July 25th, 2017

"He does have a lot of challenges, but he doesn't know that."


While there are parts of the world where intelligent robots are drowning themselves, it's good to see technology being used for good elsewhere. In New Hampshire, a group of eighth graders designed and created a 3D-printed wheelchair for a six-month-old kitten named Ray who is unable to use his rear legs due to a spinal condition. On top of that, he was born with abnormally tiny eyes, leaving him blind.
The little charmer (full name: Ray Catdashian) also has an Instagram account.

How do you say "Life" in Physics?


Life as Physics. Seems to have been some advances on how life increases in order vs everything else that increases in disorder, since the last time I looked. The Crooks equation is new to me as well as this guy's (MIT's Jeremy England) work which combines Biology and Physics.
Last time I looked at any of this stuff was Ilya Prigogine's "Dissipative Structures".
( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissipative_system )
But that seems like a continuous system and England seems to be talking about discrete (dissipative) steps.

the omphalos

"A happy and Quiet Valentines Day with no drains blocked!"


The Guardian's Underwhelming UK Holiday Photos (previously) has grown into a rich archive. Enjoy underwhelming photos of office Christmas decorations, heatwaves, snowmen, Valentine's day (and again), pancakes, and many more.

The holiday photos themselves are still going strong: 2015, 2016, 2016 again, international, "Went to the suspension bridge for the view, struggled to see my own hands". Send in your 2017 submissions today!

Occasionally Guardian readers rebel and send in nice pictures instead: fog, sunshine. And depending on how you like your New Year's Eves, some of these could go either way.

"This is a commodity that has been fundamentally disrupted."


Taxi medallions in New York City (one of the prime examples economists give when discussing rent seeking) have plummeted in value by more than half since Uber and Lyft came to town, which has had knock-on effects including three credit unions that specialize in loaning money against medallions going into conservatorship, with one analyst comparing it to the subprime mortgage crisis.

The Thing in the Woods


In 1962 woodsman David McPherson Sr. found himself deep in the forest of Lutes Mountain, some 15 kilometres west of Moncton, N.B., staring upwards at a 181-kilogram white box with cameras and hanging from a tree by a deteriorated parachute. What began as a day of scouting timber would turn into the mystery of "the thing in the woods" that would stay with his family for the next 55 years.

"It's real. Those emotions are real. The loss is real."


In These Games, Death Is Forever, and That's Awesome [Wired] ""Permadeath" has been growing in popularity among game designers in recent years. Although it can take different forms depending on which game you're playing, the message is always the same: Mistakes have consequences. [...] The games today that use permadeath as a feature are something of a hybrid of old and new. They have more storyline than Pac-Man but the emphasis is not on a heavily scripted Hollywood-style narrative. Rather, the game's fictional worlds set the scene, establish a strong sense of place, but give the players more leeway to imagine their own personal stories."

• Y'all Are Crazy With Permadeath In Fire Emblem [Kotaku]
"But for some of you masochists, that doesn't seem to be enough. You've just got to turn a fun game into something unmanageable. There seem to be a few ways to play Fire Emblem with permadeath on. The first is resetting the game every time a character dies. This doesn't add any real challenge to the game; it just wastes time. Sure, the stakes are raised a bit to ideally inspire better strategy, but the punishment is making the game not fun by having to replay the exact same part again. Any punishment in a video game that makes the game not fun is too steep. Others will decide to just carry on whenever a character dies. I do not understand this."
• Why permadeath is alive and well in video games [GamesRadar+]
"There's no perfect definition of a permadeath game. They vary from single player survivals like Don't Starve to shooter MMOs like DayZ. The concept drives low-budget roguelikes like FTL and big-budget blockbusters like XCOM: Enemy Unknown. There's even an iOS game called One Single Life that can't be played again once you've died (well, unless you delete then reinstall it). There are twists, too. Dark Souls and ZombiU let you retrieve souls / items from your own corpse to reverse failure, while the hacking game Uplink can see your computer permanently 'disavowed' from the fictional in-game network if you're caught. Permadeath can feature in various genres, then, but it can also be a genre itself. Essentially, permadeath is about being unable to rewrite the past--mistakes carry consequences."
• Someone Please Explain the Appeal of Permadeath and Roguelike Games To Me? [Forever Geek]
"I will just come out and say what a great many gamers think but refuse to say out loud because many gamers have become sensitive over last few years aka people who think what they think is right and any opposing view is wrong. A glance at the title of this article even says so much. Initially, it was "why permadeath is ruining gaming" and once I wrote it and realized how hypocritical I sound, I changed it to try to attempt to get some insight into what makes gamers like these games so much. EXTREME MODES and Permadeath games that seem to derive pleasure from torturing people are somehow the norm now? WHAT??!! It's right there in the description. Someone please tell me the appeal of punishing games? How is that fun?"
• Darkest Dungeon and Permanent Death in Video Games [Den of Geek]
"It's not natural for us to think of adventurers in an RPG as disposable, but in a roguelikeRPG, that strategy starts to make a lot of sense. Just as you would weigh the pros and cons of adventuring forward in a roguelike, in DD you weigh the pros and cons of keeping team members around and paying extra for their recovery or cutting them loose and starting anew. In this fashion, DD is similar to X-COM in that proper roster management is essential. Permadeath adds yet another dimension to this strategy. With permadeath, you can't rely on having only one "A" team of adventurers. As you expand your base of operations and expand the size of your complete roster, it's imperative to work on several of your favorite classes to ensure you have backup teams to send away when characters die off or when stress/impairments requires time away from combat."
• What can "permadeath" video games teach us about suicide? [New Statesman]
"The rise of permadeath in video games – whereby player characters die permanently in-game, or where a game must restart from the beginning should the player character die, in the absence of multiple lives or continues – has changed the way players approach games. In these instances, emotion is often the driving force when it comes to decision-making, and thus with permadeath mental state governs player action, as opposed to logical rationale. It's worth noting here that self-sacrifice – when players kill themselves to respawn or restart levels; or non-playable characters sacrifice themselves for the greater good/to save their companions – is different from suicide as portrayed in the above examples. Permadeath essentially forces players to consider consequence, permanence and finality within the bounds of digital landscapes."

"So that's what I was for—there to handle cheese."


Americans are drinking less milk than ever before, but fast food restaurants are saving the dairy industry by coming out with tons of new menu items featuring dairy products, especially cheese. A look at how a government-backed dairy industry group teamed up with Taco Bell to create the Quesalupa and convinced McDonald's to switch from margarine to butter.

Don't miss the chart where the restaurant with the highest percentage of menu items explicitly mentioning cheese is somehow Dunkin' Donuts.

The Transported Man


"Teleportation killed the Mona Lisa." So begins The Punch Escrow , a novel about everyday teleportation gone awry in the year 2147, by MeFi's own analogue . Available all over the interwebs today from places you buy books.

from the author's about-the-book info at the publisher site:

"The story began as a water cooler discussion I had with the CEO of a company I worked for a few years ago. It started along the lines of the usual "mind blown" zone one enters when they realize that every time Scotty teleported Captain Kirk he was actually killing him in one place and replicating him somewhere else. This concept has been explored almost ad nauseum on Youtube and clickbait sites. You might even say it's jumped the shark since Conan had Professor Brian Cox delve into it on his show . While there are several good books and movies that address the existential problems teleportation would introduce should it ever become a viable transportation mechanism none have adequately presented a hard science solution to that problem. Since I build products for a living, I decided to solve the problem using a strategy known as Wardley Mapping . The "product" came in the form of The Punch Escrow."

The Punch Escrow won the Geek and Sundry / Inkshares' Hard Science Contest , and Liongsate has acquired rights to a movie version.

Cousins, identical cousins...


"Pet brothers from other mothers..."

UK-based image library Warren Photographic may specialize in pet photography, however, what they truly stand out for is finding animal brothers from other mothers! Cats and bunnies, guinea pigs and also dogs – they all seem related in their adorable image gallery.

"It was my mum that came up with the inspiration for matching animals when a friend suggested she try it with her matching seal-point Birman kitten and dwarf bunny. I have continued her great work" – Mark Taylor explained to Bored Panda.

Lasseter: the man who found that fabled reef, a man from death returned


Field-Marshal Sir William Birdwood wrote: " The annals of Central Australian exploration are tragic and heroic, but it is long indeed since I read a more moving story of endurance and heroism in the face of terrific odds than the epic which Mr. Ion Idriess has woven out of the last few months of the life of L. H. B. Lasseter." Lasseter's Last Ride was published in 1931, then turned into a folk song and a (possibly related) poem. This story mixes facts, half-truths, rumours, stories (PDF) — adds a twist of drama, waits 80 years and serves up a story nearly as reliable as Ulysses, wandering his own Mediterranean desert.

Lewis Hubert Lasseter was a man of many pursuits, from inventor and military man to (claimed) engineer, surveyor and prospector, mostly in Australia, but with a jaunt (and a marriage) in the United States. Lasseter changed his name to Harold Bell Lasseter following the publication of Harold Bell Wright's The Mine with the Iron Door (1923), which was a popular contemporary novel and photoplay, which also came after Simpson Newland's novel Blood Tracks of the Bush (1900), David Hennessey's An Australian Bush Track (1896) and Conrad Sayce's Golden Buckles (1920).

Those stories all tell of wonderful gold deposits, or reefs, in the (Australian) desert, and possibly inspired (Lewis) Harold Bell Lasseter to tell two different tales in 1929 and 1930 of discoveries of gold in a remote and desolate corner of central Australia. His biographer(s) on the Australian Dictionary of Biography are clearly skeptical of his skills and claims, and recounted his two tales of finding a gold reef as follows:
On 14 October 1929 Lasseter wrote to A. E. 'Texas' Green, Federal member for Kalgoorlie, outlining what he called an 'out of the ordinary suggestion' to develop the mining, pastoral and agricultural industries. He claimed that eighteen years previously he had discovered 'a vast gold bearing reef in Central Australia' which over fourteen miles assayed three ounces to the ton and which could be developed with an adequate water-supply and capital of £5 million.... The government decided to take no action.

'Expecting the bailiff', as he put it in February 1930, the following month Lasseter approached John Bailey of the Australian Workers' Union and told him of his find — this time thirty-three years previously, when he was 17! Travelling west from the MacDonnell Ranges his horses had died and he was rescued by a surveyor named Harding who took him to Carnarvon, Western Australia, whence they returned three years later and relocated the reef. Lasseter also told Bailey he was 'a qualified ship's captain' and that he had worked for years on coastal boats. In subsequent interviews with Fred Blakeley, Errol Coote, Charles Ulm and others the story varied in detail and aroused suspicion; nevertheless, the lure of gold in a time of economic depression led to the formation of a company to send out a search expedition for the reef.
Lasseter's daughter Lillian Agnes (Ruby) Hodgetts nee Lasseter told a different tale of a man who tried to make life work for him and his family, but "habits found during the war years were too strong and he kept my mother continually short of money while he used to visit Melbourne and squander it on his women friends." Her story goes on and she said he went back to "find his gold reef when he hoped to be able to make up to my mother for some of the heart-ache he had caused her," only to fall in with "a dubious crowd" and then go off "with a dingo shooter named Johns" who had gotten in a disagreement with her father, and he had "shot and disabled my father's left arm and left him with some water and food and two camels" and then Lasseter found that the reef was considered sacred ground the native people who weren't fond of him digging.

Either way, Lasseter's personal story ends the same way: dead in the desert, without any proof that his discovery was real. But his story had caught regional, if not national, attention as the Commonwealth repaid the Central Australia Gold Exploration Company for its searches by Royal Australian Air Force aeroplanes for lost airmen (unrelated to Lasseter's quest) and Mr. Lasseter</a>.

But the interest in Lasseter's Reef have stayed with the national imagination, initially with the government debating new investments into discovering gold deposits shortly after discovering his body, in part to boost the local economy during the Great Depression in Australia. Longer term interest has been fed in part by Lasseter's diary, which was originally purchased by Ion Idriess who included a transcription in his book Lasseter's Last Ride, published by Angus & Robertson in 1931. The diary with fragments is now digitized and hosted by the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales. These resources and myths have fostered a new generation of gold hunters, including the man who founded Darwin's Beer Can Regatta, Darwin businessman Lutz Frankenfeld, who was going to try and mine his discovery in 2007, but that was one of many failures, as Jeff Harris and three mates were due to set off on a boys' own adventure, informed by the diary and Google Earth ... in 2012.

If you really want to dig into the stories, myths, legends and details of "Australia's El Dorado," you want to refer to Lasseteria, the Lasseter encyclopedia, which appears dated but has been updated within the past months, despite the copyright currently reading © R.Ross. 1999-2006. Note: this isn't an encyclopedia in the traditional terms, but rather an alphabetical listing of blog-like topical articles. For example, instead of being listed under Bob Buck, the entry is titled Reluctant Witness, as
Bob Buck was reluctant to sign any papers or statements relating to Lasseter's death, and the inference has grown over the years that all was not as it seemed with Bucks account of his discovery and burial of Lasseter's body.
The article, and the rest of the site, continues in such a way, but I'll let you piece the puzzle together.

OK, a few more pieces that don't yet seem to be on Lasseteria: Lasseter's Reef solved? Canberra historian Chris Clark's new book unearths home truths, written by Tim the Yowie Man for Canberra Times on March 20, 2015, and Lasseter really was looking for Johanson's Reef! Clarification from Chris Clark about what he thought actual mystery was:
The only element of the mystery that remained to be solved, in my view, was who the "Johannsen" from Ion Idriess' book Lasseter's Last Ride really was and what became of him – both questions which my book finally and comprehensively answered. It has, however, only belatedly dawned on me that the mystery surrounding the 1930 expedition actually has also been put to rest in the process.
... Or has it?

My whole family is being chipped


On Aug. 1, employees at Three Square Market, a technology company in Wisconsin, can choose to have a chip the size of a grain of rice injected between their thumb and index finger. (SLNYT) Once that is done, any task involving RFID technology — swiping into the office building, paying for food in the cafeteria — can be accomplished with a wave of the hand.

"the living record of a universal mind"


The British Library has digitized Leonardo da Vinci's Notebook ('The Codex Arundel') and made 570 digitized images available online. [via]

The notebook of Leonardo da Vinci ('The Codex Arundel') is a collection of papers written in Italian by Leonardo da Vinci (b. 1452, d. 1519), in his characteristic left-handed mirror-writing (reading from right to left), including diagrams, drawings and brief texts, covering a broad range of topics in science and art, as well as personal notes. The core of the notebook is a collection of materials that Leonardo describes as 'a collection without order, drawn from many papers, which I have copied here, hoping to arrange them later each in its place according to the subjects of which they treat' (f. 1r), a collection he began in the house of Piero di Braccio Martelli in Florence, in 1508. To this notebook has subsequently been added a number of other loose papers containing writing and diagrams produced by Leonardo throughout his career. Decoration: Numerous diagrams.

More on Leonardo's notebooks from The Guardian's Jonathan Jones.

Billy Bragg on Roots, Radicals, and Rockers


What do you get when a bunch of British school boys in the mid-'50s play Lead Belly's repertoire... on acoustic guitars? Skiffle. And Billy Bragg wants you to get to know the music that brought the guitar to post-war British pop. (YT video of his recent talk at the Library of Congress, with transcript.)

So just who is this Bragg fellow? I think of him as the voice of "New England" and the Woody Guthrie-penned "Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key," but he is also the author of the newly-released Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World.

He appeared on Fresh Air (transcript, which does not fully capture the musical interludes) to talk about the work, and about skiffle's origins and influence:
[It was] the means by which British pop went from being a jazz-influenced confection for adults, in which young people were offered novelty songs to a guitar-led music for teenagers. It's the introduction of the guitar into British pop culture...Before skiffle, the only place you'd really hear a guitar being played on the radio in the U.K. would be if it was a singing cowboy. Sometimes you might hear an old blues guy playing up Big Bill Broonzy or a calypsonian. It was unheard of for a British artist to play guitar. And then this guy Lonnie Donegan comes along and has a hit with "Rock Island Line" - again, a Lead Belly song. And that kind of kicks the whole thing off.
Soundtrack suggestion: "Rock Island Line," performed by Lonnie Donegan.