Notes about research

June 23, 2011 permalink


Research continues on whether humans (and other animals) have the ability to perceive magnetic fields:

Many birds have a compass in their eyes. Their retinas are loaded with a protein called cryptochrome, which is sensitive to the Earth’s magnetic fields. It’s possible that the birds can literally see these fields, overlaid on top of their normal vision. This remarkable sense allows them to keep their bearings when no other landmarks are visible.

But cryptochrome isn’t unique to birds – it’s an ancient protein with versions in all branches of life. In most cases, these proteins control daily rhythms. Humans, for example, have two cryptochromes – CRY1 and CRY2 – which help to control our body clocks. But Lauren Foley from the University of Massachusetts Medical School has found that CRY2 can double as a magnetic sensor.

Vision is amazing, even more so when you take into account the myriad other things that animals and insects can detect beyond just our “visible” EMF spectrum. See also: box jellyfish with their surprisingly complex (and human-like) set of 24 eyes.

March 15, 2011 permalink

Donald Duck Discovered Methylene

Actually, he does. Donald Duck accidentally (and somewhat accurately) described the chemical compound methylene nearly two decades before real-world scientists:

In 1963, the Disney Studio learned just how wide and faithful a readership [Carl] Barks had. A letter arrived from Joseph B. Lambert of the California Institute of Technology, pointing out a curious reference in “The Spin States of Carbenes,” a technical article soon to be published by P.P. Gaspar and G.S. Hammond (in Carbene Chemistry, edited by Wolfgang Kirmse, New York: Academic Press, 1964). “Despite the recent extensive interest in methylene chemistry,” read the article’s last paragraph, “much additional study is required…. Among experiments which have not, to our knowledge, been carried out as yet is one of a most intriguing nature suggested in the literature of no less than 19 years ago (91).” Footnote 91, in turn, directed readers to issue 44 of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories. … A year later, the Studio received a letter from Richard Greenwald, a scientist at Harvard. “Recent developments in chemistry have focused much attention to species of this sort,” Greenwald commented. “Without getting technical let me say that carbenes can be made but not isolated; i.e. they cannot be put into a jar and kept on a shell. They can, however, be made to react with other substances. Donald was using carbene in just such a manner, many years before ‘real chemists’ thought to do so.”

(Via Cracked’s 5 Amazing Things Invented by Donald Duck [Seriously])

April 13, 2010 permalink

Early Experimental Computer Animation Modeling a Cat’s Gait

[Video no longer available]

Early experimental computer animation through mathematical modeling of a cat’s gait. Evidently, equations were written to model the basic skeleton form of the cat and its walk, and the computer was used to generate a shadow-like projection printed frame by frame onto paper using ASCII-like characters (this animation was done in 1968 on a Soviet BESM-4 mainframe, so I’m not sure what character set they’re actually using here). The result could then be filmed, inverted, and manually cleaned up. Not exactly something that would really take the animation world by storm, but it’s an interesting usage of mainframes for art.

See also: more detailed info about the animation including links to the fulltext paper (in Russian – Google Translate does a pretty good job)

(Via Make)

March 21, 2010 permalink

Mind Control Pinball

Researchers from the Berlin Brain-Computer Interface project demonstrate their research into mind-control pinball, which is an important field of study if ever there was one. BUT HOW DO YOU NUDGE?

Also, the Addams Family table is a great choice for such a project (Fester would approve), but how cool would it have been if they’d hooked him up to the one-of-a-kind Sega/Stern museum table The Brain?

(Via Make)

January 17, 2010 permalink

John Balestrieri’s Generative Painting Algorithms

John Balestrieri is tinkering with generative painting algorithms, trying to produce a better automated “photo -> painting” approach. You can see his works in progress on his tinrocket Flickr stream. (Yes, there are existing Photoshop / Painter filters that do similar things, but this one aims to be closer to making human-like decisions, and no, this isn’t in any way suggestive that machine-generated renderings will replace human artists – didn’t we already get over that in the age of photography?)

Whatever the utility, trying to understand the human hand in art through code is a good way to learn a lot about color theory, construction, and visual perception.

(Via Gurney Journey)

September 17, 2009 permalink

The Stanford Frankencamera to Help Further the

The Stanford Frankencamera

To help further the field of computational photography, a team at Stanford is working on a homebrewed, open source digital camera that they can sell at-cost to other academics in the field. Right now it’s pretty big and clunky-looking, but a camera that can be extended with the latest image processing techniques coming out of the labs would be very sexy indeed. There’s a recent press release that’s worth reading about the team, along with a video and an animation or two to explain the project.

Those that want to tinker with their existing store-bought cameras might want to check out the firmware hacks that are floating around out there, like the excellent CHDK software (GPL’ed, I think) that runs on most modern Canon digital point-and-shoot and dSLR cameras. With a little bit of elbow grease and some free tools you can add a lot of professional(ish) features and scripting support to your low-end camera.

(Via John Nack)

September 12, 2009 permalink

Binocular Diplopia and the Book of Kells

How did reclusive monks living in the year 700 or 800 AD draw the intricate lines of the Book of Kells, rendered by hand at sub-millimeter resolution (about the same level of detail as the engraving work found on modern money), hundreds of years before optical instruments became available, hundreds of years before the pioneering visual research of Alhazen? According to Cornell paleontologist John Cisne’s theory, their trick was in the detail and pattern: by keeping their eyes unfocused on the picture plane, the monks could superimpose their linework and judge the accuracy against the template using a form of temporary binocular diplopia (sort of like willing yourself to view a stereograph or one of those Magic Eye posters).

That’s amazing.

August 9, 2009 permalink

The So Called Mother of All Demos the

The so-called “Mother of All Demos”, the technology presentation given by Doug Engelbart of the Stanford Research Institute, which introduced to the world a number of useful developments: hypertext, the computer mouse, timesharing, email, video conferencing… And this was a bit over forty years ago, just before the ARPANET went online. Pretty amazing times.

The videos are available in more digestible chunks over on Stanford’s MouseSite.

August 1, 2009 permalink

The Timing of Blinks

Update 11/3/2009: RadioLab did a short piece in October on this phenomenon, even discussing the Mr. Bean test with the Japanese researchers:


From recent research out of Japan: “The results suggest that humans share a mechanism for controlling the timing of blinks that searches for an implicit timing that is appropriate to minimize the chance of losing critical information while viewing a stream of visual events.” In simpler words, the researchers found that audiences watching movies with action sequences have a strong tendency to synchronize their blinking so that they don’t miss anything good.

I’m not sure that this is interesting in and of itself, but it’s, um, eye-opening to think that we have our eyes closed for nearly 10% of our waking life. That’s roughly 10 full minutes of every movie lost to blinking. I imagine that editors already take this phenomenon into account, at least to some extent?

Full text available available in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B – Biological Sciences. Thanks, Creative Commons!

(Via NewScientist)

July 24, 2009 permalink

Dark Flash Photography

Another paper from the upcoming SIGGRAPH 2009 conference: Dark Flash Photography. The researchers have developed a camera flash that uses a combination of infra-red and and ultra-violet light to illuminate a scene before capture, and an algorithm to denoise and color-correct the otherwise dimly-lit normal digital photo, producing a low-light image that is both noise-free and sharp (no need for long exposure, so no worry about camera shake or the subject moving). Seems like a killer idea, and immensely useful.

The image above is the creepy-looking multi-spectral version – be sure to click through to their site to see the final photo compared with the noisy ambient light version.

(Via New Scientist. Photo: Dilip Krishnan, Rob Fergus)