Friday, December 28, 2007

And then time slowed to a crawl

Several years ago when I was a svelte bicycle racer, I was almost involved in a big crash. More correctly put, I was in the middle of a big crash and almost went down myself. It was an early season Cat 4/5 race. For those unfamiliar with bicycle racing, category 5 is the entry level for licensed amateur racers, and category 4 is a Cat 5 racer with some experience in pack races. In peloton racing, position is of utmost importance. Moving up in the pack can be difficult. But there are certain parts of the course (oftentimes) where the road widens, or there's an uphill section, or something else where many racers feel they have a shot to "make their move" and gain better position.

This particular day it was an uphill on the course. At the time, I had been doing a lot of hill training so I was one of the racers who saw this as an opportunity to move up. But as we got to the bottom of the hill, all hell broke loose. There was a crash just 2 or 3 riders in front of me. Everything went into slow motion as the sounds of bikes crashing and people yelling filled my ears. I desperately looked for that opening in the melee as I adroitly fingered the brakes and maneuvered the handlebars. After what seemed like forever, I found my path and threaded my way through as bikes continued to smack the pavement all around me.

Once I was clear of the ruckus, time sped back up to normal speed and I had to sprint up the hill (remember, I used to be svelte) to catch back on to the pack. (It is a common tactic in bicycle racing that when you hear a crash behind you, you take advantage of the opportunity to thin out the pack by picking up the pace)

Did time really slow down for me as that crash was happening? Of course it didn't, but I certainly remember it that way. And I don't mean that I can remember the events in slow-motion, I mean that as far as I recall, they actually happened at that speed. It really feels like I experienced them in slo-mo. But did I? And whether I really did or whether it's just a memory trick, is there any way I could know for sure?

The basic principle behind a slow motion camera is pretty simple. Footage is shot at high speed (say 3x or 5x normal speed) then played back at normal speed. For example, if a sports broadcast is usually shown at 30 frames per second (fps), the network could have a camera that shoots at 90 fps and if an exciting turnover happens, they could play back the footage from that camera at the normal 30 fps and everything would appear to be moving 3x slower. (Super slow motion like the famous clip of the bullet piercing the apple are shot with high speed strobe lights since there aren't any shutters that fast and you need very bright light for such short exposures.)

A spots fan watching the broadcast will have seen both the original play in real time and the slow motion replay. That fan will have memory of both events. But suppose that the only memory was the slow motion memory? In other words, let's pretend that the event, as it happened, was recorded at an accelerated frame rate but then recorded into memory at the normal frame rate so that the recall--even a fraction of a second after the event and possibly even the working memory during the event--would be seen only in slow motion. Wouldn't this be indistinguishable from the event actually having been experienced in slow motion?

These are the kinds of questions I've been asking myself for years now. I had figured that the true explanation was along these lines, but that the slow motion camera analogy was flawed because I knew that that's not how memories are stored in the brain. But it was the best analogy I had.

Then last week I saw this article. There researchers put it to the test.

... to determine whether that distortion meant they could actually see more events happening in time -- like a camera in slow motion -- Eagleman and his students developed a special device called the perceptual chronometer that was strapped to the volunteers' wrists. Numbers flickered on the screen of the watch-like unit. The scientists adjusted the speed at which the numbers flickered until it was too fast for the divers to see.

They theorized that if time perception really slowed, the flickering numbers would appear slow enough for the divers to easily read while in free-fall.

They found that while the subjects were able to read numbers presented at normal speeds during the free-fall, they could not read them at faster-than-normal speeds.

"We discovered that people are not like Neo in The Matrix, dodging bullets in slow-mo. The paradox is that it seemed to participants as though their fall took a long time.

So if memories aren't being squeezed in at a higher rate, then where does the slow motion illusion come from?

The answer to the paradox is that time estimation and memory are intertwined: the volunteers merely thought the fall took a longer time in retrospect," he said.

During a frightening event, a brain area called the amygdala becomes more active, laying down a secondary set of memories that go along with those normally taken care of by other parts of the brain.

"In this way, frightening events are associated with richer and denser memories. And the more memory you have of an event, the longer you believe it took," Eagleman explained.

The study allowed them to deduce that a person's perception of time is not a single phenomenon that speeds or slows. "Your brain is not like a video camera," said Eagleman.

------ snip --------

"It can seem as though an event has taken an unusually long time, but it doesn't mean your immediate experience of time actually expands. It simply means that when you look back on it, you believe it to have taken longer," Eagleman said.

So if I'm reading this right, then the brain is in fact storing more information into memory about the event perceived in slow motion than surrounding events, but unlike the slow motion camera which stores extra frames, the extra information is related to your emotional state at the time. But since your brain perceives time passage as a function of quantity of information, the richer memory is perceived to have taken longer. Now that's wild! So your brain's perception of time is influenced by accompanying information in memory much like your brain's perception of distance is influenced by environmental clues. And so your memory of the relative duration of an event can be tricked muck like an optical illusion can trick your brain about relative length. (hint: the distance AB is equal to BC)

The above article also mentioned that the authors of that study had recently published a related study in the online journal PLoS ONE titled The Effect of Predictability on Subjective Duration. Naturally, I had to go read that study. There were more surprises in store.

But what does it mean to say that subjective time expands? We here set out to distinguish two hypotheses. In the first, perception works like a movie camera: when one aspect of the scene slows down, everything is slowed down. Thus, if a police car launching off a ramp were filmed using slow-motion photography, it would not only have a longer duration in the air, but also its sirens would blare in a lower pitch, and its lights would blink at a lower temporal frequency. In this case, duration, sound pitch and visual flicker all change hand-in-hand. The second hypothesis, in contrast, supposes that different temporal judgments are generated by different neural mechanisms–and while they often align, they are not required to. Thus, the police car may be judged to have a longer duration in the air, even while the frequencies of its sounds and flickering lights remain unchanged. In this paper, we distinguish these two hypotheses by testing the specific entailments of duration distortions, and in this way are able to directly address the notion of “time's” subjective expansion.

In the study, the researchers performed what is called the oddball illusion on volunteers. The subjects were shown a series of images which were all the same except for one oddball image which was shown in the middle of the sequence somewhere. The participants all reported that the oddball image was on the screen longer than the other images although they were all up for equal duration. In a follow-up experiment they introduced sounds. The results are fascinating.

Participants showed no difficulty in discriminating the frequency of the beep accompanying the visual oddball from the beep accompanying the standards (Figure 2b, middle bar). We conclude from this result that the oddball illusion is not accompanied by a concurrent distortion of perceived auditory frequency. This indicates that it is not time in general, but only visual durations in particular, that slow during the oddball.

And surely enough, this actually jibes with my recollection of the crash that day of the bike race. Even as everything around me was happening in slow motion, the crashing bikes and panicked yells all happened at normal pitch and time. I never really realized that until just now. Wow!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Fractal fun

My favorite fractal is the Mandelbrot Set.

Another fun fractal that I like is the Julia Set. What I've recently discovered thanks to someone I was talking to (sorry, can't remember his name) is that there is a section of the Mandelbrot zoom that looks eerily similar to the Julia Set. Look at the Comparison below.

Here's a Julia Set that I generated using GIMP2.

And here's a Mandelbrot zoom generated (by the above mentioned anonymous person) using Fractal eXtreme. (Much nicer quality than my GIMP rendering)

Pretty neat! No?

If you look closely, you'll see that they are different. If you can't see it, look at the center. Here's the Wikipedia explanation.

At first sight, these islands seem to consist of infinitely many parts like Cantor sets, as is actually the case for the corresponding Julia set Jc. Here they are connected by tiny structures so that the whole represents a simply connected set. These tiny structures meet each other at a satellite in the center that is too small to be recognized at this magnification. The value of c for the corresponding Jc is not that of the image center but, relative to the main body of the Mandelbrot set, has the same position as the center of this image relative to the satellite shown in zoom step 7.

While we're on the subject of Mandelbrot vs. Julia, I'll leave you with a Jonathan Coulton fan video of my favorite JoCo song--pay extra special attention to the sound clip at the very end ;-)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Robert B. Eckhardt talk

Anyone who will be in the Philadelphia area this Saturday November 10th, feel free to stop by the Philadelphia Ethical Society Building in Rittenhouse Square to see Dr. Robert B. Eckhardt. The Talk is being sponsored by the Delaware Valley Chapter, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. It looks to be very interesting.

DVAU Program Meeting Event:
Saturday November 10, 2007, 1pm-2pm
Speaker: Dr. Robert B. Eckhardt, Ph.D., Professor of Developmental Genetics and Evolutionary Morphology
Topic: Linnaean taxonomy, the Christian Trinity, and Paranormal State: Faith-based challenges to Scientific Understanding

Location: Philadelphia Ethical Society Building, 1906 Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, PA 19103

The Delaware Valley Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is proud to present a talk from Dr. Robert Eckhardt, Professor of Developmental Genetics and Evolutionary Morphology, Department of Kinesiology, College of Health and Human Development in addition to the Center for Developmental and Health Genetics and Intercollege Graduate Program in Genetics at Penn State. Dr. Eckhardt will discuss the creationist threat to science education. Dr. Eckhardt was involved in the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District lawsuit when the Dover school board mandated the teaching of "intelligent design" doctrine in public schools.

Dr. Eckhardt is also a prolific writer whose work has been published in such peer-reviewed publications as the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Light refreshments will follow the meeting.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Animator vs. Animation

If you haven't seen this yet, then watch it! If you've already seen it, it's worth watching again.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Playboy Jesus

Catholic bishops in Belgium are all up in arms over a television ad for Plug TV that features an overweight, playboy, hippy Jesus having a fun night out on the town. Personally, I don't see what the big deal is.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

We miss you Steve Irwin!

Today is the one year anniversary of the accidental death of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. He was one of my absolute favorite television nature show hosts. I miss him dearly.

Here's a tribute video done by Philadelphia comedian Ed Bassmaster.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Jonathan Coulton Got Back (Here)

Last night I saw Jonathan Coulton (with Paul and Storm) for the third time. Once again, the show was a blast. But before I continue, let me dispense with the negatives of the show. First, due to previous sell-outs, the Milkboy Coffeehouse had two shows: a 7:30 and a 10:30 show. The early show (since I rely on public transportation, my hand was forced; I wouldn't have had a good way to get home from the late show) wasn't as packed as the previous shows I'd attended (a good thing--for me). But they were recording a live album that night, and it seems that the air conditioning system would have been too loud and interfered with the recording. So this was the first concert I attended in a sauna. Yeah, the performers tried to make light of the situation by making "heat jokes" between songs, but I was sweating as much as they were.

Seriously, the heat didn't bother me that much. I look forward to buying the live album so that I can relive the experience.

Anyhoo, I got to hear a new song by Paul and Storm (I believe it was called Your Town). Unfortunately they didn't play Epithets. Ah, well.

JoCo was great as usual. He opened up with that song about that Swedish furniture store.

Unfortunately, since I'm still getting used to my new camera, I guess I don't know all the settings yet. It seems that I had my video set for the highest resolution (I'll have to figure out how to fix that) and so even with 1 Gig memory, it was full after two and a half songs :-(

Luckily, the other full song I was able to record is a song that I haven't praised enough in my previous Jo Co blog posts. The song is the trump card I pull out when someone says to me "Jonathan Coulton is a talented singer/songwriter, but to call him genius is an exaggeration." The beauty is that it's a cover song. Here's the original. Remember it?

And here's JoCo.

If you you don't agree that he's a genius after hearing that, then there's obviously something wrong with you.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I'm too easy--celeb mug-shot!

Tripoli six freed!

Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were pardoned by President Georgi Parvanov upon their arrival in Sofia on Tuesday after spending 8 1/2 years in prison in Libya.

The six came down the steps from the airplane and were welcomed on the tarmac by family members who hugged them, one lifting the Palestinian doctor off the ground.

They were given bouquets of flowers, and Bulgaria's president and prime minister were on hand, greeting the nurses and Sarkozy, who had been part of the delegation that negotiated the group's return.

It's a shame that six innocent medics were held hosatge for so long by a heartless dictator and that the condition of their release was that Bulgaria pay blackmail.  But at least their nightmare is over and I'm happy for that.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Michael Vick is done!

Michael Vick is done! You don't torture and kill domestic pets for the pleasure of it and expect forgiveness. It ain't gonna happen! Americans love their dogs and cats and just aren't going to forgive him for what he's done. If he ever plays in another game he will get a reception worthy of Andy Card. I don't care how good of a player he is, I have no use for him.

I think Cenk of The Young Turks got it exactly right. (And Ben is also right--I won't be drafting Alge Crumpler this year.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Zombies in orange jumpsuits!

Who knew that Filipino prisoners could dance like that?

They also do a version of Hail holy queen from Sister Act (but I like the zombies better)


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

GOD Inc. sold to the SciFi channel!

I've previously posted videos by Mr. Deity. Another YouTube series of the same genre that I've been a big fan of is God Inc. The premise is that God runs his affairs just like a typical bureaucratic company, with all the petty bickering and office politics.

The good news is that it's been picked up by the SciFi channel. Hooray!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

What's Opera Doc?

I just found out that the greatest cartoon ever is turning fifty years old this week.
(thanks raincoaster!)
UPDATE: The original release date was July 6, 1957. So I'm about a week late--damn!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Happy Bastille Day!

It is once again that time of year when our inner frenchmen come and sing the Chant de guerre de l'Armée du Rhin. It is also that time when I join n the chorus of voices calling upon the French to change their national anthem. I like the melody--I really do. But the lyrics are vile! They are some of the most gory, jingoistic, and savage words I have ever heard in a song, and this is what French children are being taught to sing!

And I find the Marseillaise apologists about as convincing as Christian apologists who ignore the cruelty and genocide in the Bible. You can interpret them however you wish, but you can't change the words. That's what the song says! Read it for yourself (from Wikipedia).

(Sorry about the big space below, but I just can't seem to get tables to work correctly on blogger, and it's beginning to piss me off!)

La Marseillaise

Allons enfants de la PatrieArise, children of the fatherland
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !The day of glory has arrived!
Contre nous de la tyrannieAgainst us, the tyranny's
L'étendard sanglant est levé. (bis)Bloody banner is raised. (repeat)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnesDo you hear in the fields
Mugir ces féroces soldats ?The howling of these savage soldiers?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos brasThey are coming into your midst
Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes !To cut the throats of your sons, your wives!
Aux armes, citoyens !To arms, citizens!
Formez vos bataillons !Form your battalions!
Marchons, marchons !Let us march, let us march!
Qu'un sang impurMay tainted blood
Abreuve nos sillons !Water our fields!
Que veut cette horde d'esclaves,What does this horde of slaves,
De traîtres, de rois conjurés ?Traitors, and plotting kings want?
Pour qui ces ignobles entravesFor whom these vile chains
Ces fers dès longtemps préparés ? (bis)These long-prepared irons? (repeat)
Français, pour nous, ah! Quel outrage,Frenchmen, for us, ah! What outrage,
Quels transports il doit exciter !What fury it must arouse!
C'est nous qu'on ose méditerIt is us they dare plan
De rendre à l'antique esclavage !To return to the old slavery!
Aux armes, citoyens...To arms, citizens...
Quoi! Des cohortes étrangèresWhat! These foreign cohorts!
Feraient la loi dans nos foyers !They would make laws in our homes!
Quoi! Ces phalanges mercenairesWhat! These mercenary phalanxes
Terrasseraient nos fiers guerriers ! (bis)Would cut down our proud warriors! (repeat)
Grand Dieu! Par des mains enchaînéesGood Lord! By chained hands
Nos fronts sous le joug se ploieraientOur brow would yield under the yoke
De vils despotes deviendraientThe vile despots would become
Les maîtres de nos destinées !The masters of our destinies!
Aux armes, citoyens...To arms, citizens...
Tremblez, tyrans et vous perfidesTremble, tyrants and traitors
L'opprobre de tous les partisThe shame of all good men
Tremblez! Vos projets parricidesTremble! Your parricidal schemes
Vont enfin recevoir leurs prix ! (bis)Will receive their just reward! (repeat)
Tout est soldat pour vous combattreAgainst you, we are all soldiers
S'ils tombent, nos jeunes héros,If our young heroes fall,
La terre en produit de nouveaux,The earth will bear new ones,
Contre vous tout prêts à se battre !Ready to join the fight against you!
Aux armes, citoyens...To arms, citizens...
Français, en guerriers magnanimes,Frenchmen, as magnanimous warriors,
Portez ou retenez vos coups !Bear or hold back your blows!
Épargnez ces tristes victimesSpare these sad victims
À regret s'armant contre nous (bis)That they may regret taking up arms against us (repeat)
Mais ces despotes sanguinairesBut not these bloody despots
Mais ces complices de BouilléThese accomplices of Bouillé
Tous ces tigres qui, sans pitié,All these tigers who mercilessly
Déchirent le sein de leur mère !Ripped out their mothers' breast!
Aux armes, citoyens...To arms, citizens...
Amour sacré de la Patrie,Sacred patriotic love,
Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeursLead and support our avenging arms
Liberté, Liberté chérie,Liberty, cherished liberty,
Combats avec tes défenseurs ! (bis)Fight back with your defenders! (repeat)
Sous nos drapeaux que la victoireUnder our flags, let victory
Accoure à tes mâles accents,Hurry to your manly tone,
Que tes ennemis expirantsSo that your enemies, in their last breath,
Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire !See your triumph and our glory!
Aux armes, citoyens...To arms, citizens...
(Couplet des enfants)(Children's Verse)
Nous entrerons dans la carrière We shall enter the career
Quand nos aînés n'y seront plusWhen our elders will no longer be there
Nous y trouverons leur poussièreThere we shall find their dust
Et la trace de leurs vertus (bis)And the mark of their virtues (repeat)
Bien moins jaloux de leur survivreMuch less jealous of surviving them
Que de partager leur cercueil,Than of sharing their coffins,
Nous aurons le sublime orgueilWe shall have the sublime pride
De les venger ou de les suivre !Of avenging or following them!
Aux armes, citoyens...To arms, citizens...

I'm shocked! Shocked to read those nasty lyrics!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

These bloggers rock!

John Logsdon(Sex, Genes & Evolution)
Jonathan Badger(T. Taxus)
Moselio Schaechter(Small Things Considered)
Tara Smith(Aetiology)
Larry Moran(Sandwalk)

Gaga likes Ice Cream

I promise a substantive post soon. In the meantime, here's another video I really like.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

R.I.P. Mr. Wizard!

Don Herbert, a.k.a. "Mr. Wizard," Died today at the age of 89.

I'm a bit young for the original run of Watch Mr. Wizard, but I did grow up on the reruns. I absolutely loved that show.

Whenever anyone asks me who the most important person in science is, I always answer Mr. Wizard (or his modern counterpart, Bill Nye). The simple reason is that he made science fun for a large number of children. I don't want to take anything away from all the great scientists who've made science as robust as it is today, but many of them might have chosen a different carreer path if it hadn't been for Mr. Wizard. And I don't want to take anything away from all the great science teachers who've influenced children around the world, but none had the reach of Mr. Wizard.

Good bye Don Herbert. You will be sorely missed.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Carnival of Mathematics: Edition IX is up

The ninth edition of The Carnival of Mathematics is up at JD2718. Sorry that I missed editions 7 & 8. I've been slacking a bit lately. This edition is a fun one. There were several posts about things that I always found fascinating when I was younger (and still do). Make sure to check out the posts on The Monty Hall Paradox, The Prisoner's Dilemna (including a new twist hadn't heard before), e^iπ + 1 = 0, and The Dollar Auction. Good stuff!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Heffernan on YouTube

Today's New York Times has an article about YouTube (The Many Tribes of YouTube) (free registration required) by Virginia Heffernan. The focus of the article was around the YouTube function Video Response.

Really the only authentic response to a YouTube video is another YouTube video — the so-called “video response.”

YouTube appeared in February 2005, when it was modestly billed as a site on which people could swap personal videos. Since then, however, its video-response feature, which essentially allows users to converse through video, has managed to convene partisans of almost every field of human endeavor, creating video clusters that begin with an opening video, and snowball as fans and detractors are moved to respond with videos of their own. In answer to a lousy, stammering video, say, a real YouTuber doesn’t just comment, “You idiot — I could do that blindfolded!” He blindfolds himself, gets out his video-capable Canon PowerShot and uploads the results.

I think that is an accurate assessment of the YouTube culture. (DISCLOSURE: One of the main reasons that I've been neglecting this blog of late is that I've become hopelessly addicted to YouTube. You can find my channel here. It has become my atheist platform. I am considering starting a new channel where I talk about my favorite science related news headlines--much like my original intent when I started this blog.) The video response feature is at the heart of the growing YouTube community. It allows users to interact with each other in ways that were just not available two or three years ago. I've become a big fan of the feature and I try to take full advantage of it. There are some users who make almost exclusively video response videos. Many users rate the success of their particular videos based on how many video responses they get. And some videos specifically ask for video responses. My personal favorites are the Blasphemy Challenge (more on this one later) and the Ok Go dance contest (which didn't even get a metion in the Heffernan piece--I guess it doesn't help that the contest is long over).

In her article, Heffernan goes on to profile five different examples of popular video response "tribes." One of them is the blasphemy challenge. Once again, someone in the media gets it wrong and needs a good pwning. Let's look at what she wrote.

Individual religious testimony abounds on YouTube, as do sermons from miscellaneous (and sometimes extinct) religious institutions, but these are posted to fire up discussion, not to lay down any laws. Versions of the last sermon of the prophet Muhammad are posted — one runs “Star Wars”-style with the words receding into outer space — as are Christian sermons on sexual purity and Palestinian sermons that contain anti-Semitic slurs.

Viewers are urged to discuss them, and they do. Curiously, the religious group that makes the most imaginative and despotic use of YouTube are atheists.

I have a couple of problems with that last sentence.
  1. ATHEISTS AREN'T A RELIGIOUS GROUP!!! Atheism isn't a religion. An atheist is simply someone who doesn't believe in the existence of any gods. That's it!
  2. I'm completely baffled by her use of the word "despotic." Did she just throw it in there because it sound ominous? My dictionary defines "despotic" as of, pertaining to, or of the nature of a despot or despotism; autocratic; arbitrary; tyrannical. WTF? How does that word describe the YouTube atheists?

She goes on.

The Rational Response Squad, a furtive organization devoted to curing theism, has challenged YouTubers to post videos of themselves denying the existence of the Holy Spirit and thereby — in the group’s reading of Mark 3:29 — damn themselves for eternity.

More than 1,200 people have posted blasphemy videos as of this writing. In each one, a single person speaks the line, “I deny the Holy Spirit.” Sometimes he or she adds more: a name, a speech, a further denial of Easter Bunny-like entities.

That's about right. My only little complaint here is that she's implying that the RRS came up with that interpretation of Mark 3:29. I've talked about this before, so I will just mention that that particular reading of Mark (and Luke and Matthew who repeat it) is one of the most common interpretations being taught to children in churches and Xian schools accross the country in order to scare them into belief.

Some blasphemers are jaunty, some are insolent, some are scary, some are nervous. But all of them (young and old, mostly English-speakers, but with a range of accents and ethnicities) seem to believe they are making a statement of some gravitas — issuing a reproof to doctrine, possibly risking their salvation.

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!!!!! The YouTube blasphemers DON'T believe that there's ANY gravitas in their statement. Did she completely miss the point of listing the Easter bunny alongside of the holy spirit? (Yes, obviously) It's the believers who think that these statement carry some gravitas. The whole point is to throw it back in their faces by effectively saying "this is just a silly statement about a silly imaginary being from a silly religion." No one thinks that they're riking their salvation because there's no such thing as eternal salvation! If I were to make a video of myself walking under a ladder, it would be to show that there's nothing to be afraid of, NOT because I believed that there might be consequenses for that action. AAARRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!

Anyway, I might as well show how she finished the section on blasphemy.

On the face of each participant is both a wonderful purity of purpose — the mandate is so simple, the one-line script so unforgettable — and a clear vulnerability.

Will anyone regret taking the so-called Blasphemy Challenge? If so, can they retract their videos?

Assuming (and I'm not quite sure why I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt here) that that last sentence was made tongue-in-cheek, I don't have any complaints about that. In fact, I think it's a cute way to end the section.

Hooray for UMASS grads!

Two days ago, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst gave Andrew Card at honorary degree during their graduation ceremonies. Watch the video below to see how the faculty and graduates reacted to this "honor." It's awesome!

I can't really understand why the University would choose someone like Card for this in the first place. I can only guess that there remains a chasmic disconnect between the inhabitants of the "ivory tower" and the sentiments of the masses. Perhaps this incident will gve them a jolt of reality.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Sunday, May 13, 2007

How the internet is changing the popular music scene

This week's New York Times Magazine has an article by Clive Thompson titled Sex, Drugs and Updating Your Blog. The article is about how the internet is changing the way musical artists sell and promote themselves.

In the past — way back in the mid-’90s, say — artists had only occasional contact with their fans. If a musician was feeling friendly, he might greet a few audience members at the bar after a show. Then the Internet swept in. Now fans think nothing of sending an e-mail message to their favorite singer — and they actually expect a personal reply. This is not merely an illusion of intimacy. Performing artists these days, particularly new or struggling musicians, are increasingly eager, even desperate, to master the new social rules of Internet fame. They know many young fans aren’t hearing about bands from MTV or magazines anymore; fame can come instead through viral word-of-mouth, when a friend forwards a Web-site address, swaps an MP3, e-mails a link to a fan blog or posts a cellphone concert video on YouTube.

So musicians dive into the fray — posting confessional notes on their blogs, reading their fans’ comments and carefully replying. They check their personal pages on MySpace, that virtual metropolis where unknown bands and comedians and writers can achieve global renown in a matter of days, if not hours, carried along by rolling cascades of popularity. Band members often post a daily MySpace “bulletin” — a memo to their audience explaining what they’re doing right at that moment — and then spend hours more approving “friend requests” from teenagers who want to be put on the artist’s sprawling list of online colleagues. (Indeed, the arms race for “friends” is so intense that some artists illicitly employ software robots that generate hundreds of fake online comrades, artificially boosting their numbers.)

A-list stars are made by multimillion dollar marketing campaigns; the B-listers need to build their network from the ground up. This has kind of always been the case. What the internet has done is change the nature of the network. This new breed of stars is able to, at once, get more personal with their fans while expanding the size and geographical distribution of that fan base.

Of course, the featured artist in the article was none other than Jonathan Coulton.

Click on the above picture to see Jonathan Coulton explain Code Monkey (drawing by Len)

I've blogged about Jonathan before (being a fan) so here it goes again (that reference will become clear soon enough). JoCo has managed to build up such a grassroots network, and much of its success is not due to anything he did or planned himself.

Coulton’s fans are also his promotion department, an army of thousands who proselytize for his work worldwide. More than 50 fans have created music videos using his music and posted them on YouTube; at a recent gig, half of the audience members I spoke to had originally come across his music via one of these fan-made videos. When he performs, he upends the traditional logic of touring. Normally, a new Brooklyn-based artist like him would trek around the Northeast in grim circles, visiting and revisiting cities like Boston and New York and Chicago in order to slowly build an audience — playing for 3 people the first time, then 10, then (if he got lucky) 50. But Coulton realized he could simply poll his existing online audience members, find out where they lived and stage a tactical strike on any town with more than 100 fans, the point at which he’d be likely to make $1,000 for a concert. It is a flash-mob approach to touring: he parachutes into out-of-the-way towns like Ardmore, Pa., where he recently played to a sold-out club of 140.

Let me just say that I'm one of those fans that Clive spoke to at the Ardmore concert, and indeed my first exposure to JoCo was through a Spiff video. (Although when I went to JoCo's website for the first time and started listening to all the music, I realized that I had heard Mandelbrot Set before but didn't know who sang it.) I really like the idea that many of these fan created videos have sort of become the "default official videos" for those songs--cool!

Speaking of cool homemade videos, the article also talks about the band Ok Go which is actually signed to a major record label (along with all the marketing machinery that comes with it) but became in instant internet sensation by employing some of these same tactics.

This confluence of forces has produced a curious inflection point: for rock musicians, being a bit of a nerd now helps you become successful. When I spoke with Damian Kulash, the lead singer for the band OK Go, he discoursed like a professor on the six-degrees-of-separation theory, talking at one point about “rhizomatic networks.” (You can Google it.) Kulash has put his networking expertise to good use: last year, OK Go displayed a canny understanding of online dynamics when it posted on YouTube a low-budget homemade video that showed the band members dancing on treadmills to their song “Here It Goes Again.” The video quickly became one of the site’s all-time biggest hits. It led to the band’s live treadmill performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, which in turn led to a Grammy Award for best video.

Just in case you haven't seen the video yet (perhaps you've been living in a cave but somehow managed to find this insignificant blog), I've embedded it below. Quick note: Damian Kulash is the tall skinny guy with the red pants. The one you see lip-syncing the lead vocals is the band's bass player (and childhood friend of Kulash) Tim. Not only do these guys rock, they have a sense of humor. Awesome!

Happy Mother's Day!

Raise your hand if you know the history of Mother's Day. Until a couple of days ago, I didn't. Then I heard about Mother's Day for Peace and that the holiday was originally founded as part of the anti-war movement.

In the United States, Mother's Day was originally suggested by poet and social activist Julia Ward Howe. In 1870, after witnessing the carnage of the American Civil War and the start of the Franco-Prussian War, she wrote the original Mother's Day Proclamation calling upon the women of the world to unite for peace. This "Mother's Day Proclamation" would plant the seed for what would eventually become a national holiday.

After writing the proclamation, Howe had it translated into many languages and spent the next two years of her life distributing it and speaking to women leaders all over the world. In her book Reminiscences, Howe wrote, "Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?" She devoted much of the next two years to this cause, and began holding annual "Mother's Day" gatherings in Boston, Massachusetts and elsewhere.

In 1907, thirty-seven years after the proclamation was written, women's rights activist Anna Jarvis began campaigning for the establishment of a nationally observed Mother¹s Day holiday. And in 1914, four years after Howe's death, President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother's Day as a national holiday.

How come I never heard that before? That's just way too cool! It is superior by several orders of magnitude to the sappy Hallmark holiday it has become. Anyhoo, Mother's Day for Peace has teamed up with No More Victims for a truly special "return to the roots" Mother's Day.

Follow the links above for more information.

And now I leave you with the Mother's Day proclamation being read by some prominent mothers. Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Battle of the Surfaces

Nadal the Spanish clay king has triumphed over Federer 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (10) in Mallorca today.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

First of May


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Leprechaun Sighting

Okay, looked up in that tree and really tried to see the Lepechaun. Maybe you'll have better luck than me.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Madness 4/27/07: Log riding

(via Brian Flemming)

Bobby "Boris" Pickett R.I.P.

I just found out that Bobby "Boris" Pickett, the singer of The Monster Mash, has died. I'm sad not only because I have a soft spot for composers of goofy songs, but because Pickett was an ardent environmentalist. A couple of years ago, Pickett reworked his old classic with new lyrics to benefit Defenders of Wildlife. Take a listen to Monster Slash.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Supper time!

I can't imagine feeding this many dogs at once. But the most amazing part, for me, was that none of them went for the food until they were given the okay. Now that's some disciplne!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Monster by Mail: the sequel

Len from Jawbone Radio has begun the second phase of Monster by Mail. This time the theme is Fictional Movie Monsters. You come up with the name for a horror/sci-fi flick, and he'll draw you a monster from that movie (and mail it to you). This opens up avenues that didn't exist with the single word description.

The other difference this time around is that the "making of" video is no longer free--it's ten dollars extra. I can't blame him for raising the price, though. Puting together the videos takes time. Plus, the first phase of the project (150 monsters) sold out in a week, and this phase only exists by popular demand.
UPDATE #1: I may have misspoken. It seems the YouTube videos are still free like the last time; the $10 gets you a hard copy of the "making of" video. This should be a higher quality than the flash video from YouTube. I'm not sure whether it's just this or if the hard copy includes a non-time-lapse version of the video. I'll let you know when I get mine in the mail.

UPDATE #2: I just got my high quality mp4 version of the YouTube video. It looks really good in full screen mode!

Anyhoo, here's the one I ordered: Attack of the Probing Mantis from Mars (Click on the picture to see the "making of" video.)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Carnival of Mathematics: Edition 6 is up

The sixth edition of The Carnival of Mathematics is up at Modulo Errors. My favorite submission was about the guy who thought he was being clever by finding a "short cut" to a problem only to discover that "brute force" was actually the most efficient means of solving that problem.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday Madness 4/20/07: The Day They Kicked God out of the Schools

It looks like this asshat has figured out the root cause behind all school shootings.

Can rocket science build a better brain surgeon?

Doctors and scientists at the University of Calgary have developed a surgical robot that's MRI compatible. That means that a brain surgeon sitting at a computer screen can remotely perform surgery on a patient while getting detailed MRI images of the surgery. Pretty neat!

"Many of our microsurgical techniques evolved in the 1960s, and have pushed surgeons to the limits of their precision, accuracy, dexterity and stamina," says Dr. Sutherland, professor of neurosurgery, University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine and the Calgary Health Region. "NeuroArm dramatically enhances the spatial resolution at which surgeons operate, and shifts surgery from the organ towards the cell level."

Designed to be controlled by a surgeon from a computer workstation, neuroArm operates in conjunction with real-time MR imaging, providing surgeons unprecedented detail and control, enabling them to manipulate tools at a microscopic scale. Advanced surgical testing of neuroArm is currently underway, followed by the first patient, anticipated for this summer.

The neuroArm should significantly improve brain surgery by allowing neurologists to do things they can only dream about today.

"The best surgeons in the world can work within an eighth of an inch. NeuroArm makes it possible for surgeons to work accurately within the width of a hair," Doc Seaman says. "This will put us on the world stage and will help attract more top people in medicine and surgery, which will benefit the university and the community as a whole."

And it really is rocket science.

A global search for robotics expertise led Sutherland to MDA, a perfect fit for neuroArm because of the company's background in creating specialized space robots, used aboard NASA space shuttles and the International Space Station.

"NeuroArm is a great fit for us, allowing us to apply our world-renowned space solutions to medical applications that will benefit patients here on Earth," says Bruce Mack, vice-president of development programs of MDA's Brampton operations. "The combination of our remote operation and sensory information expertise, coupled with our manipulation technologies, will enable improved decision making and performance in the operating theatre."

Developing neuroArm required an international collaboration of health professionals, physicists, electrical, software, optical and mechanical engineers to build a robot capable of operating safely in a surgical suite and within the strong magnetic field of the intraoperative MRI environment.

A collaboration between brain surgeons and rocket scientists: there has to be a joke in there somewhere.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

This bone makes sperm!

God is alleged to have made Eve from one of Adam's ribs. Now scientists are a step closer to knocking her up with one of his ribs. Scientists in the UK have created primitive sperm cells from bone marrow stem cells.

They have yet to make fully functioning human sperm this way, but last year, they were able to achieve that with mouse stem cells. The obvious benefits would be for infertile men (eg. testicular cancer survivors) to create ther own sperm. But scientists caution that there's still a lot we don't know.

Experts caution that turning sperm stem cells derived from bone marrow into functioning sperm would be no small feat. "Before we get too excited about this being a new form of infertility treatment, these cells cannot as yet be made into functioning sperm, so we have no idea if they can pass 'the acid test' – the ability to fertilise female eggs as is achieved with donor sperm in IVF treatment,” says Malcolm Alison of the London School of Medicine and Dentistry in the UK.

Stem cell biologist Harry Moore at the University of Sheffield in the UK worries that sperm created from bone stem cells could have undetectable abnormalities that could cause disease in offspring. "Unfortunately, these stem cell manipulations can lead to permanent genetic changes which would make them unsafe to use especially as a potential sperm or egg,” he says.

Anyway, this seems really exciting. But as is that wasn't enough, there is another potential application of this technology.

And women may be able to use the technique to produce sperm, allowing lesbian couples to have their own biological daughters. Nayernia says that researchers have produced the same early-stage sperm cells in mice from bone marrow cells taken from female mice.

"It should be perfectly possible for fully functional mature sperm cells to be made from these female-derived cells too," he told New Scientist.

Come on, aren't you just thrilled to the bone?

Sunday Madness 4/15/07: Masochism Tango

I was first introduced to Tom Lehrer through Dr. Demento. Here's a hilarious animated video of the Masochism Tango. (via Ed Brayton)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Friday, April 13, 2007

Birthday wishes!

On this date in 1743, the man who would become this nation's third President was born. Besides being the third President, I consider Jefferson, along with Benjamin Franklin, to be one of the leaders of The Enlightenment on this side of the Atlantic. I think my next bible will have to be a Jefferson Bible.

But enough about Jefferson. Today is also the birthday of a certain lady on a Roman Holiday. Happy Birthday, Mom! I hope you're enjoying Rome.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Monster by Mail

Len from Jawbone Radio has been busy with his latest project Monster by Mail. To raise money for his new baby he set out to draw 150 monsters on demand.

For a limited time only, I am offering original hand-drawn monster sketches, delivered right to your doorstep. Not only that, but you'll be able to watch your monster be drawn and colored through the magic of VIDEO!

Simply write one word to describe your monster - greasy, stinky or melancholy, for example. If you write more than one word, I will only use the first one, so choose carefully! Click the Paypal button and your word will be automagically sent to me. When I get your word, I'll draw a monster based on the word, slap a stamp and your address on the card and you'll have AN ORIGINAL PIECE OF ART IN YOUR MAILBOX within a few days! You'll also be able to watch a video of the creation of your monster.

I've been having a ball watching the videos as they come out. I've even been turned on to some musical artists I hadn't heard of before (ex--The Ropes). Luckily I got in early because he sold out quickly.

Thanks for making Monsters By Mail such a huge success, Thanks to your support, we met our goal in UNDER ONE WEEK. However, due to the overwhelming response, I have closed up shop to meet the demand. But not to worry. Monsters By Mail will reopen soon and I'll continue doing original monster art for all! Huzzah!

It would be awesome if he brings it back, because I noticed a dearth of bugs! How can there not be more bugs?!? Or perhaps a monster that some people would actually find scary, like "PeanutAllergy." Anyway, for now he's not accepting any more submissions but he's only about half way through the monster orders, so there's still plenty more videos to come.

Here's a few of my favorites (click on the picture to see it being drawn).




And last but not least, the drawing I comissioned for my sister's birthday: Happy Birthday, Titi!


Creepy Doll

Ths is just like when I saw them live ... except without the uke player. Damn! Why do New Yorkers have all the fun?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Friday, April 06, 2007

Carnival of Mathematics: Ordinal 5

The fifth edition of The Carnival of Mathematics is up at Science and Reason. After a quick perusal, my favorite posts are the one's about Penrose-oid patterns in medieval muslim tiling.

The study of the mathematics behind muslim tiling is nothing new, but the connection to Penrose patterns is.

Friday Madness 4/6/07: End Of The Line

Some people go to film festivals and act like a kid in a candy store. I understand that, but I'm not a huge cinema buff. I like movies, but I rarely go to the movies (and I almost never watch TV). So when a film festival comes to my home town, I try to see some of the films. Tonight I'm going to see The Curse of William Penn, and tomorrow night it will be End of the Line.

It appears to be a standard George Romero type horror film, except that instead of brain eating zombies, we have religious fundies intent on either converting or killing you.

Could this be Armageddon? I don't know, but it sure sounds like a fun movie.

Bar fun with pi

Above is the pi animation which I featured before. I like it because it gives you a real perspective of what pi means as well as a sense of scale. For example, watch the video below and see if you think those bar patrons would've been fooled if they had been familiar with the above animation.

Naturally he would have had less success if they had been drinking beer from bottles, and if they'd been drinking from pint glasses

he could've stacked it even higher. (Ahh, but how much higher?) That's the power of knowing a little bit of math: you can win bar bets against those who know no math. (There might be some other advantages too.)

Monday, April 02, 2007

World Oil Production About to Peak Out!

Fredrik Robelius of Uppsala University in Sweden theorizes in his doctoral disertation that World Oil production will go into decline some time between 2008 and 2018. He's not saying that the wells will run dry, but rather that the easily pumpable stuff won't be spewing up any more. That means that we're going to have to work harder to get at the stuff that is there, and production levels will necessarily go down.

Fredrik Robelius bases his forecasts on studies of global oil reserves, historical production, and new finds. He focuses on the very largest oil fields, so-called giant fields, which produce a total of at least 500 million barrels of oil.

Giant fields comprise only about one percent of all oil fields in the world, but they nevertheless account for more than 60 percent of total production. Unfortunately, the trend is heading downward when it comes to new giant-field discoveries, both in terms of the number of fields and the volume of the fields located. The majority of the largest giant fields are found around the Persian Gulf and are more than 50 years old.

“The dominance of giant fields in global oil production supports the thesis that they will be crucial to what future production will look like," says Fredrik Robelius.

He developed a model based on historical production, the total exploitable reserves of the giant fields, and their rate of diminution. The model assumes that oil fields have a constant rate of diminution, which Robelius has verified by studying a number of giant oilfields where production has waned. The analysis shows that an annual rate of diminution between 6 and 16 percent is reasonable.

To be sure that the future production of a field will wind up inside the interval of the model, Robelius used both pessimistic and optimistic estimates. Then he combined the results from the model with field forecasts for deep-water production, new finds, oil sand in Canada, and heavy oil in Venezuela to construct his forecasts.

“All cases studies show that global oil production will begin to drop off at roughly the same time as the giant fields. According to the most pessimistic scenario, the peak will be reached in 2008, whereas the most optimistic scenario, assumed to follow a 1.4-percent annual increase in demand, places the peak in 2018."

And just in case you thought nuclear power was the answer, think again.

Over the past 20 years, safety concerns dampened all aspects of development of nuclear energy: No new reactors were ordered and there was investment neither in new uranium mines nor in building facilities to produce fuel for existing reactors. Instead, the industry lived off commercial and government inventories, which are now nearly gone. worldwide, uranium production meets only about 65 percent of current reactor requirements.

This means we need to get serious about developing alternative and renewable energy sources, as well as step up conservation efforts and eliminating wastefull energy usage. The best way to do this is to raise prices. Keep in mind this is about to happen sooner than we had predicted: the supply is about to diminish and I see no clear sign that demand is headed in that direction. Better to start raising prices now with a stiff energy tax and us the revenue to build the altie infrastructure. I just hope this happens before it's too late. But then again, who needs to plan for the future when you've got quarterly budget targets to meet? (GRRRR!!!)

Also, if you're thinking that Fredrik Robelius is just a lone loon who's numbers don't add up, check out what Matthew Simmons, chairman of Simmons & Co. International in Houston has to say.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Curse of William Penn

Easter weekend is just about upon us. My family lives out of town and I'll be staying home (that means missing my sister's birthday ... er, I meant tenth anniversary of her 29th birthday. But it can't be helped; I can't exactly afford to fly to the Bahamas right now.) And not being the church-going type, what exactly can I do?

One possibility is the Philadelphia Film Festival. Okay, more than just a possibility; I plan on watching some of these films. I don't have my whole itinerary planned yet, but I have settled on my film for Friday night: The Curse of William Penn.

The premise of the film is that the reason that no Philadelphia team has won a championship since 1983 is because they started building skyscrapers taller than the hat on the head of the statue of William Penn atop City Hall.

For years, nobody could erect a building taller than Billy Penn, but in 1985/1986 that taboo was finally broken ... and the city hasn't won a championship since. Could it be a curse? An atheist like myself isn't supposed to believe in curses, but as a Philadelphia sports' fan ...

Otters in love

Here's a video of two otters floating around holding hands. It's really cute, but I have a major complaint with it. The adorable footage is ruined by a soundtrack consisting of the excruciatingly mind-numbing chatter of some very annoying and noisy primates. I would recomend muting the sound while watching.
(In all fairness, not all primates are this annoying. The screams of howler monkeys

would have worked just fine.)


Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Madness 3/30/07: MC Rove

I'm not sure what to say about this. I personally find the trollish little dancing marshmallow to be vile and repulsive. I'll give him some credit for having the temperament to make fun of himself ... but he even screwed that up! ("I rip the tops off small animals." Tops???)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Llama dung mites track Inca fall

I stole this post title from the BBC article of the same name--it was just toooo good not to reuse. The study in the article is basically one of micropaleantology. The researches dug through soil, dated when the soil was deposited, then looked for fossils under the microscope. Specifically, they were looking for dung mite fossils. These mites, related to your everyday dust mites, live in the droppings of everyone's favorite Andean beast of burden. So by sampling soils from different geographical areas and historical strata, and counting the dung mite fossils, they were able to determine approximate population sizes for different regions during different epochs.

What they found was a huge increase emanating from Cuzco in the 15th century, then a big drop-off after the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors. This is not exactly big news to Latin American historians, but I think it's neat to see the convergence of such diverse disciplines.


New Hard Drives on the Horizon

I think a lot of new technologies are mostly hype. And some very usefull new technologies take a while to catch on. But every once in a while a new technology (or in this case, an "it's about time" incremental advancement) comes along where I have to say "I wish I had that NOW!"--or more often "I wish I could afford that NOW!"

Soon all laptop hard drives will be based on flash drive technology. They'll be faster, quieter, cooler, and more impact resistant than standard hard drives. Plus they'll be more reliable than current flash drives.

But the new solid-state flash drives use a different form of flash memory, industry analyst Rob Enderle explained to LiveScience.

“Their speed used to be 20 percent faster than magnetic media, but now it’s two to four times faster,” said Enderle, head of the Enderle Group in San Jose, CA. Meanwhile, each flash memory cell can only change state so many times before wearing out, but the new drives make sure that the same cells aren’t used over and over, with repetitive actions being relegated to RAM, he added.


Additionally, SSDs don’t make any noise, emit little heat, and consume on average about half the wattage that mechanical drives consume.


Samsung claims that its SSDs can survive shocks about six times more powerful than hard drives can survive, and about 20 times more vibration. SanDisk calculates that the average life span of its SSDs is two million hours, or six times more than a mechanical hard drive. Meanwhile, hard drive failure is the cause of 25 to 45 percent of all laptop deaths, Gartner estimates.

I suspect that that's not quite hype-free, but it's obviously leaps and bounds better than my crappy system.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

I heart Sasquatch!

On Friday I went to see Jonathan Coulton with Paul and Storm at the Milkboy Cafe for the second time. I think his star is on the cusp of exploding and it may not be long before you can't see him up close in a small venue like this. If you'll recall from the last time I went to one his shows, I brought along a poster of the Mandelbrot Set. For some reason I thought I had to do something similar for this show. So I made a doll depicting the story in the song Under The Pines. (That's right, I'm one of those weirdos; give me funny looks and tell your daughters to stay away from me.)

My choice couldn't have been better. If you look at the picture below from Friday's concert, you'll see that Paul (from Paul and Storm) is wearing a tee-shirt with Bigfoot on it.

It turns out he wasn't the only one wearing a Bigfoot tee that night. To explain what inspired my doll, here's Jonathan's description of Under The Pines.

Not many people know this, but when Leonard Nimoy did the Bigfoot episode of "In Search Of..." he and the creature hooked up one night and had this crazy fling. These kinds of things never end well, but Bigfoot in particular is a bit of a cad anyway (being mostly wild animal). As you might imagine, Leonard Nimoy came out of the experience somewhat worse for wear.

And that is why my Leonard Nimoy doll is also wearing a Bigfoot tee-shirt. And it worked! Jonathan Coulton had never played the song live before (never even rehearsed it), but he was so impressed with my Spock doll (or maybe he was just really scared of me--I can't be sure which), that he played it on stage. You can hear it as well as other songs from the Jonathan Coulton/Paul and Storm show at Jen's podcast A Thousand Times No. Enjoy!

Live version: (low volume)