The Infinite Adventure Machine

David Benqué's Infinite Adventure Machine creates random folk-tales, and is itself an adventure in what he describes as an unsolved computer science problem: automatic story generation.

Tales and myths; the core narratives of human culture, have been transmitted for generations through various technologies and media. What new forms might they take through digital formats and Artificial Intelligence?

Based on the work of Vladimir Propp, who reduced the structure of russian folk-tales to 31 basic functions, TIAM aims to question the limitations and implications of attempts at programming language and narrative.

Because the program is unable to deliver a finished story, rather only a crude synopsis and illustrations, users have to improvise, filling the gaps with their imagination and making up for the technology's shortcomings.

Wikipedia's article on Propp has a lengthy description of his typology of narrative structures.

I've always been fascinated by the subtle movement these devices make, whereby a description of universal narrative elements is turned into a prescription for writing new stories. Every few years there seems to be another bestseller book, for example, telling you how to succeed in Hollywood using Jungian archetypes and Joseph Campbell. But I love these random generators all the same (and make my own). The bite-size mind-meld between culture and software they embody has a strange magic to it.

The Infinite Adventure Machine [Glitch Fiction via Creative Applications] Read the rest

Sony's HMZ-T1: Home theater in a headset

Sony's HMZ-T1 is a head-mounted 3D headset, to be released later this year in Japan. Two 1280x720 OLED displays, each just 7/10 of an inch across, create a virtual 750" screen. Perceived 20m from the viewer, it "corresponds to the sense of cinema as seen from a large central seat." It'll be 60,000 Yen ($785) from mid-november.

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LoJack makers sued over privacy invasion after tracking stolen laptop

Illustration: Sean Gladwell, Shutterstock. See more like this.

A schoolteacher who bought a stolen laptop from one of her students ($60, with a scraped-off serial number) is suing the makers of LoJack, the pre-installed software used by investigators to recover it. Absolute Software failed to have the case summarily dismissed; a judge ruled that its tracking of her, including emails and recorded sex acts, may violate wiretapping laws. [Wired] Read the rest

Wacom Inkling

Wacom's Inkling is a pen that draws both on paper and on-screen, tracking the artist's linework with 1024 levels of sensitivity. At $200, it's barely even expensive! The Inkling will be in stores by mid-September.

Inkling [Wacom] Read the rest

Catholic officials in Ireland object to child abuse disclosure law

Officials of the Catholic church in Ireland object to a new law that mandates the reporting of child abuse. From the BBC:

The Irish Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that priests who are given admissions of child abuse during the sacrament of confession will not be exempt from new rules on mandatory reporting. During his homily to worshippers at Knock shrine in County Mayo, on Sunday, the archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland said: "Freedom to participate in worship and to enjoy the long-established rites of the church is so fundamental that any intrusion upon it is a challenge to the very basis of a free society."

The discussion seems to center on future abuses revealed during confession, but I wonder if it's really about the ongoing use of the sacrament to hide internal discussions of undisclosed abuses from the possibility of legal scrutiny.

Child protection measures apply regardless of religious rules [BBC] Read the rest

How to make a crafting table

The multi-talented maker Nick Britsky made this cool crafting table for his multi-talented crafter girlfriend, Lish Dorset.

How-to: Custom crafting table Read the rest

100 years of East London style in 100 seconds

[Video Link] From Laughing Squid: "To announce the grand opening of Westfield Stratford City, which will soon be “the largest urban shopping centre in Europe”, Westfield created this fun short film, 100 YEARS / STYLE / EAST LONDON. The film, directed by Jake Lunt with The Viral Factory, amazingly gives the run-down of 100 years of East London fashion, dance and music in just 100 seconds." Read the rest

Animals and the amygdala

As part of a cool project in blogging on Google+ ("plogging"), Nature editor Noah Gray writes about a recent experiment that found that specific neurons in the human amygdala respond instantly to images of animals. These responses were stronger and faster than when other neurons responded to those images, and stronger and faster than when the animal-centric neurons responded to other types of images.

The amygdala is well known to be involved in fear modulation and memory, as well as influencing other types of emotional processing. So is it expected that cells in this structure would respond so strongly to the sight of animals? There is a moderate precedent from the non-human primate literature. Studies in macaques have revealed strong firing of amygdalar neurons to faces, so categorical responses aren't unique in the amygdala. This is true in humans as well, but humans also maintain a different dedicated brain region for face processing, perhaps opening up some portions of the amygdala to take on additional, different roles. But why would we need a dedicated system for animal imagery, elevating this particular stimulus to such an important position in our recognition system? Well this is all speculation, but it isn't difficult to state the obvious and stress that animals were critical as prey for our ancient ancestors, as well as potential threats. Thus, early man may have developed a system to speed our reaction times to such an important category as the landscape was visually scanned for information. Placing this system in a brain region critical to emotion processing could have also more-easily mobilized action through a rapid activation of attack or flight responses.

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Inside the sea caves of Devil's Island

Last year, when I posted here about the history of the lighthouse at Devil's Island, Wisconsin, several of you noticed the island's extensive network of sea caves, carved into the sandstone cliffs by splashing waves and moving water. This year, when some friends and I went on a little paddle through the caves, I took along a video camera. It doesn't quite capture the eerie awesomeness of floating into the dark with Lake Superior behind you, but it's still pretty neat.

Apologies in advance for the occasional sudden jerky movements and possible audible swearing. Devil's Island is also home to a large population of biting flies and my ankles are, apparently, quite tasty.

Video Link Read the rest

Treating mental illness with cigarettes

While nationally, only about 20% of Americans smoke, 80% of schizophrenic Americans smoke. That's interesting, but it's not the most interesting part. Apparently, there's some evidence that those people with schizophrenia are using tobacco as a form of self medication.

At the Risk Science Blog, Mark Stewart looks at the weird dilemma people with schizophrenia are faced with when it comes to smoking:

Schizophrenics often have auditory hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, and disorganized thinking. These symptoms are predominantly caused by the inability of the brains of schizophrenics to differentiate, sort, and focus on the multitude of stimuli that go on around us. Think of being in a busy restaurant. Imagine that instead of being able to block out all the noises, conversations, and movements around you, every single piece of sensory information is as important as the interesting things said by the attractive person sitting across from you. The effects of cigarette smoking and nicotine help schizophrenics through increased selective attention.

“They should use other forms of medication,” I hear you say. Great idea, except for the fact that anti-psychotic drugs are very expensive, do not work very well for most people, and have extreme side effects. Tardive dyskinesia is the most common side effect. This makes it very hard for the body to move in normal ways at normal speeds. Also, there are common metabolic side effects that are quite similar to an individual having diabetes. (Just what someone with a severe mental illness needs!) Thus, the cheapness, effectiveness, and availability of cigarettes offer most schizophrenics some succor.

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Finally, an extinct species you can feel good about

The specific strain of the bacteria Yersinia pestis that was responsible for the Black Death in Europe is probably now extinct, according to a new study. The bacterial DNA extracted from historic samples doesn't match modern Y. pestis. This could go a long way toward explaining why the Plague seems significantly less deadly today than it was medieval Europe. Read the rest

Impaled by pruning shears through eye, doing ok

Leroy Leutscher, 86, of Arizona, slipped and fell on a pair of pruning shears that went right through his eye and down his neck. Amazingly, he's doing pretty well given the circumstances. From The Telegraph:
Luetscher was rushed to the hospital, where surgeons removed the shears and rebuilt his orbital floor with metal mesh, saving his eye. Doctors say Mr Luetscher still has slight swelling in his eyelids and minor double vision but has otherwise recovered.
"US man impaled through eye with pruning shears" (via Fortean Times) Read the rest

"Cinematic journalism" for mobile devices, from Chris Colin and others

[video link]

The Atavist is a platform for publishing and selling short nonfiction, what they call "cinematic journalism," for mobile devices. The full pieces are $2.99/each for iOS devices (with Android coming soon) and stripped-down versions for the Kindle are $1.99. It'll be interesting to see how this model plays out as a way to support longform feature writing on subjects that the writers are passionate about. Right now, there are around ten original stories available on The Atavist. The most recent is Chris Colin's "Blindsight." I just read an excerpt over at The Atlantic and I am hooked. Here's how Chris describes it:

The story takes place in Hollywood, and it starts out simple and movie-like: A producer is driving to dinner with his wife, one evening in 1994. She mentions something about her boss, and these turn out to be her last words. Without giving anything away, the story involves horrific tragedy, a Rip Van Winkle-like hibernation, impossible turns of fate, a killer at large. Miraculous medical oddness. Otherworldly powers. Time itself rearranged.
"Blindsight" by Chris Colin Read the rest

How do you think this stairway was built?

This gorgeous spiral staircase is from the lighthouse at Sand Island, Wisconsin, leading from the basement fuel room to the lighthouse room at the top of the house, with stops at the two floors of living space along the way. Our tour guide told us that nobody knows how it was built. Some people, he said, think each section of the metal stair fit together with a male/female sort of locking mechanism. Others think that a pole was first installed and each section of the metal stair was slid down that. Either way, the staircase is mostly held in place by tension—there's nothing connecting it to the wall at all, except at the two landings in front of the doors to the living quarters.

The trouble with being married to an engineer: I just assume that all "mystery stairs" are only really mysteries because the right experts haven't ever been called into evaluate them. (I'm lookin' at you, Chapel of Loretto.) The fun thing about being married to an engineer: Once you get past "it's just a mystery, I guess!", then you're left with a cool problem-solving puzzle to hypothesize about.

So what do you think? I'm guessing this is almost more of a history question than an engineering question, because part of what we're trying to figure out is how sections of a spiral staircase like this would have been joined together back in the day. But the other part is pretty engineer-y: Do you think the brackets (they're about iPhone sized and there's two under each of the two landings, which are both on the South side of the stairwell) are the only thing supporting this staircase other than tension? Read the rest

Hotel elevator has staff and guest buttons

I snapped this photo in an elevator at the Holiday Inn Express in Mérida, Mexico. There are two sets of buttons in the elevator, one "for exclusive use of guests" and another "for exclusive use of staff." I made sure to use the staff buttons when I rode the elevator, just because some rules are meant to be broken. I also saw a staff member use the guest buttons, but I didn't snitch. Click to see the photo larger. Read the rest

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