March 29, 2014

The new bionics that let us run, climb and dance

Hugh Herr is building the next generation of bionic limbs, robotic prosthetics inspired by nature's own designs. Herr lost both legs in a climbing accident 30 years ago; now, as the head of the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics group, he shows his incredible technology in a talk that's both technical and deeply personal.

I am not going to spoil it but chances are high that you'll be fighting tears, in a good way, before you've even made it halfway through this video. If you need to renew your faith in the goodness of mankind or its ability to overcome problems, Hugh Herr has got you covered.

picture below; Aimee Mullins wearing Hugh Herr's Biomes
Aimee Mullins: It's not fair having 12 pairs of legs

A Star in a Bottle

The New Yorker delivers a truly fantastic in depth article on ITER's problems and promise. A long read but an extremely good one!

At times quite depressing but here and there glimmers of hope do shine through. The people working on it not only have to conquer physics and engineering problems, they also have to deal with mindnumbingly complex bureaucracy and politics. We can't allow politicians to question if fusion produced energy will ever work, the answer, quite simply, is that it must. The question has to be when and paradoxically its answer rests squarely on the shoulders of those very same politicians. Fusion is in dire need of funding but the political will to commit to the level an undertaking as monumental as this one requires is severely lacking. We can not keep on dragging our feet as we have been doing for the past decades, not on an issue as important as this one.

There are few things certain in life but failure on fusion is highly likely to clear the board of all options. If we don't manage to ignite stars on earth, our future will be dark indeed. In Latin ITER means the way. Both in theory and on paper it has already shown us the way, we know where it leads. The rise of fusion would change more than just the energy equation, it would change geopolitics forever. In many way its path leads to enlightenment, straying from it to the dark ages. We must stay the course and make haste because once the light goes out, we are not likely to ever find our way again.

The Lisps - Singularity

I’ll live to see a million things that men were never meant to see
my senses and my faculties i'll augment with machinery
auditory, optical, touch and taste, olfactory
converted into data streams and floating bits of binary
every piece of food you taste and every thought you cogitate
every sound that you can hear and sight you see for years and years
all stored up so conveniently on peta-bytes of memory
so you can always reference them in case you forget anything

Singularity, I don’t know

now once all that experience can fit into an easy grid
the existence is no longer something mentally projected
the wires that you have inside are very easily realized
through artificial imaging you duplicate 10 at a time
your consciousness can be enjoyed by anyone forever more
and you live in whatever state that you or anyone creates
you could be a Giant Squirrel, a statue or a talking cat
the Goodyear blimp, an etch a sketch, an octopus or a brain in a vat
you keep all the memories and feelings that you ever want
and now you can commence your life as an uploaded extropian

Singularity, I don’t know

my mother is so horrified by this post-human fantasy
she says we’d lose that special thing that makes us human beings be
but I don’t know I’m not so sure if humans are so good and pure
perhaps we’d be much better off if we took these violent bodies off

once everyone is in the cloud we’ll move beyond this earthly ground
expanding into outer space as an informational signal race
matter in the solar system converts into computing mass
and the sun becomes a central orb of a brain that grows into the vast
expanse of space and emptiness for light years and light centuries
it replicates exponentially like a Russian doll in a cosmic dream
Once every spot of the universe is filled up it will promptly burst
eradicating finally the experiment that we grew from earth
as it explodes the brain will breathe into the dark impossibly
and anti-matter all around will collapse the universe back down
and right away what you would see if you were a fly in the vacancy
is all the light and color in the universe is collapsing

and Time would stop

and from a tiny pinhole point a massive bang erupts into space
and trillions of new particles fly away at a photonic pace
and once again the clock would start to tick and tock and tick and tock
and Years would pass, billions or more before the tiny proteins locked
and once again in the boiling seas of a minuscule blue anomaly
a planet floating helplessly around a tiny ball so fiery
an unextraordinary corner of the universe would cradle it
the flicker of intelligence that led us here and brought us this…

Singularity, I don’t know

The History of History

How art breathing life into long dead bones helps to drag history back into the present.

Sergey Krasovskiy's beautiful drawing of the recently discovered European "tyrannosaurus", torvosaurus gurneyi, leaps off the page in such a way that it almost appears to bring it back to life.

Torvosauruses are actually some 80 million years older than T. Rex and, being part of the Megalosauridae family, are only distantly related to the tyrannosauridae through some of the very first theropods. However, like T. Rex and many other theropods, torvosaurus too was a fearsome looking carnivorous predator. When it was active in the late Jurassic, a particularly brave one might have tried to make a meal out of stegosaurus. By the time T. Rex was stalking Triceratops in the upper cretaceous period, torvosaurus' bones had already been turned to stone.

We've come a long way since ancient times in which people thought that the massive bones they uncovered had once belonged to giants and dragons. Even in the 17th century most people with an interest in what we would now call paleontology were still trying to assemble mythical creatures like unicorns out of a variety of completely different animal skeletons from all over the world. They tended to mix and match parts as they saw fit, more concerned with showmanship than historic truth. It wasn't until the end of the 18th century and the development of comparative anatomy that paleontology started getting serious.

We owe this mostly to Georges Cuvier (1769 -1832) who not only pointed out that comparing between anatomies can tell us particulars about any given skeleton but who also took it upon himself to reapply flesh and fur to said skeletons in his drawings. Although his images too shocked and dazzled the crowd, he really cared about their veracity and always tried to depict them as true to life as possible. What he started gave rise to an explosion of interest in the study of ancient life and when only 10 years after his death Richard Owen coined the term "dinosaurs", and the bones of giants were finally recognized for what they truly were, there was no going back. A revolution in our understanding of both the history of life and earth itself swept across our 4,5 billion planet like a tidal wave and knocked the people who had previously thought the earth to be only a few millions years old off their feet.

The 19th and 20th century were a golden age for both geology and paleontology. Thanks to the construction of museums and the increasingly wide circulation of various works of art that depicted dinosaurs and prehistoric life, the reality of our ancient earth started to enter the minds of everyday people. The easy access to such information sparked even greater interest in the fields and helped ensure a constant influx of new talent. As a result these two centuries saw an extremely rapid accumulation of knowledge.

The power of art is not to be underestimated. Indeed, although it helped to birth the field of paleontology, it has also held it back. For the longest time dinosaurs were thought of as slow elephantine reptiles. In no small part thanks to how they were depicted by Richard Owen in the 1850s. He, with what must have been a stunning exhibition in the then to South London relocated Crystal Palace, made an enormous impact on people's perception of dinosaurs. It didn't take long for the progress in paleontology to make these early first models laughably outdated but by then the damage had been done. It would take the public almost an entire century, until the 1960s, to catch up with the paleontology of the late 1800s. People had trouble letting go of the pictures that had entrenched themselves so deeply in popular culture... A situation that is eerily similar to today's with people not wanting the hero/monster of their childhood, the T. Rex "to be turned into a big chicken".

The Posture of Tyrannosaurus rex: Why Do Student Views Lag Behind the Science?

Unfortunately, researchers active in paleontology are not immune to popular thinking. In many ways the thought climate during the turn of the century had been much more fertile for exploring what dinosaurs were really like than the decades that came after. Just before the end of the 19th century, people like Huxley, Darwin's bulldog, were convinced that birds had evolved from small carnivorous dinosaurs but this idea, going against popular thought, did not manage to get any traction. Instead the arrival of early monster movies during the first decades of the 20th century helped to cement the view of dinosaurs as cumbersome and stupid creatures even further. It's during this period that the idea of a dinosaur as something out of date, an evolutionary dead end bound for extinction, entered the public consciousness. Although at the time an undercurrent of both research and paleoart depicting dinosaurs as agile and energetic creatures did exist, it was mostly ignored and not taken seriously.

It wouldn't be until the 60s that views would begin to shift. In a period that is now known as "the dinosaur renaissance" research that couldn't be ignored began to paint a rather different picture of dinosaurs, one more inline with the one we have today. First and foremost the fact that dinosaurs lived on until today as modern day birds really pulled the rug out from under everyone's feet. Suddenly it was no longer clear whether dinosaurs had been slow cold blooded reptiles. The field got hammered with discovery after discovery, like for example the one that uncovered a communal nesting site of maiasaura, that revealed that far from being stupid, certain dinosaurs had displayed remarkable levels of social behavioral intelligence.

The 70s saw an explosion in "new dinosaur" paleoart with many artists defending controversial views and criticizing aspects of more traditional approaches. This proved to be a boon for the field and reinvigorated the debate. Of particular note is Gregory Paul who started depicting certain dinosaurs with feathers and defended the idea in various books. The excavation of the first feathered dinosaur 20 years later in the early 90s goes to show that art really can lead the way. The shift of views from dinosaurs as lizard-like to more bird-like creatures reached the general public in 1993 with the release of Jurassic Park. Even though certain aspects JP itself have now again become outdated, it's done a lot to bring current views of dinosaurs more in line with reality. Hopefully next year's Jurassic World will continue this tradition and for the first time introduce both young and old to deinos pteros sauros or terrible feathered lizards.

Like Monet and van Gogh, artists like Charles Knight, Zdeněk Burian, Rudolph Zallinger, Doug Henderson, Raúl Martín, Mark Hallett, Gregory Paul, John Gurche, Eleanor Kish, ... should be household names! Accompanying this post is a picture album that contains some of the most important historic paleoart as well as a few works from famous modern and contemporary artists. I've also included quite a few personal favorites but please feel free to point me towards yours!

Wiki - Theropoda
Wiki - Tyrannosauridae
Wiki - Megalosauridae
Wiki - Torvosaurus

Wiki - History of paleontology
Wiki - Georges Cuvier
Wiki - Duria Antiquior
Wiki - Crystal Palace Dinosaurs
Wiki - Cultural depictions of dinosaurs
Wiki - Dinosaur renaissance
Wiki - Paleoart

Quantum Life disentangled

"In this talk titled; how physics can revolutionize biology, Professor Jim Al-Khalili explores how the mysteries of quantum theory might be observable at the biological level.

"Although many examples can be found in the scientific literature dating back half a century, there is still no widespread acceptance that quantum mechanics -- that baffling yet powerful theory of the subatomic world -- might play an important role in biological processes. Biology is, at its most basic, chemistry, and chemistry is built on the rules of quantum mechanics in the way atoms and molecules behave and fit together.

As Jim explains, biologists have until recently been dismissive of counter-intuitive aspects of the theory and feel it to be unnecessary, preferring their traditional ball-and-stick models of the molecular structures of life. Likewise, physicists have been reluctant to venture into the messy and complex world of the living cell - why should they when they can test their theories far more cleanly in the controlled environment of the physics lab?

But now, experimental techniques in biology have become so sophisticated that the time is ripe for testing ideas familiar to quantum physicists. Can quantum phenomena in the subatomic world impact the biological level and be present in living cells or processes - from the way proteins fold or genes mutate and the way plants harness light in photosynthesis to the way some birds navigate using the Earth's magnetic field? All appear to utilize what Jim terms "the weirdness of the quantum world".

The discourse explores multiple theories of quantum mechanics, from superposition to quantum tunneling, and reveals why "the most powerful theory in the whole of science" remains incredibly mysterious."

Al-Khalili begins his talk with a quote from the famous physicist Niels Bohr; "If you are not astonished by quantum mechanics then you have not understood it." In this clip, a small part from the full lecture, he does his best to make clear just why quantum mechanics is so astonishing by digging into the famous double slit experiment. No matter how many times you've come across it, this experiment, the most stunning experiment in all of science, never loses the power to stop you in your tracks by flooding your brain with a torrent of question marks.

Did this talk fire up your appetite for anything and everything that meets at the intersection between quantum physics and biology? Here are some good places to start if you want to go a bit deeper;
  • The Dawn of Quantum Biology
  • In this paper, the authors take a look at a variety of organisms which may be harnessing some of the unique features of quantum mechanics to gain a biological advantage. Including the aviation system used by Robins which is something Al-Khalili also touched upon in his talk.
  • With his 1944 book; What is Life? Erwin Schrödinger was one of the founding fathers of this emerging science. You can read it in full here.

March 17, 2014

Dead Space: Downfall

Downfall, the prequel to Dead Space, explores what went wrong on the USG Ishimura prior to Isaac Clarke's arrival.

March 16, 2014

Halo Legends

A collection of seven short anime films set in the Halo universe.

The Babysitter
A squad of four Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, also known as Helljumpers, is sent into a Covenant zone under the cover of a meteor shower to eliminate a Prophet.

The Duel
Accused of heresy, an alien known as an Arbiter who does not want to follow the Covenant religion is sent into a trap when his wife is endangered.

The Package
A group of Spartans, including John-117, must infiltrate a Covenant fleet of ships in order to retrieve an important "package".

Origins Pt1

Origins Pt2
This two parter details the history of the Halo universe.

The story of Spartan II Daisy-023 and how she learns to deal with her beginnings.

A demolition team known as the Hades Squad, led by a marine sergeant nicknamed Ghost, is tasked with the mission of carrying out the Cole protocol.

Odd One Out

Spartan 1337 finds himself stranded on an alien planet after falling out of his transport ship. There he must battle dinosaur inhabitants along with the latest Covenant weapon known as Pluton.

Halo 4 adds history

Wake up John


UNSC Infinity

Comissioning of the Infinity (Live action)

Opening Cinematic

Final Cinematic

Halo 4: Infinity - Spartan Ops

The fall of Reach

Based on the excellent novel, Halo: Reach chronicles the loss of one of mankind's most important planets.

E3 2009 Teaser

The Birth of a Spartan

Deliver Hope

Halo Wars, ODST & Forward Unto Dawn

Halo Wars Announcement Trailer

Halo Wars Cinematics

We are ODST

Halo Waypoint: Heroes never die.

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn Trailer

Halo 3 expands the Universe

E3 2006 Reveal

Starry Night

Neill Blomkamp delivers Arms Race/Landfall

March 15, 2014

Halo: Believe

Microsoft's truly epic "Believe" marketing campaign for Halo 3 featured this stunning diorama. The fly-through is set to Frédéric Chopin's "Raindrop" Prelude, Op 28, No. 15

In the live action Museum short retired Major Pawel Czernek, a UNSC veteran that fought in the Battle of New Mombasa alongside SPARTAN-117, shares his memories of the inspiring hero.

In "Enemy Weapons" Major Roland Huffman and sergeant Tomas Navarro reflect on their past contact with the covenant when confronted by their weaponry.

In "Hunted" Lieutenant John Tippett is taken to the a location where he once fought the covenant and remembers how they had to go dark and hide from them until dawn.

Lieautenant Niraj Shah recollects how the chief once told him that no soldier should be honored for doing what is expected Gravesite short.

The in-universe making of the John 117 monument.

Deus Ex - Sarif Industries

Sarif is the industry leader in augmentation with a fierce commitment towards providing the most advanced products and developing the most advanced technologies while remaining independent from large corporations that would compromise our ideals. For more information, visit

This next test may involve trace amounts of time travel.

Glados tries her best to explain what the testing initiative entails and below Cave Johnson clarifies how Aperture exploits other universes to make sure they never run out of new tests.

Aperture Investment Opportunities

Cave Johnson breaks it down to the basics.

Aperture Investment Opportunity #1: Panels

Aperture Investment Opportunity #3: Turrets

Aperture Investment Opportunity #4: Boots

Exile Vilify

A little something to make the wait even harder.

A red letter day; November 19, 1998

Happy Birthday Half-Life!

"Time, Dr. Freeman? Is it really that time again? It seems as if you only just arrived."

15 years... Can you believe it?

"Wisely done, Mr. Freeman. I will see you up ahead."

What better way to celebrate that Half-Life turned 15 today than by taking a look at some of the most beautiful fan art the community has spawned? During this decade and a half the community has been very busy indeed. DeviantART, a website where artists mingle, houses more than 50 000 original works inspired by Half-Life! I've tried to gather some of the best, if you are a fan I am sure you'll enjoy these. Check 'em out!

A love letter to Hλlf-Life

Hλlf-Life, the best game ever made (average rating; 96%), showed the world how to do it right. The hero in this game, Gordon Freeman, is a recent MIT graduated theoretical physicist who is tricked into unleashing a "resonance cascade" when something goes horribly wrong during the routine mass spectrometry of a fixed sample. The entire game, from its title to the setting, is a love letter to science and to physics in particular.

The name itself not only refers to an early death, but also to the period of time it takes for the amount of a substance undergoing radioactive decay to decrease by half. The lambda sign in the tile, λ, confirms this because although it points towards the Lambda core, an experimental reactor that plays a large part in the later half of the game, it's also the scientific symbol used to denote the radioactivity decay constant in nuclear physics. This constant is very simply related to the half-life of any radioactive material.

Valve director Gabe Newell himself has confirmed that the name of the character; Freeman, is a homage to the physicist and philosopher Freeman Dyson.

"If anyone can handle this catastrophe, it's the science team in the Lambda Complex"

It portrayed scientists as heroes, out to save the world. Sure, at first sight Gordon might have looked like an unlikely action hero; he has a PhD, wears glasses, wasn't trained in combat, nor did he have the physique to take a beating or the muscles to deal it out... What he does have is brains! Any dumb-ass can swing a crowbar and wear a hazardous environment suit (armor), but it takes a physicist to activate reactor cores, launch intercontinental missiles, clean up radioactive waste, ... It took brains to save the planet.

It's worth noting that all its expansions folow a naming scheme similar to Half-Life; Opposing Force deals with a military strike team that is sent in to silence the science crew, while Blue Shift deals with the late night shift of a security guard. Looks straightforward but both refer to scientific concepts in physics as well. Half-Life's follow up took this love for physics to the next level by introducing a revolutionary physics engine that allowed you to interact with the game world through the use of physics based simulation! Valve really loves physics.

The following is a tribute to the game's opening, and even after 14 years, it still touches upon my heartstrings! I am pretty sure that it helped fire up my interest in physics and for that I will be eternally grateful. It looks a bit dated, but you will forget all about that after 5 minutes of game-time. It's a real classic! If you haven't played it yet, you should give it a shot.

Half-Life 2 E3 2003 Tech Demo

A trip back in time to 2003. IGN's Half-Life 2 Demo Impressions.