Wagner James Au sez, "Created by virtual world/avatar pioneer Jeffrey Ventrella, Wiglets are self-animated, augmented reality creatures for mobile devices powered by an open source AI system, and have genomes that are stored in the cloud along with their geo-locations. 'This means they can exist in specific locations in the real world,' Jeffrey explains. The overall goal with Wiglets is to encourage kids to find/play with their creatures in the natural world."
$65 gets you the book and a virtual Wiglet. Read the rest
Science fiction writer and biologist Peter Watts gave a spectacular talk to the Symposium of the International Association of Privacy Professional, called The Scorched Earth Society: A Suicide Bomber's Guide to Online Privacy (PDF); Watts draws on his two disciplines to produce a stirring, darkly comic picture of the psychological toll of the surveillance society.
Watts is the writer who was beaten, maced, and convicted of a felony for asking a US border guard why he'd walked up behind his rental car and opened his trunk without any discussion or notice. His take on surveillance and its relationship to control, authoritarianism and corruption is both sharp-edged and nuanced. And his proposal for a remedy is provocative and difficult to argue with. I only wish I'd been in the room to give the talk, as he's a remarkable and acerbic storyteller. Read the rest
A scientist in Florida who studies simple sea animals known as comb jellies says he has discovered a path to a new form of brain development that may one day lead to treatments for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases. Read the rest
Wagner James Au writes, "Openworm, the open source collaborative project to construct an artificial life form from the cellular level, now has a Kickstarter so supporters can back the project and also get a copy of the worm itself, Wormsim, to put on their browser and even tweak the code. Here's some background from the project coordinator, who I also ask if this Kickstarter is, you know, contributing to the ultimate creation of a completely artificial sentient life form that will turn against humankind and enslave our children.
They're mostly raising money for core engineering, with the balance going to administration and educational outreach. The code is all MIT-licensed free/open source software. Read the rest
Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash devised a pretty amazing paper microscope that uses cheap tiny spherical lenses. The "Foldoscope" costs around 50 cents.
“I wanted to make the best possible disease-detection instrument that we could almost distribute for free,” Prakash says. “What came out of this project is what we call use-and-throw microscopy.”
In Evolutionary origins of sensation in metazoans: functional evidence for a new sensory organ in sponges, Danielle A Ludeman and her team at the University of Alberta document the heretofore unsuspected phenomenon of sneezing in freshwater sponges. When these sponges are stimulated with damaging sediment, they close their chimneys and inflate themselves to bursting, then abruptly "sneeze" out the irritants -- a process that unfolds very slowly (documented above in timelapse). I found out about this thanks to a fascinating interview (MP3) with the researcher on CBC Radio's As It Happens. Read the rest
This video was made by the University of Utah Brain Institute to teach medical students about what a brain looks and feels like before it gets preserved in formalin and takes on the texture of a hard rubber ball.
The big takeaway message: Your brain is seriously squishy. So squishy, in fact, that a finger can dent it. As professor Suzanne Stensaas explains, this is one of the reasons why cerebrospinal fluid is so important. Your brain has to float in that fluid. If it didn't, it would come to rest against the side of your hard skull and quickly end up deformed.
Can you properly distinguish between a male and female crocodile? This research paper, published in 2007, will help — pointing out the sometimes subtle differences between external genitalia. It's chock full of pictures of erect crocodile penises, so you'll learn what those look like, but what particularly interested me was the diagram above.
Cloacas are sort of multi-purpose orifices found in certain species of birds and reptiles. Instead of having separate biological tools for poop, pee, and sex, these animals manage all three functions with the same hole. Males also have cloacas and will either have a penis or pseudo-penis that comes out of it for mating. I've known this for a long time, but had a lot of trouble picturing how all of that anatomy fits together. This diagram (Figure 4 in the paper) is the first image that made the internal structure of cloacas really make sense to me. The more you know! Read the rest
Earlier this week, Republican representative Devin Nunes referred to his colleagues in the US House of Representatives as "lemmings with suicide vests". I would like to propose that this characterization is vastly unfair. To the lemmings.
That's because real lemmings, such as the adorable little creature pictured above, aren't actually suicidal. If anything, their problem is that they're just too damn horny. [Insert new political analogy here.] Read the rest