Jacquard looms: Videos demonstrating early computer programs

Invented in 1801, Jacquard looms are really an add-on to already existent mechanical loom systems, which allowed those looms to create patterns more complex and intricate than anything that had been done before. The difference: Punch cards.

When you weave, the pattern comes from changes in thread position — which threads were exposed on the surface of the cloth and which were not. But prior to the Jacquard loom, there were only so many threads that any weaver could control at one time, so patterns were simple and blocky. Essentially, the Jacquard system vastly increased the pixels available in any weaving pattern, by automatically controlling lots and lots of threads all at once. Punch cards told the machine which threads were in play at any given time.

It's a really cool process, and I wanted to share a couple of videos that give you a good idea of how these looms work and how they changed the textiles industry. You can watch them below. But probably the best example is the image above. It's a picture of Joseph-Marie Jacquard, woven in silk on the loom he invented — a fantastic demonstration of the design power that loom offered. In just a few years, people went from weaving simple stars and knots, to weaving patterns that almost look like they were spit out of a printer.

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Is our solar system missing a planet?

Possibly, according to some scientists who are trying to understand the early days of Sol and friends.

One way that researchers study events like the creation of the solar system is to model what might have happened using computer software. The basic idea works like this: We know a decent amount about the physical laws (like gravity) that govern the creation of planets and the formation of a solar system. So scientists can take those laws, and program them into a virtual universe that also includes other real-world data ... like what we know about the make-up of the Sun and the planets orbiting it. Then, they recreate history. Then they do it again. Over and over and over, thousands of times, the scientists witness the creation of our solar system.

It doesn't happen the same way each time. Just like you can get a very different loaf of bread out of multiple attempts and baking the same general recipe. But those recreations start to give us an idea of which scenarios were more likely to have happened, and why. If our solar system tends to form in one way and resist forming in another, we have a stronger basis for assuming that the former way was more likely to be what really happened.

That's what you're seeing in this study, which Charles Q. Choi writes about for Scientific American.

Computer models showing how our solar system formed suggested the planets once gravitationally slung one another across space, only settling into their current orbits over the course of billions of years. During more than 6,000 simulations of this planetary scattering phase, planetary scientist David Nesvorny at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., found that a solar system that began with four giant planets [as ours currently has] only had a 2.5 percent chance of leading to the orbits presently seen now. These systems would be too violent in their youth to end up resembling ours, most likely resulting in systems that have less than four giants over time, Nesvorny found.

Instead, a model about 10 times more likely at matching our current solar system began with five giants, including a now lost world comparable in mass to Uranus and Neptune. This extra planet may have been an "ice giant" rich in icy matter just like Uranus and Neptune, Nesvorny explained.

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Voting expert tells The Awl: There are reasons to be concerned about voting machines, but vast conspiracies aren't one of them

Tagg Romney doesn't own Ohio's voting machines. And Joseph Lorenzo Hall, senior staff technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology in D.C., says that a lot of the fears the public has about electronic voting are equally unfounded. The biggest thing to worry about, he tells The Awl's Maria Bustillos, is that we're so busy sending around email forwards about ostensible vast conspiracies that we're not paying enough attention to the very real security and tech problems that do exist in the voting system.

Maria Bustillos: I no longer know what to believe in media reports of electronic election tampering. What are professionals most worried about, at this point, in this election?

Joseph Lorenzo Hall: It's a very complex area and unfortunately one that lends itself to dearths of information and poor intuition… which is how Bello and Fitrakis get way out into left field. Extending email/fax voting to displaced NJ voters is making us very nervous… What I think we expect to see a lot of—and it's not as sexy as conspiracy theory—is the aging of this machinery, as much of it is 10- to 15-year-old computer equipment. Another not-so-sexy source of problems will be from newer online voter registration systems, an electronic version of pollbooks. We may see strange reports of people not being registered or being marked down as already voted. Much of that will seem to some like fraud, but it is more likely poorly checked voter registration rolls. People don't like having to cast provisional ballots, but they need to understand that if you're registered and at the right location, the ballot will count.

Maria: Why do you think we haven't been able to solve these problems, given that we've had years in which to do so?

Joe: Two reasons: 1) no one cares about it until presidential election years, and mostly right before that election; and, 2) there is no regular source of federal funding for elections (when it comes to a state or local government choosing between spending money to fill potholes—which affect people every day—or making elections better, they will fill the potholes).

Read the rest of the interview at The Awl

Image: Lonely Diebold Voting Machine, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from subfinitum's photostream

HowTo figure out Windows 8

Windows 8's new UI is elegant, minimalist and, for those used to the older versions, utterly baffling. Sean Hollister's lengthy guide to the new OS will have you figuring it out in no time. tl;dr just hover the mouse in the corners.

Honda designs a car "for women," the Fit She's

At left, the new Honda Fit She's, a car available in predictable pink or what the maker calls "eyeliner brown." The vehicle is designed for the female market in Japan, and costs around $17.5K USD at current exchange rates. Official website here, in Japanese.

The Honda Fit She's features a “Plasmacluster” climate control system the maker claims can improve skin quality, a windshield that prevents wrinkles, a pink interior stitching, "tutti-frutti-hued chrome bezels," and an adorable heart instead of an apostrophe in “She’s.”

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The coming civil war over general purpose computing

Even if we win the right to own and control our computers, a dilemma remains: what rights do owners owe users?

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"Do things that have never been done before,” says guy who invented computer

Joel Runyon writes about "An Unexpected Ass Kicking," intellectually speaking, which he received in a Portland coffee shop from Russell Kirsch—the 80-year-old man who invented America's first internally programmable computer. Kirsch isn't a big fan of Apple products.

Coming soon: Computer finds the face of Jesus in a photo of toast

You know how your brain likes to see faces where there are not actually any faces? (Hint: This tendency, called pareidolia, is the force behind all those faces of Jesus turning up on slices of toast.) Turns out, computer programs can suffer from pareidolia, too. (Via Alexis Madrigal)

An encounter with Russell Kirsch, inventor of the world's first internally programmable computer

Joel Runyon:

"That’s the problem with a lot of people”, he continued, “they don’t try to do stuff that’s never been done before, so they never do anything, but if they try to do it, they find out there’s lots of things they can do that have never been done before."

I nodded my head in agreement and laughed to myself – thinking that would be something that I would say and the coincidence that out of all the people in the coffee shop I ended up talking to, it was this guy. What a way to open a conversation.The old man turned back at his coffee, took a sip, and then looked back at me.

“In fact, I’ve done lots of things that haven’t been done before”, he said half-smiling.

Not sure if he was simply toying with me or not, my curiousity got the better of me.

"Oh really? Like what types of things?, All the while, half-thinking he was going to make up something fairly non-impressive."

"I invented the first computer."

ZX Spectrum is 30

Sinclair's ZX Spectrum, the astoundingly successful sub-£100 personal computer, is 30 years old today. [BBC. Photo: Iñaki Quenerapú]

Commodore 64 creator dies

"We need to build computers for the masses, not the classes" — Jack Tramiel [Mercury News] Rob

Put Alan Turing on the £10 note!

Peter Flint sez, "Alan Turing, computer pioneer and geek hero, is generally credited with helping, via his work at the top-secret Bletchley Park code-breaking centre, to shorten World War 2 by anything up to two years. He tragicaly took his own life after his (then-illegal) homosexuality came to light. One way to commemorate his work and to make his legacy more widely understood waould be to include his picture on the next £10 note. Sign the petition and help this to happen!" The richest person in Britain would be Turing-complete. Cory

Thumbdrive computer up for pre-order

Cotton Candy, a computer the size of a (big) thumbdrive, is available for pre-order and will ship in March. The $199 machine, which runs Ubuntu or Android 4, has a 1.2GHz ARM CPU, 1GB of RAM, and HD video acceleration. [FXI via Ars Technica]

Evil computer just wants to be friends

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.

Video Link

How Computers Work

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