You've probably seen a biosphere ecosystem before. It's a glass orb filled with water, some aquatic plants, and some small animals like freshwater shrimp. The only input to the otherwise closed system is sunlight, and the goal is to keep the lifeforms inside the glass sphere going as long as possible. When I was at Make magazine we made a biosphere and it remained healthy for over five years.
Orb Farm is a web-based biosphere simulator. You are given an empty glass sphere, and you can fill it with glass, sand, stone, wood, water, algae, Daphnia, grass, bacteria, fish, goldfish, and, er, donuts. The game was created by Max Bittker. Read the rest
Marcel Salathé (epidemiologist) and Nicky Case (art/code) created this fun(?) way to visualize the spread of COVID-19 through a series of increasingly sophisticated playable simulations. The takeaway: "A lockdown isn't a cure, it's just a restart." Read the rest
The New York Times created a 3-D simulation of what happens to the droplets that are expelled when a person coughs or sneezes. Six feet seems to be the absolute minimum distance to stay away from someone. The droplets can travel up to 26 feet away from the source, and can remain suspended for up to 20 minutes.
The end of this article has a link to an augmented reality smart phone app you can use when you are shopping for groceries. The app shows an imaginary 6 foot radius circle around you.
Image: New York Times Read the rest
OpenAI Inc. demonstrated a one-handed robot solving a Rubik's Cube. Apparently the real breakthrough in this milestone was teaching the system to do the task in simulation. “While the video makes it easy to focus on the physical robot, the magic is mostly happening in simulation, and transferring things learned in simulation to the real world," writes Evan Ackerman in IEEE Spectrum:
The researchers point out that the method they’ve developed here is general purpose, and you can train a real-world robot to do pretty much any task that you can adequately simulate. You don’t need any real-world training at all, as long as your simulations are diverse enough, which is where the automatic domain randomization comes in. The long-term goal is to reduce the task specialization that’s inherent to most robots, which will help them be more useful and adaptable in real-world applications.
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Are you the driver in the lot who parks in the first spot you see? Or do you circle around and around looking for a spot by the door? Physicists Paul Krapivsky of Boston University and Sidney Redner of the Santa Fe Institute explored the mathematics of parking. The research required different equations and simulations to model the benefits of the various parking approaches. From EurkeAlert!:
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In their paper, Krapivsky and Redner map three simple parking strategies onto an idealized, single row parking lot. Drivers who grab the first space available follow what the authors call a "meek" strategy. They "waste no time looking for a parking spot," leaving spots near the entrance unfilled. Those who gamble on finding a space right next to the entrance are "optimistic." They drive all the way to the entrance, then backtrack to the closest vacancy. "Prudent" drivers take the middle path. They drive past the first available space, betting on the availability of at least one other space further in. When they find the closest space between cars, they take it. If no spaces exist between the furthest parked car and the entrance, prudent drivers backtrack to the space a meek driver would have claimed straightaway.
So which strategy is best? As the name suggests, the prudent strategy. Overall, it costs drivers the least amount of time, followed closely by the optimistic strategy. The meek strategy was "risibly inefficient," to quote the paper, as the many spaces it left empty created a lengthy walk to the entrance.
In the year 2,000, Susan Potter, then 72, donated her body to medicine. After Potter died, scientists froze her corpse, sliced it into 27,000 slivers thinner than a human hair, photographed each slice, and created "the world’s most advanced virtual cadaver using the highest-quality imagery of an entire human body in existence." Not only is the virtual cadaver an incredible accomplishment but so is National Geographic's story about Potter and the lead researcher, Dr. Vic Spitzer Ph.D., director of the Center for Human Simulation at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Why? Because National Geographic followed this incredible story of the Visible Human Project for almost two decades, from before Potter died through the completion of the simulation. Watch the documentary above. From National Geographic:
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Are you interested in working with us before you die? (Spitzer) finally asked (Potter). Are you interested in giving us more than just your body—in giving us your personality and knowledge?
Spitzer wanted to videotape her while she was living and record her talking about her life, her health, her medical history. Your pathology isn’t that interesting to the project, Spitzer told Potter. But if I could capture you talking to medical students, when they’re looking at slices of your body, you could tell them about your spine—why you didn’t want the surgery, what kind of pain the surgery caused, and what kind of life you led after the surgery. That would be fascinating.
“They’ll see her body while they’re hearing her stories,” he explained, adding that video and audio of her would make her more real and introduce the element of emotion to students.
Do you believe that we're living in a simulation? Has that belief affected your life? My old pal Rodney Ascher, director of fantastically freaky documentaries like Room 237, about weird theories surrounding The Shining, and The Nightmare, a study on sleep paralysis, is starting on a new far-out film about people who are convinced that our world is a digital creation. If you're one of those people, Rodney would love to hear from you.
"The approach, like my other films, is to focus almost entirely on first-person accounts and present them as accurately as possible - closer to a non-fiction Twilight Zone than an episode of Cosmos," Rodney says.
"A Glitch in the Matrix" (Facebook) Read the rest
Marcel Vos's creation hit the highest intensity rating possible on RollerCoaster Tycoon 2. Vos has named the coaster "Big Scary Motherfucker."
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YouTuber euverus modded Cities: Skylines to demonstrate how 30 different types of intersections have dramatically different amounts of traffic flow. A four-way intersection with no traffic lights gets a flow of 191 vehicles per minute, where a stack interchange can handle 1099 vehicles in the same time frame.
The mods used, Traffic Manager: President Edition and Network Extensions 2, are both available for free on Steam.
The big surprise for me was the roundabout, because we rarely have them in the Midwest or the West Coast. They seemed like a lot of extra space needed for an incremental benefit, but it appears they can be more efficient and safer, even weird ones.
• Traffic flow measured on 30 different 4-way junctions (YouTube / euverus) Read the rest
If the novelty of holding an elaborate bearing (possibly connected to some motion-sensitive LEDs) is wearing thin, have no fear: with a 3D printer and a little ingenuity, you can make your own double-pendulum fidget spinner, a chaotic system that is intensely sensitive to initial conditions, such that it becomes very hard to predict the motion of the pendulum when you set it to swinging. Read the rest
I'm playing Francis Tseng's dystopian startup business simulation called "The Founder." It's a bit like The Sims, but the goal is to run a successful startup. The game is played on your browser, no download required.
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Gaia is an interactive 3D map of the galaxy, coded by Charley Hoey and sourced from the eponymous mapping satellite's data: click, drag and scroll/pinch to change the viewpoint. It took a long time to load even on my desktop PC, but the results speak overwhelmingly for themselves.
The Gaia satellite by the European Space Agency is currently orbiting 1.5 million kilometers beyond the moon, twirling through the heavens and dutifully marking down the positions of every point of light it sees. I've processed the program's first batch of data to determine the 3D position of about 2 million stars. Click and drag to orbit, or scroll/pinch to zoom in and out, zoom all the way in to see our sun, just one star among millions. WebVR enabled!
Hoey explains in "torrenting the galaxy" what it took to model two million stars in the browser. Here's an official ESA image made from the same dataset; as beautiful as it is, the enormity of the data it represents seems absent.
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Black holes swoop around one another in a slow, elegant dance, their orbits mo—THWUP! *belching noise*
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Traffic-Simulation.de is exactly what it says it is: a depiction of traffic that you can toy with and bend to your will. A useful reminder that no matter how easy you make it for humans (at least modeled ones) they will turn even the most benign cooperative herd activity into a snarling mess of opportunism and incapacitating self-interest. Read the rest
"Either we're going to create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality, or civilization will cease to exist," Musk says. (Recode)
More on the Simulation Argument here and here.
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Regular BB readers know one of my favorite head trips is the idea that we're living in a simulation or control system of some kind. Decades before The Matrix, folks like Jacques Vallee, John Keel, Stephen Wolfram, Rudy Rucker, Hans Moravec, and Ed Fredkin explored this notion. And of course it's also been the subject of countless science fiction novels. In recent years, Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom developed a mathematical argument to support the mind-bending theory. A week ago, UC Berkeley mathematician Edward Frankel, author of Read the rest
This is how Hurricane Isaac looked on Tuesday, as it made landfall on America's Gulf Coast. If you've never been to the Gulf of Mexico, here is a key fact you should know: The water there is warm. While Pacific coastal waters might be in the 50s during August, and the central Atlantic coast is pulling temperatures in the 60s and 70s, the water in the Gulf of Mexico is well into the 80s.
And that makes a difference. We know that water temperature affects hurricane strength. But we don't understand the particulars of how or why at a detail level. To learn more about this (and other factors that make each hurricane an individual), researchers at the University of Miami are building a simulation machine. When it's complete, it will be a key tool in improving forecasts.
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Peter Sollogub, Associate Principal at Cambridge Seven, says the hurricane simulator is comprised of three major components:
The first is a 1400-horsepower fan originally suited for things like ventilating mine shafts. To create its 150mph winds, it will draw energy from the campus's emergency generator system, which is typically used during power outages caused by storms.
The second part is a wave generator which pushes salt water using 12 different paddles. Those paddles, timed to move at different paces and rates, can create waves at various sizes, angles and frequency, creating anything from a calm, organized swell to sloppy chaotic seas.
The third aspect of the tank is the tank itself, which is six meters in width by 20 meters in length by two meters high.