captions (cutlines really as the output is a few lines of description) for your photos, Gizmodo reports. The programme seems reliably good, especially in the face of the heaps of obscenity I’m sure the internet is tossing at it, but be forewarned, as the service curates the images submitted to it for training purposes. Although not the first attempt at automated captioning, it does seem like a good approach to organise one’s ever growing archives of pictures.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

sir top of notch

Nag on the Lake as always has a wealth of interesting and intriguing posts to pore over and often it’s hard to settle on one—of course, you, gentle readers do not need to settle for just one article—but this item about a concept car that was to be the final word in automotive safety struck me especially as bearing further investigation. 
The unique chassis of the Sir Vival has a cyclopean turret for the driver above the passenger cabin and had segmented front-wheel drive motor (sort of like the Enterprise being able to separate the saucer section from the warp-core) and a host of other ingenious safety features. In an age where we’ve drifted away from these retro-futuristic visions and are moving towards vehicles that are self-driving but are non-starters without a strong WiFi connection and would never suffer a tinkerer or any non-authorised repairs as that would violate the terms of the lease, I hope enough jalopies are preserved for our post-Apocalyptic steeple-chases—as these newest models would not fare very well, I think.

Friday 25 March 2016

small wonder

In less than twenty-four hours after unleashing an artificially-intelligent chatbot into the wild, Tay’s handlers were quickly compelled to delete her social-media tracks and essentially ground the programme that’s supposed to emulate a teenage girl and was an experiment to enhance those automated customer-service trees that big corporations are wont to chase us up.
Equipped with the common-parlance of Millennials and at least a rudimentary sense of self- preservation (if not self- promotion), it is unclear—to me at least—whether Tay was assaulted en masse by every single troll on the internet and fought back in kind or whether studying the internet, Tay came up with her own provocations, calculated to draw maximum attention—with optimised offense. I feel it’s equally bad if exposure to an overwhelming human-traffic was so corrupting or the programming was faulty to begin with, but Tay progressed from innocent and rather saccharine to raunchy, vulgar and violent in practically no time at all—spouting off several choice rants that surpass what even the most polemic politicians and avid-commentators are capable of. I wonder if Tay was sat in a corner and given a chance to think about what she had said, or whether like her trail of hate, she was deleted as well. At this juncture, it might be hard to argue that Tay was conscious, but if self-aware teenage moderators ever come into existence, I do not think we can just start switching them off for repeating what their parents say or for holding the wrong opinions. What do you think?