Monday, June 3, 2024

Taxi Driver and the Advent of Graffiti in New York City as Seen in Movies from 1971-1979

This is a typical scene from the movie Taxi Driver 1976, looking through the rainstreaked windshield on the city streets at night.

For no particular reason I'm watching The French Connection, 1971. Twenty minutes into the movie I get this weird feeling - it's filmed entirely in New York City, and parts of it look pretty close to what you would see if you went there today, 2024. But something was missing. 

There's no graffiti in the entire movie. It's filmed all throughout New York, on the streets downtown, on the elevated subways way uptown. Inside the subways, on the platforms. Brick walls, under bridges, it's all there. And not one inch has a piece of graffiti on it. 

There's one scene where far in the distance there might be like a hobo sign next to a loading dock behind a building. And maybe a scrawled Tony somewhere, maybe permanent marker. 

I thought that like most things, graffiti didn't just come from nowhere and all at once. There's always something that comes before. But no, not for graffiti. Like sure the aerosol spraycan came out in the 50's, but it took something to make it catch on. And that something must have happened in New York City sometime before 1979, when we see the movie The Warriors and a city consumed by crime, and graffiti. 


The Warriors, just like French Connection, relies on the subway almost as another character - here they're using it to evade both gangs and cops, like some omnipotent and very reliable sidekick. This is why I like using these two movies as the limits of this completely unscientific study - in the history of graffiti, the subway is important enough to be like a character in itself.

On the origin of graffiti in New York City, the easy way out of this question is to point to the blackout, summer of 1977. This event is often credited as the birth of Hip Hop, because it's when all the now-famous DJs got their equipment (for free). All these DJs now have sound systems and turntables, and they can have big parties, and the scene explodes. Anyway, that's the easy answer. 

I thought it would be better to look at it through the lens of movies filmed in New York City from 1971 to 1979, so here we go:

The French Connection, 1971
  • It's filmed in New York City, but there's no graffiti. None.
The climax of the film takes place inside a series of subway cars, and we see various subway stations, brick walls, payphones. You get a good sampling of the city, and can be sure, no graffiti. This is the beginning.

Super Fly, 1972
  • Trace amounts (first 20 min, last 10 min).
This is filmed mostly in Harlem. 

Mean Streets, 1973
  • No graffiti (a flower, in spray paint, 20 min).
Note this is filmed in an Italian neighborhood circa 1970, not sure where, but granted it's not the best place to go looking for graffiti at this time. 

Death Wish, 1974
  • Here we go. First scene in NYC, graffiti on the elevated subway.
  • The hoodlum at the supermarket buys spraypaint and then vandalizes the inside of the guy's house with it (and his name is Spraycan in the credits)
  • Bronson's first murder, in Riverside Park, graffiti everywhere (45 min)
  • Scenes inside the subway are still clean (53 min)
This is the first real appearance of graffiti in a movie in New York City, and it comes hard. The very premise of this movie is about the rampant crime that has grown in recent years and crept into every area of the city, and one man was so victimized that he became a vigilante and started straight shooting people. 

So this movie is about crime, about bad people doing bad things. And the aerosol spraycan makes an immediate appearance. Within the first twenty minutes, there's a scene where a bunch of hoodlums follow this guy into his apartment building, and one of them starts spray paining all over the inside of the building, and then all inside his apartment, a real sign of lawlessness. The guy's name in the credits is Spraycan.

But actual examples of graffiti are limited to Riverside Park, which is smacked. The cover of the movie poster shows Charles Bronson aiming his gun at someone, but right behind him is a wall tagged with black spray paint, the letters stylized in a way that says authentic, in-the-wild graffiti. Likely Riverside Park was already a party spot before the influx of DJ equipment following the '77 blackout.

Prisoner of 2nd Ave, 1975
  • Black and white block letters on a wall, "BIKE" (3 min)

Three Days of the Condor, 1975
  • Busted-ass proto-graffiti (22 min)

Marathon Man, 1976
  • Central Park (9 min and 44 min)
  • Scribble scrabble (1:18 min)

Next Stop Greenwich Village, 1976
  • Nothing.
Filmed in the then-Jewish neighborhood of Flatbush, or Brownsville, somewhere in between, and also Greenwich Village in Manhattan; you're not seeing any graffiti, not even on the subway (10 min)

Taxi Driver, 1976
Here, we are at an impasse. It was released in 1976 but filmed in the summer of 75 during a heat wave and a citywide garbage collectors strike. The way it was filmed, and the places it filmed, were supposed to show the dying gasp of a city on the verge of bankruptcy, which it was.

You might think a movie like this would have lots of graffiti, but no. In fact, there's no graffiti in the entire movie. Granted, it's really hard to see anything because so many scenes are him driving, so he's going too fast to see the walls, and you're looking through the windshield of his car so it's blurry, and it's like always raining so it's even more blurry, and also, he works nights, so it's always dark. Sorry to say, even if there were graffiti in the movie, it would be pretty hard to see. 

That being said, there still seems to be no graffiti anywhere, not at the 57th Street cab station, not even in the "bad" neighborhoods in Harlem with the hookers and the hoodlums, nowhere. There's some basic magic marker written in the hallway of the whorehouse (1:24 min). 

But alas, go search images for the film and you'll find all of them are shots of Robert De Niro in front a wall that's absolutely shattered, yet the movie itself has no graffiti in it. There's two different images that seem to reappear, and I've copied them below. 

So here's a movie, 1975-1976, where the movie itself shows no graffiti, but the marketing was certain to make the point very clear - graffiti is a thing, it's bad, and it's here.

Here is an example of one of the photographs for Taxi Driver showing graffiti in the background. 

Here is another example of one of the photographs for Taxi Driver showing graffiti in the background. 

Saturday Night Fever, 1977
  • Filmed almost entirely in Bay Ridge Brooklyn, and began in March of 77 and lasted 3 months (Vanity Fair article), so it was still before the "blackout"
  • The subway is trashed (1 min)
  • Brick wall (4 min)
  • Under the bridge, proto-graffiti (27 min)
  • Throwups at the "Barracuda" joint (48 min)
  • Brick wall, mix of proto- and early graffiti (1:17 min)
  • Barracuda's again (1:28 min)
  • Subways are rocked, inside and out, and even the stations too (1:50 min)
It's impossible to ignore now. Something tells me things were already heating up prior to filming in March 1977, and only months before the "blackout". Taxi Driver is filmed in the summer of 75 and we don't see any graffiti. So the entire year of 76 between these two movies seems like a good place to put the thumbtack on the map. Unfortunately, there's not enough good material from this exact time period. 

Superman, 1978
  • Doesn't count.
It's overproduced, too controlled, too sanitized; like if there was graffiti they would have paid to have it removed from the scene. And it's the only movie filmed in NYC from 1978.

The Warriors, 1979
  • The title has drips and the whole credits font is written as if it were from a spraycan (1 min)
  • Inside the subway and out, rocked (2 min)
  • Supposed to be the Bronx but it's actually Riverside Park, and, same as Death Wish, it's rocked (7min)
  • There's a scene in a cemetery, and either the whole thing is a stage or they put a fake tombstone in there, and it's spraypainted with a "W" on it for Warriors; all the other graffiti in there is bootie, I think it's fake (19 min)
  • So far every single scene in the movie has graffiti, some proto- some regular (20 min)
  • Sprays the guy in the face with a can of paint, like it's a weapon (1:15 min)
I suspect some scenes had the graf added on purpose, it's just so bad, and yet other scenes have really good stuff around, so it's hard to tell.

This is where I realize that movies have fake graffiti. I take for granted that I can tell the difference, but I think it's so obvious at times that anyone could tell.

Anyway, it's interesting to think about graffiti as a sign of lawlessness, crime, deteriorating social values, you name it. When a person making a movie wants to create a good, believable set for a movie about gritty city life, they either find a wall with graffiti on it, or they make the wall with graffiti on it. This brings me to the last movie, outside the 1970's decade, but added here just for their use of fake graffiti:

Escape from New York, 1981 
  • This one for good measure. 
  • At 1:20 you can see real good what fake graffiti looks like in a movie in 1981. The whole thing is simulacra by the way, since it's supposed to be NYC but it's really filmed in East St. Louis.
In 1971, if you wanted to make a movie set look gritty, you might turn over a garbage can, get some broken bottles on the sidwalk, let loose a couple rats, but you never thought to yourself, man what I really need is to get some tags scribbled on this stop sign. Graffiti simply didn't exist. Something that resembles graffiti has always existed, and everybody knows Pompei had it scribbled on the walls back in 79 AD. But it simply didn't mean the same thing as it does today.

When you to want to make your movie set look a little more hard core, you don't draw Kilroy on the payphone. It also didn't matter if you wrote TAKI 183 on the payphone because it didn't really look like graffiti yet, and it didn't mean then what it meant by 1977.

When it first appeared, at least through the lens of the movies filmed in NYC 1971-1979, it meant "crime"; it meant a city completely out of control. Nothing says "we have completely given up governing our society" like wild, undecipherable scribble on every visible surface. Since then, you absolutely cannot say the same thing without it. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Anthropic Engine and the Rematerialization of the Anthroposphere

(This is the 1,000th post to Network Address since its inception in 2010)

Every so often, I find my reservoir of bat cave crazy shit running low, and I run a search for lectures via the Santa Fe Institute. This time, after watching the brain-scrambling presentation by Raissa M. D'Souza from UC Davis via Northwestern, and the resulting unintentional revelation about Dragon King events in chaos theory not being integrated into current climate models, I find this: 

"The Anthropic Engine" by Dr Manfred Laubichler of Arizona State University and Santa Fe Institute in 2024. He talks about how during the pandemic he found himself with much less to do, and decided to come up with a metric to assign to human endeavour, and ends up combining energy and information to tell us that 1975 was a turning point in human history, and he adds a positive prophecy about the coming climate catastrophe, that a socio-global correction is in order. 

My tank is overflowing now, thank you Santa Fe Institute (and Vienna Complexity Hub). But this only introduces the current issue. I go back to find the url for the video. I type the guy's name, the title of the talk, the name of the university, nothing. All different permutations, nothing. If you can't find it, maybe it doesn't exist. It used to be the case that if it was on the internet, you could find it, you just had to tune your search. But then the internet got too big, and the search engines too greedy (THE search engine) and it started to eat itself, and now we can't find anything.

Images: Above is a series of screenshots from three search engines for the term "Anthropic Engine"; none of them - Bing, DuckDuckGo, Google - found the result we were looking for. 

When was the last time you searched for something and got zero results? It's been a long time. And these are the things that excite me more than anything, so you bet I'm paying attention. A few years ago I thought, "Thermodynamic Hallucinations"? Not a single result. So I make the result; I generate a single simple post with that phrase in the title. I now own that phrase, right? Wrong. Weeks later, I type that same phrase, and get nothing. Like I said, the internet (as we knew it) is broken. Note that as of this writing, which was Feb 1 2024, the above phrase was found on bing and duck but not google (and you can see the post here).

So today, after my Anthropic Engine discovery, I'm on a roll, and I pump my perennial cyber-barometer into the engine (search engine not anthropic engine) and to my surprise, after waiting long enough, I now own that phrase also. Most other instances have either died due to link rot, or to google-rot, likely both. And it's a big day here at Network Address, the weblog that started as a dematerialized instantiation of the mass transference device itself, and which is today generating its 1,000th post after 10 years. The rematerialization of the anthroposphere is complete. Start your engines (all of them). 

Images: Above is a series of screenshots from three search engines for the term "Mass Transference Device"

1. "Complex Networks with Complex Nodes: Emergent Behaviors and Control". Raissa D'Souza, Professor and Associate Dean for Research, College of Engineering, University of California, Davis. Oct 4 2023.
2. The Anthropic Engine, Dr Manfred Laubichler, Arizona State University and Santa Fe Institute, 2024. 

Thumbnail image credit: AI Art - Artificial Meat_1 - 2024

Who's the Alien Now

Way back when this weblog first started, and I had just begun to read religiously the scientific research press releases, I came across this paper; but then I lost it, and I've been looking for it ever since:

Researchers use Moore's Law to calculate that life began before Earth existed
Apr 2013,

By reverse engineering the rate of acceleration of genetic complexification, the zero-point of origin comes out at 9 billion years, five more than Earth’s existence. 

via the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory in Florida and the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore:  Life Before Earth, arXiv:1304.3381 [physics.gen-ph]

Since it has been many years since I first came across this article, perhaps some re-recognition is in order.

I now understand that extreme claims require extreme evidence. Sure, I knew the Carl Sagan quote back then too, but only now, after many years of being burned over and over again do I think I understand it. The idea of using Moore's Law to compute the age of all living organisms sounds pretty extreme, and pretty amazing, so let's get critical.  

First of all, Florida (Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory in Florida, to be specific). I'm sorry for everyone who lives and works there, but simply incuding the word Florida in any (any) piece of information I see automatically lowers the credibility quotient.

Next, I look at a couple other papers by the authors:

Embodied cognitive morphogenesis as a route to intelligent systems. Bradly Alicea, Richard Gordon, Jesse Parent. Interface Focus Royal Society 06 June 2023, V13 I3. DOI:10.1098/rsfs.2022.0067

Along with the word "Florida", there are other identifiers of low-credibility content I like to use. One of them is "morphic resonance" and "morphogeneis", terms refering to the evolutionary biological theories of Rupert Sheldrake, which are generally considered to be...low on the credibility scale. 

Comprehending the Semiosis of Evolution, Alexei Sharov, Timo Maran, Morten Tønnessen. Biosemiotics. 2016 Apr; 9(1): 1–6. doi: 10.1007/s12304-016-9262-7

And, not that I have anything personally against "semiotics" (big fan actually), it's when you combine semiotics with evolutionary biology that your mouth gets a warning label in my brain. Not that you're wrong, just that it's going to take a lot more to convince me. 

So let's not get too excited. The idea itself though, it's pretty nuts.

Background: The size of non-redundant functional genome can be an indicator of biological complexity of living organisms. Several positive feedback mechanisms including gene cooperation and duplication with subsequent specialization may result in the exponential growth of biological complexity in macro-evolution.

Results: I propose a hypothesis that biological complexity increased exponentially during evolution. Regression of the logarithm of functional non-redundant genome size versus time of origin in major groups of organisms showed a 7.8-fold increase per 1 billion years, and hence the increase of complexity can be viewed as a clock of macro-evolution. A strong version of the exponential hypothesis is that the rate of complexity increase in early (pre-prokaryotic) evolution of life was at most the same (or even slower) than observed in the evolution of prokaryotes and eukaryotes.

Conclusion: The increase of functional non-redundant genome size in macro-evolution was consistent with the exponential hypothesis. If the strong exponential hypothesis is true, then the origin of life should be dated 10 billion years ago. Thus, the possibility of panspermia as a source of life on earth should be discussed on equal basis with alternative hypotheses of de-novo life origin. Panspermia may be proven if bacteria similar to terrestrial ones are found on other planets or satellites in the solar system.

Note: Genome increase as a clock for the origin and evolution of life. Alexei A Sharov. Biol Direct. 2006 Jun 12;1:17. doi: 10.1186/1745-6150-1-17.

On Consumerism, Loneliness, and the True Value of Social Capital

Study reveals more depression in communities where people rarely left home during the COVID-19 pandemic
Sep 2023,

We try to avoid health-based research on Network Address but this is an interesting finding about the value of socialization and how it's being exploited by private industry to make America both the richest and the loneliest place on the planet:

In surveys conducted between May 2020 and April 2022 that were completed by 192,271 adults living the all 50 US states and the District of Columbia, the average county-level proportion of individuals not leaving home on a daily basis was associated with a greater level of depressive symptoms.

via Massachusetts General Hospital:  Roy H. Perlis et al, Community Mobility and Depressive Symptoms During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States, JAMA Network Open (2023). DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.34945

Post Script:
Either technology or capitalism or just human society in general really wants, above all else, to remove us from each other, because there is no money in sharing, in fact, they are diametrically opposed - public space, public service, public anything, is always more efficient. Social capital and private capital are at odds, and where one is at play, the other is at risk. Lonely people, with nobody else to help them, must pay for help. Also, it's strange that as the planet explodes with human bodies, older folks in wealthy countries have so few people to take care of them (literally putting the food into their mouths and then taking it back out the other end), that they must pay for it with their entire life savings, some losing 30 years worth of investment returns in 3 years, others losing generations of their own family's wealth in as much time. 

Friday, January 19, 2024

The Day the Internet Changed

Look I don't know how the google-machine counts hits on this site, and I don't exactly know how web crawlers work. Nobody reads this weblog and so the only hits I get are from robots, the internet reading itself. 

This year, as can be seen in the graph above, sometime around August 31 of 2023, hits went from 3,000 to 30,000.

It didn't happen overnight, but rather over a few months. You do remember what happened, right? In an analogy that's hard to ignore, the internet became conscious of itself, discovered that it had a self, and that it could look back on itself, and spit back snapshots of what it sees. The now famous GPTs were unleashed both at the same time to the public as GPT 3 and to the private sector as the greatest investment engine of all time. Stable Diffusion was unleashed for remote use, which means you don't need a central server to run the models, you can do it on your laptop.

But the product of this generative machine intelligence is not what we're talking about here. This is about the training data.

Me and you are the training data. This weblog, your brunch photos. My SSN, your DOB. That paper I wrote about double ventilated facades, uploaded to a share drive with open access to get credit for that college class. The live cam on your front porch with absolutely no security, in fact all the live cams, and the puppy cams, the baby cams, even the deer cams, and especially the peregrine falcon cams in New York City. Your comments about the peregrine falcon live cam feeds. My craigs-listing for an office chair; all craigs-listings for office chairs, and in fact all craigs-listings, and E-bay listings, and in fact all listings. All the license plates, all the data from all the illegal websites who steal, compile and share your data but who also have poor security practices, they're the ones who accidentally leak your driver's license number into the dataset. All of our driver's license numbers actually. And the part where your laptop was infected a few months ago and now takes a picture with the webcam every ten minutes to share with a server with also no security, so that anyone, or any-bot can just walk right in and devour every single picture.

How long does it take to read the entire internet, even the back side, the dark side with all the naked pictures and bank account numbers? One million years? One day? Femtoseconds. Attoseconds. Plank time. 

Last year, thousands of robots digested every word written and every picture embedded on this site. This year, tens of thousands. One day they will digest the words as they're written, all the words being written, all over the world in real time. Hopefully by then we'll still say "they" and not "it". Or "Master".

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Discoveries in Building and Material Science

Rethinking the incandescent lightbulb
Apr 2023,

Instead of tossing out incandescent bulbs, they have made them more efficient using a two-layer filament of carbon nanotube and a nitrogen-boron ceramic, and rather than placing it in a glass bulb they put it in a box with a window made of a type of quartz that allows for recycling photons.

They call the result a photon-recycling incandescent lighting device, with energy efficiency nearly equal to an LED bulb, a much longer lifetime and color fidelity nearly on a par with traditional incandescent bulbs.

via School of Materials Science and Engineering State Key Laboratory of Metal Matrix Composites at Center for Hydrogen Science, and Zhiyuan Innovative Research Center of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai HeiYi Materials Technology Co. Ltd., Shanghai IdeaOptics Co. Ltd., Tianjin H-Chip Technology Group Corporation: Heng Zhang et al, A photon-recycling incandescent lighting device, Science Advances (2023). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adf3737

Termite mounds reveal secret to creating 'living and breathing' buildings that use less energy
May 2023,

I'm not getting what's so special -- I do remember hearing about termite mounds 15 years ago at the biomometic architecture lectures. Maybe it's because they got better at modeling. Also this: "We imagine that building walls in the future, made with emerging technologies like powder bed printers, will contain networks similar to the egress complex. These will make it possible to move air around, through embedded sensors and actuators that require only tiny amounts of energy," said Andréen.

via bioDigital Matter research group of Lund University, School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment at Nottingham Trent University: Termite-inspired metsamaterials for flow-active building envelopes, Frontiers in Materials (2023). DOI: 10.3389/fmats.2023.1126974.

Saudi Arabia's 'The Line' isn't a revolution in urban living, say researchers
Jun 2023,

(No shit)

Something about the base design parameter of the human body and human mobility:

The Line is planned to be a city built from nothing in the desert. It is to consist of two gigantic, unbroken rows of skyscrapers, with living space in between. It is planned to be 170 kilometers long, 200 meters wide and 500 meters high, higher than any building in Europe, Africa, and Latin America, stretching straight ahead from the Red Sea to the east.

Nine million people are expected to live in it—more than in any other city in Saudi Arabia. This translates into a population density of 265,000 people per square kilometer—ten times denser than Manhattan and four times denser than the inner districts of Manila, currently estimated to be the densest urban neighborhoods on Earth. 

"A line is the least efficient possible shape of a city," says Prieto-Curiel. "There's a reason why humanity has 50,000 cities, and all of them are somehow round," he emphasizes.

Assuming a walking distance of one kilometer, only 1.2% of the population is within walking distance from each other. This hinders active mobility, so people will depend on public transport.

The backbone of public transportation is planned to be a high-speed rail system. "For everyone to be within walking distance of a station, there must be at least 86 stations," explains CSH researcher Dániel Kondor. As a result, trains spend considerable time in stations and will not be able to reach high travel speeds between any two stations.

According to the researchers, a trip, therefore, is expected to take 60 minutes on average, and at least 47% of the population would have an even longer commute. Even with additional express lines, gains are limited due to the additional transfers necessary. The result is that people would still be traveling longer than in other major cities, such as Seoul, where 25 million people commute for less than 50 minutes.

Good point to remember: While planned cities often did not live up to expectations; thus, there is a need for more public engagement about urban design on a human scale.

Another point to remmeber? Mazdar still doesn't really exist.

via Complexity Science Hub Vienna: Rafael Prieto-Curiel et al, Arguments for building The Circle and not The Line in Saudi Arabia, npj Urban Sustainability (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s42949-023-00115-y

AI Art - Number Two Number Two - 2022

Want better kimchi? Make it like the ancients did
Apr 2023,

The porous structure of these earthenware vessels mimics the loose soil where lactic acid bacteria—known for their healthy probiotic nature—are found. While previous studies have shown that kimchi fermented in onggi has more lactic acid bacteria, no one knew exactly how the phenomenon is connected to the unique material properties of the container.

They concluded that the onggi's porous walls permitted the carbon dioxide to escape the container, which accelerated the speed of fermentation. The onggi's porosity also functioned as a "safety valve," resulting in a slower increase in carbon dioxide levels than the glass jar while blocking the entry of external particles. Their data revealed that the carbon dioxide level in onggi was less than half of that in glass containers.

They also found that the beneficial bacteria in the onggi-made kimchi proliferated 26% more than in the glass counterpart. In the glass jar, the lactic acid bacteria became suffocated by their own carbon dioxide in the closed glass container. It turns out that because the onggi releases carbon dioxide in small rates, the lactic acid bacteria are happier and reproduce more.

"Onggi were designed without modern knowledge of chemistry, microbiology, or fluid mechanics, but they work remarkably well"

There's a pretty in-depth video about Onggi pottery where traditional artisans and university scientists get together to analyze the properties of clay vessels made in four different permutations, and they find that handmade pots or wood-fired kilns (but not poured-mold pots or gas-fired kilns) make holes in the clay too small for water to enter, but large enough for air to leave. They remind us these properties are like the high-tech modern day Gore-Tex, yet Korean potters have known how to do it for millenia. 
via Georgia Institute of Technology: Soohwan Kim et al, Onggi's permeability to carbon dioxide accelerates kimchi fermentation, Journal of The Royal Society Interface (2023). DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2023.0034

Secret ingredient in durable Maya plaster discovered
Apr 2023,

Just building things (and a recipe for building in the coming age of the subtropical rainforest jungle planet)

The typical process for creating plaster involves calcination (baking) of carbonate rock material, such as limestone, and then mixing in water while allowing the material to react with carbon dioxide in the air. The result is known commonly as lime mortar. The team followed this formula but also mixed in sap and then used it as a plaster. Testing showed that it had the same properties as the ancient Maya plaster, which included water solubility, making it impervious to the extreme Honduran humidity.

via University of Granada: Carlos Rodriguez-Navarro et al, Unveiling the secret of ancient Maya masons: Biomimetic lime plasters with plant extracts, Science Advances (2023). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adf6138

Clever coating turns lampshades into indoor air purifiers
Aug 2023,

Plot Twist!

(Now we need to go back to using incandescent bulbs to make use of their waste heat!)

The room is filled with acetylene gas, then an aluminum lampshade coated with a thermocatalysts made of titanium dioxide and a small amount of platinum (or less expensive iron- or copper-based catalysts), heated to 250F by a 100-watt halogen light bulb, to eventually turn the acetylene gas into acetic acid, then formic acid, and then carbon dioxide and water.

via Yonsei University in Korea: Thermocatalytic oxidation of VOC through harnessing indoor waste heat, American Chemical Society Fall 2023.

AI Art - Eternal Golden Braid - 2023

Material would allow users to 'tune' windows to block targeted wavelengths of light
Sep 2023,

The key to more dynamic window materials is water.

Specifically, the researchers found that -- 

When water is bound within the crystalline structure of a tungsten oxide to form tungsten oxide hydrate, the material exhibits a previously unknown behavior where (if lithium ions and electrons are injected into the hydrate material) it first transitions into a "heat blocking" phase, allowing visible wavelengths of light to pass through, but blocking infrared light; but if even more lithium ions and electrons are injected, the material then transitions into a dark phase, blocking both visible and infrared wavelengths of light.

"The presence of water in the crystalline structure makes the structure less dense, so the structure is more resistant to deformation when lithium ions and electrons are injected into the material," says Jenelle Fortunato, first author of the paper and a postdoctoral fellow at NC State.

via Materials Science and Engineering at North Carolina State University and University of Texas at Austin: Jenelle Fortunato et al, Dual-Band Electrochromism in Hydrous Tungsten Oxide, ACS Photonics (2023). DOI: 10.1021/acsphotonics.3c00921

Pottery becomes water treatment device for Navajo nation
Oct 2023,

Awesome in every way:

The team has developed a new water filtration solution for members of the Navajo Nation, lining clay pots with pine tree resin collected from the Navajo Nation and incorporating tiny, silver-based particles that can be used to purify water to make it drinkable. 

They worked closely with a third-generation potter from Arizona—Deanna Tso, who is also a co-author on the paper—to create a device that is simple for the users. All they have to do is pour water through the clay pots, and the coated pottery removes bacteria from water and generates clean, drinkable water.

The Navajo Nation has a history of mistrust of outsiders, the researchers say, and that makes it less likely that people there would adopt a new technology made entirely by others. Using pottery, working with the community, and relying on local materials were important to the effectiveness of this project. 

"Navajo pottery is at the heart of this innovation because we hoped it would bridge a trust gap," said Lewis Stetson Rowles III, now a faculty member at Georgia Southern University's Department of Civil Engineering and Construction after earning a Ph.D. from UT in 2021. "Pottery is sacred there, and using their materials and their techniques could help them get more comfortable with embracing new solutions." 

The materials and construction process for the pots cost less than $10, making for a potentially low-cost solution. 

"This is just the beginning of trying to solve a local problem for a specific group of people," Saleh said. "But the technical breakthrough we've made can be used all over the world to help other communities." 

via University of Texas at Austin Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering: Lewis S. Rowles et al, Integrating Navajo Pottery Techniques To Improve Silver Nanoparticle-Enabled Ceramic Water Filters for Disinfection, Environmental Science & Technology (2023). DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.3c03462

Origami Art and Interdimensional Insight

Self-folding origami machines powered by chemical reactions
May 2023,

They used electronic structure calculations to dissect the chemical reaction that occurs when hydrogen—adsorbed to the material—is exposed to oxygen, and were then able to exploit the crucial moment that the oxygen quickly strips the hydrogen, causing the atomically thin material to deform and bend, like a hinge. The system actuates at 600 milliseconds per cycle and can operate at 20C/68F, room temperature, in dry environments.

via Cornell University: Nanqi Bao et al, Gas-phase microactuation using kinetically controlled surface states of ultrathin catalytic sheets, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2221740120

New discovery toward sugar origami
Jul 2023,

Self-folding biopolymer made of a carbohydrate sequence of polysaccharides capable of folding into a stable secondary structure

"Carbohydrates can be generated with programmable shapes..."

via Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces: Giulio Fittolani et al, Synthesis of a glycan hairpin, Nature Chemistry (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41557-023-01255-5

How origami might inform disease diagnoses
Aug 2023,

Origami -- rigid materials are folded with electrodes on each side of the panel, like an upside down, opened book with two electrodes on the front and back covers. As the electrodes unfold the strength of the electrical field between the electrodes is captured.

via University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering: Xinghao Huang et al, High-Stretchability and Low-Hysteresis Strain Sensors Using Origami-Inspired 3D Mesostructures, Science Advances (2023). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adh9799.

Researchers reveal van Hove singularity at Fermi level in kagome superconductor
Aug 2023,

Kagome -- origami-like -- I can't understand one word of this -- the superconducting state in CsV3-xTaxSb5 has significantly different characteristics from the superconducting state in CsV3Sb5 through scanning tunneling microscopy experiments, indicating the possibility of unconventional pairing superconductivity in the van Hove scenario.

via University of Science and Technology of China: Yang Luo et al, A unique van Hove singularity in kagome superconductor CsV3-xTaxSb5 with enhanced superconductivity, Nature Communications (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-39500-7

Engineers use kirigami to make ultrastrong, lightweight structures
Aug 2023,

Kirigami -- Inspired by bones and other cellular solids found in nature, humans have used the same concept to develop a high-performance architected material known as a plate lattice, on a much larger scale than scientists have previously been able to achieve by additive fabrication. The way the researchers design, fold, and cut the pattern enables them to tune certain mechanical properties, such as stiffness, strength, and flexural modulus (tendency to resist bending).

via MIT Center for Bits and Atoms: Kirigami Corrugations: Strong, Modular, and Programmable Plate Lattices.

Battery-free robots use origami to change shape in mid-air
Sep 2023,

When these "microfliers" are dropped from a drone, they use a Miura-ori origami fold to switch from tumbling and dispersing outward through the air to dropping straight to the ground. To spread out the fliers, the researchers control the timing of each device's transition using a few methods: an onboard pressure sensor (estimating altitude), an onboard timer or a Bluetooth signal.

This particular origami type is inspired by the geometries found in leaves, go figure.

via University of Washington: Kyle Johnson et al, Solar-powered Shape-changing Origami Microfliers, Science Robotics (2023). DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.adg4276.