Here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own

thank you,


Listening to this, I wonder why the title wasn’t the line that defined Kennedy’s first inaugural. My favorite line:

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

Yeah, let’s seek that, ok?

Computers don’t understand real world space

John Underkoffler says that “Computers don’t understand real world space” … until now. At 5:20, things start to get pretty crazy. These systems are already deployed, and he thinks we’re just 5 years away from mass consumer access to this.

via TED via Real-world Minority Report computer interface from

John Underkoffler was one of the science advisors for Minority Report. After doing that, he helped build a computer with an interface very much like the ones in the movie … you know, where Tom Cruise flings stuff around on a screen with his hands. In this TED talk, Underkoffler demonstrates the system.

Yay Steam!

The photo is titled Diana visits a steam engine in Hesston, Indiana. I found it near the top of the Creative Commons “steam” photos. Kevin Dooley is a person whose photos I run across a lot because I do Absolute Michigan and he does very popular Michigan photos that he makes available via Creative Commons*.

This photo can be seen in context in Kevin’s Diana slideshow. Anyway, the subject was steam. Specifically, the steam engine. Specifically, Thomas Newcomen, creator of the first practical atmospheric steam engine who was born on or around and most probably before February 24, 1664 in Devon, England.

A devout Baptist, Newcomen worked as an ironmonger, fabricating and selling metal parts. Devon had plenty of tin mines around.

But flooding was a major problem in the mines, and water often had to be often pumped out of the mines — by human or animal power. It was for this task that Newcomen created the first practical steam engine. It was the prototype of the machinery that made the Industrial Revolution possible.

The initial design of Newcomen’s engine used a vertical brass cylinder with a piston connected to a rocking beam. A copper boiler sat below the cylinder to heat the water to boiling. When the piston was at the top of its range of motion, water was sprayed into the cylinder. That cooled the insides, condensing the steam within. This formed a vacuum, pulling the piston down. The boiler, still on, then reheated the steam, driving the piston up again.

Repeating this process caused the rocker beam to rock up and down: a working steam engine. Newcomen’s 1712 design attached the working end of the beam (opposite the piston) to chains that descended to pumps located deep in the mine.

*All photos on this blog are Creative Commons licensed … it was a decision I made years ago and I’ve been amazed at the cool people I’ve met through this simple policy.

A long time ago … when special effects were really hard

Computer Graphics From a Long, Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away from Topless Robot:

Oh man. /Film started my day with this 10-minute documentary from Larry Cuba about how he made the computer graphics for Star Wars, specifically, the Death Star assault video Dodonna plays for the Rebel pilots, and it is so, so awesome. Cuba is obviously so proud when he says he’s moving his Death Star model in real time, and he should be, since back in 1976 that probably needed 400 computers glued together and the blood sacrifice of a white calf. Anyways, it’s fun for Star Wars fans and a neat look back for computer nerds alike.

Imagine the movie industry doing what they do now without the plastic reality offered by oceans of computing power and unbelievable software.

Topless Robot is a kickin’ site that features geek chum like Teenage Mutant Reservoir Turtles and The 10 Best ’60s Batman TV Villains Who Should Make the Leap to Comic Books (10 villains, 10 videos including Vincent Price as the Egghead).


Bridging the gaps

ETHAN ZUCKERMAN: I spent 20 minutes this morning researching Kenyan wedding rituals.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: But you’re weird!

Mike sent me this interview from On the Media with with Ethan Zuckerman, founder of Global Voices, and Clive Thompson, technology writer for the New York Times Magazine and Wired. They were discussing homophily: the tendency for individuals to seek out others who share their preferences, ideas, age, gender, class, organizational role, etc. and whether the internet was increasing it or helping build bridges of understanding. They also discuss people who are getting beyond what’s known as the Dunbar number and having deep (or not totally shallow) connections with well more than the 150 or so people we’re thought to be able to “know” through social media. Clive relates that as a result of his network, he’s shocked at how much more he knows about things.

For example, I mean, some people’s homophily problem might mean they don’t know anything about international relations. My homophily problem is I don’t know anything about pop culture. I don’t watch any TV. I don’t watch any movies. I don’t listen to much music. And this becomes a real social deficit. I’ll go a party and people like will mention a major A-list star and I have no idea who the hell they’re talking about.

And so, what happens is that in the periphery of my large number of weak links, something will sort of begin to move. Like I’ll see a bunch of people say, wow, Christian Bale is a total badass, and someone else will go, go Christian Bale, go. And I’ll be like I sense a disturbance in the Force.

Mike thought I’d like it, and I did. It’s 20 minutes of very interesting discussion – have a listen if you can.

The photo is Bridging the East River by Randy Wick and you should definitely check it out bigger or in his Most Interesting slideshow.

Cutting through the Babel with Google Fusion Tables

Circle of Blue has an article about last week’s launch of Fusion Tables by Google. The new system allows users to upload and manage huge databases of information and access aggregated data through a common format

“The biggest potential is to build an ecosystem of data on the Web,” said Alon Halevy, the senior Google engineer who led the Fusion Tables development team. “This means making it easy for the people to upload, to merge data sets, to discuss the data, to create visualizations and then to take these visualizations and put them elsewhere on the Web so that there’s better data on the Web.”

…Fusion Tables, a breakthrough application of online research and communications capacities, goes beyond traditional database systems because it allows users to share and merge data in real time with other contributors wherever they work. It also allows users to apply visualizations, and discuss discrepancies of specific data points. Multiple users can cross-check and discuss individual rows, columns or even cells as easily as right-clicking on the spot.

Users can also display their data through a variety of visualizations: as a timeline, a graph or a map. The “fusion” of the data sets can link dissimilar information from the far corners of the Web to reveal patterns and trends that might be impossible to spot otherwise. This makes Fusion Tables a central hub for data collaboration, as anyone can publish and access files, which were formerly locked away in Excel spreadsheets, PDF reports, and hard-cover textbooks.

I know from scientist friends who I’ve talked with that one of the biggest barriers to collaboration is the fact that Lab A can’t communicate with Lab B … fortunately there’s Google to allow them to speak the same language. Check out the article for more and some created images and watch this interview with Halevy.

The photo is The Last Drop by lepiaf.geo and it’s part of her Water set (slideshow).