Digital synesthesia

Stanford neuroscientist David Eagleman invented the Versatile Extra-Sensory Transducer (VEST), a wearable tactile display that translates myriad kinds of information, from speech to sounds to digital data, into patterns of vibrations on the skin. The device was inspired by Eagleman's study of synesthesia, the fascinating neurological phenomenon whereby stimulation of one sense involuntarily triggers another sensory pathway. From Smithsonian:

The neuroscientist believes that the versatility and plasticity of the brain make it fundamentally receptive to forming new pathways of sensory input. “The brain gets this information from the world, but the brain doesn’t actually have any way of knowing: were these photons, were these sound compression aids, was this pressure?” Eagleman says. As he explains it, the brain simply transforms these diverse stimuli into electrochemical spikes and uses these signals to create a mental representation of the world. The VEST would do this same work for all sorts of data by translating it into interpretable vibrations—giving its wearer a veritable “sixth sense.”

Eagleman is developing the VEST with an open API, so that others can experiment with the types of data it can convert into vibrations. “We’ve thought of 20 really cool things to feed in, which we’ve been experimenting with, but the community will think of 20,000 streams of data to feed in,” he says.

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Amazing birdseye photos taken by pigeons a century ago

In 1907, pharmacist and photography buff Dr. Julius Neubronner invented the "pigeon camera." Neubronner attached his cameras, with a built-in shutter timer, to his own homing pigeons and let them fly. For most people, the birds' photos provided a previously unseen view on the world. The images are collected in a new book, The Pigeon Photographer. From the New Yorker:

(Neubronner) showed his camera at international expositions, where he also sold postcards taken by the birds. Additionally, he developed a portable, horse-drawn dovecote, with a darkroom attached to it, which could be moved into proximity of whatever object or area the photographer hoped to capture from on high. These inventions represented a breakthrough at the time, allowing for surveillance with speed and range that was previously impossible. (Whether the cameras would actually capture the desired object, however, depended on luck and the whims of the pigeons.) The technology would soon be adapted for use in wartime—the cameras served as very early precursors to drones—although by the time of the First World War, just a few years later, airplanes were allowing people to do things that only pigeons could have done before.

(Thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)

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San Francisco: Kronos Quartet's Kronos Festival April 26-28

Kronos Quartet, my favorite avant-garde classical group, is holding its Kronos Festival 2018 at San Francisco's SF JAZZ Center next week, April 26-28. I've attended multiple Kronos Festivals and they are always wonderful performances, each one an enchanting introduction to global (and local) sounds that are wonderfully unfamiliar to me yet open my ears and mind to new artists and perspectives. This year, the festival features artist-in-residence David Coulter and guests San Francisco Girls Chorus, Vân-Ánh Võ, Zakir Hussain, Mahsa Vahdat, Trio Da Kali, Jolie Holland, and avant-folk duo CocoRosie!

Special note: The Saturday matinee concert, "Around the World with Kronos," is meant for families with children ages 3 and up!

Here's the full schedule: Kronos Festival 2018

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What do blind people "see" on LSD?

In a case study published in the journal Cognition and Consciousness, a 70-year-old musician who has been blind since birth reports on his experiences taking LSD. The man used the name "Mr. Blue Pentagon," a reference to his preferred brand of blotter. From Live Science:

"I never had any visual images come to me. I can't see or imagine what light or dark might look like," Mr. Blue Pentagon told the researchers. But under the influence of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide, also known as acid), sounds felt unique and listening to music felt like being immersed in a waterfall, he said. "The music of Bach's third Brandenburg concerto brought on the waterfall effect. I could hear violins playing in my soul and found myself having a one hour long monologue using different tones of voices ... LSD gave everything 'height.' The sounds coming from songs I would normally listen to became three dimensional, deep and delayed."

Mr. Blue Pentagon's account is a rare glimpse into how LSD may feel in the absence of vision. Beyond a few Q&A threads on Reddit, the only other resource is a 1963 study of 24 blind people, which was actually conducted by an ophthalmologist to test whether a functioning retina (the part of the eye that senses light) is enough for visual hallucinations (it's not), and didn’t include the participants’ psychological experiences beyond vision.

Understanding Mr. Blue Pentagon's experience with the drug may give unique insights about how novel synesthetic experiences through multiple senses are concocted by the brain — especially a brain that is wired differently due to lack of vision, according to the researchers from the University of Bath in the U.K.

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Man uses GPS trackers to catch air conditioner thief

Cincinnati landlord Courtland Gundlind had enough of the thief who had recently stolen two air conditioning units from his properties. So he hid a GPS tracker inside a new unit, installed it, and waited for the culprit to strike again. Two weeks later, the air conditioner texted him that it was "on the move." From Cincinnati.com:

The Okeana landlord called a friend and followed the trail. The GPS updated every 60 seconds, so they remained about a minute behind. He called police who eventually caught up with the unit and a suspect at the McDonald's on Reading Road.

Cincinnati Police arrested David Lester Walls, 50, of Linden Street, and charged him with theft and criminal damaging. He was arraigned April 11, pleaded not guilty, and is set to return to court May 15....

(Gundling) said police were surprised the GPS in the AC worked.

(Thanks, Charles Pescovitz!) Read the rest

Watch Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard play the re-prounouned Beatles song "And I Love Him"

Universal Love is a new compilation of wedding songs reimagined for same-sex couples. It includes the likes of Kesha doing "I Need a Woman to Love," Bob Dylan playing "He's Funny That Way," and my pal Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie singing "And I Love Him." Check out Ben's lovely performance on Conan last night!

More about Universal Love in this New York Times article. Read the rest

Help wanted: Archivist for the Prince museum at Paisley Park

Prince's Paisley Park, now a museum, is seeking an archives supervisor to "actively work in the care, catalog, storage and preservation of all artifacts and archival materials; the care, cleaning, and monitoring of all exhibits." According to the job requirements, "Some knowledge of Prince is helpful." From the job listing at the American Alliance of Museums site:

RESPONSIBILITIES:

Actively work in the care, catalog, storage and preservation of all artifacts and archival materials; the care, cleaning, and monitoring of all exhibits. Maintain and Update the archival database system. Monitor the trafficking of archive inventory. Assist the appropriate staff in having access to the archives collection as required. Travel/act as a courier of artifacts to locations where artifacts are to be displayed including the setting up and taking down of exhibits in these locations. Execute, maintain, and provide accurate conditioning reports for all items being moved from storage for exhibition. Ensure that the collections manual, preservation plans and archives emergency plan are observed. Locate, retrieve, and prepare artifacts for display/loans. Ensure the integrity of the collection in maintained at all times. Oversea all cleaning of exhibit spaces. Work with outside vendors to schedule monthly, quarterly and annual cleaning. Assist with Archives long term planning, conservation goals and preservation needs. Photograph and or scan artifacts when needed. Assist with exhibition installs. Maintain displayed artifacts in proper environment, eliminate risk to artifacts. Assist Director of Archives with coordinating activities involving the maintenance, preservation and mansion upkeep. Ensure the integrity of the exhibitions are maintained at all times. Read the rest

Amputee drummer with bionic playing arm launches Kickstarter

Drummer Jason Barnes, who only has one arm, has been collaborating with engineer Gil Weinberg of Georgia Tech's Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines to develop a cyborg arm that enables Barnes not only to play his kit again, but to "play at speeds not humanly possible... and play strange polyrhythms that no human can play." Weinberg and Barnes have now launched a Kickstarter to build another prosthetic cyborg arm that Barnes can take on the road. From IEEE Spectrum:

The Cyborg Drummer Project Kickstarter is looking to raise $90,000; of that, $70,000 will go straight to production of the new arm. A big chunk of the cost comes from trying to replace the “couple of computers and a technical team” that are currently required to operate the arm with components that are portable, self-contained, and user operated. The remaining $20,000 will go towards organizing concerts and making recordings so that folks who contribute will be able to hear and enjoy some of the result, potentially in person.

One of the unique things about the prosthetic that Weinberg and Barnes want to build is that it will be partially autonomous. There are two drumsticks: Barnes controls one; the other operates autonomously through its own actuator. The arm listens to the music being played (by Jason and the musicians around him) and improvises its own accompanying beat pattern. It's able to do this on the fly, and if it chooses to, is capable of moving at speeds far faster than a human drummer can.

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Video toilet displays ads while men pee

Mr. Friendly is a waterless public urinal that integrates a video screen to show you ads while you pee. This is just begging for "gamification." From the Dutch manufacturer:

Every gentleman knows that a toilet break is a moment of relaxation. This is when we have “time on our hands”. We seize that perfect moment with our unique Mr.Friendly urinal. Sponsors of environmentally friendly urinals are happy with that moment when they can display a nice video to introduce themselves.

As a location holder you can also use the built-in display. Communicate your message at a unique moment.

Mr. Friendly Toilet (via Neatorama)

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Amazing photos of sports games combined into single chaotic images

Photographer Pelle Cass takes dozens of photographs of the same location and then combines the people into a single image. His photos of sporting events make the games look much more fun! From Cass's artist statement:

This work both orders the world and exaggerate its chaos. With the camera on a tripod, I take many dozens of pictures, and simply leave in the figures I choose and omit the rest. The photographs are composite,but nothing has been changed, only selected. My subject is the strangeness of time, the exact way people look, and a surprising world that is visible only with a camera.

Pelle Cass: "Crowded Fields" (via Kottke)

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Police seeking woman who stole butterfly from exhibit

Cincinnati police are looking for a woman caught on video stealing a live Menelaus blue morpho butterfly from a special exhibit at Krohn Conservatory. From WCPO:

(University of Cincinnati biologist Stephen) Matter and colleague Patrick Guerra said the butterfly was likely dead by Wednesday, given its biological need for a warmer climate than the one Cincinnati has experienced since Sunday.

(Thanks, Charles Pescovitz!)

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Quakers release podcast of silent meeting

A young Quakers group in Nottingham, England released this 30-minute podcast of a silent meeting, complete with the ambient room sounds. John Cage would be proud. From The Guardian:

Quakerism was founded in the 17th century by the dissenter George Fox during the years of Puritan England. The group’s meetings are characterised by silence, which is occasionally broken when someone present feels the urge to speak, say a prayer or offer a reading.

The idea for the silent podcast first came from Tim Gee, a Quaker living in London, who was inspired by the BBC’s season of “slow” radio, which treated audiences to – among other things – the sounds of birds singing, mountain climbing and monks chatting.

Gee said he had wanted to “share a small oasis of calm, and a way to provide a moment of stillness, for people on the move”.

The Young Quaker Podcast: "#4 - Silence Special" Read the rest

Distract yourself with multiplayer Minesweeper

Andy Baio points us to "Multiplayer Minesweeper — you probably need the distraction right now."

From Wikipedia:

The objective of the game is to clear a rectangular board containing hidden "mines" or bombs without detonating any of them, with help from clues about the number of neighboring mines in each field...

Minesweeper has its origins in the earliest mainframe games of the 1960s and 1970s. The earliest ancestor of Minesweeper was Jerimac Ratliff's Cube.

(via Waxy) Read the rest

Photo of freaky monster terrorizing Santa Fe, Argentina

A resident of Santa Fe, Argentina snapped this photo of a horrific beast that allegedly is killing dogs in the town. It's said to be 7-feet-tall and resemble a cross between a horse and El Chupacabra. YouTube channel UFOmania reported on the creature so perhaps the most reasonable explanation is that it's an evil extraterrestrial that hates doggos.

(iHeartRadio via Fark) Read the rest

Scientists accidentally engineer enzyme to eat plastic waste

Researchers "accidentally" engineered a natural enzyme found in a Japanese waste recycling plant to eat plastic waste. According to the scientists from the UK's University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the enzyme, Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, degrades polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the material used to make plastic bottles and other crap. The photo above is an electron microscope image of the enzyme degrading PET plastic.

"We hoped to determine (the enzyme's) structure to aid in protein engineering, but we ended up going a step further and accidentally engineered an enzyme with improved performance at breaking down these plastics," NREL's lead researcher Gregg Beckham told CNN. From the University of Portsmouth:

“Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research and our discovery here is no exception,” Professor McGeehan said.

“Although the improvement is modest, this unanticipated discovery suggests that there is room to further improve these enzymes, moving us closer to a recycling solution for the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics.”

"Engineering a plastic-eating enzyme" (UOP) Read the rest

Dirt therapy: Help this incredible community farm in Bellingham, Washington build a greenhouse by the freeway

My sister-in-law Mary Loquvam was thinking globally and acting locally long before urban homesteading became hip and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch grew to double the size of Texas. In the last decades, she's pioneered recycling programs at airports, led efforts to revitalize the Los Angeles River ecosystems, and directed the L.A. Audobon Society. Now living in Bellingham, Washington, Mary and her neighbors have transformed an unused plot of land along the highway into the nonprofit York Community Farm where they've grown and distributed hundreds of pounds of dry beans, potatoes, and winter squash to the community. The real centerpiece of their effort, Mary says, is their farm internship program that provides "living-wage, resume-building, meaningful work experience for underserved members of our community- our recently-incarcerated, homeless, and veteran folk."

Mary and her York Farm friends have just launched a Kickstarter to fund a greenhouse so they can grow food year-round and build an aquaponics system that "has much greater per acre yields, and uses 90% less water, than traditional land-based farming."

"York Community Farm envisions being a catalyst for development of a social benefit aquaponics industry where the bottom line is not generating revenue for stockholders but, generating living-wage jobs for struggling communities in our region and beyond," Mary writes.

I love their slogan: "Improving lives through dirt therapy!"

Please help York Community Farm build a greenhouse by supporting their Kickstarter!

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Launching today: NASA's new satellite seeking "alien" Earths

Today, SpaceX expects to launch a Falcon 9 rocket to deliver NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) into orbit. Scientists expect TESS to find thousands of exoplanets by detecting when they pass in front of their host stars, briefly blocking the light of those suns.

“A few months after TESS launches, we will be able to point out the first ones of these familiar stars, which host planets that could be like ours,” says Cornell University astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger, director of the Carl Sagan Institute.

From Nadia Drake's excellent FAQ on TESS in National Geographic:

The search for life beyond Earth is necessarily constrained by what we know. Life as we don’t know it could be anywhere, and it doesn’t care that we haven’t deigned to imagine it yet. To help focus the hunt, astronomers are starting by looking for something familiar. And we know that at least once, life evolved on a warm, rocky planet orbiting a relatively stable star.

That being said, many of the stars TESS will scrutinize will be smaller and dimmer than our own: the cool, reddish M dwarfs that are the most common types of stars in the Milky Way. Planets orbiting these stars at a distance that’s neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist are going to be snuggled in quite close—orbiting near enough to their stars for scientists to find them on months-long time scales.

In addition, the worlds TESS expects to find will be better situated for observations that could reveal whether alien metabolisms are churning away on their surfaces, beneath their seas, or in their clouds.

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