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In the tradition of The Shining re-cut to look like an uplifting comedy, comes this music video, which repurposes scenes from several movies—most prominently 2001: A Space Odyssey—to tell the story of a misunderstood computer that accidentally hurts the ones it loves.
The song is "Limited" by Jascha. The video was created by my friend John Pavlus (who has also made some cool films about entropy and the Antikythera Mechanism). He says:
It seemed like a fun challenge to take images that have acquired so much "baggage" over the years — like the glowering cyclops eye of HAL from 2001, which has become visual shorthand for "evil machine" — and try to attach completely opposite emotional associations to them. What if something like HAL wasn't evil at all, but just misunderstood in its intentions, like a puppy who plays too rough with its owner? That's exactly the image that Jascha's plaintive refrain in "Limited" put into my head. Remixing material from five very different films creates a necessarily impressionistic approach to telling a story, so maybe the story this video tells in your head isn't the same one that it tells in mine. Either way I hope it's a good one.
This piece was originally published on a now-defunct website for general audiences. It now lives on here in vaguely inappropriate perpetuity
My first computer was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, most likely bought at Dixons in Worthing, England, circa 1986. But that's not the one I'd like to talk about, because it was defective and went right back to the store.
Dad, convinced by Clive Sinclair's legendary quality control that you get what you pay for, opted for the expensive Amstrad CPC over a replacement or a Commodore 64. Together, these three machines were the ruling triumvirate of 8-bit home computing in Thatcher's Britain. The Amstrad wasn't much different to the Commodore -- brighter graphics, tinnier sound -- but came with a built-in tape deck, a crisp color monitor, and a decent warranty. Read the rest
Read the rest
As its qualities are determined by the cutting edge of engineering rather than fashion or component cost, technology defines a competing system of value to traditional luxury. That hasn't stopped Bentley aiming for the old-school appeal with its curious clutch-style $20,000 laptop. Though about as powerful as a late-1990s toilet seat iBook, it even scooped the prestigious Microsoft Fashion PC Award. Read the rest
Read the rest
I have a weird relationship with coffee-table books. In general, I kind of think of them as clutter—like a particularly heavy and ungainly pile of junk mail that you can't just throw away. They're books to flip through and never really read again. For the rest of eternity, they just sit there, getting in your way while ostensibly telling your guests something about your personality and taste. To be quite honest, I lost most of my interest in coffee table books right around the point where I became old enough to conceivably own a coffee table.
But when I was a kid, coffee table books were magic.
Between the ages of 7 and 13, I owned more coffee table books than I will probably ever own again in my life. My favorite was a fat Readers' Digest tome on great disasters, full of prints of the Titanic schematics, medieval doctors lancing the buboes of plague victims, and photographs of the serene destruction at Lake Nyos. I read that thing so many times that I eventually broke the spine.
I still think kids and coffee table books go together like peanut butter and jelly. In late grade school and junior high, you're at an age where you still enjoy picture books but are looking for a bigger, deeper view of the world than most picture books provide. Coffee table books bridge that gap, offering grown-up perspectives in kid-friendly packages. Whether the topic is art, architecture, history, culture, or science—coffee table books can be a kid's first step into a subject they'll come to love as an adult.
Now that you know that context, let me tell you what I thought about one of National Geographic's newest coffee table books—The Big Idea: How Breakthroughs of the Past Shape the Future
As every blog and news site everywhere has already reported (including Boing Boing), the definitive biography of the late Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, is out today.
Last night's edition of the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes was devoted entirely, 100%, to stories on Jobs and his products.
As Mike Godwin noted on Twitter, Steve Kroft asks during the segment how Jobs, "who dropped LSD and marijuana," goes off to India and returns to become a businessman. LOL @ "dropping marijuana." The show sure does know their demo. At least they didn't say he smoked acid.
Snarking aside, the 60 Minutes pieces are worth watching. Here's part 1, here's part 2, and here's 3 (!), on iPad apps for autism. In other news this week, Obama says we're bringing troops home from Iraq, and Qaddafi's dead.
Related: Dan Lyons, former Fake Steve Jobs, on the backlash.
All week long, excerpts have been leaking out, with little snippets of the late Apple CEO's reported thoughts on alternative medicine, Android, Bill Gates, being strategically mean to people, Obama, what apps Obama's staffers had on their iPads, cancer, teachers' unions and labor rights, Issey Miyake turtlenecks, the adoptive parents he loved and rebelled against, and the biological parents who gave him up for adoption (whom he is said to have referred to as "sperm and egg donors").
The first real review, by Janet Maslin in the New York Times, is out today.
You can read all 630 pages of the book for yourself soon. [Amazon].
Every year, intrepid Ph.D. students face off in a high-stakes competition for honor, glory, and the intermingling of science and art. The goal: Dance your Ph.D. thesis. I showed you the finalists last year. This year, Science magazine has posted all 53 entries online, before the finalists are chosen. I'll confess, I've not yet watched them all. So I can't say this is my favorite, but it is well-done and did immediately catch my attention.
"Human-Based Percussion and Self-Similarity Detection in Electroacoustic Music" is, basically, researcher J. Anderson Mills' attempt to teach a computer to hear percussion sounds the way a human does. In the video, Shiny Robot learns how to dance. You can read a full description of how the various parts of this dance tie into Mills' research at the video site:
The dissertation research began with a two-choice, forced-interval experiment in which 29 humans were asked to rate isolated sounds from most to least percussive. The sound characteristic of rise time was found to be the most correlated with percussion of the characteristics tested. The experiment is represented in the dance by the first two interactions between Alain and Shiny, during which Shiny expresses his inability to correctly choose the stronger percussion sound.
... The final stage of the dissertation research was to use the detection algorithm with real-world music to discover self-similarity in the percussion patterns. By using auto-correlation analysis, the detection algorithm can be used to time the repetition and near repetition in music percussion. Shiny demonstrates the self-similarity of the music by several final repetitve dance moves, repeating appropriately at the time scale of beats, measures, and phrases.
Via Keith Cowing
Without Lord Kelvin, there would have been no D-Day.
There's some very cool science history in the September issue of Physics Today, centering around a collection of analog computers, developed in the 19th century to predict tides. This was a job that human mathematicians could do, but the computing machines did the job faster and were less prone to small errors that had big, real-world implications. David Kaplan, an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee physics department, sent the links over. He says that these machines ended up being crucial and are a big, in-your-face reminder of the complications of living in a world without calculators:
"... it was particularly important during WWII in order to properly plan beach landings, but even without the war part I found it fascinating. We take this so for granted now, that we can crank out sin() and cos() values instantly, but that was not always the case."
We're talking about predictions a bit more precise than simply saying, "the water is low" or "the water is high." Physics Today explains why the behavior of tides was so important at D-Day and why the tide calculators were so important to Allied success.
You can read more about tide predicting machines on Wikipedia, and try out a Java simulation of Lord Kelvin's tide predicting machine at the American Mathematical Society website.
As an Allied cross-channel invasion loomed in 1944, Rommel, convinced that it would come at high tide, installed millions of steel, cement, and wooden obstacles on the possible invasion beaches, positioned so they would be under water by midtide.
The Allies would certainly have liked to land at high tide, as Rommel expected, so their troops would have less beach to cross under fire. But the underwater obstacles changed that. The Allied planners now decided that initial landings must be soon after low tide so that demolition teams could blow up enough obstacles to open corridors through which the following landing craft could navigate to the beach. The tide also had to be rising, because the landing craft had to unload troops and then depart without danger of being stranded by a receding tide.
There were also nontidal constraints. For secrecy, Allied forces had to cross the English Channel in darkness. But naval artillery needed about an hour of daylight to bombard the coast before the landings. Therefore, low tide had to coincide with first light, with the landings to begin one hour after. Airborne drops had to take place the night before, because the paratroopers had to land in darkness. But they also needed to see their targets, so there had to be a late-rising Moon. Only three days in June 1944 met all those requirements for “D-Day,” the invasion date: 5, 6, and 7 June.
As I've mentioned before, one of the best parts of digging around the Toronto Archives is the stuff you find that you were never looking for. I'd guess that at least a third of the ideas I've had for historical posts about the city have come via some serendipitous discovery or another. Today's installment is certainly fits this bill.Vintage computers and technology in Toronto (via Super Punch)
When I was putting together a post about what banks used to look like in Toronto, I happened to stumble upon some spectacular, Kubrick-esque shots of an unidentified computer room that got me wondering if there were any more like them in the City's digitized collection. As it turns out, there are — though not as many as I'd like.