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Dick Van Dyke breaks out in song to surprised Denny's diners

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Last week while dining at Denny's in Santa Monica, Dick Van Dyke and his a cappella Vantastix buddies broke out into song. Although not quite a flash mob, it was a surprise performance of the song "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" for the lucky diners at the coffee shop.

"Breakfast at Denny's, with a side of grits makes me want to sing!!" Van Dyke wrote on his Facebook page Saturday.

Van Dyke played the eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts in the 1968 film "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," which was co-written by Roald Dahl and was based on a story by Ian Fleming, of James Bond fame.

Thanks U.S. News! Read the rest

Generate your own random fantasy maps

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Martin O'Leary not only made a cool fantasy map generator, he's giving away the source code and has described the process at a high enough level for an idiot like me to partly understand how it works.

I wanted to make maps that look like something you'd find at the back of one of the cheap paperback fantasy novels of my youth. I always had a fascination with these imagined worlds, which were often much more interesting than whatever luke-warm sub-Tolkien tale they were attached to.

At the same time, I wanted to play with terrain generation with a physical basis. There are loads of articles on the internet which describe terrain generation, and they almost all use some variation on a fractal noise approach, either directly (by adding layers of noise functions), or indirectly (e.g. through midpoint displacement). These methods produce lots of fine detail, but the large-scale structure always looks a bit off. Features are attached in random ways, with no thought to the processes which form landscapes. I wanted to try something a little bit different.

It's an odd feeling to look at these instantly-generated, detailed maps and realize that they represent nothing. I feel like I'm being wasteful pressing the "Generate high resolution map." The Uncharted Atlas is a twitterbot that posts a new map every hour. Read the rest

Your microbial nation: how bacteria went from menace to superfood

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British science writer Ed Yong's new book I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life is a history of gut flora and bacteria, which first entered our consciousness as a scourge to be eliminated and has lately become something between a cure-all (see the universe of "probiotic" food supplements) and a superfood (think of the fecal transplants that have shown such promise in treating a variety of debilitating and dangerous health conditions). Read the rest

Create a fractal castle made of miniature copies of itself

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Castles is a fascinating web toy by Nico Disseldorp. Left-click to add a castle to the outside of your castle—and watch as every part of the castle, including the added part, changes to reflect the form of the new whole. Right click to spin it around so you don't go mad. He's made other mind-melting recursion toys too. Read the rest

NYT: Trump is "psychologically off the chain"

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When internet laymen suggest that Trump is manifestly mentally ill—the abusive narcissism, the total absence of empathy, the 400-word sentences tracing random paths through the vaporwave fractal landscape of his paranoid obsessions—there are yet fair grounds for concern. You're not a doctor. You haven't examined him. His theatrics are dangerous, but so are yours. This stigmatizes the mentally ill. Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's quiet time: give a warm welcome to David Brooks!

He cannot be contained because he is psychologically off the chain. With each passing week he displays the classic symptoms of medium-grade mania in more disturbing forms: inflated self-esteem, sleeplessness, impulsivity, aggression and a compulsion to offer advice on subjects he knows nothing about.

His speech patterns are like something straight out of a psychiatric textbook. Manics display something called “flight of ideas.” It’s a formal thought disorder in which ideas tumble forth through a disordered chain of associations. One word sparks another, which sparks another, and they’re off to the races. As one trained psychiatrist said to me, compare Donald Trump’s speaking patterns to a Robin Williams monologue, but with insults instead of jokes.

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Animated fractals in your browser

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Click to zoom into Jonathan Potter's spookily beautiful-animated Julia set. The trick: webGL shaders applied to the scene, making it pulse and glow and coil like a dreaming machine. He also made a Mandelbrot in the same style, without the shaders (which limit how far you can zoom.) [via] Read the rest

Fantastic Manfrotto 3-way head

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I am absolutely thrilled with this Manfrotto 3-way head. My last one took nearly a decade to wear out, mostly due to abuse in salt water environments, and I had to have a new one.

This head works great with some of my larger lenses on board. The Nikon AI-S 300mm F2.8 and my Nikon AF-S 70-200mm F2.8 are both perfectly stable on this head. Friction controls are a nice addition, missing from my last head, and the collapsible levers get out us your way. Bubble levels pretty much exactly where you'd want them and a fantastic quick release system. It uses the same mount as previous pan-and-tilt Manfrotto head, so I can even use the old mounting plates.

I expect to get another 5-10 years out of this one.

Manfrotto MHXPRO-3W X-PRO 3-Way Head with Retractable Levers and Friction Controls via Amazon Read the rest

Post-Brexit, EU Commission plan to ram through disastrous Canada-EU trade deal dies

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CETA -- the "Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement" is a secretly negotiated deal between Canada and the EU, mirroring many of the most controversial provisions in notorious deals like ACTA, TPP, and TTIP -- including the "corporate sovereignty" clauses that permit multinational corporations to sue governments in closed courts, and force them to repeal environmental, labour and safety rules (albeit dressed up in new clothes that make the provisions appear different, without making any real difference). Read the rest

Giant "horrific-looking" first amphibious centipede discovered

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The world's first amphibious centipede has just been confirmed. It swims, and unlike other centipedes who hunt on land, this one hunts in water. It has super long legs to help it swim and, like all centipedes, is carnivorous. It also has a powerful bite, causing excruciating pain.

The discovery started in 2001, when entomologist George Beccaloni from the National History Museum in London was on his honeymoon in Thailand. He turned over a rock near a stream, and was surprised at what he found. According to National Geographic:

“It was pretty horrific-looking: very big with long legs and a horrible dark, greenish-black color,” he says. When Beccaloni lifted the rock it was hiding under, the centipede immediately escaped into the stream, rather than into the forest. It ran along the stream bed underwater and concealed itself under a rock.

With some difficulty, Beccaloni captured the centipede and later put it in a large container of water. He says it immediately dove to the bottom and swam powerfully like an eel, with horizontal undulations of its body. When he took the centipede out of the container, the water rolled off its body, leaving it totally dry.

Beccaloni brought the centipede back to the museum, where it was kept all these years, without further study. Then recently, another scientist from the Natural History Museum in London took a trip to Laos with his student from Thailand, and they discovered two more of these amphibious centipedes. A DNA test proved that they were indeed a new species, which they named Scolopendra cataracta, which means "waterfall" in Latin. Read the rest

Video feedback emulator generates gorgeous glitchy art

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Thea video feedback emulator offers a vague memory of fooling with video cameras and a strong flavor of crisp and fractal generative art, The results lurk somewhere between the decades. Click and drag your results for wild (and often brightly-flickering) variations. The creator explains how it works. [via Github]

What we’ve found most interesting about video feedback is: the sheer complexity of the images it produces through such simply-defined and implemented spacemaps that really only have to do with the relative positioning of two rectangles. It’s somewhat intuitive, but always surprising.

This is all just scratching the surface of the mathematics behind the patterns that video feedback is capable of, but hopefully it’s good enough for a start!

P.S. You’ll notice that many of the “interesting” patterns contain regions of diverse sizes. That is, they appear to have a broad range of spatial frequencies. What’s up with that?

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Beyond "solutionism": what role can technology play in solving deep social problems

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Ethan Zuckerman -- formerly of Global Voices, now at the MIT Center for Civic Media -- has spent his career trying to find thoughtful, effective ways to use technology as a lever to make positive social change (previously), but that means that he also spends a lot of time in the company of people making dumb, high-profile, destructive suggestions for using technology to "solve" problems in ways that make them much worse. Read the rest

Corbyn pledges to kill TTIP if elected

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TTIP is the farcically secretive, insanely corrupt trade agreement that the US and EU negotiated behind closed doors in parallel with the faltering Trans-Pacific Partnership. Read the rest

Generative, collaging architecture system designs impossible, Inception-like cities

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London's Daniel Brown created a generative design system that designs beautiful, brutalist cityscapes that are part Blade Runner Hong Kong, part Inception; he then manually sorts through the results, picks the best, and publishes them in a series called "Travelling by Numbers." Read the rest

The MPAA lobbyist who wrote SOPA will help draft the Democratic Party platform

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"Hollywood" Howard Berman, former-Congressman-turned-MPAA-lobbyist is one of the 15-member panel selected by the Democratic Party establishment to draft the party's platform for this summer's convention. Read the rest

Straddling buses would only work if they were made out of rubber

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Chinese engineer Song Youzhou has been trying to get traction for his straddling bus, a huge elevated bus that goes over, rather than through, traffic, since 2010. Read the rest

Patterns in Nature – The most magnificent designs come from math and nature, not human beings

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Step outside, look in any direction, and you’re sure to spot some exquisite designs in nature: the vivid jewel-like symmetry found on the wings of a butterfly, the fractal branching of trees, the pointillist patterns sported by a snake, or the hexagonal nest of a wasp, just to name a few. And science writer Philip Ball has captured some of this beauty with over 300 stunning photographs that he includes in his latest book, Patterns in Nature.

Categorized in chapters such as Symmetry, Fractals, Spirals, Cracks, and Flow and Chaos, Ball explains with both images and an accessible narrative how the most magnificent designs on the planet come from math, physics and chemistry, not human beings. He describes the various mathematics that create various patterns, and also points out parallels between similar patterns with seemingly unrelated sources. For example, the spots on a butterfly mimic the face of an owl. The “spots” on a giraffe look similar to cracked mud. Ball turns complex science into a fascinating read, and his gorgeous coffee table book is perfect for both the science and art minded alike.

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The story of Traceroute, about a Leitnerd's quest

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Johannes Grenzfurthner talks about Traceroute: On the Road with a Leitnerd(*)
(*) Leitnerd is a wordplay referring to the German term Leitkultur.

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