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Danish gov’t creates perfect Minecraft Denmark; hooligans promptly blow it up, plant American flags
05.09.2014
09:37 am

Topics:
Amusing
Games
Science/Tech

Tags:
Denmark
Minecraft

Mincraft Denmark
 
I love everything about this story. I love what the Danish government did, in creating a perfect 1:1 Minecraft simulation of the entire country of Denmark, and I love what the users did, which is, by sheer inventiveness and determination, circumvent the Danish government’s well thought out measures to prevent people from messing with it. Well, maybe I don’t love the jingoistic instinct of the American gamer… Well, what are you gonna do?

About a week ago the Danish government made the meticulous simulacrum available to users. You can download sections of the Denmark map here. The simulation involved the use of “trillions” of Minecraft bricks, and although there have been similar real-life Minecraft simulations before, from all appearances this is one of the most ambitious and detailed areas of this sort yet achieved.

The Danish Geodata Agency, the creators of the simulation, intelligently disabled the use of dynamite so that users could enjoy the pixelated Scandinavian land unmolested. But the innate human need to fuck shit up prevailed. You see, the Danish Geodata Agency had neglected to disable the “minecart with dynamite” item. Oops. Users figured this out, blew up parts of a number of Danish towns, and put American flags over the main train station of Copenhagen (pictured above). In this reddit thread about the incident (in Danish), a Swedish user wrote in, “As a Swede, I’m happy to see this…..” (As usual, the Swedes and the Danes always get along under all circumstances…..)

Initially, the Danish government announced that it would reboot the map with add new restrictions to prevent the possibility of virtual vandalism. However, further investigation revealed that “only MINOR areas” of the map were destroyed, so they would leave the simulation intact. The simulation has been quite popular, having been downloaded 200,000 times already, so all in all it’s PR coup for the pleasant European nation that gave the world LEGO and Lars von Trier.

Here’s a little tour of the Minecraft Denmark (pre-vandalism) so you can see what it’s like.
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Fun with phrenology: Does your Roman nose have you grasping for the almighty dollar?
05.09.2014
08:03 am

Topics:
Amusing
Science/Tech

Tags:
phrenology


 
If you can get around the fact that it’s an insidious racist pseudoscience, phrenology is actually kind of a hoot. These illustrations from the 1902 book Vaught’s Practical Character Reader assure you that you can ascertain a person’s character and temperament from the shape of their head and facial features. Since physiognomy certainly has ethnic tendencies, the danger there is pretty outright (see the money-grubbing man with the big nose above?), but it’s the head-shape thing that really kills me. You’re going to try and discern a personality from a lumpy skull? Really? Like doesn’t a flat head just mean that someone was left on their back a lot in the crib? What if someone got dropped or hit in the head with a golf ball?

Nevertheless, Vaught was confident in his work.

From the preface:

The purpose of this book is to acquaint all with the elements of human nature and enable them to read these elements in all men, women and children in all countries. At least fifty thousand careful examinations have been made to prove the truthfulness of the nature and location of these elements. More than a million observations have been made to confirm the examinations. Therefore, it is given the world to be depended upon. Taken in its entirety it is absolutely reliable. Its facts can be completely demonstrated by all who will take the unprejudiced pains to do so. It is ready for use. It is practical. Use it.

A million observations, you say? Mr. Vaught, I’m beginning to question the scientific validity of your methodology!
 

 

 

 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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1967 struggles to describe the household of the 21st century
04.29.2014
08:01 am

Topics:
Science/Tech
Television

Tags:
the future
Walter Cronkite


 
In 1967 CBS produced a half-hour program on the household of the 21st century that, from our vantage point, cannot fail to be fascinating. The passage of time inevitably makes fools of sages; it also confers on the people of the present tense a wholly unearned feeling of cocksure confidence, all because “we” know things that “they” cannot possibly know. So it’s important not to let that arrogance get the better of us.

Having said that, they didn’t do such a great job in predicting what we’d be doing in 2001, much less 2014. But they did nail a couple things almost exactly.
 
Cronkite
 
The show is obsessed with the activities of the nuclear family and so very worried about growing trends of urbanization. According to the program, by the year 2001, fully 90% of the world’s people will be living in urban environments. In the United States at least, the year 1967 was approximately the start of a massive wave of suburbanization—a nit-picker might claim that such people are living in urban systems, but either way modular systems of construction such as Israeli–Canadian architect Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67, which debuted at the Montreal Expo in 1967, are not relevant to the average suburbanite. Meanwhile, Greek urban planner Constantinos Doxiadis suggests the miniaturized micro-environments of Japanese culture as a model for the West. The average suburban tract housing gets somewhat trashed, but to my perception that is still the main model for non-urban American life, whereas in cities, the good old apartment building still reigns supreme.

It’s once we get into the regular suburban home that things get more interesting. All of us have just lived through a remarkable technological revolution that was really impossible to foresee in 1967—its main artifacts are the personal computer, the smartphone, and the Internet generally. Host Walter Cronkite’s future home is stubbornly analog, as it must be, but he and his team still get a few major things right. Most intriguingly, Cronkite takes us through a futuristic den, where the “man” will do much of his office work: “Now this is where a man might spend most of his time in the home of the 21st century. This equipment here will allow him to carry on normal business activities without ever going to an office away from home. ... In the 21st century it may be that no home will be complete without a computerized communications console.” (That’s what the man does; the woman has to be content with a very dreary-looking printout of a recipe. Her liberation would require revolutions that were less technological in nature.)
 
Cronkite
 
This is of course, uncannily correct—many people (including myself) have forsaken office life and accomplish most of their work tasks at home. Whether or not most of those people work for companies is another question (I don’t).

Their office has three bulky screens and a paucity of keyboards, as well as a massive telex-style device that functions a bit like a ticker tape, furnishing a display of news articles that can be printed out. What the producers of the show couldn’t see is that most of the devices would get smaller, and that most of the devices would collapse into a single device connected to the world at large. Still, even if it’s a little rough around the edges, they definitely crept up to probably the single most transformative changes of the last 50 years, our ability to accomplish tasks using devices with TV screens.

Another thing they totally nail is the advent of the microwave oven, whose ubiquity would more or less become a reality in the 1980s—largely as they describe it. However, their sense of the kitchen of the future is a little bit too pointlessly automated; for example, they seem to think that we’d be likely (with the press of a button) to have our plateware generated for each meal, after which it would be cleaned and the plastic remolded for the next repast. The idea of pushing a button and summoning brand-new dishes was a little too powerful for them, apparently. 
 

Cronkite and the living room console, with which he has called up a rousing football game on the TV.
 
Cronkite sensibly spends a little time with a British robotics expert, but while robots are an indisputably important feature of modern life, their presence in the average household starts and ends, more or less, with the Roomba. Those changes may yet happen, but at the same time our resistance to the household being taken over by an army of automatons may be stronger than they realized in 1967.

Their living room features a TV set that is roughly the size of a garage door—hey, science, when are we getting that, huh? The living room’s main feature is a console about the size of an average canoe where we can control the music volume, the lighting, and so forth. Again, it was difficult for them to see that we might not want so much real estate and complexity dedicated to such a simple array of tasks. In the case of that woman and her recipe, the real win for the person charged with cooking meals in 2014 isn’t the ability to print out a recipe, it’s the wealth of crowd-sourced information at our disposal. If I want a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich, within seconds I can access thousands of variations on the recipe, many of them validated in a crucible of upvotes and downvotes with helpful user comments

In the end, they did an OK job, while woefully underestimating the varying uses that different family members might have for the new technology. Beyond that, their preference for larger automated systems over smaller, modular systems seems off the mark. (Maybe they should have let the Habitat 67 guy modularize the in-house technology.) And beyond that, the pervasive role of the corporations who would sell us these great devices is also hardly mentioned. Maybe that was just assumed?
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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100 ridiculous new emojis
04.29.2014
07:07 am

Topics:
Amusing
Science/Tech

Tags:
emoji
emojis

emoji
 
I might be becoming a fuddy-duddy, but 6 times out of 10 when I encounter something involving emojis, my reaction is, more or less, “Buh?” I get why we need cute, expressive emoticons; I don’t understand what half of emojis mean, or why it’s amusing to see a retelling of Breaking Bad in emojis that redefines the concept of “hit or miss.”

So that’s why I was so particularly tickled to see writer, comedian, and Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater regular Avery Monsen’s new Vine, in which he presents “100 new emojis.” From where I sit, these preposterous invented emojis are the satirical kick in the pants emojis have been waiting for all along. Enjoy!
 
emoji
 
emoji
 
emoji
 
More after the jump…
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Clackity clack: Typewriter art throughout the 20th century
04.24.2014
01:33 pm

Topics:
Art
Science/Tech

Tags:
typewriters
typewriter art

Typewriter art
Italic Ode, Dom Sylvester Houédard (U.K., 1971)
 
In 2014, ASCII art has been a familiar form of pictorial art for at least two decades, whereas typewriters are hardly ever used un-ironically, they have become the vintage terrrain of hipster collectors. But it was not always so. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, at least to judge from Alan Riddell’s fascinating 1975 collection Typewriter Art (available for free download at monoskop.org). In this well-organized and respectful volume, you find out that artists have been tinkering with typewriters in a serious way at least as far back as the 1920s (at least that’s where Riddell starts his narrative). We’ve all seen dada experiments with typography; it was a Bauhaus domain of playful experimentation as well.

Riddell includes a terrific 1878 quotation from Mark Twain, describing his recent acquisition of a “new-fangled writing machine” that had been perfected by Christopher Latham Sholes and put on the market in 1874: “It will print faster than I can write. One may lean back in his chair and work it. It piles an awful stack of words on one page. It don’t muss things or scatter ink blots around. Of course it saves paper.” How many of you out there are “leaning back” while piling “awful stacks” of pixelated words on your screen? Actually, I am doing that right now (leaning back, I mean).

Riddell’s book includes selections from the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Japan, India, Turkey, and many others. The artworks span the 1920s to the 1970s, but in truth an awful lot of them are concentrated in the 1968-1972 period—it appears to have been something of a vogue, sharing at least a little DNA with, say, the Fluxus movement.

I’ll say this: ASCII art this ain’t. (The book does include some portraits of Churchill and Gandhi and a few other personages that are quite similar to ASCII art.) I prefer this stuff, the fact of it having been created by an inky mechanical contraption gives it more charm.

 
Typewriter art
Typestract, Dom Sylvester Houédard (U.K., 1972)
 
Typewriter art
Homage to John Cage, Bengt Emil Johnson (Sweden, 1962)
 
More after the jump…
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Boom: Watch where 26 asteroids hit Earth
04.24.2014
07:41 am

Topics:
Science/Tech

Tags:
asteroids

boom1111.jpg
 
If ever you have wondered how often Earth is hit by an asteroid powerful enough to be measured like a nuclear blast, well, here’s your answer.

Most of the time, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Detection Network monitors covert nuclear weapons testing, but when not focused on keeping an eye on superpowers or rogue states firing a sneaky nuclear weapon, CTBT also detects asteroids crashing into Earth.

Since 2000, CTBT has detected 26 asteroids entering Earth’s atmosphere and exploding with the equivalent of one kilotonne of TNT. The largest asteroid strike between 2000 and today was the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk in February 2013.

This video compilation shows all 26 strikes between 2000-2014 and it has been released by the B612 Foundation as a call to action on asteroid monitoring. B612 is a private foundation dedicated to the protection of Earth from possible asteroid strike, and the foundation is currently building the first privately funded space telescope to keep a watch out for asteroids. Data published last year estimated that objects up to 33-feet in width or larger that could potentially hit Earth are between three and ten-times more common than previously thought.
 

 
Via New Scientist

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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The lamp that spies on you and tweets your conversation
04.24.2014
07:11 am

Topics:
Science/Tech
Stupid or Evil?

Tags:
Conversnitch

gubecived.jpg
 
Are we now so blasé with our privacy that we think it cool to have a lamp that eavesdrops on our conversations and Tweets random bon mots to the public? This is the question artists Brian House and Kyle McDonald claim they are asking with their listening device Conversnitch, which covertly records conversations and then posts extracts online.

Conversnitch uses a Raspberry Pi mini computer, a microphone, an LED, and a plastic flower pot to spy on us. The bugging device can fit into any standard bulb socket, and transmit any conversation taking place nearby directly to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing service, where they are transcribed and interesting snippets extracted, which are then posted onto the Conversnitch Twitter feed.

Here’s how House & McDonald describe their product:

Conversnitch is a small device that automatically tweets overheard conversations, bridging the gap between (presumed) private physical space and public space online.

Information moves between spaces that might be physical or virtual, free or proprietary, illegal or playful, spoken or transcribed.

Yep, we all know our governments can and do listen into our private conversations, store our email and keep tabs on us, and House & McDonald probably think they are doing something quite radical to make us examine all of this invasion of privacy. Personally, I think these guys have created a gimmick to draw attention to themselves, and three cheers for that. But more troublingly, they are probably just making it slightly more acceptable for our privacy to be invaded whether by governments, businesses, Google, Facebook or even your local neighborhood hipster, and that’s not edgy. Conversnitch is not making governments more accountable or businesses more ethical, it’s making the public more vulnerable, and ultimately more oppressed.
 

 
Via Slate

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘New’ Warhol works discovered on old Amiga floppy disks
04.24.2014
07:00 am

Topics:
Art
Science/Tech

Tags:
Andy Warhol

Andy2
 
Last year we posted about Andy Warhol’s interest in the Amiga computing platform, including his participation in an Amiga product launch event in 1985, at which a pixelated image ostensibly created by Warhol of Debbie Harry was shown. At the event Warhol, in a desultory manner, executed the fill function a few times; it’s unclear to what extent that work qualifies as a Warhol original—and yet, lots of Warhol artworks were executed by underlings, so really what’s the diff? In that post we also presented a remarkable cover story/interview on Warhol that appeared in Amiga World magazine early the next year.

Yesterday the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University issued a press release with the title “Previously Unknown Warhol Works Discovered on Floppy Disks from 1985” and the subtitle “Collaborative Team Rescues Early Digital Art through ‘Forensic Retrocomputing.’” The substance of the press release is that “a multi-institutional team of new-media artists, computer experts, and museum professionals have discovered a dozen previously unknown experiments by Andy Warhol ... on aging floppy disks from 1985.” The discovery was in part a result of efforts by “post-conceptual” artist Cory Arcangel:
 

The impetus for the investigation came when Arcangel, a self-described “Warhol fanatic and lifelong computer nerd,” learned about Warhol’s Amiga experiments from the YouTube video of the 1985 Commodore Amiga product launch [the product launch referenced above]. Acting on a hunch, and with the support of CMOA curator Tina Kukielski, Arcangel approached the AWM in December 2011 regarding the possibility of restoring the Amiga hardware in the museum’s possession, and cataloging any files on its associated diskettes.

-snip-

It was not known in advance whether any of Warhol’s imagery existed on the floppy disks—nearly all of which were system and application diskettes onto which, the team later discovered, Warhol had saved his own data. Reviewing the disks’ directory listings, the team’s initial excitement on seeing promising filenames like “campbells.pic” and “marilyn1.pic” quickly turned to dismay, when it emerged that the files were stored in a completely unknown file format, unrecognized by any utility. Soon afterwards, however, the Club’s forensics experts had reverse-engineered the unfamiliar format, unveiling 28 never-before-seen digital images that were judged to be in Warhol’s style by the AWM’s experts. At least eleven of these images featured Warhol’s signature.

The images depict some of Warhol’s best-known subjects—Campbell’s® soup cans, Botticelli’s Venus, and self-portraiture, for example—articulated through uniquely digital processes such as pattern flood fills, palletized color, and copy-paste collage. “What’s amazing is that by looking at these images, we can see how quickly Warhol seemed to intuit the essence of what it meant to express oneself, in what then was a brand-new medium: the digital,” says Arcangel.

 
On Saturday, May 10, at Carnegie Library Lecture Hall in Pittsburgh, a short film called “Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments” documenting the team’s efforts will be shown.

The press release did not divulge information as to when the other 9 or 25 (depending on what figure you go by) digital artworks will be made public. At the top of this page is one of the images released to the public, called Andy2; the other two, Campbell’s and Venus, are below, as well as a picture of Warhol’s Amiga setup.

I’m not an art historian or art critic, but I will say this. I like Campbell’s the best of the three. It engages the most signature work of Warhol’s career, and it’s nice to look at. To call Venus a fully fledged work of art may be a stretch….. it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that Venus was hardly much more than a trial effort to see if he could master the cut and paste function. I’m not saying it was that, I’m saying it could be that. Given the minimal manipulations involved and the cheeky (and let’s not forget, not terribly Warholian) subject matter, to argue for its status as a mature Warhol work might well be to indulge in some kind of aesthetic-categorization hair-splitting…. It’s not like art critics have ever, ever argued that a ridiculous or trifling work of art merited major world-historical status…... Maybe not, maybe I’m being narrow: I’ll leave it for others to decide.
 
Campbell's
 
Venus
 
Amiga equipment
 
Here’s a video of Warhol and Debbie Harry at that Amiga product launch in July 1985:
 

 
via Internet Magic

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Man overboard: Experience the terror of drowning at sea
04.23.2014
11:04 am

Topics:
Science/Tech

Tags:
Sortie en Mer

aestatsol11.jpg
 
If you have ever wondered what it’s like to fall overboard at sea and watch your crew mates glide off in the boat towards the horizon, then you may be interested in the interactive site Sortie en Mer, which highlights the importance of wearing a life-jacket when out on the water.

I have experienced being cast overboard both in open water and on a river. Thankfully, I was wearing a life-jacket on each occasion, as without it I could not have survived.

However, I must admit, I did find being capsized in a river far more fun than falling overboard at sea—this even after I was once carried by the river’s current through white water rapids and deposited approximately two miles downstream. I was lucky, but still, I thought of the experience as being on a fluid, unrestrained rollercoaster.

Falling overboard at sea was no fun. The water was freezing cold and all I could see was the sky, the low horizon and the waves that kept hitting me in the face. I concentrated on my breathing, in between mouthfuls of water, and tried to figure out where the boat had gone. Again, I was lucky, it was turning around and I was soon back on board.

Sortie en Mer offers a first person, point-of-view experience in which you venture out on a boat with friends, onto seemingly beautiful calm seas, before being knocked overboard. Then the terror begins as you try to keep yourself afloat by scrolling upwards, before the cold, exhaustion and the unrelenting pull of the current eventually takes you under. It’s an effective interactive experience designed by agency CLM BBDO for yachtwear manufacturer Guy Cotten which reinforces the importance of always wearing a life-jacket when out on water.

Now experience it for yourself from the safety of your seat.
 

 
Via The Daily Dot

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Artists’ brains are ‘structurally different’ new study claims
04.17.2014
09:11 am

Topics:
Art
Science/Tech

Tags:
brain
artists

000niarb.jpg
 
A study has revealed that artists’ brains are ‘structurally different’ from the rest of us. The small study, published in the journal NeuroImage, detailed the results of brain scans taken from 21 art students and 23 non-artists. The scans used a voxel-based morphometry to reveal that artists have more neural matter in the parts of their brain relating to visual imagery and fine motor control.

Lead author of the study, Rebecca Chamberlain from KU Leuven, Belgium, told BBC News that she was interested in finding out how artists saw the world differently.

“The people who are better at drawing really seem to have more developed structures in regions of the brain that control for fine motor performance and what we call procedural memory,” she explained.

The brain scans were accompanied by different drawing tasks, which revealed those who performed best at the tests had more grey and white matter in the motor areas of the brain. Grey matter is mainly composed of nerve cells, while white matter is responsible for communication between the grey matter regions. However, it is not clear what the increase in neural matter means, other than artists have enhanced processing in these areas due the functions involved in drawing and painting, Dr Chamberlain added:

“It falls into line with evidence that focus of expertise really does change the brain. The brain is incredibly flexible in response to training and there are huge individual differences that we are only beginning to tap into.”

One of the study’s other authors, Chris McManus from University College London, said it was difficult to know what aspect of artistic talent is innate and how much is learnt:

“We would need to do further studies where we look at teenagers and see how they develop in their drawing as they grow older - but I think [this study] has given us a handle on how we could begin to look at this.”

One scientist, not involved with the study, Ellen Winner of Boston College told BBC News that the study “put to rest the facile claims that artists use ‘the right side of their brain’ given that increased grey and white matter were found in the art group in both left and right structures of the brain”.

“Only a prospective study could get at the question of innate structural brain differences that predispose people to become visual artists, and this kind of study has not been done as it would be very difficult and very expensive to carry out.”

 
Via BBC News

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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