Saturday, November 3, 2018

Benign By Design

Nanomaterials tend to have magical properties. The most famous nanomaterial yet is graphene, which is a sheet of carbon molecules, holding on to each other in a way neither nature nor man has ever seen. Not only does this nanomaterial form itself in a way that is new, but it has properties that are just as novel. (See this jacket that was covered in graphene and sold to the public just for the chance that regular people may discover something that scientists haven't yet.)

Being that graphene, and most nanomaterials, are such a surprise, and that because of their magical properties they are becoming ubiquitous in our environment, it might be a good idea to figure out what these things do once we unleash them into the biosphere. 

Just in time, here come some ideas about what this stuff does as it persists in our environment. The Center for Sustainable Nanotech shows us that the way nanoparticles are coated makes the difference in how they behave in biological systems.

Certain particle-coatings were found to form fatty sheaths that make the particles stick to each other. These little fat bubbles are really called fragmented lipid coronas, and like most things nano, they have never been seen before.

Some coatings make the fat-corona and some don't, and now that we are beginning to understand, the scientists want us to consider this in future applications of the wonder material.

Professor of chemistry in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Franz M. Geiger gets all the credit for the lingo by the way, "Benign by Design."

Study provides insight into how nanoparticles interact with biological systems
Oct 2018,

Pro Posteri

Everything gets old. Everything lives, dies,and then shits itself. Even the internet.

I had never heard of linkrot until today. However, I have always considered posterity and the preservation of information to be an important consideration and practice, be it for the creative individual, or the common cultural enthusiast alike.

As stated in the bio, this website is for the purpose of a personal content-addressable archive. This has already  become more useful as the internet, by way of your search results, transitions from a thing that looks the same for everyone to a thing that looks different depending on who you are.

Already feeds are tailored to your behavioral profile. Everything you see is alpha-beta'd to infinity. In common language, the United Airlines homepage looks way different depending on whether you're you or you're me.

That being said, boy was it a surprise to learn that someone out there had a way better and way more ambitious idea than me. They are the creators of the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive, and they have way stronger devotion to posterity than I.

Mark Graham, director of the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive gave a talk at the 2018 Online News Association conference, detailing this careful and insatiable machine that gorges on terabytes of our cultural data daily (via Ars Technica).

What's more exciting, that they're archiving physical things like vinyl records and microfeche, or that they're archiving the entire internet, everyday. What? They have robots that have repaired over 6 million pages lost to linkrot. They screenshot the Google homepage every ten minutes*.

Or is it more exciting to know they've been at it for 22 years? Has the internet even been aorund for 22 years?? (Yes. AOL remembers).

Great quote taken from Ars comments section:
The Internet Archive isn't trying to merely scrape the web. It's trying to ensure that we have a record of the past that we can rely on in the future. -source

We may not readily notice its effects in our daily lives, but we should appreciate nonetheless that such obsessive, compulsive behavior exists. Our world changes faster than we do as individuals, and our memories change even faster than that. Without an unconditionally comprehensive, enduring, and accessible repository of our cultural artifacts, it becomes too easy to perpetuate the failings of lessons we have already paid for.

You would think as the good consumerists, Americans would not stand for such highway robbery. Then again, according to the Internet Archives donations, many people recognize it as a fair deal.

*Fun fact: Stephen Wolfram (Alpha) also screenshots his desktop every ten minutes, and that's not the end of his compulsive archiving behaviors. I revered this guy, only a little, bit before I discovered this. Now he's in the pantheon.

The Internet’s keepers? “Some call us hoarders—I like to say we’re archivists”
Oct 2018, Ars Technica

They even have video games for goodness sake! It's called the Internet Arcade.

They offer other services, like comparing side by side the same page at two different times, or architectural diagrams that show how a site's structure has changed over time.

Post Script:
NSFW - leave it to the comments section to remind us that we can use this to view vintage porn. Leave it to me to remind you if you are now on, fantasizing along with an adult film from 1998, of let's say a 25-year-old couple, consider that they are now 45 years old. That's not strong enough. Get a video from the 70's. Those actors are now over 70.
[comments section]

On Science Communication

Science isn't easy. It can be repetitive and tedious, but it's not easy. Writing about it is even harder.

We're skimming through a grocery list of the worst scientific disciplines to research and write about, as compiled by the writers of Ars Technica, a science-slanted popular news outlet.

Note that this list is more about what science writers don't like --reading-- about, not writing. And most of the problems here come from the discrepancy between how passionate the writers feel about their subject matter, and its impenetrability.

Space exploration
Theoretical physics
Quantum optics e.g. time crystals

The reasons for this lamented impenetrability are succinctly summarized by an actual scientist, in the comments section:
Professional scientist here. I'm currently writing a review paper, and I'm on a bit of a deadline crunch, so naturally I'm procrastinating here on Ars. And regarding your accusations of the dryness and joy robbing nature of the primary literature, I have just one thing to say to you...
You're kinda right. I mean, sure, there's a reason that it's written this way, but yeah, I get it. I'm plowing through many papers in my field and I understand the details well, and I definitely get excited at many passages that would put most people to sleep. But many simply put me to sleep.
I think the reason for this is three-fold: 1) precision of language is important; 2) making precise language varied and interesting is much more work than allowing it to remain dry, so many authors don't do it; 3) there are some details that specialists need to communicate to each other that aren't exciting no matter how hard you try. ¯\_(?)_/¯

This is a great explanation, and supports the need for this very specific type of communicator in our society, the science writer. Alan Alda thought it was so important that he created an entire school to attend this need.


Here are the subjects our reporters enjoy covering the least
Sep 2018, Ars Technica

Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Headlines from Outerspace

Chindōgu is the Japanese art of inventing ingenious everyday gadgets that seem like an ideal solution to a particular problem, but are in fact useless.

There are times when too many good headlines pop up all at once. Here's a sampling of what's going on circa 2018. In 2028, will this all be passé? In 2008, would it have been unfathomable?

On-chip excitation of nanodiamonds embedded in plasmonic waveguides
Oct 2018,

No clue, just headline wordporn.

Bitcoin miner sent to prison for stealing electricity from train network in China
Oct 2018, The Independent

A man in China has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison after stealing electricity from a train network in order to mine bitcoin.

Two Companies Are Going to Manufacture Optical Fibers in Space
Sep 2018, Futurism

Eventually we will all live in computers orbiting the Earth. For now, this is an early example of otherworldly computer manufacturing.

Building a better brain-in-a-dish, faster and cheaper
Sept 2018,

"What we've done is establish a proof-of-principle protocol for a systematic, automated process to generate large numbers of brain organoids," said Alysson R. Muotri, Ph.D., professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine departments of Pediatrics and Cellular and Molecular Medicine, director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program and a member of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine.

Image source: Gee, I sure wish I could attribute a source to this image, but it's been fetched by my "generic search engine" from pinterest (go figure, right?). In case readers here don't know what pinterest is, it's a way for image users to short-circuit Google's own copyright policies (under firm guidance by Getty) by taking images out of their source page and placing them on another page with way higher "finding power," as you might expect by any page owned by the search engine itself. 

Humans on a Chip

Treating humans like molecules are the main idea behind computational sociothermodynamics, which is the science of predicting human behavior based on thermodynamics models of particles. It's a way to gain insight into a really complex problem, and from a rather unsuspecting place. And we will be seeing a lot more of this in years to come.

Here's a new model that works by measuring how people distribute themselves as a function of the density of the crowd they're in. It's called a Density-Functional Fluctuation Theory of Crowds.

The model was originally designed for predicting the behavior of quantum systems, and it was already tested using fruit flies, because boy does science love fruit flies.

It generates a "frustration function" that measures the probability that someone will move to a new location given a specific density for that crowd. At a concert, for example, people will try to get a good spot, as long as it's not too crowded. When it gets too crowded, they'll move. And when it gets too crowded after that, they riot. Just kidding. (Not really.)

The model can then predict the "mood" of the crowd by how this frustration function evolves over time. In the article where I found this, it was suggested that this model could be used to predict a rowdy crowd before it starts. Or the moment a peaceful protest changes phase from a liquid to a gas, if you know what I mean.

Then again, who cares about a predictive model when we have neck-rec! [neck-recognition technology, an advance beyond face recognition]

This is a drone that detects movements in human faces and necks in order to accurately source heart rates and breathing rates of crowds. (I like to refer to this as physiodata, because that sounds good.)

In other words, the resolution is so fine that it can see and measure the pulse of your jugular vein, and then face-rec your id, of course. And it will do this for an entire crowd, and in less time than it takes you to snap a picture.

Post Script:
Mathematics can assist cities in addressing unstructured neighborhoods
Aug 2018,

[straight pasting here]
"...use satellite imagery and municipal data to develop mathematical algorithms that reveal slums and planned neighborhood are fundamentally different.

Their models clearly identify distinctions between the informal arrangement of underserviced urban areas and the formal structure of city neighborhoods. In two case studies, the researchers used real-world data to show that the physical layout of some unplanned neighborhoods does not allow space for sewer lines, roads or water pipes.

The team used a novel topological technique, based on connections between places, to characterize the first-time slums rather than a traditional geometric approach.

"By understanding the fundamental topology — the relationship between places of residence and work to urban infrastructure networks — we can determine parts of cities remain only incipiently connected," said coauthor Luís Bettencourt, director of the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation at the University of Chicago.


Fruit flies and electrons: Researchers use physics to predict crowd behavior
Aug 2018,

Drone detects heartbeat and breathing rates
Sep 2017, BBC

Physiodata at Large
Oct 2017, Network Address

Urban Dynamics
Oct 2013, Network Address

The Sante Fe Institute always has cool stuff combining studies of computers, physics, social sciences.

This isn't what I meant by humans on a chip, but then again, yes it is:
3D 'organ on a chip' could accelerate search for new disease treatments
Oct 2018,

Background People

I've been real into conspiracy theories ever since Zecharia Sitchin's 12th Planet series. I was about 15, and convinced that there was an elliptically orbiting twelfth planet (eleventh? tenth? Can't keep track) filled with really smart people that would drop down and help us out once in a while. How else do you explain the Pyramids??

Because aliens, that's how.

It took me until college before I had the critical prowess to tackle that excuse for an answer. Now I like to use Michael Schirmer's Baloney Detection Kit.

Belief in conspiracy theories, as it is generally understood, comes from a lack of self-control. When you feel like you can't do anything to fix your life, you want to blame someone. And it's a lot easier to blame one big, scary, sinister, omnipotent force, one that is too big for you to fight, and too pervasive to ever fully understand.*

Conspiracy theories are also helpful if you have a hard time understanding how the world works. It's a lot easier to say everything is hidden purposefully, by a nefarious agent. That way you can't be blamed for not understanding, right?

But there's a great study that's been recently done which proves something different. It shows that the reason for us believing in conspiracy theories isn't necessarily because we feel a lack of control, but because we want to sound cool.

"Exclusive knowledge" is the key term here. Or simply exclusivity. Exclusivity makes people look cool. It's why clothiers burn their unsold wares at the end of the season. It's why gmail was invite-only. It's kind of why you can't read graffiti. And it's the most basic component of economics - supply and demand.

Everyone wants to know things that others don't. When you have exclusive knowledge, you're in-demand. But how do you prove that this is what makes people fall for stuff like flat earths and reptile people?

How? Well, you invent a conspiracy theory from scratch, preferably something happening in another country, far enough that you wouldn't have heard of it, but close enough that you can have some opinion, and then you feed it to people but tell them it's either a very popular theory, or an unpopular theory, and see how it gets received.

A totally made-up story unfolds in Germany, and is presented to the study participants, and with that, another little piece of information comes. Some are told that this story is believed by 80% of Germans, and some are told that it's only believed by 20% of Germans.

The study participants had already been tested for their propensity to believe or endorse conspiracy theories, and they were give a score. People with a high "conspiracy mentality quotient" were more likely to accept the fictitious conspiracy theory, but only if it was presented as not popular. For clarification, the exact same theory, when presented as generally accepted by most people, was not accepted.

Is there some way we can get climate change to be less popular of a theory??

*Also, believing in BS tends to happen more when you're prefrontal cortex hasn't been fully formed, which would be around 25 years old, give or take a few. 

Want to Feel Unique? Believe in the Reptile People
May 2018, Knowing Neurons

On Background People

On Zecharia Sitchin, author of books about ancient astronauts

On Why Zecharia Sitchin is wrong about the ancient astronaut thing, from a PhD in Hebrew and ancient Semitic languages from University of Wisconsin-Madison, just in case you needed some balance in opinion

Post Script:
If you're interested, the fictitious conspiracy theory used in the study went like this:
A retired engineer had found evidence that these smoke detectors have serious side effects, emanating a ‘hypersound’ that causes nausea, gastritis and depression. This was forcefully rejected by VdS Schadenverhütung GmbH, the largest (and invented) producer of smoke detectors. The conspiracy: VdS was in cahoots with the government and knew about the dangerous smoke detectors, but did nothing.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Flying Pantograph

Disney's Graffiti Drone needs some work.

It's called the PaintCopter: An Autonomous UAV for Spray Painting on 3D Surfaces, and it's by Disney's Research labs.

There is a big difference between this thing and the ones that have come before, in that this version has a constant supply of paint.

Otherwise, nothing to see here, except for the brief reminders below:

Artist Katsu's remote control graffiti machine, circa 2014, in WIRED

Algorithmically-directed graffiti machine at the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibit, MoMA circa 2008.

Also let's not forget about this beautiful, remote graffiti alternative - lasers, by Graffiti Research Labs, circa 2010.

While we're at it, news in lettering; No seriously, it's more interesting than it sounds:

Have you ever wished you couldn't read as good as you do? You know, one day you're sitting there, reading, which a few hundred years ago was relegated to a fraction of the population, but you're there reading and you think to yourself, man, I'm so good at reading that I read --too fast--. I wish I couldn't read as good as I do. 

You are in luck, because some students who also wish they weren't so good at reading decided to make a font that is purposefully hard to read.

It's not illegible, it just rides the line just below perfectly legible. You have to struggle just a little bit, and that extra effort makes you remember what you're reading. 

So it is a font designed to be not read too well. Surely, this isn't easy to create, because if it's too illegible, it will convey no meaning at all.

More importantly, this is a great example of a thing I don't know what we call - when you design something to be hard to use on purpose. Like we got so good at something, that the design goal is now to go in the other direction. Speed bumps are not what I'm talking about; they're an afterthought. The dog bowl that stops your dog from eating too fast, and what else.  

A Pantograph is an instrument for copying a drawing.

Oct 2018, BBC News