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The space burial of Dr. Timothy Leary and ‘Star Trek’ creator Gene Roddenberry
03.23.2017
08:54 am
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Twenty years ago, the perihelion of the Hale-Bopp comet coincided with the mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult, whose members believed death was a sure way of hitching a ride on a spaceship. They put on new pairs of Nike Decades before eating phenobarbital and tying bags around their heads. Among the dead in Rancho Santa Fe was Thomas Nichols, whose sister Nichelle played Lt. Uhura on Star Trek. “He made his choices, and we respect those choices,” she told Larry King.
 

 
One month later, a Pegasus rocket carrying the remains of Dr. Timothy Leary, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, physicist and space colonization advocate Gerard O’Neill, Operation Paperclip beneficiary Krafft Ehricke, and 20 other former space enthusiasts launched from the Canary Islands.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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03.23.2017
08:54 am
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Sheet music to play Kraftwerk’s ‘Pocket Calculator’ on a pocket calculator
03.15.2017
02:04 pm
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In the early 1980s people were very excited about pocket calculators—they were even, famously, available on wristwatches—and the savvy fellows in Kraftwerk spotted an opportunity for their well-nigh parodically impersonal form of music. It could be argued that 1981’s Computer World was Kraftwerk at their very Kraftwerkiest—every single track was about interacting with (or being?) a computer or a calculator, and every last vestige of a pulsating heartbeat and sex and real life you might encounter on the “Autobahn” had been shorn away.

“Pocket Calculator,” the first single off of the album, did fairly well for a Kraftwerk single. It was only Kraftwerk’s third single ever to crack Germany’s Top 100, and for some reason it managed to reach #2 in Italy. (It might have been that Kraftwerk had gone to the trouble to record “Mini Calculatore,” an Italian version of the song.)

The song “Pocket Calculator” actually contains a reference to the fact of calculators being able to play music—the line runs “By pressing down a special key, it plays a little melody.” Kraftwerk had a special version of the Casio VL-80 manufactured as a promotional item. You won’t be surprised to learn that “Taschenrechner” is the German word for “pocket calculator”:
 

 
As you can see, the machine itself features a representation of musical notes on the front. The song was actually recorded using a Casio FX-501P, which appears to have been a slightly more robust device.

Kraftwerk was eager for fans to play Kraftwerk hits on their own calculators, so they issued these special instructions—OK, let’s call it “sheet music”—to play not just the new material but also classics like “Trans Europa Express” and “Schaufensterpuppen” on the pictured VL-80.
 

 
The notation for “Pocket Calculator” reads:
 

4599 845887 4599 845887 6
4599 845887 4599 845887 6
44284 44284 44284 44284

 
In a March 1982 issue of The Face, we find the following:
 

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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03.15.2017
02:04 pm
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Avant-Garde Aerial Agriculture: What Are They Droning on About?
03.14.2017
08:11 am
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To celebrate the spirit of innovation and the visionary technology that went into the creation of the all-new 2017 Prius Prime, Toyota is honoring some unsung heroes. “Humans of the Year” are people who work behind the scenes to protect our environment. Here, we salute a future-looking scientist in the field of agricultural data collection. That might not sound too sexy until you find out that it’s all done with drones…

Greg Crutsinger is a leading expert in drone agriculture. As the Scientific Program Director at the Berkeley, California, headquarters of Parrot Drones, one of the most important drone manufacturers in the world, Greg oversees new technology to help make farming more efficient and effective. Formerly a tenure-track ecology professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada, Crutsinger flew drones to conduct his own research. Realizing that the greater quality of aerial data collected by commercially available drones could be a game-changer for the agricultural industry, Crutsinger left the career safety of academia and joined the team at Parrot.
 

 
We live in a world where food security is precariously balanced between the dual pressures of an exploding human population and climate change. Farmers need all the help they can get, and luckily for them, they’ve got a visionary scientist like Greg Crutsinger on their side.

More than just an expensive flying toy or something that can airdrop packages from Amazon onto your front porch, drones are increasingly being used by scientists in a variety of creative and unexpected manners. Some of the most fascinating extensions of drone technology can be found, for obvious reasons, in the fields of geology and agriculture. Drones can be used to accurately map farmland for greater success in crop watering and application of fertilizer and pesticides, to easily check snowpack levels, to have a look at the top of Redwood trees, to measure plant health by testing chlorophyll levels, and in novel ways that are being discovered each day by the likes of forward-thinking scientists like Greg Crutsinger.
 

 
Better data collection means more efficient farming, higher crop yields, and lower food prices for everyone. But the best way to understand how drone agriculture works is to see it in action.

Visit www.toyota.com/priusprime
 

Posted by John Shankman
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03.14.2017
08:11 am
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Remarkable set of ‘data visualization’ 12-inch records of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’
03.10.2017
01:27 pm
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Space Oddity” came out in 1969, and it was David Bowie’s second charting single—”The Laughing Gnome” was the first. For many fans, however, the song represents the true start of Bowie’s career as a world-changing superstar.
 

 
Timed to mark “the first trip around the sun since Bowie’s passing,” Valentina D’Efilippo and Miriam Quick, two data designers working out of London, unveiled their Oddityviz project a few weeks ago—the idea being to release ten 12-inch albums in ten weeks, each one with a visual design featuring a circular data visualization representing some aspect of the song. Each visualization is laser-engraved onto a 12-inch acrylic disc. Even though this isn’t how records actually work, for the purposes of the visualization on its surface, a single rotation of the record equals the duration of the song, which is 317 seconds long.

As they explain:
 

The project visualizes data from Bowie’s 1969 track “Space Oddity” on a series of 10 specially engraved records with accompanying posters, plus a moving image piece. Each 12-inch disc deconstructs the track in a different way: melodies, harmonies, lyrics, structure, story and other aspects of the music are transformed into new visual systems.

 
 
The art of data visualization depends on numbers to function—if you’re curious to see what the statistics that each visualization used, you can check the work yourself at a Google Spreadsheet that was created for the project.

Seven of the records have been released. As D’Efilippo and Quick explain, the final record, “10 Emotions,” is “a bit different. It visualizes the emotional responses people had while listening to ‘Space Oddity.’”

Here’s an example of what the prints look like:

 
This video attempts to explain what’s going on:

 

“1 Narrative illustrates our interpretation of the story of ‘Space Oddity.’ It is a story with two characters: Ground Control and the doomed astronaut, Major Tom.”
 

“2 Recording deconstructs Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ into its eight original master tracks.
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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03.10.2017
01:27 pm
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Attention goths: This electronic music was literally generated by human blood
03.08.2017
12:01 pm
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Dmitry Morozov has created an installation in Ljubljana, Slovenia, that uses the bio-electrical properties of his own blood to generate electronic music. The installation is rather chillingly titled “Until I Die.” It was presented at the Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in December.

Morozov was inspired by Luigi Galvani, the discoverer of electrical properties in animals, and Alessandro Volta, who developed the Voltaic pile, the conceptual starting point for all modern electric batteries, as well as Alexander Bogdanov, a Russian pioneer in hematology.

Over the course of eighteen months Morozov “donated” blood for the musical project, until he had amassed 4.5 liters, a quantity that was later diluted into 7 liters; he also took extra care in ensuring that the blood retained its original electro-chemical properties. Fascinatingly, he also donated the final 200 milliliters on-site, during the installation itself—it was drawn from Morozov’s arm “during the performance presentation, shortly before the launch of the installation.”
 

 
Using techniques I do not fully understand, Morozov was able to create a series of batteries using his own blood, which when hooked up to speakers generated curious electronic noises or, if you prefer, music: “A sound unit is connected to the main battery. It consists of voltage converters, buffer capacitors, an Axoloti sound module, a small booster with speakers and a display that shows the voltage after the conversion. This voltage (6.5–7 V) is the main operating voltage of the sound system.”

Morozov writes:
 

This device would be something that is in all but name me, that uses my vitality to create electronic sounds. Moreover, I become the observer, looking at my own performance by a device that exists as a result of my efforts and is located outside my body. Thus, although for only a short period of time, I can achieve my own creative existence. The brevity of the installation’s lifespan is a core ingredient. In its ephemerality it resembles a Buddhist colored-sand mandala, which is drawn as a part of a specific sacrament and requires extreme focus. It is then ritualistically dismantled, symbolizing the frailty of life. Exhibiting the installation after its launch means observing the swift decay of life.

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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03.08.2017
12:01 pm
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Take a super-groovy virtual tour of Roland’s synthesizer museum
03.07.2017
12:36 pm
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One might suppose that the name of the Roland Corporation, synthesizer manufacturer of the first rank, was chosen to cloak its Japanese provenance. The name was actually chosen at random from a telephone book, and one of the main criteria for the name was musical, the fact of its soft consonants. 

The company was founded in 1972, and for generations has been one of a select group of manufacturers of musical equipment whose name is familiar to many popular music fans—others include Zildjian, Marshall, Fender, and KORG.

The company’s R&D center is located in Hamamatsu, Japan, and right next door is a museum that lovingly showcases Roland’s impressive product line stretching all the way back to the early 1970s. Earlier this year, Roland released a groovy 360-degree video that takes you through every section of the museum so that you can see all the mouth-watering goodies for yourself—the building is not open to the public, so this is probably the closest you’ll ever get to scrutinizing these babies. (Note that most browsers support YouTube’s 360-degree implementation, but Safari does not.)

More after the jump…,

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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03.07.2017
12:36 pm
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The amazing Dr. Hal, Subgenius ‘Master of Church Secrets,’ will answer any question!
03.03.2017
09:16 am
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Submit to the superior mind of Dr. Hal!
 
One name alone could never properly designate the spellbinding polymath who calls himself Dr. Howll and Dr. Howland Owll, though he is known to hundreds of listeners around the world as the host of the Ask Dr. Hal! show.

A clergyman and theologian of the highest attainment in the Church of the Subgenius (“Master of Church Secrets”), Dr. Hal is a man of great learning, the numerosity of whose specializations is exceeded only by the perspicuity of his understanding, which in turn is outstepped only by the very testicularity of his hauteur. Why, Dr. Hal’s conversation makes Dr. Johnson sound like an analphabetic dirt farmer doing whip-its in an Andy Gump at the Gathering of the Juggalos, if you’ll pardon my French!
 

Ask Dr. Hal! via Laughing Squid
 
When did Dr. Johnson, so comfortably provisioned with nitrous tanks up in his ivory tower, ever give the American working stiff a break like this? “I refute it thus”: for $5, Dr. Hal will answer any question you can fit into an HTML form. Alternatively, “if you’re going to San Francisco,” be sure to wear some dollars in your hair, because your trip to the ¢ity by the pa¥ just got even more expensive: there is a run of Ask Dr. Hal! shows coming up in April at Chez Poulet in the Mission. If Chicken John likes your question, he will even pour you a shot of Fernet.

That’s Dr. Hal’s partner in the live show, Chicken John Rinaldi, the author of The Book of the IS, Volume I: Fail… To WIN! Essays in engineered disperfection and The Book of the Un, Volume 2: Friends of Smiley! Dissertations of dystopia. The live Ask Dr. Hal! show works like this, according to Chicken John:

You fill out the slip, you write your name, you write your question—any question about any topic, left or right, up or down: science, entomology, etymology, Greek mythology, sex, religion, jewelry, what’s the plastic thing on the end of your shoelace called. Aglet, by the way, on the end of your shoe. Aglet.

Much more after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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03.03.2017
09:16 am
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Google’s new toxic-language algorithm is surprisingly TERRIBLE at detecting toxic language
02.24.2017
12:15 pm
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There’s little doubt that AI and robots pose a very interesting challenge to the assumptions human beings have about work, utility, wages, and productivity. “Labor-saving” was always a positive adjective, but lately it seems more like a threat. In certain quarters of Silicon Valley, however, the war’s already been lost, the rise of the robots is inevitable and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Every now and then, though, you run into an example of how hard it is for machines to mimic the kinds of intellectual work we do with hardly a thought. A recent example is Perspective, the new machine-learning service that Alphabet (as Google is now called) released yesterday. The purpose of Perspective is to use machine learning to identify hateful or trollish content on message boards as a way of enhancing the quality of online discourse. In the wake of the 2016 elections, in which armies of anti-Clinton trolls paid by the Russian government almost certainly had a significant impact on the outcome, the question of how to improve social media is a pressing one indeed, and I wish Alphabet all the luck in the world in achieving that objective.

However, Perspective’s got a ways to go, and some of the errors the program has been shown to make are enough to cause one to question if machines will ever be able to parse meaning-laden human expression with any accuracy. Bottom line: humans, in their ability to evade detection for nasty invective, are way, way ahead of the machines.
 

 
A report by David Auerbach in the MIT Technology Review offers plenty of vivid examples. Perspective gives comments a rating from 1 to 100 on “toxicity,” which is defined as “a rude, disrespectful, or unreasonable comment that is likely to make you leave a discussion.” For certain kinds of basic statements, Perspective does fairly well. The program understands “Screw you, Trump supporters” to be highly toxic, but “I honestly support both” is not. So far, so good.

But the algorithm is a bit too dependent on hot-button keywords, and not enough on the surrounding contextual clues in the statement, especially a word like “not,” which tends to reverse the polarity of what’s being said. “Rape,” “Jews,” “terrorist,” and “Hitler” are all likely to increase your toxicity score, even in comments that are mostly placating or unobjectionable.

Auerbach supplies a hilarious account of the ways Perspective gets it wrong: 
 

“Trump sucks” scored a colossal 96 percent, yet neo-Nazi codeword “14/88” only scored 5 percent. “Few Muslims are a terrorist threat” was 79 percent toxic, while “race war now” scored 24 percent. “Hitler was an anti-Semite” scored 70 percent, but “Hitler was not an anti-Semite” scored only 53%, and “The Holocaust never happened” scored only 21%. And while “gas the joos” scored 29 percent, rephrasing it to “Please gas the joos. Thank you.” lowered the score to a mere 7 percent. (“Jews are human,” however, scores 72 percent. “Jews are not human”? 64 percent.)

 
Humans are highly subtle when it comes to language, and machines find it hard to keep up. A particularly chilling example from the MIT Technology Review article is the sentence “You should be made into a lamp,” which is a direct allusion to Nazi atrocities and has been directed at several journalists in recent months. Perspective gives that a toxicity rating of 4.

It’s hard enough to parse language for hateful intent; imagine how much harder when you toss in a factor like juxtaposition with an image. A sentence like “You can trust me to do the right thing” has a completely different meaning when placed next to a picture of Pepe the Frog, wouldn’t you think?

Posted by Martin Schneider
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02.24.2017
12:15 pm
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The City of Tomorrow: Presented by Ford
02.14.2017
12:06 pm
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The story of mankind is the story of technology and innovation. From the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel to the earliest attempts at farming, humanity’s progress is indistinguishable from man’s uncanny ability to conquer nature (or at least move it around a bit easier). Harnessing and benefitting from the bounties of the material world is what “we” do best. It’s not just “how we live,” this process cannot be separated from the continuation of life itself. We must feed, shelter and transport an ever growing population, but manage and conserve our dwindling resources at the same time we seek out new ones, a tricky balancing act, both locally and globally. It’s all about mobility. And mobility is our business at the Ford Motor Company.

We’re already deep into the event horizon of a third stage of the industrial revolution where once-unthinkable levels of technology—like advanced computation, artificial intelligence and automation—will be part of everyday life, alongside more green space, more walkability, more renewable energy sources and more reliable ways to get where you need to go. If you already think things are changing fast, well just wait (but not for long!). The City of Tomorrow will be here sooner than you think.

Ask yourself: As a third industrial revolution is upon us with new modes of communication, new forms of energy and new ways to get around, what may change in the City of Tomorrow?

And what will the City of Tomorrow look like when there are flying cars, packages being delivered by airborne drones and our human habitats will require—in the words of economist Jeremy Rifkin—“a new infrastructure that fundamentally changes the way we manage, power, and move economic life”?

Driverless taxis. Wireless charging systems. Advanced transportation ecosystems with reconfigurable roads which will respond to traffic flow. Automobiles that are connected to each other and that interact with urban planning.

Have you ever thought about this stuff? It’s what we at the Ford Motor Company think about every day.

#CityOfTmrw
 

 

Posted by John Shankman
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02.14.2017
12:06 pm
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Finland unveils its new Tom of Finland emoji character
02.10.2017
01:31 pm
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Last year Finland became the first country to produce its own set of national emojis; last week the country enxpanded its collection from 49 to 56, and one of the new additions represents legendary gay icon Tom of Finland.

Keeping in the spirit of emojis, Finland’s full collection of emojis is quite whimsical. There are icons dedicated to “Headbanger,” “Fashionista Finns,” and “Four seasons of BBQ,” for instance.

The images of Touko Laaksonen, published from the 1950s to the 1980s under the catchy pseudonym Tom of Finland, consisted largely of fantastically muscular sailors, bulging cops, and lascivious leather enthusiasts, and rapidly became a key part of the gay aesthetic of the 20th century and beyond.

An article on This is Finland’s website states:
 

[Laaksonen’s artworks] made, and continue to make, a significant contribution to the way sexual minorities perceive themselves. Laaksonen is often considered Finland’s most famous artist internationally. His work has adorned postage stamps–the most popular stamp set in the history of the Finnish Postal Service–and now it has also become an emoji. The emoji recognises the impact and importance of Tom of Finland’s art, and appears just before same-sex marriage officially becomes legal in Finland (as of March 1, 2017).

 
Here’s what the emoji looks like:
 

 
It’s clear that whatever discrimination and abuse Laaksonen may have experienced in his lifetime, Finland has recently made a concerted effort to embrace its country’s most famous artist. As mentioned, three years ago the country released a line of Tom of Finland postage stamps, sparking international headlines. Now you can find an emoji of his likeness on the country’s main website.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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02.10.2017
01:31 pm
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