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What happens when you run pornography through Google DeepDream? Sheer bad trip terror!
07:24 am



Last week, Google released its psychedelic DeepDream program to mass public fascination and acclaim. Using computer systems called “neural networks” that are modeled on the human brain, researchers created code that allows the primordial artificial intelligence of these cybernetic networks to transform photographs into psychedelic dreamscapes. Here’s how the image recognition and alteration works:

We train an artificial neural network by showing it millions of training examples and gradually adjusting the network parameters until it gives the classifications we want. The network typically consists of 10-30 stacked layers of artificial neurons. Each image is fed into the input layer, which then talks to the next layer, until eventually the “output” layer is reached. The network’s “answer” comes from this final output layer.

Ok, I don’t understand any of that, but the point is, there is now open-source software you can use to turn your photos into surreal android dreams. Naturally, people immediately fed this exotic algorithm porn, and while the results are not sexy, they are pretty captivating.

Technically all the naughty bits in these examples are obscured by horrifying animal heads and delirium-inducing swirls and whatnot, but I’m not going so far as to say this fever dream is “safe for work.” Psychedelic nightmare porn is still porn. I think.

My favorite is the one below—can you spot the pygmy hippo? (No, I mean a literal pygmy hippo, you perv.)


More after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Future Shock’: Orson Welles narrates gloriously schlocky documentary on techno-pessimism, 1972
11:59 am



I was aware of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock when I was growing up partly because my dad was sort of in the futurology business himself; he was an analyst at the Hudson Institute under Herman Kahn from the mid-1970s through the late 1980s, which specialized in the project of using trends to generate scenarios about the future—where a certain kind of counterintuitive reasoning usefully pushed back against the excesses of the alarmist left, as represented by Toffler and The Limits to Growth by the Club of Rome. (Kahn was a brilliant man who is mostly forgotten today, but was prominent enough that he was partly the basis for the character of Dr. Strangelove and was also mordantly represented, after a fashion, by the Walter Matthau character “Professor Groeteschele” in the 1964 movie Fail Safe.)

Anyway, around our household Toffler was sometimes mentioned as a crass popularizer of a particularly doomy form of techno-futurism that sought to cash in on qualms over technology in the society at large. This marvelous 1972 documentary about Toffler’s book was directed by Alex Grasshoff and features the voice and image of Orson Welles to a remarkable extent. Insofar as the movie accurately represents the book (Toffler co-wrote the doc, so I have no reason to imagine it doesn’t), it shows the content to be pretty half-baked at best. One feels for poor Orson having to read this stuff, but it’s better than frozen peas, I suppose.

Alvin Toffler. Photo: Roman Tokarczyk
Future Shock is about “a sickness ... that comes from too much change in too short a time.” We’re suffering terrible stresses because we have begun to live in “the pre-cooked, pre-packaged, plastic-wrapped, instant society.” Now surely there is something to this—technology in our lives does move awfully fast, and it’s natural to worry about the problems of disposability and transience. But the documentary has a habit of dressing up good news as bad news, mainly in order to scare inattentive dupes, as in the following:

A chemistry professor recently stated that he couldn’t pass today’s examinations because at least two-thirds of the questions require knowledge that didn’t even exist when he graduated from Oxford in the early thirties.

Oh no!! You’re saying we’ve learned so much about the chemical makeup of life (and also, developed ways to improve life) that ... it’s harder to absorb the information—how terrible!!!! A little later, quite similarly, you can hear Welles’ voice warn us of the dangers of the “disposability of …  people” as follows: “Thousands of people are alive today only because they carry inside them electronic devices, plastic parts, transplanted organs.” (So wait: this point about extending people’s lives via technology is a “bad” thing because of ... the “disposability of people”? Huh?)

There’s no trend that can’t be dressed up as a terribly important problem that you should be very worried about. At one point the documentary discusses “the mobile society ... the rate of change reflecting the fact that where we live means less and less as we breed a new race of nomads.” This segues, hilariously, to an idealized montage of young people hitchhiking, which is one notable midcentury activity that is all but extinct today. So ... yeah, not so much.

One of the best and most amusing sequences comes around 17 minutes in, in the discussion of “modular bodies.” There is a marvelous bit depicting our taken-for-granted ability to change our skin color at will—the montage features the lobby of an office building in which a number of the people have blue, gold, or unnaturally pasty white skin.

Oh, if you want to see Toffler himself he pops up around the 38th minute.

I shouldn’t neglect to mention the gloriously schlocky production values of the movie, lots of weirdo sci-fi music and some cheesy video effects that are by now dated. As documentaries go, let’s just say it’s got some Logan’s Run in its DNA.

After the jump, a remarkable “educational companion” published to promote the movie…..

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Someone etched ‘Macarena’ into a tortilla shell and played it like a record
11:13 am



If you need any other reason today to marvel at the universe we all inhabit, witness someone actually etching a round tortilla with a laser cutter and playing (extremely noise-buried) music. This most certainly expands the horizons of Record Store Day to include your taquerias and Mexican grocery stores, but you have to be somewhat of an artisan to pull it off. The Instructables site recommends uncooked flour shells over corn, less lumpy in texture than cooked flour and uncooked/cooked corn. Canasta brand is one of the more findable makes, and the 9” diameter allows for a lengthier tune (I supposed a smaller tortilla can be used for a Minor Threat or Minutemen song).

One big difference though is the playback between 45 RPM and 78 RPM; as you can tell by this etching of “Macarena,” the melody is barely audible through the gunk, though one can definitely make out the chorus when played at 45 RPM.

More clips, including the laser-etching process, after the jump…

Posted by Brian Turner | Leave a comment
Do not take a selfie next to an oncoming train: Russia’s goofy ‘Safe Selfie’ campaign
08:59 am

Current Events


(Click on the image for a better view.)
According to the Izvestia newspaper, the Russian government has recently launched a campaign to persuade people not to take selfies in dangerous situations. The government was induced to take action after a series of incidents in which young people were seriously injured or even killed in the process of taking pictures of themselves.

The slogan of the campaign runs, “Even a million ‘likes’ on social media are not worth your life and well-being.”

I really wish I understood Russian, so that I could read the captions in the chart.

It’s difficult not to think of the Darwin Awards, which were and are bestowed on people who obliged humanity by removing themselves from the gene pool, by dying from what can only be called “stupidity.” Actually, a recent submission to the Darwin Awards recounts an incident from Kenya involving death-by-selfie; the opening line reads, “An attempt by two men to take photographs while touching an elephant’s trunk and tusks turned tragic when the beast suddenly turned against them and trampled them to death.”

It’s difficult to say how much a sign will help a person who is willing to entertain the idea of taking a selfie next to an oncoming train—and yet, who knows, maybe they will make a difference.

(Click on the image for a better view.)



More from Russia’s “Safe Selfie” campaign after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Feeding ‘Fear and Loathing’ to Google’s Deep Dream software
03:59 pm



Google’s “Deep Dream” artificial intelligence system works (more or less) by subjecting (I guess that’s the right word) an image to a layer of artificial neurons which will build upon certain aspects of said image (like a surface or pattern or edges or color) to turn it into something that it previously wasn’t.

So people are uploading their faces or their dog’s face or… whatever and watching them morph into something… unexpected. It’s fun. Think of it as a kind of a surrealism generator. Or an acid trip you can take during your lunch break.

But what happens when you present Google’s “inceptionism” algorithm with an actual acid trip, or at least the cinematic depiction of an acid trip? Using what’s probably the very best representation of an acid trip ever committed to celluloid, a user on Github fed this dream monster a taste of Terry Gilliam’s 1998 adaptation of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Here are the nightmarish results… Heavy meta!

Via Gizmodo

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Video game update scrambles race and penis length for avatars with hilarious results (NSFW)
12:59 pm



Rust is a survival video game for PC/Mac/Linux in which players have to do their best to cobble together the most rudimentary kind of life after an extreme bug-out bag scenario. Quoting the promotional text for the game, “The only aim here is to survive. To do this you will need to overcome struggles such as hunger, thirst and cold. Build a fire. Build a shelter. Kill animals for meat. Protect yourself from other players. Create alliances with other players and together form a town. Whatever it takes to survive.”

In initial versions of the game, every character was white, but in March the game developers introduced a broader racial palette in an update—the tricky thing being that race is randomly assigned to avatars based on a randomized agorithm based on the player’s Steam ID—and can never be changed again. On a blog post, lead developer on the game Garry Newman explained, “Everyone now has a pseudo unique skin tone and face. Just like in real life, you are who you are – you can’t change your skin colour or your face. It’s actually tied to your steamid.”

It’s a risky strategy when you consider that if a white supremacist broheim ends up having to play the game with a black guy as his on-screen surrogate, he might well just stop playing altogether. Of course, the gamble is that people’s desire to enjoy the game trumps their seldom-examined racial biases.

As Kotaku commented, “Multiplayer survival game Rust ... randomly generates players’ physical characteristics for them, imitating the screaming chaos of biology rather than letting players choose. It then ties that selection to players’ Steam ID (as opposed to a single session or server) so they can’t game the system. You work with what you’ve got. Earlier this year, the development team added skin tone to the mix, prompting some controversy and even in-game racism.”

Now this week Rust developers have added a fascinating new quirk—randomized penis length. Just as with skin color, penis length is a randomly generated outcome based on the Steam ID. On reddit an mp4 file was posted demonstrating some of the variance in physical build, both for the avatars’ full bodies and for their penises. It’s one of the funnier things I’ve seen lately—here’s a taste:

Forcing players to deal with their god-given (new) race or penis size is the kind of immersive mindfuck only video games can deliver. It may have been noticed that all of the avatars mentioned so far in Rust are male. The developers recently let it be known that they are “investigating a female model.” To their credit they are pushing for the opposite side of the female body type spectrum as Tomb Raider: “We really don’t want to make the female model unrealistic in the sense of her being aesthetically idealised. In the same way that our male models aren’t perfect specimens of the male body, neither should the female be. No huge boobs nor four-inch waists here.”

Indeed, in our all-too-familiar world in which women are objectified by default, it’s refreshing to see women’s bodies depicted in a realistic way—and to see men get the exact same kind of treatment.

Here’s a depiction of the Rust female bodies in development:

via Kill Screen

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Documenting madness: Female patients of the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum
07:29 am



Among the early pioneers of photography in the 1800s was a middle-aged English doctor called Hugh Welch Diamond, who believed photography could be used in the diagnosis and treatment of the mentally ill. Diamond first established his medical career with a private practice in Soho, London, before specializing in psychiatry and becoming Resident Superintendent of the Female Department at the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum in 1848—a position he held until 1858. Diamond was an early adopter of photography, taking his first portraits just three months after Henry Fox Talbot licensed his “salt print” process for producing “photogenic drawings.” As a follower of “physiognomics”—a popular science based on the theory that disease (and character) could be discerned from an individual’s features or physiognomy—Diamond believed photography could be used as a curative therapy.

In documenting madness, Diamond was following on from his predecessor at Surrey County, Sir Alexander Morison who had produced a book of illustrations by various artists depicting patients at the asylum called The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases in 1838. Diamond believed the book was not scientific as the drawings were mainly illustrative interpretations of what the artist saw and could therefore veer towards caricature. He believed that the camera was the only way in which doctors could document illness without taint of prejudice:

The Metaphysician and Moralist, the Physician and Physiologist will approach such an inquiry with their peculiar views, definitions and classifications—The Photographer needs in many cases no aid from any language of his own, but prefers to listen, with the picture before him, to the silent but telling language of nature.

Between 1848-58, Diamond photographed the women patients at Surrey County, taking their portraits against a curtained wall or canvas screen. He became convinced he was able to diagnose a patient’s mental illness from their photographic portrait and then use the image as a therapeutic cure to sanity—the idea being the patient would be able to recognize the sickness in their features. As evidence of this, he cited his success with one patient who he had used the process on:

Her subsequent amusement in seeing the portraits and her frequent conversation about them was the first decided step in her gradual improvement, and about four months ago she was discharged perfectly cured, and laughed heartily at her former imaginations…

Convinced he had found a possible cure to mental illness, Diamond presented a paper “On the Application of Photography to the Physiognomic and Mental Phenomena of Insanity” to the Royal Society of Medicine in May 1856, in which he explained his theories. While many scientists and doctors saw the merit in Diamond’s propositions, they were eventually dismissed as “pseudo-science,” “snake oil” and “quackery.” However, the belief in physiognomy as a form of scientific empiricism was developed by police detective, biometrics researcher and inventor of the mugshot, Alphonse Bertillon, who devised a system of anthropometry for classifying criminals. This was later dropped in favor of fingerprinting and later DNA.

Diamond’s ideas on the diagnostic and curative nature of photography have long been discredited, however, he is now best remembered as a pioneer of psychiatric photography.

During his time at Surrey County, Diamond was able to document most of the female patients as the asylum was a public institution, which meant the patients had no rights to privacy. It’s interesting to note that when he left Surrey for a privately run asylum in Twickenham, Diamond was not permitted to take patients’ portraits. The following is a selection of Diamond’s portraits of the patients at Surrey County Asylum, more can be seen here. Alas, I was unable to find details to the identities of the sitters or their illnesses.
More portraits after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Microscopic footage of a needle moving across the grooves of a record
09:42 am



You would think that if you have an electron microscope and a record player, you’re most of the way there to being able to record close-up footage of a needle traversing the grooves of a long-player record.

Well, you would be wrong. It was actually quite a challenge, as the Applied Science YouTube channel recently demonstrated in vivid and mind-blowing detail.

Among the difficulties that Ben Krasnow, the man behind the Applied Science channel, had to overcome were that a small square of the vinyl LP had to be carved out in order to fit it into the microscope chamber, and the LP had to be coated in a conductive material (evaporated silver) to avoid a circumstance whereby the electrons fired at its surface by the microscope would be absorbed, trapped, and eventually repelled.

I don’t really understand any of this, but the video explains it very well. Also a new stylus also had to be constructed, because the magnets in the original cartridge would have deflected the incoming electrons. And guess what, they needed to make a custom tonearm as well.

Even more astonishingly, the little movie that resulted isn’t a regular movie at all, it’s pretty much stop-motion animation on a microscopic scale. You see, the video image generated by the microscope has is of a low resolution, so Krasnow painstakingly saved individual images at a higher resolution, moving the LP piece 50 microns at a time until he had amassed 60 frames. Then the frames were put together in PhotoShop to make an animated GIF, which plays about 1/400th of actual speed.

The result is some fantastic footage for those audiophiles who’ve always wondered…. just how the heck does this work, exactly?

via What Hi-Fi?

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Find out if you are going to die in the next five years
07:33 am



When we’re young, we think we’re immortal. It’s only after middle age that the aches, pains and slow erosion of the senses confirm there’s something bad coming down the line, but we just don’t know when it’s going to hit.

Well now for those inquisitive enough to want to know when they might die, two boffins from Sweden and a British health charity have come together to create a five-minute online test for those aged between 40-70 that can estimate your time of final departure.

The UK Longevity Explorer or UbbLE is claimed to be “the most accurate indicator of five-year mortality ever created.” The test is based on data taken from 500,000 volunteers, who were each tracked for nearly five years and assessed according to 655 health, lifestyle and demographic measurements. The researchers then used complex algorithms to determine which of the measurements were most closely linked to the participants’ mortality. Amazingly the researchers were able to whittle these 655 measurements down to roughly twelve factors that could determine an individual’s chance of surviving the next five years.

The questions asked vary for women and men—with women having eleven questions, men thirteen. The results from this test are claimed to be 80% accurate—based on further tests of 35,000 people.
The set of questions asked by the test.
The questions are more first world problems than anything realistic. For example, owning a car or several cars is good, while owning none suggests you are poor and therefore living off a poor diet and no doubt a slob.

Being married or living with a partner and having kids is good for you, while being single and living on your own is sending out a handwritten invite to the Grim Reaper.

Smoking basically means you’re dead and if you’re not dead, well, hell you ought to be. Having cancer or having suffered any kind of serious illness or loss of a relative will also dramatically whittle down your life expectancy.

As a single man who lives on his own, smokes, doesn’t drive, doesn’t have a car or a van, and is a cancer survivor, I was given an UbbLE estimated age of 77-81 years (okay….) and have a 75% chance of getting through the next five years—which as a betting man is not bad odds.

One of the co-authors of the test Dr. Andrea Ganna, from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, is quoted in the press as saying:

‘The fact that the score can be measured online in a brief questionnaire, without any need for lab tests or physical examination, is an exciting development.

‘We hope that our score might eventually enable doctors to quickly and easily identify their highest risk patients.’

Some scientists and academics are intrigued by the findings but doubt the online test can seriously determine how long a person will live based on a set of questions. Kevin McConway, a professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said:

‘This is a good study that tells us some things we didn’t already know, and points the way to future use of a large and important data set. But it certainly isn’t some sort of oracle that you can use to predict exactly when you will shuffle off this mortal coil.’

While Professor David Coggon, of the University of Southampton, said:

’I have doubts about the practical value of such scores. Most of the predictive factors do not directly cause disease, and even where they do, few are under the control of the individual. The authors suggest that knowing one is at higher risk may be an incentive to changes in lifestyle, but experience with smoking and obesity suggests that knowledge of increased risk has only limited impact on most people’s behaviours.’


If you want to try the test youself click here, otherwise just keep reading your horoscope, it’s probably just as accurate and far more entertaining.
H/T Daily Mail

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Japanese plans for toilets in elevators not as weird as it sounds
05:38 am



The damage caused by earthquakes has led the Japanese government to consider installing toilets and providing drinking water in elevators. The suggestion comes after dozens of people were trapped in elevators across Tokyo after a 7.8 magnitude quake hit the city on Saturday.

Normally elevators will automatically stop at the nearest floor when earthquakes strike—the doors will open allowing passengers to escape. But after Saturday’s quake, fourteen elevators became stuck between floors trapping some passengers for over an hour.

A meeting between officials from the infrastructure ministry and elevator industry members agreed to consider providing toilets for such emergencies. Suggestions include collapsible cardboard toilets with a waterproof bag or absorbent material inside.

As many of Japan’s latest elevators include seating areas for the elderly, intstalling such emergency facilities underneath seats is a possibility. Japan has about 620,000 elevators in its buildings, of which 20% are in Tokyo.

Nicholas White knows exactly what it’s like to be caught short in such an extreme situation. On 15th October 1999, Mr. White popped out of his office at the McGraw-Hill Building, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, for a cigarette break. On his return, he became trapped in an elevator after a power dip caused the elevator to stop between the 13th and 14th floors. Despite signaling his distress to the onboard surveillance camera, security staff did not notice Mr. White’s predicament until the afternoon of the 17th, almost 41 hours later. (And these eagle-eyed guys were in charge of security?) During his accidental incarceration, Mr. White relieved himself by urinating through the elevator doors—he hoped someone might notice the stream of fluid running down the elevator shaft—apparently no one did.

So, Japan’s neat idea for bringing relief to a nightmare situation is not as strange as it sounds, though one hopes it won’t be misused as the following comic video suggests…

H/T Guardian and Metro

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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