Monthly Archives: November 2011

Fun with Shrinky-Dinks

Click through to PhysOrg if the video doesn’t load.

Ying Liu, et al. from Michael Dickey’s Lab at North Carolina State demonstrate how simply using an inkjet printer to put black lines on shrinky-dinks, one can transform them into a heat activated self-folding material. (Paper.)

The idea is very simple. When a light is shone on the taped up shrinky-dink, the black tape absorbs more energy, and thus the area under the tape heats up faster than the uncovered material. Since shrinky-dinks contract when heated, a hinge is created. By varying the width of the tape, the rate of closure and the resultant angle can be controlled.


Women’s Enduro X at X Games 17

This is just embarrassing.

While the men fell as well, apparently they didn’t fall nearly as much. These are supposed to be some of the best dirt bike riders in the world, they look like what I could do, and I have never ridden a dirt bike in my life. The sexist youtube comments write themselves.

In case you’re wondering, the event is called Enduro X, which is basically just indoor dirt bike racing with bigger obstacles.

Diaspora Revisited

I now have a Diaspora account, so I figure it’s time to revisit my thoughts about it. Last time I mentioned Diaspora, it was just a kick starter project. A sketch of an idea, but nothing else. Now there’s something to actually look at an interact with.

Diaspora isn’t fun. While it may be a work in progress, it has squandered a lot of momentum, and certain things are just the kind of mistakes you’d expect from four (now three) undergrads with no experience with Internet scale. First, it is incredibly hard to find anyone. Search is slow, and it only return less than 10 hits, with no ability to move beyond the first page of results. If you want to invite your friends, you can either use Facebook, or manually upload your address book one email address at a time. That’s just horrible. It advertises integration with other services (namely Twitter and Facebook) but with the exception of Facebook, it doesn’t access the address book.

Second, while you can follow tags, almost every tag is content free. Why? The first post every account is encouraged to send is, “Hey! I’m #newhere and am interested in #foo, #bar, and #baz!” And so every tag is filled with these #newhere posts. While a welcome-a-total-stranger post may have sounded like a good idea when you have low tens of users, it is obvious this can’t scale, especially when you’re trying to attract many new users.

Third, the stream only supports two types of content: text and pictures. Want to share a link? You can’t. I don’t know quite what to say about that. It’s just weird.

Since I have literally two connections on Diaspora it’s very hard to get anything out of it. Especially since the community features (i.e. tag following) is broken, and quite honesty even when you scroll through 20 #newhere posts just to find one piece of actual content, the content is rather crappy. I don’t blame Diaspora for that though. I blame the Internet.

The Sovereign is Never Seen

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Adam Harvey played with different makeup patterns to defeat facial detection software. Called CV Dazzle – named after the dazzle camouflage of World War I – it basically asymmetric white and black eye black that is intended to confuse the location of the eyes in relation to the mouth.

While interesting, it isn’t a complete privacy system. Even wearing CV Dazzle, the wearer’s image is still stored. I recall seeing online a hoodie that had high intensity IR LEDs sewn around the opening in an attempt to blind cameras, which I would think either works extremely well, or extremely poorly (i.e. providing more light to the wearer’s face, and thus a sharper image) depending on the orientation of the LEDs. Because of this, it seems like going with an old fashioned mask is better solution, unless you’re afraid of being arrested on a trumped up and dubious
anti-mask law, in which case perhaps CV Dazzle isn’t such a bad idea in order circumvent mass surveillance.

For Your Chinese Room

Tic-Tac-Tome is a 1400 page policy for playing tic-tac-toe. Like a giant Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, the reader chooses a location to move to, and turns to the appropriate page to see the counter move. Of course, the book plays optimally, and so “the only winning move is not to play.

The book fits perfectly the Chinese Room argument. In the thought experiment, a Chinese speaker writes messages in chinese and slips them under the door to a locked room. Responses, also written in Chinese get passed back under the door. The responses are so convincing, that the Chinese speaker is convinced he/she is conversing with an intelligence that understands Chinese. Unbeknownst to those outside, a person that does not speak Chinese collects the papers as they slide under the door, consults a giant lookup table of inputs to outputs and then copies the prescribed response to another piece of paper and slides it back, never understanding the inputs or the outputs. The question is then, whether Chinese speaker is conversing with an intelligence or nor, and if so where does the intelligence lie?

Personally, I find the whole “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” argument rather quaint and tiresome. Something that’s only worth discussing while riding in my atomic powered self-driving car while smoking a bowl of the finest hashish. AI always struck me a bit like a magic trick. From the outside, it looks amazing (Wow! You made an orange float in the air! Amazing!), then you find out how it is actually done, and then you’re disappointed because your fantasy has been dashed (You just shoved your thumb in it! You suck!). Personally, I think this says more about us, and our willingness to be misled than anything else.

Voynich Manuscript

A few of years ago or so I became interested in the art of grimoires. The woodcuts of regular geometric shapes overlaid over demons or simply naked people. Codes. Magic. Dark conspiracies. Grimoires have it all.

The ultimate book of magic is the enigmatic Voynich Manuscript. Discovered in 1912 in an antique bookshop, its authorship and meaning has never been clear. Written sometime between 1404 and 1438, its drawing appear to describe plants, biology, cosmology, and medicine. The text is either some sort of encryption, or maybe even meaningless asemic text.

I first heard of the Voynich Manuscript overhearing a rather bizarre conversation between two older gentlemen at Sureshot coffee in Seattle the summer of 2008. One man was discussing some occult conspiracy of an that involved the Voynich Manuscript, an medieval immortality cult of serial killers, and the Zodiac Killer. I think Bohemian Grove entered in to it as well.