February 17, 2016

The information density of one language compared to another

Japanese and Spanish, often described as “fast languages,” clocked the greatest number of syllables per second. The “slowest” language in the set was Mandarin, followed closely by German. An average Spanish syllable conveys only a small quantity of information, contributing just a fragment to the overall meaning of a sentence. In contrast, an individual Mandarin syllable contains a much larger quantity of information, possibly because Mandarin syllables include tones. The upshot is that Spanish and Mandarin actually convey information to listeners at about the same rate. The correlation between speech rate and information density held for five out of seven of the languages studied, and the researchers conjectured that, despite the diversity of languages in the world, over time they all deliver a constant rate of information, possibly tuned to the human perceptual system.


Refraction - The Alphabet from Jesse Zanzinger on Vimeo.


The year is 2065. Thanks to climate change the arctic is one of few places left where it's still relatively easy to live. There the ruling technology giants have built private cities in which they allow the people fortunate enough to work for them to live. It's here we meet the couple Hebe en Ciro whose relation is going through a bit of a rough patch now that Ciro's having a hard time recovering from a serious accident.

Check out the full film here: https://vimeo.com/84637610
Written & Directed by Zac&Mac

How the male Angler Fish gets completely screwed

Nature is known for pulling of some bizarre stunts when it comes to animal reproduction but this one just leaves you scratching your head.


A whole new ball game


"We (IEEE) 've been writing about robots from the Ishikawa Watanabe Laboratory at the University of Tokyo for years. They’ve always had very cool demos, like robots throwing balls, robots tracking balls, robots catching balls, robots hitting balls, and robots running really really fast.

I’d just sort of figured that these demos were simply fun and interesting ways of highlighting the capabilities of high-speed actuators and vision systems.

Evidently, I don’t know anything, because it’s now totally obvious that they’re working on a humanoid robot that plays baseball.

Here’s what the researchers say:

We have been developing robotic systems that individually achieve fundamental actions of baseball, such as throwing, tracking of the ball, batting, running, and catching. We achieved these tasks by controlling high-speed robots based on real-time visual feedback from high-speed cameras. Before integrating these abilities into one robot, we here summarize the technical elements of each task.

“Before integrating these abilities into one robot.” I can’t even put into words how awesome that’s going to be, and putting awesome things into words is (supposedly) my full-time job."


On a related note, just a few days ago the IEEE published this article taking a look at some of the work that goes into creating a robotic hand. http://spectrum.ieee.org/robotics/humanoids/inexpensive-durable-plastic-hands-let-robots-get-a-grip

The Gate

That's one way to get the message across...

The next leap in synthetic life

"It took geneticist Craig Venter 15 years and US$40 million to synthesize the genome of a bacterial parasite. Today, an academic team made up mostly of undergraduate students reports the next leap in synthetic life: the redesign and production of a fully functional chromosome from the baker’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

As a eukaryote, a category that includes humans and other animals, S. cerevisiae has a more complex genome than Venter's parasite. "

“I wasn’t sceptical about whether it could be done,” Boeke says. The question, he explains, was: “How can we make this different from a normal chromosome and put something into it that’s really going to make it worthwhile?”

Nature - First synthetic yeast chromosome revealed

BBC - Scientists hail synthetic chromosome advance

Wiki - Yeast artificial chromosome

Alejandro Jodorowsky's Dune

Even though this film was never actually made, it's built up an impressive reputation none the less. Before the first shot made it to film Jodorowsky had already blown 2 million on its conception. That might sound like a lot but when you realize the roster of talent he had lined up to bring his phonebook sized script to life... It's peanuts. Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Pink Floyd, Mick Jagger, HR Giger, Jean Giraud (Moebius) and yes even David Carradine were all set to contribute their specific talents. It's immensely regrettable that ultimately it all fell apart. Now, decades later, the mother of all unmade movies is getting a fascinating documentary on what was to be and what went wrong.

Facebook's Oculus Acquisition

The Future of VR & the Coming Creative Explosion that Will Birth Our Magnificent Metaverse

Not long ago I wrote about about current VR experiences, about "presence" and about what VR will be like less than 2 years from now. In many ways not much has changed since that post although if you've been following the news, you might just be thinking that the VR dream has been killed in its cradle or even that the earth itself has been torn asunder. I've read a ton of complaints concerning Facebook's gobbling up of Oculus and while some of them have merit, most of them do not. Allow me to explain why I think this storm in a teacup is not likely to take the wind out of Oculus' sails and why the deal with Facebook might actually increase their seaworthiness in such a way that it'll ensure much smoother sailing from here on out.

First and foremost, people who feel betrayed because they had other things in mind for Oculus' future when they helped kickstart it should get off their high horse and stop thinking that just because they contributed Oculus should now follow their lead and long term vision. Contributing to a kickstarter is a donation, not an investment. It does not turn you into a member of their board. Not all projects offer rewards for donating but Oculus did. It was clear from the get-go that the kickstarter was set up to fund devkit 1 and backers got those a long time ago. If we for a second entertain the thought that the funds we managed to gather do count as an investment it still wouldn't count for much. Even before Facebook's 2 billion dollar capital infusion they had already scored 300 million in first and second round VC funding. The 2,4 million kickstarter was always going to be peanuts compared to the budget they were going to have to amass in order to make it to market. We can always be proud of how we helped Oculus make a name for itself, how we helped get the project off the ground, indeed how we helped to kickstart it.

To the people up in arms about how they sold out, I don't think you realize just how much money it takes to get a product from being a prototype into consumers' hands. They had been talking from the start about how their biggest problem was not going to be technology but scaling problems. They know they have a huge market on their hands but You don't get to 500 Million Rifts Without making a few $billion. Billions Oculus did not have. To give you an idea, MS dropped 1 billion on marketing alone for the launch of the Xbox One and hardware costs are even higher. With Facebook stepping in as their sugar daddy, its moneybags have just steamrolled their biggest barrier to market.

Before we tackle the big question; "Why facebook?", we should first take a look at "Why not someone else?". Let's be honest here, someone else would have been either; Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon or maybe but less likely IBM, Samsung & Sony. These usual suspects are the only players because only these tech giants are the ones with enough money, infrastructure, mainstream consumer reach and leverage over hardware manufacturers to actually be able to push VR into the market in a big way. These things are always hush, hush but Oculus has hinted that multiple players were angling for them yet they explicitly chose for Facebook. To understand that you have to look at the big picture and at the strings that would have come attached to any deals they would have struck with the others.

All of them, except Google are less open than facebook. They own their own software ecosystems and stores and would have required Oculus to be locked to the platform they provide. There's no way Apple, Amazon, Microsoft or Sony would have allowed Steam or others to play a big part. Google on the other hand is, like MS, Apple and Sony, likely already working on its own VR hardware in their secretive labs.

"Why would we want to sell to someone like MS or Apple? So they can tear the company apart and use the pieces to build out their own vision of virtual reality, one that fits whatever current strategy they have?" -Palmer Luckey (Oculus Founder)

"We have even more freedom than we had under our investment partners because Facebook is making a long term play on the success of VR, not short-term returns."
"We promise we won't change. If anything, our hardware and software will get even more open, and Facebook is onboard with that."
"Facebook is going to be putting a lot of resources into Oculus going forward, this was not a one-time thing."
"This deal specifically lets us greatly lower the price of the Rift."

"We have not gotten into all the details yet, but a lot of the news is coming. The key points:
1) We can make custom hardware, not rely on the scraps of the mobile phone industry. That is insanely expensive, think hundreds of millions of dollars. More news soon.
2) We can afford to hire everyone we need, the best people that fit into our culture of excellence in all aspects.
3) We can make huge investments in content. More news soon."

"My primary goal is the long term success of VR, not short term warm and fuzzy feelings."-Palmer Luckey (Oculus Founder)

No, to truly understand why Facebook has an interest in the future of VR you have to see the big picture and think a decade ahead. I've seen many gamers complain that because of Facebook, Oculus will no longer be that good for gaming. Someone on reddit; "I don't really care about whatever second life BS Facebook plans to do with VR, I just want the device as new gaming technology." This is, imo, incredibly shortsighted. We hear the same sentiment with every technological convergence. When smartphones were released many were annoyed with the addition of "gimmicks" such as a camera and music player because they took away from what a phone was all about, making calls. When the Xbox-One was released MS took a lot of heat for talking about its mediacenter functionalities. It was supposed to be a gaming device and it playing music and video was going to ruin it. I'll once again quote Luckey to take away some of the fears surrounding the Rift's future as a gaming interface; "Almost everyone at Oculus is a gamer, and virtual reality will certainly be led by the games industry, largely because it is the only industry that already has the talent and tools required to build awesome interactive 3D environments. In the long run, though, there are going to be a lot of other industries that use VR in huge ways." It's wrong to think of VR as just a gaming interface.

Another quote from reddit; "The set of people who buy VR headgear and the set of people who like logging into things via Facebook do not intersect." While this is true today, the same would have at some point been true for every emerging market. If you go back far enough the set of people who bought modems didn't intersect with your average Joe either. Facebook is hoping to create an entirely new market and wants to get in on the ground floor by betting on the future of VR as the next paradigm in interfaces. So why facebook? Social is going to be one of VR's killer apps. Connecting with people and services from all over the world in crazy virtual spaces is what VR is all about. As the hardware shrinks and eyetrackers can be incorporated they'll be able to digitally filter the glasses from our view so that at some point we'll be able to meet face to face in Moe's Tavern, Quark's, Cheers, The Green Dragon Inn, Monk's, Central Perk or any other famous hangout.

It might be hard to envision but in the not so distant future we could be walking down one of Titan's beaches or exploring Jurassic Park with family and friends from all over the world. School children will walk around inside the human body and manipulate the contents of cells in their biology class. Instead of dragging yourself through a crowded store after a long day of work you could make it fun - shop from the privacy of your home with friends in a virtual replica of a store around the corner which you can destroy! Japan has already shown us that teledildonics is likely to revolutionize long distance relationships. One day we might be embodying robots working on asteroids in orbit or performing other dangerous jobs on earth! We won't be just traversing space, 360 degree documentaries and home videos will take us back to moments in time. You could even visit ancient Greece if you are willing to settle for a simulation. Tourism, Healthcare, Transport, Defense, Education, Entertainment, ... There is not a single industry that doesn't have the potential to be touched by this technology.

Both the Oculus founders as well as the Zuck himself have read Snow Crash, Neuromancer, Ready Player One, ... That is the end game, that is what they are going for. The first iterations of the rift will be gaming peripherals but Luckey talks about VR as a platform. A platform that will enable all sorts of experiences that will go way beyond gaming. If you've read those books you know that the end game plays out in the metaverse. They do not hide this, this is what they ultimately hope to create. What is the metaverse? "A collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet." Imagine worlds beyond worlds, new worlds, old worlds, worlds with and without rules, worlds grounded in reality or fiction, shopping worlds, business worlds, entertainment worlds, private worlds, personal worlds, ... Think of an advanced version of minecraft on a scale beyond what you can really fathom. One day virtual reality will harbor more worlds than there are grains of sand on all our beaches.

Those many earths as well as those many other planets that might not even obey the laws of physics will require stable servers for their continued existence. A globe spanning metaverse can only run on truly massive infrastructure. There are only a few players that might one day be capable of providing that. Facebook has already done some amazing work in infrastructure R&D and with initiatives like its OpenCompute project, has an excellent reputation when it comes to open source development. They actually have a real shot at making this happen. Rome wasn't built in a day. As long as humanity remains creative, the metaverse will keep on expanding. A hundred years from now historians will look back upon this moment in time and describe it in terms almost similar to how we describe the Big Bang. Worlds will explode into being, birthed by code and artistry, never ending creation will radiate outwards across multiple dimensions in digital space.

So far I've only talked about the complaints that don't have merit but I've also said that there are some worries that do. Those are, of course, privacy and ads. Now personally I am not really worried about ads. VR is all about immersion, they are not going to break that spell by interrupting a user's VR experience with pop-up ads. Facebook is smart enough not to shoot itself in the foot like that. That being said, they have no real control over content but just like gamemakers today can get money for incorporating ads into their games, so too will gamemakers of the future and if those games that do this run on servers hosted by facebook, they could take a percentage on the revenue they generate. This is no different from today, we will have to punish game creators that take this too far. If facebook does end up injecting ads it will likely be into a dashboard launcher similar to the Xbox. Sure it sucks but it's no dealbreaker. Considering the Rift has sworn allegiance to the open source community and has more in common with a pc than a console, it's likely that both alternative launchers as well as adblockers will be available even before launch.

Now what I am most worried about is privacy. I can imagine that all sorts of for profit entities are getting excited just thinking about persistent virtual spaces and perhaps even more so when thinking about eyetrackers, a technology with huge benefits for VR & AR experiences. It's easy to imagine a dystopian future where ads are forced upon you because they pause when you are not looking but that's nothing compared to what kind of information you could datamine from such devices. You would no longer have to press the like button, they would know by tracking what gets your attention and for how long. Such technology is not inherently bad, it could be used for good if it assists the user, but we all know that today this is not the case as it just gets sold to companies who hope to financially exploit it by knowing who to target when and with which ads to bombard them. Not to mention that even today non commercial entities like the NSA have access to this data as well and god know's what they are doing with it or will do with it in the future.

I am most definitely worried about that, and definitely don't think these worries should be swept under the rug but I do believe it's somewhat premature to be screaming that the sky is caving in on us just yet. The first few iterations of the Rift consumer version are pretty much guaranteed to be completely Facebook free so it's really only something we'll have to worry about further down the road. If Facebook does ever become invasive, we should drop it right there and then. By then others will have noticed just how big this market is so by that time we might have alternatives to choose from. I am willing to cut Facebook some slack here because there is no reason why Facebook, like Google, can't pivot and morph into something much bigger than social and ads.

Although Facebook's current business model is based on ads and selling user information, it doesn't have to be that way for VR and the Oculus Rift. Now it's only normal that when thinking of VR's future in Facebook's hands, people simply extend its current monetization schemes but for FB, taking that route would be a pretty stupid move. VR is something completely new and should be approached with an open mind if anyone wants to see where new revenue streams are going to be found. Attracting business or partnering with event organizers could earn them a hell of a lot more than ads. Imagine facebook running virtual replicas of stores on their servers and taking a percentage of every good sold through them. Imagine them emulating steam, allowing users to sell their content to each other and skimming a percentage off of those transactions. Think about how much money they would make teaming up with the IOC and selling front row seats for the Olympic games. They could put you on the stage next to your favorite artist or give you a ride on a rocket to orbit.

We should at least wait to boo it off the stage until we really know what we are booing at and not kill it before it's even left the starting gate.

As Zuckerberg said in their investors call; "Gaming is just the start. After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court-side seatat a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world, consulting with a doctor face to face, or going shopping in a virtualstore where you can touch and explore the products you're interested in."
"We still have a lot of work to do on mobile, but at this point we feel strong enough in our position that strategically we also want to start focusingon building the next major computing platform that will come after mobile."
"Today's acquisition is a long-term bet on the future of computing."
"This is really a new social platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imaginesharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures. These are just some of the potential use cases."
"If you think about the social applications alone, this can change the way we communicate with our friends, families and colleagues. Little detailslike being able to make eye contact with someone with zero latency makes you feel like you're really present together."

The team over at Oculus had this to share; "Mark and his team share our vision for virtual reality’s potential to transform the way we learn, share, play, and communicate."
"This partnership is one of the most important moments for virtual reality: it gives us the best shot at truly changing the world."

Facebook has more than 1 billion active users. For Oculus, in many ways this was not a sell out but a market buy-in.

Oculus has assembled a dream team of code wizards and hardware visionaries. They already had John Carmack on board, one of the founders of Id and the creator of games like Doom and Quake, a true industry legend and now, just days after the facebook acquisition, they've scored another legendary heavyweight coder with Michael Abrash. Because of all the groundbreaking stuff these guys have developed in the past, they are pretty much swimming in it. In their spare time they launch rockets for their privately funded Armadillo Aerospace company and not long ago they won the Level One Lunar Lander X-Prize Challenge. These guys are no longer working for the money, they follow their heart. They've been talking about VR for decades and really do want to see it succeed. To finish off this post, I'll let Abrash do the talking.

The Path to the Metaverse

"Sometime in 1993 or 1994, I read Snow Crash, and for the first time thought something like the Metaverse might be possible in my lifetime."
"We're on the cusp of what I think is not The Next Big Platform, but rather simply The Final Platform – the platform to end all platforms."
"The final piece of the puzzle fell into place on Tuesday. A lot of what it will take to make VR great is well understood at this point, so it's engineering, not research; hard engineering, to be sure, but clearly within reach. However, it's expensive engineering. And, of course, there's also a huge amount of research to do once we reach the limits of current technology, and that's not only expensive, it also requires time and patience – fully tapping the potential of VR will take decades. That's why I've written before that VR wouldn't become truly great until some company stepped up and invested the considerable capital to build the right hardware – and that it wouldn't be clear that it made sense to spend that capital until VR was truly great. I was afraid that that Catch-22 would cause VR to fail to achieve liftoff.

That worry is now gone. Facebook's acquisition of Oculus means that VR is going to happen in all its glory. The resources and long-term commitment that Facebook brings gives Oculus the runway it needs to solve the hard problems of VR – and some of them are hard indeed. I now fully expect to spend the rest of my career pushing VR as far ahead as I can.

It's great to be working with John (Carmack) again after all these years, and with that comes a sense of deja vu. It feels like it did when I went to Id, but on steroids – this time we're working on technology that will change not just computer gaming, but potentially how all of us interact with computers, information, and each other every day. I think it's going to be the biggest game-changer I've ever seen – and I've seen quite a lot over the last 57 years.

I can't wait to see how far we can take it."

Warner Bros. bought the film rights for Ready Player One. “They’ll need to hurry up and make it while it’s still science fiction,” -its author, Ernest Cline, after having experienced the latest Rift prototype. - http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2014/03/28/ready-player-one-author-ernest-cline-believes-in-facebooks-oculus/


February 16, 2016


This disturbing short imagines a world in which Google Glass-inspired apps are everywhere.

Directe by Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo,

As machines get smarter, evidence grows that they learn like us

It's a long read (5 pages) but if you are interested in the history and future of neural networks and machine intelligence it's most definitely worth your time. https://www.simonsfoundation.org/quanta/20130723-as-machines-get-smarter-evidence-they-learn-like-us/ - You can find a collection of interesting bits from the article below but you might want to check it out in full.

Studies suggest that computer models called neural networks may learn to recognize patterns in data using the same algorithms as the human brain.

One of the most promising of these algorithms, the Boltzmann machine, bears the name of 19th century Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, who developed the branch of physics dealing with large numbers of particles, known as statistical mechanics. Boltzmann discovered an equation giving the probability of a gas of molecules having a particular energy when it reaches equilibrium. Replace molecules with neurons, and the Boltzmann machine, as it fires, converges on exactly the same equation.

Each virtual synapse tracks both sets of statistics. If the neurons it connects fire in close sequence more frequently when driven by data than when they are firing randomly, the weight of the synapse is increased by an amount proportional to the difference. But if two neurons more often fire together during random firing than data-driven firing, the synapse connecting them is too thick and consequently is weakened.

Neural networks have recently hit their stride thanks to Hinton’s layer-by-layer training regimen, the use of high-speed computer chips called graphical processing units, and an explosive rise in the number of images and recorded speech available to be used for training. The networks can now correctly recognize about 88 percent of the words spoken in normal, human, English-language conversations, compared with about 96 percent for an average human listener. They can identify cars and thousands of other objects in images with similar accuracy and in the past three years have come to dominate machine learning competitions.

Adult brains are less malleable than juvenile ones, much as a Boltzmann machine trained with 100,000 car images won’t change much upon seeing another: Its synapses already have the correct weights to categorize a car. And yet, learning never ends. New information can still be integrated into the structure of both brains and Boltzmann machines.

studies of brain activity during sleep have provided some of the first direct evidence that the brain employs a Boltzmann-like learning algorithm in order to integrate new information and memories into its structure. Neuroscientists have long known that sleep plays an important role in memory consolidation, helping to integrate newly learned information. In 1995, Hinton and colleagues proposed that sleep serves the same function as the baseline component of the algorithm, the rate of neural activity in the absence of input.

The easiest way for the brain to run the Boltzmann algorithm, he said, is to switch from beefing synapses up during the day to whittling them down during the night. Giulio Tononi, head of the Center for Sleep and Consciousness at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has found that gene expression inside synapses changes in a way that supports this hypothesis: Genes involved in synaptic growth are more active during the day, and those involved in synaptic pruning are more active during sleep.

A Boltzmann-like algorithm may be only one of many that the brain employs to tweak its synapses. In the 1990s, several independent groups developed a theoretical model of how the visual system efficiently encodes the flood of information striking the retina. The theory held that a process similar to image compression called “sparse coding” took place in the lowest layers of the visual cortex, making later stages of the visual system more efficient.

The model’s predictions are gradually passing more and more stringent experimental tests. In a paper published in PLOS Computational Biology in May, computational neuroscientists in the United Kingdom and Australia found that when neural networks using an algorithm for sparse coding called Products of Experts, invented by Hinton in 2002, are exposed to the same abnormal visual data as live cats (for example, the cats and neural networks both see only striped images), their neurons develop almost exactly the same abnormalities.

The human brain, of course, remains much more complicated than any of the models; it is larger, denser, more efficient, more interconnected, has more complex neurons — and juggles several algorithms simultaneously. Olshausen has estimated that we understand only 15 percent of the activity in the visual cortex. Although the models are making progress, neuroscience is still “a bit like physics before Newton,” he said. Still, he is confident that the process of building on these algorithms may one day explain the ultimate riddle of the brain — how sensory data gets transformed into a subjective awareness of reality.

The Theory of Interstellar Trade

Paul Krugman, a nobel prize winning economist, took it upon himself to figure out how interstellar trade might work in practice. Scientific American wrote a short summary on some of the peculiar finds to come out of his thought experiment. Krugman argues that it's highly unlikely that in a thriving interstellar economy a market for physical goods would ever exist. Since Physicalities are pretty much universal so it wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to ship matter from one solar system to another considering they would already have the same matter at the receiving end. Why would they invest all that time and energy when it would be so much easier to just transmit the blueprints of their goods as electromagnetic radiation? With this in mind Krugman estimates that the backbone of interstellar trade will be made up of markets dealing in ideas, software, math, scientific theories, literature, music, biological and mechanical designs, ...


He concludes that we might have been unwittingly giving away our most valuable assets for free during the past century! Radio shows, TV shows, all manner of communications have been spewing outwards into interstellar space – at least for a few decades, before we started adopting low-power digital transmissions and dimmed the signal. Have we messed up our cosmic economic future? Perhaps not. We may have unwittingly invented the freemium sales model long before we used the term. There could be billions of sentient beings out there hanging on our every word, every second of Happy Days re-runs and knife-set infomercials. Now we just have to figure out how to get them to pay for upgraded service."

Quantum computing language "Quipper" is no joke

"Quantum software has finally left the dark ages with the creation of the first practical, high-level programming language for quantum computers. Although today's devices are not ready for most practical applications, the language, called Quipper, could guide the design of these futuristic machines, as well as making them easier to program when they do arrive.

Quipper's creation was funded by IARPA, the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, in order to pin down how many bits a quantum computer would need in order to outperform a classical one on certain tasks. Writing programs in Quipper makes the hardware requirements of an algorithm clearer and that has already led to some surprises. "*It will take a lot more resources than people had thought*," says Selinger, who can't talk about specific results.

He expects that with advances in engineering, such as reducing noise, the number of qubits necessary for a practical quantum computer will decrease over time. - The team made their estimates based on various existing forms of quantum hardware, including devices that use ion traps and photons.However, they did not include the only quantum computer in the market today, the D-wave computer. It uses a novel approach called adiabatic quantum computing and so is not currently compatible with Quipper."

Quipper is an embedded, scalable functional programming language for quantum computing. It provides, among other things:
• A high-level circuit description language. This includes gate-by-gate descriptions of circuit fragments, as well as powerful operators for assembling and manipulating circuits.
• A monadic semantics, allowing for a mixture of procedural and declarative programming styles.
• Built-in facilities for automatic synthesis of reversible quantum circuits, including from classical code.
• Support for hierarchical circuits.
• Extensible quantum data types.
• Programmable circuit transformers.
• Support for three execution phases: compile time, circuit generation time, and circuit execution time. A dynamic lifting operation to allow circuit generation to be parametric on values generated at circuit execution time.
• Extensive libraries of quantum functions, including: libraries for quantum integer and fixed-point arithmetic; the Quantum Fourier transform; an efficient Qram implementation; libraries for simulation of pseudo-classical circuits, Stabilizer circuits, and arbitrary circuits; libraries for exact and approximate decomposition of circuits into specific gate sets.

The Quipper distribution also includes implementations of seven non-trivial quantum algorithms from the literature:
• Childs et al.'s Boolean Formula algorithm.
• Childs et al.'s quantum walk algorithm on Binary Welded Trees.
• Hallgren's Class Number algorithm.
• Whitfield et al.'s Ground State Estimation algorithm.
• Harrow et al.'s Quantum Linear Systems algorithm.
• Magniez et al.'s Triangle Finding algorithm.
• Regev and Kuperberg's Unique Shortest Vector algorithm.

> http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23820-new-language-helps-quantum-coders-build-killer-apps.html
> http://www.mathstat.dal.ca/~selinger/quipper/
> http://arxiv.org/abs/1304.3390
> http://arxiv.org/abs/1304.5485

Compartmentalized granular gases

Devaraj van der Meer has been studying granular matter and fluid physics for over a decade and in the process, he's exposing their beauty for all to see. You can find a ton of aesthetically pleasing clips on his website; http://stilton.tnw.utwente.nl/people/devaraj/research.html

Excited granular matter is a rich pattern-forming system. The un-mixing or segregation of unlike grains under vibration and flow is a good example and one you might know from the so-called Brazil nut effect where Brazil nuts rise to the top of a packet of mixed nuts when shaken.The cause of this effect is that when shaken, granular (and some other) materials move in a circular pattern. some larger materials (Brazil nuts) get stuck while going down the circle and therefore stay on the top.

Clip below; What started out as a high-school demonstration of the equipartition of gases turned into a prime example of symmetry breaking: When a container, separated int two by a wall, is filled with glass beads and shaken mildly, the beads spontaneously cluster into one of the two compartments. This can be explained from the inelastic collisions between the particles: If one of the compartments, by chance, contains more particles, more energy is lost, particles become slower and jump less easily over the wall. Due to this snowball effect the dense compartment becomes even denser and the dilute one more dilute, until a dynamical equilibrium sets in.

Granular eruptions- Void collapse & Jet Formations - Youtube

Collapse of non-axisymmetric cavities - Youtube

Faraday, Jets, and Sand - Youtube

Leaping shampoo and the stable Kaye effect - Youtube

The Congress

Wow. No words to describe it. They should've sent a poet. In this "documentary", Robin Wright, who you might know as The Princess Bride or Jenny from Forrest Gump, plays herself. She is now over 40, her career is running to an end and she accepts or gets pressured into accepting one last contract from MiraMount. In exchange for a large payout, the studio gets to use a virtual copy of her in any manner they see fit.

I am going to cut it there cause really, the less you know, the better. Suffice to say that this is just the tip of the iceberg and that events set in motion by the description above will have consequences far beyond any one person. The film is very loosely based on a story from Stanislaw Lem and has been criticized for not sticking to the source material but personally I am glad that they decided to add and spin so much that you end up with something almost completely new.

The Congress couldn't be any more different from Ari Folman's previous theatrical release, "Waltz With Bashir", the both thematically and visually dark documentary on the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Instead, The Congress is a vibrant explosion of colorful imagination. About the only thing that stayed the same is the mix of live action and powerful animation. Harvey Keitel and Paul Giamatti add a bunch of class to the live action and the animation, probably some of the best I've ever seen, really doesn't need any help.

I don't want to create impossible expectations but for me this is the most fun I've had in the cinema since The Tree of Life. No, this is not 2001: A Space Odyssey but it is the sort of film that takes many liberties with story and pacing, more concerned with making you think about a variety of interpretations than telling a sharply defined completely coherent story, although there are some of those too. Some aspects don't make sense and would look like plot holes in any other film but I am willing to forgive here simply because it feels right here. Dreams, different realities and the truth are things you can play with. I'll save the spoilers for when the rest of the world gets to see it.

This is not something everyone will enjoy but I am pretty sure that anyone who sees it is unlikely to forget it any time soon.


I love films that introduce a ton of dots and then leave it up to you which ones you want to connect and what their relationship should be. The Congress contains a stunning amount of layers and can be interpreted in many different ways. The open and at times almost lucid dream like approach to everything from narrative to visuals and sound sure makes it hard to put into words what you think you saw. There are single scenes that contain so much meaningful background porn that I could fill a page on them. Although the animation might not be for everyone, I think it looks great. There's also Max Richter's hauntingly beautiful score which adds another few gigatons of emotion and all this truly adds up to an enormous explosion out of leftfield. Amazingly it didn't make much noise upon arrival but I am pretty sure that, as we go forward, it will be cherished by its ever growing audience.

Now for some more meaty thoughts; This review will be as disjointed as the film so I am just going to throw out a bunch of random thoughts, make of them what you will.

One of my favorite characters was Jeff, the head of MiraMount. Originally, during the live action part, most of the stuff that comes out of his mind is prophetic, as we move into the animated zone he becomes more of a prophet of doom and ultimately an instigator of said doom. The way he says "this is not science fiction, it's a documentary" about Triple R (Robyn's SF film) which also pointed back to the live action (today) really drives home that the first half hour of the Congress is reality today. The next half hour we move into the near future with Ms. Wright's scan becoming the focal point through which we ultimately get to see the birth of a new world.

Each time she meets Jeff, the Miramax head, he shakes up the world. The embodiment of blind, profit driven disruption, the kind that places dollar signs above life and creativity? The first time they meet he tells her that actors of flesh and blood are a thing of the past, the second time they meet, he's moved a level up, now it's no longer just the actors that get scanned but also the environments which means most people are let go because they no longer need a set crew, make up artists, lighting experts, designers, prop makers, ... Their next meeting takes place in the animated zone. The consequences of his disruptive actions are becoming far more severe. MiraMount has spread its tentacles to other industries and thanks to the development of a new drug the magic of cinema has left the big screen and entered the real world. This new drug seems to take over the interface between sensory input and experience and allows the traversing signals to be modulated. It conjures up vivid and realistic hallucinations which allow consistent and even shared alternate realities. First the drug was rigidly defined and its effects limited in time but as research progressed the drug became more potent, ultimately allowing users to take control over their hallucinations which sets them free but disastrously also closes the feedback loop between want and get with enormous consequences. The last time Wright meets Jeff, he has basically fired everyone that had anything to do with movies. He's still in entertainment but now only sells drugs or "experiences". Things take a turn for the worse when MiraMount starts losing control over its product and global unrest sparks violence.

Ultimately we end up in what I would describe as something similar to a post singularity environment. When the world goes almost completely animated and everyone can be whoever they want to be and do whatever they want to do. What you think is what you get. That in The Congress this is achieved through controllable hallucinogenics doesn't matter much as the result is pretty much indistinguishable from digital reality substitution, programmable matter or a virtual life. The parallels you can draw between these approaches can be quite surprising. In all these worlds the lag time between imagination and instantiation is basically zero.

Some more thoughts;

The Wright family, thanks to Aaron's disease was the first one that really learned to fly? I have the feeling that there is more to the wright/flyers/Wright brothers connection but I'll probably have to see it again to unravel that further.

The animated zone as a liberal offshore island.

Can you be yourself as someone else? If you relive someone else's entire life, how much of the original you would be left?

Do you take the red pill or the blue pill? Here the pill is chemical instead of digital in nature but here too you could very much hold the opinion that life inside beats the Zion outside.

Does her animator know more about herself than she does?

Should the human race die happy or should we toil in misery? It almost looks like mankind has collectively decided to euthanize itself in the most painless way possible.

Alternatively, are we simply machines that got tricked and manipulated by chemicals to willingly and happily engineer our own demise?

I also really liked how they introduced Aaron and his "illness". Giamatti doesn't yet know how right he is when he says of him that he was born before his time. His condition could be seen as an evolutionary step up because in many ways his mind functions similarly to those who later on end up taking the drug. Before the "singularity" he heard what he wanted to hear and was wrong, after the "singularity" he really hears what he wants to hear and becomes "wright"?

It's not explicitly stated but I can imagine that Aaron would be much better adapted to living a life in a world you shape yourself compared to living a life in the world forced upon him in which he grew up. After taking the drug his condition is likely to work in symbiosis with the drug, boosting his ability to perceive creatively, to play with what is real, to new heights.

It's especially interesting to connect his "illness" with a statement from Jeff who at one point says we make movies so we don't have to read books. The less information you get, the more blanks you fill in yourself which is what makes a story more personal. In this sense a movie is a pre-chewed book, largely the same for everyone who lays eyes upon it. Aaron has the ability to always spin his surroundings and experience into something uniquely personal so for him every movie and life itself will likely be about airplanes or something he cares about. In many ways it's a biological analogue for the digital filter bubble. It comes with both pros and cons.

I could talk about this flick for hours and hours. There are many other dots I haven't pointed at yet, like the meaning of identity in a world where it can be copied and replicated to someone else, but likely you've connected your dots a bit or completely differently so first I want to hear your side.

Nuclear man; the humane power station

Der Mensch als Industriepalast [Man as Industrial Palace]

Heart Work

Fuel pulses through the veins,
heat radiates from our brains.

Energy stored in liquid gold,
yet how do we get a hold?

For fuel to go from heat to speed,
you must extract the work you need.

You'll have to rev up your old engine,
pump up muscle to feel the tension.

Information travels down the nerves,
extracted from someone else's curves.

When the heart grows fond of fine,
boot up your new production line.

As fusion stokes the hottest fire,
no doubt consequences will be dire.

Coolant helps keep the temper down,
try to not grow critical on your town.

Let off some steam, recharge your batteries,
People say that the wheels inside our heads spin until the gears click... Wouldn't that mean we think on rails, making it impossible to think outside the box? Man as a machine is not a piece of clunky hardware. We are not toasters. Toasters make bread taste better, we turn bread to shit. Are we an example of functional design because so many of us are giant assholes?

To glow sickly, making people ill or to shine brightly, empowering others? It sounds like an easy choice but it isn't. There are peaks and valleys that must be scaled, and not all minds are capable of conquering them without help. We all transform beauty into shit through our energy extraction but is entropy++ worth it? Do we make good use of the useful energy we suck out of the system? If you are going to create or contribute to an electrically charged atmosphere, make sure to add positive charge. Always being a negative nancy diminishes potential.

Video below;
"The Engineers at the Nuclear Engineering Teaching Lab (NETL) at UT Austin demonstrate a reactor pulse.

All the Control Rods are removed simultaneously allowing the nuclear reaction to proceed un-dampened, bringing the energy output of the reactor to 680 Megawatts in 50 milliseconds." - http://nuclear.engr.utexas.edu/

In case you are wondering where that mysterious blue light is coming from; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherenkov_radiation

In memory of Merrin*: An education in P2P

MVGroup is a BitTorrent tracker and file sharing community that specializes in the distribution of educational media, especially documentaries. MVGroup was established in 2002 by "Merrin" and "DarkRain" (Vittorio in those days, hence MVGroup) as a DVD-ripping-and-distributing group for the eDonkey file-sharing network, and the group continues to distribute DVD rips and TV rips on both eDonkey and BitTorrent. It has continued functioning since its establishment except for a short-lived April 2008 outage caused by an error from an anti-piracy group.

On May 5, 2008, "Merrin", the co-founder of the tracker died of undisclosed long-term health problems at the age of 31. By the time of his death, MVGroup had gained over 150,000 members, and has continued to set itself apart from larger trackers, such as The Pirate Bay, by focusing on documentaries and educational material only.

In my humble opinion these are some of the best documentaries out there. If you are looking for more information on any of these you can find it at http://www.docuwiki.net. Read carefully the linked page and you'll find nirvana. ;)

Exact Science
Absolute Zero - BBC (series, 2 episodes)
Light Fantastic - BBC (series, 4 episodes)
Atom - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Time - BBC (series, 4 episodes)
Shock and Awe - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Everything and Nothing - BBC (series, 2 episodes)
Order and Disorder - BBC (series, 2 episodes)
Invisible Worlds - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
The Fabric of the Cosmos - PBS (series, 4 episodes)
Elegant Universe - PBS NOVA (series, 3 episodes)
Hunting the Elements - PBS NOVA
The Secret Life of Chaos - BBC
The Big Bang Machine - BBC
Feynman: Fun to Imagine - BBC
Do You Know What Time it is? - BBC Horizon
How Long is a Piece of String? - BBC Horizon
What is Reality? - BBC Horizon
What is One Degree? - BBC Horizon
To Infinity and Beyond - BBC Horizon
What Happened Before the Big Bang - BBC Horizon
What on Earth is wrong with Gravity - BBC Horizon
Is Everything we Know about the Universe Wrong? - BBC Horizon
The End of God - BBC Horizon
Parallel Universes - BBC Horizon
Can We Make a Star on Earth? - BBC Horizon
Molecules with Sunglasses - BBC Horizon
Nanotopia - BBC Horizon

The Shape of Life - PBS NOVA (series, 8 episodes)
Evolution - PBS NOVA (series, 7 episodes)
How to Grow a Planet - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Becoming Human - PBS NOVA (series, 3 episodes)
The Origins of Us - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Inside the Human Body (series, 4 episodes)
Into the Mind - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Superhuman - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
Brain Story - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
The Brain: A Secret History - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Human Sensens - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
How to Build a Human - BBC (series, 4 episodes)
First Life - BBC (series, 2 episodes)
Wonders of Life - BBC (series, 5 episodes)
Secret Universe: The Hidden Life of the Cell - BBC (docu-film)
The Secrets of the Mind - PBS NOVA
Is Seeing Believing? - BBC Horizon
The Ghost in Your Genes - BBC Horizon
Fix Me - BBC Horizon
How Does Your Memory Work - BBC Horizon
Mad but Glad - BBC Horizon
Don't Grow Old - BBC Horizon
Are We Still Evolving? - BBC Horizon
The Secret You - BBC Horizon
The Secret Life of your Body Clock - BBC Horizon
Living Forever - BBC Horizon
The Nine Months That Made You - BBC Horizon
Why Do Viruses Kill? - BBC Horizon
Designer Babies - BBC Horizon
What Makes Us Clever? A Horizon Guide to Intelligence - BBC
Do You See What I See? - BBC Horizon
Playing God - BBC Horizon

Time Machine - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Earth, the Power of the Planet - BBC (series, 5 episodes)
Journeys from the Center of the Earth - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
Earth Story - BBC (series, 8 episodes)
Journeys into the Ring of Fire (series, 4 episodes)
The Beauty of Maps - BBC (series, 4 episodes)
How the Earth Was Made - History Channel (series, 2 seasons)
Cloudspotting - BBC
Snowball Earth - BBC Horizon
The Core - BBC Horizon
IMAX - Journey to Amazing Caves (docu-film)

The Planets - BBC (series, 8 episodes)
Stephen Hawking's Universe - Discovery (series, 6 episodes)
Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking - Discovery (series, 3 episodes)
How the Universe Works - Discovery (series, 8 episodes)
The Universe - History Channel (series, 5 seasons)
Known Universe - NGC (series, 6 episodes)
Wonders of the Solar System - BBC (series, 5 episodes)
Wonders of the Universe - BBC (series, 4 episodes)
Space - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
The Search For Life: The Drake Equation - BBC
Titan A Place Like Home - BBC Horizon
Bye Bye Planet Pluto - BBC Horizon
The Death Star - BBC Horizon
The Hawking Paradox - BBC Horizon
Titan, A Place Like Home? - BBC Horizon
Supermassive Black Holes - BBC Horizon
Lost Horizons: The Big Bang - BBC Horizon
Most of Our Universe Is Missing - BBC Horizon
Seeing Stars - BBC Horizon
Are We Alone in the Universe? - BBC Horizon
Death Of The Universe - NGC
Origins - PBS Nova (series, 4 episodes)
Welcome To Mars - PBS Nova
Voyage To The Mystery Moon - PBS Nova
Journey to the Edge of the Universe - NGC (docu-film)
IMAX - Space Station (docu-film)
IMAX - Hubble (docu-film)

Private Life of Plants - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
Life in the Undergrowth - BBC (series, 5 episodes)
Nature's Great Events - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
Frozen Planet - BBC (series, 7 episodes)
The Blue Planet - BBC (series, 8 episodes)
Planet Earth - BBC (series, 11 episodes)
Human Planet - BBC (series, 8 episodes)
EarthFlight - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
Great Barrier Reef - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Madagascar - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Galápagos - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Yellowstone - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Wild China - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
Wild Pacific - BBC (series, 5 episodes)
Ganges - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Africa - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
Life - BBC (series, 10 episodes)
Life on Earth - BBC (series, 13 episodes)
The Living Planet - BBC (series, 12 episodes)
The Trials of Life - BBC (series, 12 episodes)
Life in the Freezer - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
The Life of Birds - BBC (series, 10 episodes)
The Life of Mammals - BBC (series, 10 episodes)
Life in Cold Blood - BBC (series, 5 episodes)
Wild Sex - NGC (series, 6 episodes)
March of the Penguins (docu-film)
Microcosmos (docu-film)

The Ascent of Man - BBC (series, 10 episodes)
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage - PBS (series, 14 episodes)
The Day the Universe Changed - BBC (series, 10 episodes)
The Story of Science: Power, Proof and Passion - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
The Human Animal - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
The Incredible Human Journey - BBC (series, 5 episodes)
How Earth Made Us - BBC (series, 5 episodes)
Chemistry, a Volatile History - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
The Story of Maths - BBC (series, 4 episodes)
The Code - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Visions of the Future - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Connections - BBC (series, 3 seasons)
Swarm - BBC (series, 2 episodes)
Dara Ó Briain's Science Club - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
Brave New World - Channel 4 (series, 5 episodes)
Through the Wormhole - Discovery (series, 4 seasons)
NatureTech (series, 3 episodes)
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (Richard Feynman)
How to Build a Bionic Man - Channel 4
Explosions, How we Shook the World - BBC
Afterlife: The Strange Science of Decay - BBC
The Voice - BBC
The Satellite Story - BBC
The Story of One - BBC
Stuff: A Horizon Guide to Materials - BBC
The Hunt for AI - BBC Horizon
Diamond Labs - BBC Horizon
Fermat's Last Theorem - BBC Horizon
Who's Afraid of Designer Babies? - BBC Horizon
The Lost World of Lake Vostok - BBC Horizon
Human v2.0 - BBC Horizon
Moon for Sale - BBC Horizon
The Boy Who Was Turned into a Girl - BBC Horizon
Alien Planet - Discovery (docu-film)
Home (docu-film)

The World at War - (series, 26 episodes)
Weird Weapons - History Channel (series, 2 episodes)
Atlantic convoys - War at Sea (series, 4 episodes)
Apocalypse: The Second World War (series, 6 episodes)
Last Voices of WWI - History Channel (series, 6 episodes)
Fog of War (docu-film)
Nuit et brouillard - Night and Fog (docu-short)
Hearts and Minds (docu-film)
Restrepo (docu-film)
Armadillo (docu-film)
Trinity and Beyond (docu-film)

[Prehistory & earlier]

Walking with Sea Monsters - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Walking with Monsters - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Walking with Dinosaurs - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
Walking with Beasts - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
Walking with Cavemen - BBC (series, 4 episodes)
The Mystery Of The Jurassic - BBC Horizon
Stone Age Columbus - BBC Horizon
The Day The Earth Almost Died - BBC Horizon

[Politics & Economics]
Commanding Heights - PBS NOVA (series, 3 episodes)
The Ascent of Money - (series, 6 episodes)
How Britain Made the Modern World - (series, 6 episodes)
In Europe (series, 30 episodes)
Frontline - PBS (series, 30 seasons)
The Love of Money - BBC
Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky (docu-film)
Rebel with a Pause - Noam Chomsky (docu-film)
Inside Job (docu-film)
Nostalgia for the Light (docu-film)
Chavez: Inside the Coup (docu-film)
Taxi to the dark side (docu-film)
Taking liberties (docu-film)
Crude (docu-film)
Globalization is Good (docu-film)
The Corporation (docu-film)
Wal-mart: the High Cost of Low Price (docu-film)
Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room (docu-film)

[Mixed subject]
Civilization - BBC (series, 13 episodes)
The Virtual Revolution - BBC (series, 4 episodes)
Science and Islam - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
Fry's Planet Word - BBC (series, 6 episodes)
Human, All Too Human - BBC (series, 3 episodes)
The NASA Missions : When We Left Earth - Discovery (series, 6 episodes)
Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends - (series, 3 seasons)
When Louis Met... - (series, 2 seasons)
Up - (series, 7 docu-films)
The Boy With the Incredible Brain
N is a Number
The Century of the Self (series, 4 episodes)
Guns, Germs and Steel - PBS (series, 3 episodes)
Transcendent Man (docu-film)
We Live in Public (docu-film)
Lake of Fire (docu-film)
Into Eternity (docu-film)
Titicut Follies (docu-film)
Rise of the Drones - PBS NOVA
Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple - PBS
The Machine That Made Us - BBC
A War On Science: Intelligent Design - BBC Horizon
Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires - (docu-film)
All Watched over by Machines of Loving Grace - BBC (series, 3 episodes)

[Special cases]
Koyaanisqatsi (docu-film)
Powaqqatsi (docu-film)
Naqoyqatsi (docu-film)
Chronos (docu-film)
Baraka (docu-film)
Samsara (docu-film)
51 Birch Street (docu-film)
Our Daily Bread (docu-film)
Rivers and Tides (docu-film)
Encounters at the End of the World (docu-film)
Dark Side of the Moon (docu-film, don't research it (spoilers!) just watch!)

I'd also like to stress that BBC Horizon, now into its 49th season is prolly the best docu seriess of all time. I could just as well have included every single episode.

February 15, 2016

The Girl Who Turned to Bone

An excellent article from the atlantic on Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, written by Carl Zimmer.

When Jeannie Peeper was born in 1958, there was only one thing amiss: her big toes were short and crooked. Doctors fitted her with toe braces and sent her home. Two months later, a bulbous swelling appeared on the back of Peeper’s head. Her parents didn’t know why: she hadn’t hit her head on the side of her crib; she didn’t have an infected scratch. After a few days, the swelling vanished as quickly as it had arrived.

When Peeper’s mother noticed that the baby couldn’t open her mouth as wide as her sisters and brothers, she took her to the first of various doctors, seeking an explanation for her seemingly random assortment of symptoms. Peeper was 4 when the Mayo Clinic confirmed a diagnosis: she had a disorder known as fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP).

Her diagnosis meant that, over her lifetime, she would essentially develop a second skeleton. Within a few years, she would begin to grow new bones that would stretch across her body, some fusing to her original skeleton. Bone by bone, the disease would lock her into stillness.

Peeper’s condition is extremely rare—but in that respect, she actually has a lot of company. A rare disease is defined as any condition affecting fewer than 200,000 patients in the United States. More than 7,000 such diseases exist, afflicting a total of 25 million to 30 million Americans.

Starting in the 1980s, Peeper built a network of people with FOP. She is now connected to more than 500 people with her condition—a sizable fraction of all the people on Earth who suffer from it. Together, members of this community did what the medical establishment could not: they bankrolled a laboratory dedicated solely to FOP and have kept its doors open for more than two decades. They have donated their blood, their DNA, and even their teeth for study.

“I’ve seen 700 patients with FOP around the world, and it’s clear that there’s a lot of different ways to divide patients,” Kaplan said. One identical twin might be only mildly affected, while the other would be trapped in a wheelchair. Some patients developed a frenzy of bones as children, and then inexplicably stopped. “I’ve seen it go quiet for years and years.”

In 1992, Kaplan hired a full-time geneticist named Eileen Shore to help establish a lab for the disorder. Shore had worked on fruit-fly larvae as a graduate student, and as a post-doctoral researcher, she had studied the molecules that allow mammal cells to stick together as they develop into embryos. Kaplan didn’t mind that Shore knew almost nothing about FOP. What he wanted in a geneticist was an expertise in development: the mystery of how the body takes shape. IFOPA’s money—as well as gifts from other private donors and an endowment accompanying Kaplan’s professorship at Penn—made it possible for him to work single-mindedly on FOP for more than two decades.

First, they set out to understand how the disease worked. Based on their conversations with patients, they learned that bone growth could be caused by even slight trauma to muscles. A tumble out of bed or even a quick brake at a stoplight might cause a flare-up—a swelling that may or may not lead to new bone growth. A visit to the dentist could do the trick, if the jaw was stretched too far. Even a flu shot to the biceps was enough. Some flare-ups subsided without any lasting effect, while others became nurseries for new bone.

Most people with the condition develop their first extra bone by the age of 5. Their second skeletons usually start around the spine and spread outward, traveling from the neck down. By 15, most patients have lost much of the mobility in their upper bodies.

Kaplan, Shore, and their students worked out the microscopic path of FOP: At the start of a flare-up, immune cells invade bruised muscles. Instead of healing the damaged area, they annihilate it. A few progenitor cells then crawl into the empty space, and in some cases give rise to new bone.

“Your muscle isn’t turning to bone,” says Shore. “It’s being replaced by bone.”

In 1996, they reported in The New England Journal of Medicine that the blood cells of people with the condition contain an abundance of a particular protein called BMP4. For the first time, scientists had found a molecular signature of the second skeleton.

To treat rare diseases, scientists first look for the broken gene. Kaplan and Shore suspected that FOP was caused by a genetic mutation that led the body to make too much BMP4. In the early 1990s, they didn’t have access to today’s sophisticated genome-sequencing tools, so they began sorting slowly through the human genome’s 20,000 genes.

The first candidate was, of course, the gene that produces BMP4. Shore and Kaplan sliced this gene out of cells from people with FOP, sequenced it, and compared it with a version taken from people without the condition. Unfortunately, the two versions were a perfect match. Kaplan kept searching. If the culprit wasn’t that particular protein, he reasoned, it might be one of its known associates. Kaplan and Shore inspected gene after gene, year after year. But they failed to find a mutation unique to people with FOP.

Studying families is one of the best ways to pinpoint a mutated gene. By comparing the DNA of parents and children, geneticists can identify certain segments that consistently accompany a disorder. Because most people with FOP never have children, Kaplan and Shore had assumed they couldn’t use this method. But then the online patient network began surfacing exceptions: a family in Bavaria, one in South Korea, one in the Amazon. All told, seven families emerged; Kaplan traveled to meet a few of them and draw their blood.

Back in Philadelphia, Shore and her colleagues examined the DNA from these samples and narrowed down the possible places where the FOP gene could be hiding. By 2005, they had tracked the gene to somewhere within a small chunk of Chromosome 2. “It was a huge step,” says Shore. “But there were still several hundred genes in that region.”

By a fortunate coincidence, scientists at the University of Rochester had just studied one of those several hundred genes. They had discovered that the gene, called ACVR1, made a receptor. The receptor grabbed BMP proteins and relayed their signal to cells. In the margin of the paper in which the scientists described ACVR1, Kaplan wrote, “This is it.”

A rare disease is a natural experiment in human biology. A tiny alteration to a single gene can produce a radically different outcome—which, in turn, can shed light on how the body works in normal conditions. As William Harvey, the British doctor who discovered the circulation of blood in the 17th century, observed more than 350 years ago, “Nature is nowhere accustomed more openly to display her secret mysteries than in cases where she shows tracings of her workings apart from the beaten paths.”

Finding the FOP mutation was a coup, but Kaplan and Shore still had no idea how it worked. They set about studying baby teeth from young patients, as well as mice they genetically altered, to observe the mutation in action. Seven years later, they had pieced together an understanding of the far-reaching effects. The ACVR1 receptor normally grabs onto BMP proteins and relays their signal into cells. But in people with FOP, the receptors become hyperactive. The signal they send is too strong, and it lasts too long. In embryonic skeletons, the effects are subtle—for example, deformed big toes. Only later, after birth, does the mutation start to really make its presence known. One way it does this, Shore and Kaplan learned, is by hijacking the body’s normal healing process.

Say you bruise your elbow, killing off a few of your muscle cells. Your immune cells would swarm to the site to clear away the debris, followed by stem cells to regenerate the tissue. As they got to work, the two kinds of cells would converse via molecular signals. Shore and Kaplan suspect that BMP4 is an essential part of that exchange. But in someone with FOP, the conversation is more of a screaming match. The stem cells kick into overdrive, causing the immune cells not just to clear the damage but to start killing healthy muscle cells. The immune cells, in turn, create a bizarre environment for the stem cells. Instead of behaving as if they’re in a bruise, these cells act as if they’re in an embryo. And instead of becoming muscle cells, they become bone.

In the context of FOP, new bone is a catastrophe. But in other situations, it could be a blessing. Some people are born missing a bone, for example, while others fail to regenerate new bone after a fracture. And as people get older, their skeletons become fragile; old bone disappears, while bone-generating stem cells struggle to replace what’s gone.

FOP may be an exquisitely rare bone condition, but low bone density is not: 61 percent of women and 38 percent of men older than 50 suffer from it. The more bone matter people lose, the more likely they are to end up with osteoporosis, which currently afflicts nearly one in 10 older adults in the United States alone. For decades, doctors have searched for a way to bring back some of that bone. Some methods have helped a little, and others, such as estrogen-replacement therapy, have turned out to have disastrous side effects in many women.

Giving someone a second skeleton is not a cure for osteoporosis. But if Kaplan and his colleagues can finish untangling the network of genes that ACVR1 is a part of, they could figure out how to use a highly controlled variation on FOP to regrow bones in certain scenarios. “It’s like trying to harness a chain reaction at the heart of an atom bomb,” he told me, “and turning it into something safe and controllable, like a nuclear reactor.”

The search for a cure is accelerating, thanks in part to new programs designed to incentivize the study of rare diseases. A different drug option, currently being investigated by a team of scientists at Harvard Medical School, has benefited from these programs. In a broader experiment in 2007, the scientists tested more than 7,000 FDA-approved compounds on zebra-fish embryos, watching for whether any of them affected the animals’ development. One molecule caused the zebra fish to lose the bottom of its tail fin. When the scientists looked more closely at this compound, they discovered that it latched onto a few receptors, including ACVR1—the receptor that Shore and Kaplan had recently discovered was overactive in FOP patients.

The Harvard researchers wondered whether the drug could work as a treatment for FOP. They tinkered with the compound, creating a version that had a stronger preference for ACVR1 than other types of receptors. When they tested it on mice with an FOP-like condition, it quieted the signals from ACVR1 receptors, thereby stopping new bones from forming.

Thanks to Kaplan’s enduring fascination with her disease, Jeannie Peeper can now realistically imagine a time—perhaps even a few years from now—when people like her will take a pill that subdues their overactive bones. They might take it only after a flare-up, or they might take a daily preventative dose. In a best-case scenario, the medication could allow surgeons to work backwards, removing extra bones without the risk of triggering new ones.

At 54, with an advanced case of FOP, Peeper does not imagine that she’ll benefit from these breakthroughs. But she is optimistic that her younger friends will, and that one day, far in the future, second skeletons will exist only as medical curiosities on display. All that will remain of her reality will be Harry Eastlack, still keeping watch in Philadelphia, reminding us of the grotesque possibility stored away in our genomes.


The Final Moments of Karl Brant

Set in the near future where experimental technology allows two detectives to bring a murder victim back to life in a digital state in order to question him about his final moments.

Starring Paul Reubens, Janina Gavankar, Fay Masterson, Jon Sklaroff, and Pete Chekvala

Writer/Director/Producer: M.Francis Wilson

What VR could, should, and almost certainly will be within two years

If you got an Oculus Rift you can already try out some great VR experiences. Parking a massive truck with it feels natural as you can just stick your head out of the window and look backwards. If driving a truck is a bit too mundane for you, locking the guns of your spacecruiser on a target has become much easier because now you can kill with your looks. Ever felt like going to the movies with friends on the other side of the world? Try out a virtual theater! On the other hand, if you are afraid of heights and spiders crawling all over your face you might want to skip on The Pit and Don't Let Go. The worlds of games like Half-Life, Skyrim and many others are waiting for you to immerse yourself in them... and if you are feeling really adventurous you can even play sexy gender swap games with your partner! http://vimeo.com/84150219 (NSFW)

Although all these experiences are completely bonkers in a good way, they are only scratching the surface and according to Valve they are missing something crucial that will take the experience from totally bonkers to dangerously addictive.

Valve, the renowned software developer, has teamed up with Oculus, the developers of the rift Virtual Reality headset, and together they recently unleashed the Crystal Cove Prototype onto the world. Almost anyone who tried it on described it as "the future of entertainment". Is the age of VR finally upon us? Almost, but not quite yet says Valve. They see the CC prototype they developed with Oculus as a massive step in the right direction but they believe that we still have to wait a little bit longer for VR to truly go mainstream. At least one more year to be exact.

The last couple of years they've been developing their own state of the art and extremely costly VRD prototype and at the SteamDevDays they've finally shown it off. Keep in mind that they have no intention to bring this particular headset to market but will instead help Oculus to create something similarly specced at a more realistic price point that consumers can actually afford. They only built this costly one to showcase what is to come and to get both industry and consumers ready for the revolution they think is almost at hand. Hyperbole on their part? I don't think so. It really seems to be blowing people's minds.

David Hensley of Tripwire was particularly hyperbolic, and said that going back to his Oculus Rift would be like switching from an Xbox to an 8-bit Nintendo. "Valve’s VR demo at SteamDevDays felt like being in a lucid dream state and very much like a holo deck."

Johnathan Blow (developer of Braid & The Witness) explains that he was skeptical of VR technology based on what he'd seen so far but that Valve turned him around; "It's so much better than anything else I had used that I was instantly very excited by it." "Right away I could see games you might design for this system that had been impossible before."

One of Valve's brainiacs, Michael Abrash, regularly spreads words of wisdom from his blog; http://blogs.valvesoftware.com/abrash/ and he did the same at the SteamDevDays event where he delivered a very interesting talk on the future of VR in which he outlined the somewhat magical experience of presence in VR and pointed to 2015 as the year that it's likely to be achieved on consumer devices.

"Once hardware that supports presence ships, we think it has the potential to cause a sea change in the entertainment industry. Not only could VR rapidly evolve into a major platform, but it could actually tip the balance of the entire industry from traditional media toward computer entertainment."

If you think that sounds like he's overselling it, you might want to think again because already the film industry is beginning to pay attention. The Oculus booth at the Sundance Film festival pulled in a huge crowd and Alfonso Cuaron, director of Children of Men & Gravity even stopped by Oculus' headquarters for an extensive try out... One can only imagine the kind of adrenaline rush you'd get from experiencing Gravity through a VRD.

Valve's research into Virtual Reality has allowed them to really explore the space and they've found that the key ingredient we need for VR to go mainstream is something they call "presence".

"Presence is hard to quantify, but our demos have shown that it is a very real and compelling phenomenon, one that hooks far deeper into the perceptual system than anything that’s come before, and it’s why we’re so excited about the future of VR. It’s our belief that great VR will be built on presence, because it engages you at a deeper, more visceral level than any other form of entertainment, and can only be experienced in VR. "

"Presence requires a wide field of view, adequate resolution, low pixel persistence, a high enough refresh rate, global display, specialized optics, rock solid tracking, low latency and fine tuned calibration. I want to emphasize that presence is not a property of any one of these elements; it’s a property that emerges when all of the elements are good enough. If the optics aren’t calibrated perfectly, then the scene will warp as you turn your head no matter how good everything else is. Likewise, no amount of fidelity will convince your visual system that a virtual scene is real if latency is too high. Presence can’t be induced if even one of the key elements is subpar. It's worth noting that inducing presence reduces motion sickness because what your eyes see will more closely respond with what your vestibular system reports.

According to Abrash presence requires the following minimum specs;
• 20 ms motion-to-last-photon latency
• 3 ms pixel persistence
• 95 Hz refresh
• 110-degree FOV
• 1k x 1k resolution per eye
• High quality, well calibrated optics
• Tracking
- millimeter accurate resolution translation
- quarter degree accurate rotation
- volume of 2 meters cubed

"This head-mounted display would support a powerful sense of presence and would have an excellent shot at widespread adoption. VR can certainly get much better yet down the road, but that’ll require time and major hardware R&D. In contrast, we believe everything on this slide is doable with relatively minor tweaks of existing technology; no breakthroughs or miracles are needed, just solid engineering."

Still, it's important to note these are the minimum specs to achieve presence. When these arrive in 2015 they will enable us to step into other worlds but there will still be A LOT of room for further improvement. "For one thing, presence would benefit from every one of the key elements getting better than what’s in our prototypes. We could literally use up to 100 times as many pixels, and a wider field of view, lower latency, and all the rest would also improve the experience; the optics in particular are far from optimal. Also getting per user lens positioning right is a challenge. As I mentioned, we think we’re close on head tracking, but we don’t have a shippable solution yet, and then there’s eye tracking, which could greatly enhance presence but is nowhere near solved. Going to a wireless connection and eliminating the tether would
be a big plus."

Full presentation;



Virtual travel, think of the possibilities!
Athens Tech Demo Siggraph 2013

Virtual Reality pain relief

AR-Rift: Stereo camera rig and augmented reality showcase

3D webcam mechanics with oculus

HydraDeck Humans (NSFW)


Omni in Skyrim - with Kinect 2 (head sensitivity adjusted)

Substituted Reality - https://plus.google.com/108487783243149848473/posts/NPJQvoRT5FS


Something so hot it's cool to touch

Light up your day with this video demonstration of a space shuttle thermal protection tile! These tiles dissipate heat so quickly, it can be safely picked up immediately after being removed from a 2200°F (1204°C | 1478K ) oven, despite still being red-hot.

The Thermal Protection System covered essentially the entire shuttle surface and consisted of seven different materials in varying locations. Each type of TPS had specific heat protection, impact resistance, and weight characteristics. Ceck out this pdf for a very detailed look at the space shuttle's TPS. http://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/pdf/584728main_Wings-ch4b-pgs182-199.pdf

How can something this hot be cold enough to touch?
Misconceptions About Temperature - Veritasium Youtube
spoiler; When you touch something you are actually feeling the heat flux: how fast that thing is heating you up, not the temperature itself. Because the material used for these tiles conducts heat extremely poorly it won't burn your fingers.

Space Shuttle Thermal Tile Demonstration

The Program

The filmmaker Laura Poitras profiles William Binney, a 32-year veteran of the NSA who helped design top-secret surveillance software.

New York Times docu: The Program

A hidden world, feeding on big data, growing beyond control

"Information is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine.” -Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president at Gartner

And just like oil, data too can be applied for both good and evil. I Previously talked about how big data will change our world for the better; http://goo.gl/oisdt - today I'll talk about its downside.

"Torture the data, and it will confess to anything" -Ronald Coase, Economics, Nobel Prize Laureate

Big data means Big errors - http://www.wired.com/2013/02/big-data-means-big-errors-people/
We’re more fooled by noise than ever before. With big data, researchers have brought cherry-picking to an industrial level. Modernity provides too many variables, but too little data per variable. So the spurious relationships grow much, much faster than real information. In other words: Big data may mean more information, but it also means more false information.

Although researchers have to learn how to deal with big data; they need to be made aware of its pitfalls and start making use of new analysis techniques that put a halt to cherry-picking, society as a whole is going to need to step up its game. We will have to steer legislature, the judiciary system and law enforcement in their use of big data. They are testing the waters, checking out how far they can go and so far, we, the people, have remained surprisingly silent. Surprising because we are very vocal about our privacy rights when it comes to corporations and what they can and can not do with our data but perhaps there is less concern about government because most are unaware of the government's big data plans which are playing out below radar?

Top Secret America - http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/
Did you know that the US Intelligence Community consists of 16 separate government agencies? Most of you will know about the FBI, the CIA and the NSA but have you ever heard of DIA, NGA, ONI, INR, INSCOM, ... ? According to the Washington Post there are 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies in 10,000 locations in the United States that are working on counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence, and that the intelligence community as a whole includes 854,000 people who hold top-secret clearances.

CIA: Big Data is the future and we own it - http://www.businessinsider.com/cia-presentation-on-big-data-2013-3
"You're already a walking sensor platform," Hunt said, referring to all of the information captured by smartphones. "You are aware of the fact that somebody can know where you are at all times because you carry a mobile device, even if that mobile device is turned off.
"Since you can't connect dots you don't have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever," Hunt said. "It is really very nearly within our grasp to be able to compute on all human generated information."
He ends with comments about how the "inanimate is becoming sentient," how cognitive machines (e.g. Watson) are going to "explode upon us," and how technology is moving faster than governments, legal systems, and even individuals can keep up.

Room 641 A - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Room_641A
Room 641A is a telecommunication interception facility operated by AT&T for the U.S. National Security Agency that commenced operations in 2003 and was exposed in 2006. Room 641A is located in the SBC Communications building at 611 Folsom Street, San Francisco, The room is fed by fiber optic lines from beam splitters installed in fiber optic trunks carrying Internet backbone traffic and, as analyzed by J. Scott Marcus, a former CTO for GTE and a former adviser to the FCC, has access to all Internet traffic that passes through the building, and therefore "the capability to enable surveillance and analysis of internet content on a massive scale, including both overseas and purely domestic traffic." Former director of the NSA’s World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, William Binney, has estimated that 10 to 20 such facilities have been installed throughout the nation.

ECHELON - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECHELON
Echelon is a globe spanning signals intelligence collection and analysis system. Its capabilities and political implications were investigated by a committee of the European Parliament during 2000 and 2001 with a report published in 2001. In this report the European Parliament stated that on the basis of information presented, ECHELON was capable of interception and content inspection of telephone calls, fax, e-mail and other data traffic globally through the interception of communication bearers including satellite transmission, public switched telephone networks and microwave links.

AI could help in terrorist investigations - https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23403-ai-could-help-investigation-of-boston-marathon-bombing
Machine vision techniques are on the verge of being able to slash the manpower needed for such investigations, and surveillance systems are starting to get a handle on real-time analyses which could even prevent some attacks from happening in the first place. Once trained, a surveillance system can flag up behaviour which falls outside of established norms.

ARGUS - 1.8 gigapixel ARGUS-IS. World's highest resolution video surveillance platform by DARPA
The ARGUS-IS, or Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System, together with a new generation of solar powered airplanes that can stay in the air indefinitely could enable all seeing eyes patrolling our sky 24/7. This gives people in power access to a time machine that allows them to dig into anyone's past for dirt they can use to stay in power.

Palantir - The War on Terror's Secret Weapon
Palantir is a piece of software made by Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley company that’s become the darling of the intelligence and law enforcement communities. Palantir’s name refers to the “seeing stones” in Lord of the Rings that provide a window into other parts of Middle-earth. What Palantir does, says Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner (IT), is “make it really easy to mine these big data sets.” The company’s software pulls off one of the great computer science feats of the era: It combs through all available databases, identifying related pieces of information, and puts everything together in one place. Most of Palantir’s government work remains classified

NSA is building a massive datacenter - http://www.wired.com/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/
A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.”

When the chief tech officer of the CIA says; "It is really very nearly within our grasp to be able to compute on all human generated information." this should raise eyebrows and spark public debate. Do we really want governments, corporations, anyone, to be able to keep track of our position, our spending, our interests, our friends, our history, our genes, perhaps in time even our thoughts when Brain Computer Interfaces become common place? I think not. They are spending your money on new buildings to house datacenters and supercomputers to keep on top of the ever growing data mountain that you generate to keep you safe. Are you okay with that? What happened to warrants and innocent until proven guilty? What kinda of security measures are in place to prevent others from accessing it? What guarantees are there that this massive pile of data won't be abused in the future?

The US gov is not just trying to get their hands on data you generate directly, it's also hoping to gain access to all the data that corporations have on you. They hope to gain this power through CISPA, a proposed law that recently passed the house, it would force various technology and manufacturing companies to share their data. These are big issueas and there are no easy answers but I believe that part of the solutions lies in sousveillance. As they keep tabs on us, so we have to keep tabs on them. This means more transparency from the gov's side but the public too needs to get more involved. Don't want CISPA to pass? Check which way your representative voted and give him a call to make him change his mind or to thank him for his common sense. http://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/113-2013/h117

"With great data comes great responsibility."- Data analyst's uncle

Big Brother is WWWatching You - feat. George Orwell [RAP NEWS 15]