Sunday, October 31, 2010

Feathered dinosaurs in speculation and reality

Tetrapteryx, a hypothetical bird ancestor illustrated in 1915. Image from Wikipedia.


Almost a century later, very similar "four-winged" birdlike dinosaurs have been discovered. One is the adorable Anchiornis, which turns out to have beautifully patterned black and orange feathers.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Last Judgment on stone

The various human and supernatural figures are painted on a slab of agate, the natural pattern of which resembles billowing clouds.

Source.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Left unsaid

There is a set of books that both you and I know about and the cardinality of that set is some number n and you and I have just had in mind a subset containing n - 1 of those books and I am now calling your attention to the remaining nth book. There was a time when I had that book in my possession and I am now asking you to tell me whether I did anything in the past which would count as causing that book to be in your possession.
The underlying semantic meaning of the utterance "Did I give you the other book?", according to linguist Charles J. Fillmore, quoted in The Linguistics Wars by Randy Allen Harris.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ancient computer animation

Created in 1990, "Breaking the Ice" is a charming story set in a strange bubble world of fish and birds:



The CGI creatures in this video (except for the protagonists) are examples of "boids", virtual life-forms which possess a very simple form of AI. They are programmed to simulate the flocking behavior of real birds and fish, following their fellows and avoiding collisions with them, or with obstacles.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hoover, the Talking Seal



Hoover the seal learned to imitate human speech, and "told visitors to 'Get outta here!' in a thick New England accent." I admit, without that transcription, I wouldn't have understood what the seal was saying-- but it still sounds eerily human.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I believe the proper term is "Arboreal-Americans"

One radical even claimed that trees were like other exploited minorities in America, such as blacks, Vietnamese, and hippies.
From a discussion of radical 1960's environmentalists in The Idea of Decline in Western History, by Arthur Herman

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hearing things

Sine-wave speech is the sound that results when you take a recording of speech and strip it down to a few wavering tones. The result has little in common with real human speech, but if you know what to listen for, you can actually "hear" words behind the whistling. Listen to a demo here; the effect is most powerful if you listen to the sine-wave speech first, then the normal sentence, then the sine-wave again.

The same pattern-seeking ability which helps us make sense of distorted speech can cause us to hear words where none exist. Richard Dawkins writes:

Once, as a child, I heard a ghost: a male voice murmuring, as if in recitation or prayer. I could almost, but not quite, make out the words, which seemed to have a serious, solemn timbre. I had been told stories of priest holes in ancient houses, and I was a little frightened. But I got out of bed and crept up on the source of the sound. As I got closer, it grew louder, and then suddenly it “flipped” inside my head. I was now close enough to discern what it really was. The wind, gusting through the keyhole, was creating sounds which the simulation software in my brain had used to construct a model of male speech, solemnly intoned.
Had I been a more impressionable child, it is possible that I would have “heard” not just unintelligible speech but particular words and even sentences. And had I been both impressionable and religiously brought-up, I wonder what words the wind might have spoken.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

50's love poetry-- by a computer

Back in 1952 a team of scientists was desperate to test the capabilities of Mark One `Baby`, the computer built at Manchester University.
One of them, Christopher Strachey, devised a quirky software programme by entering hundreds of romantic verbs and nouns into the new machine.
Here are a couple examples of the output; note the recurring sentence templates:
  • MOPPET DUCK
YOU ARE MY LOVESICK HEART. MY EROTIC PASSION WANTS YOUR AVID ADORATION. MY ADORATION WISTFULLY IS WEDDED TO YOUR FERVENT PASSION. YOU ARE MY LOVELY ENCHANTMENT. MY FONDNESS AFFECTIONATELY PANTS FOR YOUR CURIOUS ADORATION.
YOURS BEAUTIFULLY
  • DUCK HONEY
YOU ARE MY PRECIOUS ARDOUR. MY DESIRE ANXIOUSLY CHERISHES YOUR HUNGER. MY HUNGER CARES FOR YOUR RAPTURE. MY LOVELY FONDNESS CARES FOR YOUR TENDER PASSION. YOU ARE MY SWEET ENTHUSIASM.
YOURS SEDUCTIVELY
Make your own random romantic poem here.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Soviet Union badges


The text on the round one transcribes to "Slava Trudu", which as far as I can determine means "Glory to Labor!", and the text on the tiny square one says "Lenin".

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sailing pterosaurs

Computer rendering shows how Tapejara wellnhoferi might have sailed, catching the wind with its head crest and wings.
I can't help thinking this creature would make a fine rubber ducky. (And no, the notion of a pterosaur rubber ducky isn't a contradiction in terms. See here for all the discussion of the relevant semantic issues you'll ever need.)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Dandy

If dandelions were rare flowers found only in a vanishing rain forest, we'd all think they were beautiful.