Sunday, July 17, 2011

The voice of an old doll

In addition to recording choirs, Thomas Edison made the first-ever recording for a talking toy:
On the recording, an unidentified woman recites one verse of the nursery rhyme "Twinkle, twinkle, little star." The voice captured on the 123-year-old record had been unheard since Edison's lifetime...
In November 1888, the New York Evening Sun announced that Edison's talking dolls had just been "perfected," and that "nothing remains but to manufacture them in large quantities." No commercially viable method of duplicating sound recordings had yet been developed, so Edison hired women with suitable voices to make as many records as he thought would be needed once his talking dolls were put on the market: "There were two young ladies in the room...who were continually talking to the tiny speaking machines, which a skilled workman was turning out in great numbers."

Monday, July 11, 2011


Foraminifères de Ngapali
These are the shells of marine protists, each as small as a grain of sand. They are abundant in the fossil record, showing smooth transitions from stratum to stratum.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fractal cathedrals

Giovanni Paolo Panini - Interior of St. Peter's, Rome
But it also happens that recursive structure is fundamental to the history of architecture, especially to the gothic, renaissance and baroque architecture of Europe — covering roughly the 500 years between the 13th and 18th centuries. The strange case of "recursive architecture" shows us the damage one missing idea can create. It suggests also how hard it is to talk across the cultural Berlin Wall that separates science and art. And the recurrence of this phenomenon in art and nature underlines an important aspect of the human sense of beauty.
...George Hersey wrote astutely of Bramante's design (ca 1500) for St Peter's in the Vatican that it consists of "a single macrochapel…, four sets of what I will call maxichapels, sixteen minichapels, and thirty-two microchapels." "The principle [he explains] is that of Chinese boxes — or, for that matter, fractals."
--Computer scientist David Gelernter on the importance of the concept of recursive structure. I'm reminded of the Mandelbox:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Stormy Saturn

Scientists analyzing data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft now have the first-ever, up-close details of a Saturn storm that is eight times the surface area of Earth.
On Dec. 5, 2010, Cassini first detected the storm that has been raging ever since. It appears at approximately 35 degrees north latitude on Saturn. Pictures from Cassini's imaging cameras show the storm wrapping around the entire planet covering approximately 1.5 billion square miles (4 billion square kilometers).
The storm is about 500 times larger than the biggest storm previously seen by Cassini during several months from 2009 to 2010.
This world-spanning tempest is noisy as well:
NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured these sounds of lightning strikes at Saturn on March 15, 2011, during the largest and most intense storm observed up-close at Saturn. Lightning at Saturn creates phenomena known as Saturn electrostatic discharges, which are like the static that Earth lightning creates on an AM radio. The amplitude and duration of the Saturn lightning radio signals were used to create the audio signals heard here.
...The storm is still raging. At its most active, lightning flashes occurred at a rate of more than 10 per second. This was so frequent, in fact, that Cassini could no longer resolve individual strokes.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Lenin's childhood doodles

Pismo totemami of Vladimir Lenin
The kind people at the Wikipedia Reference Desk share some more information about this surreal image, which was drawn by Vladimir Lenin when he was a child:
...a better translation [of the Cyrillic text "Письмо тотемами", "pismo totemami" in Latin letters] would be "letter written in symbols"...
According to the accompanying text in the journal where it was published, this was a letter "written" on birch bark by 12-year-old Lenin by means of pictograms, inspired by the way North American Indians used them (the pictograms have been mistakenly referred to "totems"). It was made for fun, and addressed to some of Lenin's playmates as a part of some game of theirs, in which they were pretending to be hunters. The exact meaning of the message is apparently not known to anybody. The text suggests that it might be a request by children with the nicknames "Stork", "Crab" etc., where these are asking somebody swimming in a lake to prepare a meal for the hunters or else they'll collapse due to starvation (as depicted in the lower-right corner). The letter is preserved in the Lenin museum (part of the State Historical Museum of Russia).

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Flying gurnard


This fish doesn't actually fly in the air; its beautiful wing-like fins are used to scare predators.