October 5, 2015

Zaha Hadid - Science and technology reimagine imagination

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.” -Albert Einstein

It might be hard to believe but computers are painting and sculpting, they are writing stories, jokes, poetry, even music. The best part? Some are real works of art. For now the magic still happens in collaboration with artists made of flesh and blood but many admit they could never have achieved such heights without the aid of their creative machines. I say this tongue in cheek but things are moving fast.

The process by which technology enhances creativity and births new forms of art has been going on for quite a while now. As a matter of fact, it has been going on for at least 50,000 years. From the charcoal used in cave paintings to a computer running photoshop, the tools that helped humans materialize their vision which in turn allowed them to enrich themselves creatively have changed immensely. Tools and imagination exist in symbiosis, feeding off each other. Imagination brings the tools into existence, the tools allow new forms of art to be developed which can enrich imagination even further.

Now although those tools have changed immensely, in some ways they haven't really changed much at all. Sure, when an artist makes a mistake, accidentally coloring outside the lines, this could serve as inspiration for him to develop a new style but, except for some poetic art critics, not many would interpret that as his work actually speaking back to him as if it were making a suggestion. However, in this day and age, that is beginning to change. The tools really are beginning to talk back and "art making suggestions" can now be taken quite literally...

For the first time in human history, our tools are in some sense waking up. They are increasingly becoming a contributing factor, not only assisting in the construction process, but also in the process of design. It's in this way that our newest tools, software, are different from pencils. Software, by for example making use of genetic algorithms, can not only evolve manmade design through iteration but can now in fact develop from scratch. Any system that displays dynamic and adaptive behavior, for example systems whose behavior is driven by a neural network, can, by either playing with parameters in a predetermined design space or/and by making use of inputs received from the environment, its own outputs or the chaotic process of randomization suggest novel ideas that would not have come easily to any human mind.

You can see this trend everywhere, computers have been designing for optimum efficiency for almost 2 decades now, everything from modern day airplanes to cars and skyscrapers would be impossible to make without them. Here's just one other example that recently made the news which details how scientists built a superconductor that was designed by a computer; http://discovere.binghamton.edu/news/superconductor-3-5435.html

Although efficient design can be art, art is rarely efficient. Mostly it is concerned with the exploration of beauty which is why I am pleased to see that there too machines are making progress and are well under way to become artists in their own right. Check out http://www.thepaintingfool.com/ who lets us know that he is a computer program but also an aspiring painter who one day hopes to be taken seriously.

I am a huge fan of the godess Zaha Hadid who relentlessly reshapes the world we mortals dwell. She does this without compromise and with vision so astounding that I secretly suspect her to be a timetraveller from an era so far into the future that its culture must be unrecognizable from our own. There is simply no other explanation for the architectural wonders that she has made real. We really can't do much more but stare, mouth agape and occasionally pinch ourselves to make sure that, yes, this is the real world.

Hadid once had a reputation as unbuildable, a 'paper architect' whose projects began as vivid paintings of gravity-defying shapes exploding into the void. How did this extraordinary woman come to build the impossible? Her secret is that she embraced computers to help her design, the computers come up with suggestions of shapes so complex, so beautiful that no human being could have dreamt them up. Even standing in front of the real deal, the complexity makes it hard to really take it all in at once. They look different from every angle and there is so much going on that its practically impossible to even get the basic shape right if someone asks you to recreate it from memory. Now that materials and construction technologies have finally caught up with the future as conceived of by the combined forces of Hadid and her computers, the fun is about to begin.

Not just in architecture, but in pretty much every field you can think of. Check out Watson's novel recipes, many of which are drawing praise from experts; http://www.technologyreview.com/view/521596/the-secret-ingredient-in-computational-creativity/ - Its researchers define creativity as the ability to "generate a product that is judged to be novel and also to be appropriate, useful, or valuable by a suitably knowledgeable social group." A key factor in their work is that creativity is entirely subjective and so requires detailed feedback from human experts. “A computational creativity system has no meaning in a closed universe devoid of people,” they say.

So what does that mean for this machine which brute forces its way to developing new cancer cures? http://live.wsj.com/video/this-robot-is-changing-how-we-cure-diseases/C44DAE3D-C7FD-4C87-9E3F-685498A0C2CB.html - It might sound strange to attribute creativity to this mindless automaton but... Think about the universe, there is no mind or purpose behind the staggering amount of things it contains yet even though there is no-one behind the wheel, new things are created all the time. Is this not creativity?

“Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.” -Mark Twain


Rack your brains over brains running on racks

This month's issue of Nature delivers a special on the brain that really gets you thinking. They take a detailed look at how Europe's Human Brain Project and the US BRAIN initiative are taking shape but the real prize is this interesting write-up on some of the most promising currently existing neuromorphic hardware. Check out Neurogrid, SpiNNaker, BrainScaleS, SyNAPSE and the neural net simulation called Spaun.

Here's a collection of interesting bits from the article that will make you click onwards to read the thing in full.

Just a few years ago, Kwabena Boahen completed a device called Neurogrid that emulates a million neurons, about as many as there are in a honeybee's brain. Now applications for 'neuromorphic technology' are finally in sight.

In 2012 Boahen contacted Chris Eliasmith, who is responsible for Spaun: a design for a computer model of the brain that includes the parts responsible for vision, movement and decision-making. Previously, a simulation of Spaun on a conventional computer had shown that, with 2.5 million simulated neurons plus a simulated retina and hand, it could copy handwritten digits, recall the items in a list, work out the next number in a given sequence and carry out several other cognitive tasks. But the Spaun simulation ran about 9,000 times slower than real time, taking 2.5 hours to simulate 1 second of behaviour.

Boahen contacted Eliasmith with the obvious proposition: build a physical version of Spaun using real-time neuromorphic hardware. “I got very excited,” says Eliasmith, for whom the match seemed perfect. “You've got the peanut butter, we've got the chocolate!”

With funding from the US Office of Naval Research, Boahen and Eliasmith have put together a team that plans to build a small-scale prototype in three years and a full-scale system in five. For sensory input they will use neuromorphic retinas and cochleas developed at the INI, says Boahen. For output, they have a robotic arm. But the cognitive hardware will be built from scratch.

The system is explicitly designed for real-world applications. On a five-year timescale, says Boahen, “we envision building fully autonomous robots that interact with their environments in a meaningful way, and operate in real-time while [their brains] consume as much electricity as a cell phone”. Such devices would be much more flexible and adaptive than today's autonomous robots, and would consume considerably less power.

In the longer term, Boahen adds, the project could pave the way for compact, low-power processors in any computer system, not just robotics. If researchers really have managed to capture the essential ingredients that make the brain so efficient, compact and robust, then it could be the salvation of an industry about to run into a wall as chips get ever smaller.

“But we won't know for sure,” Boahen says, “until we try.”

> http://www.nature.com/news/neuroelectronics-smart-connections-1.14089
> Neurogrid; http://www.stanford.edu/group/brainsinsilicon/neurogrid.html
> SpiNNaker; http://apt.cs.man.ac.uk/projects/SpiNNaker/
> BrainScaleS - http://brainscales.kip.uni-heidelberg.de/
> SyNAPSE - http://www.research.ibm.com/cognitive-computing/neurosynaptic-chips.shtml
> Spaun; http://nengo.ca/build-a-brain/spaunvideos

Google and NASA's Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab

Welcome to the future; Google uses quantum computer to more accurately distinguish intentional blinks from involuntary ones which could lead to a breakthrough in wink triggered apps!

If that sounds like something out of the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy, I'd say you are right but it also happens to be the world we live in these days. :)

Normally, when a company's commercials promise you the future, you roll your eyes. When google does it, you don't. Self driving cars, wearable computing, artificial intelligence, fiber and balloon network carriers, asteroid mining, synthetic meat, robotic lunar missions, quantum computing, conquering death, ...

Google is playing it extremely smart, portraying itself as the most forward thinking future driven company out there. They are going to have an advantage on other companies hoping to draw on the pool of talented individuals that really want to make a difference. Since they put their money where their mouth is and are really trying to pull the future into the present, I can't help but cheer them on!

Neuroscience - today and tomorrow

Nature takes a look at the technologies that will enable us to unravel some of the mind's mysteries.
http://www.nature.com/news/neuroscience-solving-the-brain-1.13382 - Researchers want to understand the ways in which brain circuitry changes — through the constant growth and retreat of synapses — as life rolls by.

"Reaching this goal will require innovative new technologies, ranging from nanotechnologies to genetics to optics, that can capture the electrical activity coursing through neurons, prod those neurons to find out what they do, map the underlying anatomical circuits in fine detail and process the exabytes of information all this work will spit out. “Think about it,” says neuroscientist Konrad Kording of Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. “The human brain produces in 30 seconds as much data as the Hubble Space Telescope has produced in its lifetime.”

the most daunting part of the brain challenge lies in storing and handling data. One cubic millimetre of brain tissue will generate an estimated 2,000 terabytes of electron-microscopy information using Lichtman and Denk's new microscope, for example. Denk estimates that an entire mouse brain could produce 60 petabytes and a human brain about 200 exabytes. This amount of data will rival the entire digital content of today's world, “including Facebook and all the big data stores”, says Lichtman."

I was particularly impressed with the predictions made by IMEC, a nanoelectronics research organization. They recently unveiled a prototype 'neuroprobe'. One-centimetre long and as thin as a dollar bill, the probe packs in 52 thin wires and switches that neuroscientists can flip seamlessly between 456 silicon electrodes.

When inserted into a mouse brain, the electrodes dotted across the imec probe can span — and record from — all layers of the animal's brain simultaneously, from the cortex to the thalamus in the brainstem. This could help neuroscientists to unpick the circuitry that connects them. “This prototype can be scaled up,” says Peter Peumans, director of bio- and nanoelectronics at imec. Within three years, he says, the neuroprobes will have up to 2,000 electrodes and more than 200 wires.

It's a pretty good read if you are looking for an update on the current and future state of Neuroscience.

Looking for more brainy links?
> Make up your mind
http://goo.gl/O80gGP .
> How does the world look through the eyes of neuroscience?http://goo.gl/MFHj5v .
> Old Brains Learning New Tricks
http://goo.gl/IZYnTR .
> Inception
http://goo.gl/qFXsgl .

Many hands make light work

"Wong-Foy, a senior research engineer at SRI, has built an army of magnetically steered workers to test the idea that “microrobots” could be a better way to assemble electronics components, or to build other small structures.

Wong-Foy’s robotic workers have already proved capable of building towers 30 centimeters (two feet) long from carbon rods, and other platforms able to support a kilogram of weight. The robots can work with glass, metal, wood, and electronic components. In one demonstration, they made a carbon truss structure with wires and colored LEDs mixed in to serve as the lab’s Christmas tree."

"Wong-Foy also thinks his approach might be useful for assembling devices that combine electronic and optical components, for example to interface with fiber optic cables. Because silicon and optical components can’t be processed in the same step, that industry often uses manual assembly to put them together. “In the field of optical electronics people have not found a good way to integrate indium phosphide lasers with silicon components,” says Wong-Foy. “The scale of those things is the size of carbon rods we’re using here.”


Casting Light on Sound to See its Shadow

"When light passes between areas of different air density, it bends. You've probably noticed the way distant pavement seems to shimmer on a hot day, or the way stars appear to twinkle. You're seeing light that has been distorted as it passes through varying air densities, which are in turn created by varying temperatures and pressures.

In the mid-19th century, German physicist August Toepler invented a photography technique called Schlieren Flow Visualization to visually capture these changes in density. The setup is a bit hard to explain in words (watch the video above for a full explanation) but it allows scientists and engineers to see things that are normally invisible: the rising heat from a candle, the turbulence around an airplane wing, the plume of a sneeze.

It can also be used to see sound. Sound, after all, is just another change in air density — a traveling compression wave. A speaker pushes on the surrounding air, creating a wave that travels outward until it encounters the ear drum."

High Speed Schlieren Video of Premixed Flame, Spark Ignition

Tracking the world's most beautiful train stations

Although I've seen Antwerp's Central Station so many times that I've had dreams about arriving there before having to actually make my way over there, its stunning looks never fail to pick me up. It shows up in pretty much every top 10 list of most beautiful stations in the world, regularly hitting the #1 spot, and rightfully so.

Inspired in part by the Pantheon in Rome, Antwerp's main railway station in many ways looks more like a palace than a train station. Some of the commuters who make regular use of it, me included, lovingly refer to it as the rail cathedral. Built in 1895 in the so called eclectic style which incorporates elements of many different earlier styles and constructed in granite, iron, glass and more than 20 different kinds of marble with both the in and outside decorated in lavish details, it truly is an almost overwhelming sight. The fact it's also utilized as an exhibition space for contemporary art only adds to that.

Unfortunately all this beauty has a side as dark as night. If you are somewhat familiar with Belgium's history and know that this station was commissioned by Leopold II, our second king, then you'll have a pretty good idea of what paid for all this splendor and it's not pretty. Not pretty at all. Leopold might have brought in the money but it was the Congo free state that paid its price in oceans of blood. It's hard to fathom that something so beautiful was made possible by acts of such a horribly vile nature. I worry that even in my own country this part of our history is beginning to fade so it is my hope that Antwerp Central may forever remind us of our darkest hours as the monument to our sins that it is and always will be.

Antwerp Central is actually the 3rd incarnation of Antwerp station but since this one has been declared world heritage it should be a keeper. This does mean that over the years our rail operators have been pushed to find some rather creative solutions to accommodate changes in both trains and rail use. The arrival of high speed trains, the longing for a direct connection with various big cities in the Netherlands and the EU requirement to link northern and southern train nets to complete the cross Europe rapid transit network required a massive undertaking that made more than one engineer scratch his head. Since the building itself had to remain as it is they ultimately decided to add several levels underground to increase capacity and to construct a kilometer long tunnel underneath those to allow the north and south tracks to connect. The result is that the Antwerp Central is no longer a terminal station and that the lower you go, the more modern things get. Late 19th century above ground, 20th century below and as you make your way down to deeper and deeper levels you end up in the 21st.

Belgium isn't exactly a massive nation so it's quite an honor to have another one of our stations regularly make it to the top in best of lists. Where Antwerp Central displays the grandeur (and terror) of old, Liège-Guillemins stuns with its fluid modern look. Having opened in 2009 it's not really that well known yet but its reputation is growing rapidly. You can check it out in the album below as well as other stunners such as New York's Grand Central and London's St Pancras, both of which I've had the pleasure to see in person but, and maybe I am biased, but I think we've got them beat! ;)

I considered taking some pictures myself but both my skills and my phone are nothing to write home about so... No need to put you guys through that. Instead I've decided to turn this post into a showcase of some of the most beautifully shot beautiful stations from around the world. Enjoy!

Read this if you want to have the time of your life


Steve Horvath, a geneticist and biostatistician at UCLA, has developed a cellular biological clock that has impressed researchers with its accuracy, how easy it is to read and the fact that it ticks at the same rate in many parts of the body — with some intriguing exceptions that might provide clues to the nature of ageing and its maladies.

Horvath's clock emerges from epigenetics, the study of chemical and structural modifications made to the genome that do not alter the DNA sequence but that are passed along as cells divide and can influence how genes are expressed. As cells age, the pattern of epigenetic alterations shifts, and some of the changes seem to mark time. To determine a person's age, Horvath explores data for hundreds of far-flung positions on DNA from a sample of cells and notes how often those positions are methylated.

“I wanted to develop a method that would work in many or most tissues. It was a very risky project,” Horvath says. But now the gamble seems to be paying off. By the time his findings were finally published last year1, the clock's median error was 3.6 years, meaning that it could guess the age of half the donors to within 43 months for a broad selection of tissues. That accuracy improves to 2.7 years for saliva alone, 1.9 years for certain types of white blood cell and 1.5 years for the brain cortex. The clock shows stem cells removed from embryos to be extremely young and the brains of centenarians to be about 100.

The reviews came back in the spring: more disbelief, and another rejection. Horvath didn't blame the reviewers for being sceptical. “Everyone who develops biomarkers knows what to expect: a very strong biomarker gives you a correlation of, say, 0.6 or 0.7.” For example, the correlation between age and the length of telomeres is less than 0.5. For Horvath's clock algorithm, that figure is 0.96. He confesses that he had trouble believing it himself until other researchers independently confirmed the tight association.

“Such tight correlations suggest there is something seemingly immutable going on in cells,” says Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, who won a Nobel prize for her research on telomeres — caps on the ends of chromosomes that shorten with age. It could be a clue to undiscovered biology, she suggests. And there may be medical implications in cases in which epigenetic estimates do not match a person's birth certificate.


Picture; Compact Object (1962) by Natsuyuki Nakanishi
A plastic egg with bones, watch and clock parts, hair, eggshells, lens bits, ...

Times as artificial constructs born form synthetics. A plastic egg giving birth to both flesh and time, to the real, the material, and the ephemeral and elusive. Can one exist without the other? Is time internalized mechanically by the flesh, or is it the other way around? Time made flesh... by the machine? Our time isn't really all that similar to physical or even biological time. Ours ticks at different rates from day to day, from cradle to the grave. From atomic vibrations measuring millions of intervals in a single second, to the number of pressure waves transmitted by your local church bell, not all times are made equal. Then again, pulsars are very good clocks but they do not tell time the way Chicxulub did when it reshaped Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

This Siphonophore will siphon off your breath

Terrible pun I know. Still, aren't these creatures just beyond breathtaking? Although many siphonophorae can be mistaken for your average looking jellyfish, this is something else entirely. You almost expect it to casually turn towards the camera and ask for a call home.

Siphonophorae might appear to be a single organism but each specimen is actually a colony composed of many individual animals. Most colonies are long, thin, transparent pelagic floaters.

The best known species is the dangerous Portuguese man o' war (Physalia physalis) [1]. With a body length of 40–50 m (130–160 ft), another species of siphonophore, Praya dubia [2], is one of the longest animals in the world.

Each zooid (a single animal part of a colonial animal) is an individual, but their integration with each other is so strong, the colony attains the character of one large organism. Indeed, most of the zooids are so specialized, they lack the ability to survive on their own. Siphonophorae thus exist at the boundary between colonial and complex multicellular organisms.

Like other hydrozoans, certain siphonophores can emit light. A siphonophore of the genus Erenna [3] has been discovered at a depth of around 1,600 m (5,200 ft) off the coast of Monterey, California. The individuals from these colonies are strung together like a feather boa. They prey on small animals using stinging cells. Among the stinging cells are stalks with red glowing ends. The tips twitch back and forth, creating a twinkling effect. Twinkling red lights are thought to attract the small fish eaten by these siphonophores. While many sea animals produce blue and green bioluminescence, this siphonophore was only the second lifeform found to produce a red light (the first being the scaleless dragonfish Chirostomias pliopterus [4]).

[1] Portuguese man o' war
[2] Praya dubia
[3] Siphonophore of the genus Erenna
[4] Scaleless Dragonfish

Bonus; Marrus orthocanna

> http://deepseanews.com/2014/06/amazing-purple-jelly-sighting-in-the-deep-sea/ .
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siphonophore

Looking for more creatures from the deep?

> Stranger in a Strange land

> Sea Pigs

> Nudibranches

> Dreaming of Europeans

Pickings from the four pillars of pop culture

Taking a look at someone's bookcase can tell you a lot about that person but so too does their taste in film and music. It's almost like reading someone's life lines from the palm of their hand... Only, you know, this actually sort of works. :p As stated before, I feel defined by what I love so in keeping with the previous posts in which I shared people and places, for day 4 I am sharing some of the stuff that gets my blood pumping every time I so much as catch a hint of it.

Feel free to share the creative works you have fallen in love with! In fact, that's kind of the main purpose of this post. You don't have to list your favorites as exhaustively as I did but I very much would like to know what you guys and girls are into. I've been obsessed with lists pretty much from the day I was born so if you could make it at least top 10s, that would be greatly appreciated! :p

Polly Morgan - Playing with food

"I went to the Serengeti last summer, and while I enjoyed seeing all the living animals, it was the corpses that really inspired me."

Morgan's controversial taxidermy masterpieces are sure to make you think about life, death and everything in between. Her works make the dead speak in voices not their own. A master of her craft, she imbues what were once energetic living creatures with a bit of their former selves but also adds more than a few hints of the macabre and the surreal. There is something quite unnerving about seeing the horrific mixed with the playful in such a casual manner.

"There's something vulnerable about a bird lying down. You see mammals lying down, sleeping. But birds tuck in while perched when they sleep; if they're lying down they are dead. When you see a bird unable to fly it's powerless and motionless. It's like a tiger without teeth."


Sometimes, putting all your eggs in one sheet is a good idea

When I was looking around for more information on deep sea dwelling siphonophorae for my last post; - http://goo.gl/nZfWEQ - I came across the +MBARI youtube channel... The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute sits on a treasure trove of some exceptionally amazing footage. The video below contains the first ever footage of brooding deep sea squids that carry their eggs around with them! It features stunning shots throughout and ends with a taste of cannibalism.

"Reproduction is one of the many challenges faced by deep-sea animals. In recent years, submersibles have allowed scientists to explore the lives of deep-sea animals in ways that were not possible before. One of the many exciting discoveries was that a mother of the deep-sea squid species Gonatus onyx broods her eggs by holding them in her arms, a behavior that had never been previously reported for squids. This shocking discovery was the first time scientists had evidence of parental care in squids."

I've shared a video of them once before; Stranger in a strange land (http://goo.gl/918G5n) but they've been very busy since then. If you've got the time you should definitely check out some of the other videos on their channel.

> The law of beak and claw .
> What the vampire squid really eats .
> Boneworms on dead whales in Monterey Bay .
> Hide and Seek in the Deep .
> Davidson Seamount: The Biology of an Underwater Mountain .
> Magnapinna sp. - The Long-armed Squid .
> Lost at sea: Ecological assessment around a sunken shipping container .
> Grimalditeuthis bonplandi: A deep-sea squid with tentacle tips that "swim" on their own .
> Macropinna microstoma: A deep-sea fish with a transparent head and tubular eyes .
> Eerie critters from the deep sea: PREDATORS AND SCAVENGERS
you get the picture :p

The experiments stoking fusion's fire

Are these about to set the world ablaze or will they fizzle and fade? If we are serious about finding out we better start throwing money at them.

You might have heard of the most popular fusion design, tokamaks like JET (Joint European Torus) and ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), devices that look like giant donuts and utilize giant magnets to confine and accelerate plasma. Or perhaps you've heard of NIF's (National Ignition Facility) laser initiated approach which counts on a massive 192 barrel laser cannon to focus all its energy on a tiny pellet in order to compress it to such a degree as to achieve ignition. Those two approaches have received the most attention and as a result have sucked up most of fusion's funding in the last few decades. They do look promising and are worth every penny spent but a variety of new approaches has been picking up steam which too are deserving of a much closer look and thus the funds to do so.

Nature digs into some of them with this excellent article that shines a bit of light on the secretive start-ups that claim to have found the answer to our energy woes. There's Tri Alpha's linear design trying to get things going by having 2 directly opposite plasma cannons fire at each other in sync as well as Helion Energy's somewhat similar colliding-beam reactor and last but not least they also talk a bit about General Fusion's approach which hopes to literally hammer their plasma into obedience.


If you think that's an exhaustive listing, you'd be wrong. Another big one is Lawrenceville Plasma Physics's Focus Fusion idea but there's also various teams hoping to work on different types of stellarators as well as the so called triple-threat methods. So many avenues worth exploring yet so few funds to do so. Luckily the private sector is chipping in a bit because else these would all have been shot down before even having had a chance of making it to the door. The fact that VCs, including some really big names, are investing in these should raise eyebrows as they don't typically start pumping money into something unless the road to market is somewhat mapped. Is it possible that fusion will follow the google model and reach the world from someone's garage? It might not seem likely but the chance definitely exists for all those billions invested in traditional designs to be bypassed by one really good innovative idea.

Lockheed - Solve for X: Charles Chase on energy for everyone
Google Talks - Focus Fusion: The Fastest Route to Cheap, Clean Energy
TED - Michel Laberge: How synchronized hammer strikes could generate nuclear fusion

Related posts
> A Star in a Bottle (ITER - Tokamak)

> National Ignition Facility (NIF - laser based confinement)

> Nuclear man; the humane power station (fission poetry?)

Photo below; General fusion's current experimental prototype on top and what they hope to build below. At the center of the containment vessel, within the spun liquid metal's vortex, plasma rings (think smoke rings) composed of the deuterium-tritium fuel are injected from both above and below which merge to form a single magnetized plasma target. The protruding cylinders you see in the pictures house the pistons used to batter the liquid metal into a fusion susceptible environment. When they are all fired at the same time they send a shockwave through the spinning lead-lithium mixture that gets stronger as it travel towards the center of the vessel where it rapidly collapses the vortex cavity with the plasma in it generating a fusion burst. Quite the turn on wouldn't you say? :)

A Geek's Guide to Paris - Part 2: Paris hides art, science and history in plain sight.

Paris played a huge role in both the renaissance and the following age of enlightenment and acted as a magnet for French but also international scientists and artists. Many squares house huge monuments that commemorate legendary heroes while other inspiring works of art burst onto the street from almost every bridge and public building. All the parks and even many private houses are decorated with impressive classical statues and a bustling modern street art scene consistently manages to surprise.

Curie, Lavoisier, Descartes, Ampère, Pasteur, Voltaire, Diderot, Lamarck, Carnot, Lagrange, Laplace, Cuvier, Fourier, Foucault, Fermat, Mandelbrot, Coulomb, Coriolis, Pascal, Poincaré, Diesel, Renault, Langevin, Fresnel, Broca, Galois, Grothendieck, Navier, ... are only some of the great minds that have lived and worked in Paris and traces of them can be found all over the place. The photo album below will take you on a scientific and artistic pilgrimage through all of Paris.

If all this talk about Paris has awakened within you the desire to go there, check out this map I made. It will guide you to all the points mentioned in both my previous post and this one;

Thanks once again +Denise Case for inviting me to the #fivedayquest . I'd be interested in hearing more from +Jonas Neergaard-Nielsen. He's an expert photographer who shares stunning shots pretty much non-stop but he makes a living working the sexiest job of all time. After earning a PhD at the legendary Niels Bohr Institute he graduated from quantum wizard to a jedi knight active in quantum optics research. He states that his G+ may be as messy as his brain... so follow his stream at your own risk but I'd say it's well worth it. :)

A Geek's Guide to Paris - Part 1: Paris through the ages

People have lived in what is now Paris for at least 10,000 years but the region had to wait for its name until a Celtic tribe that called itself the Parisii built a settlement there in 250 BC. When the Romans conquered the area in 52 BC and started expanding the town they called it Lutetia Parisorum. Around 305 AD the city began to be called Civitas Parisiorum, ("The City of the Parisii") but by the end of the Roman Empire, it was known simply as Parisius in Latin and Paris in French. What started as a small settlement on the banks of the Seine is now a metropolis with more than 12 million inhabitants, one of Europe's largest population centers. With a GDP of €607 billion (US$845 billion) it's a true economic juggernaut, a force to be reckoned with. Thanks to its rich history, world renowned cuisine and fashion houses, as well as its leading role in the development of film, it has managed to retain its place as one of the cultural heavy weights of the world.

Its political history is long and complex. It has been the seat of power in France from the 4th century onwards but the power it held over surrounding lands has waxed and waned considerably throughout time. Many of the most famous kings that held their court in Paris have wielded enormous religious and economic power and managed to project military might around the world. From the rule of kings such as Clovis I of the distinguished Merovingian dynasty or the "father of Europe", Charlemagne of the Carolingian dynasty who went on to become Holy Roman Emperor... From royals like Hugh Capet of the Capetian line who in many ways founded modern France to Louis XIV, the Sun king, who helped put an end to feudalism and emperors like Napoléon Bonaparte who birthed much of the modern world... All of them have shaped history in ways seemingly beyond what a mere mortal should be capable of.

In cities as old as Paris, every square inch has been stage to the joys of life as well as the terrors that precede death. When people weren't being taken by natural disasters that were at the time outside of human control; Paris for example got ravaged by the Black Death in 1348 and by the plague in 1466, they had no problem slaughtering each other for religious differences such as was the case during the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre or the many larger wars between Catholics and Protestants in general. Perhaps one of the biggest wars France ever fought was the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) in which the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England, fought the House of Valois for control of the Kingdom of France. Both sides drew in allies from all over Europe and the result was pretty much hell on earth.

It would have been nice if things had quietened down after the age of enlightenment but we all know it didn't turn out that way. Paris' reputation grew on the writings of its intellectuals such as the philosophers Descartes, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau. These bold thinkers fueled not only the enlightened thinking that spawned the modern world, they also lit the fuse under the establishment, sparking the French Revolution (1789) which saw France get rid of its kings and declare itself a Republic. What started as something beautiful turned dark real quick with a period known as "the reign of terror" (1793). Standing on the beautiful Place de la Concorde it's hard to believe that it was once the site of France's most active guillotine. You can now only guess where exactly the heads of people like Lavoisier or Marie Antoinette were severed from their bodies but the thought alone is enough to send chills up your spine.

France stopped being a republic when this little guy called Napoleon decided he wanted to be Emperor and not just of France but of most of modern Europe. He turned out to be a tactical genius with considerably organisational skills which allowed him to realize his rather crazy dream. He steamrolled pretty much all forces that opposed him and is widely regarded as one of the greatest commanders in history. To this day his campaigns are studied at military academies worldwide. His Napoleonic Code influenced civil law worldwide and he pushed for the adoption of international measurement standards by demanding that the metric system be taught at all levels of education. After Napoleon's loss at the hands of the Russians and their scorched earth tactics and ultimately his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, Paris was briefly occupied by the allied forces who had brought him to his knees. Although the restoration period saw the return of the monarchs with Louis XVIII and Charles X, it didn't take long for another revolution to uproot them. Considering that France is currently on its fifth republic, this cycle played out quite a few times.

The Second Empire (Napoleon III) ended in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) but not long after peace had returned, Paris became home to a small scale but extremely brutal civil war in which anarchists and radical socialists murdered their way to power but ultimately lost to the french army in "the bloody week". The start of the 20th century brought with it the first world war and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now that we've dealt with the past, we'll get the obvious attractions out of the way. if you visit Paris you have to get up close and personal with; the Eiffel tower, Sacré-Cœur, Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, Panthéon, La Grande Arche de La Defense, Centre Pompidou, Gare du Nord, Conciergerie, the Louvre, Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Musée des Arts et Métiers, La Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, Musée d'Orsay, Hôtel de Ville, Sorbonne, Palais Garnier, Palais de Chaillot, Le Grand & Petit Palais, Pont Alexandre, Pont Neuf, Pont Mirabeau, Notre-Dame, Sainte Chapelle, Saint-Sulpice, L'église de la Madeleine, Sainte-Clotilde, Sainte-Trinité, Saint-Augustin, Les Arènes de Lutèce,Tour Montparnasse, Hôtel de Sens, Place de la Concorde, Place Vendôme, Place de la Bastille, Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg & Les Catacombes de Paris. If you find the time you should probably also visit Versailles, Château Vincennes, Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace & La basilique de Saint-Denis just outside of the Paris Center. Pictures and links to more information about all these places can be found in the album below.

All of the above you will find in pretty much every guide to Paris but for #ScienceSunday , my final 5 day quest post and my weekly art share I'd like to present you a picture of Paris focused on science and art. However, I am saving that for Part 2 which I hope to finish today so check back later! :)


John Martin - Apocalyptic visionary

Born more than 200 years ago, in 1789 somewhere near Hexham in England, John Martin's epic visions of doom still resonate today. His works continue to inspire modern creators and his far reaching influence can be recognized in popular media from around the world. For example, George Lucas based Coruscant's galactic senate on one of Martin's engravings; "Satan Presiding at the Infernal Council". Others whose imaginations were fired by him included Ralph Waldo Emerson, the pre-Raphaelites, and several generations of movie-makers, from D. W. Griffith, who borrowed his Babylon from Martin, to Cecil B. DeMille. One of his earliest followers was Thomas Cole, founder of American landscape painting. The French Romantic movement, in both art and literature, was inspired by him. He even influenced early SF writers like Jules Verne and H. G. Wells with his concept of the sublime.

In private Martin was passionate, a devotee of chess—and, in common with his brothers, swordsmanship and javelin-throwing—and a devout Christian, believing in "natural religion". Around 1820 he became the official historical painter to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, later the first King of Belgium. As his reputation grew Martin became a public defender of deism and natural religion, evolution (before Darwin) and rationality. Georges Cuvier became an admirer of Martin's, and he increasingly enjoyed the company of scientists, artists and writers—Dickens, Faraday and Turner among them.

Later in life Martin became involved with many plans and inventions. He developed a fascination with solving London's water and sewage problems, involving the creation of the Thames embankment, containing a central drainage system. His plans were visionary, and formed the basis for later engineers' designs – Joseph Bazalgette's included. The plans, along with railway schemes, an idea for "laminating timber", lighthouses, and draining islands, all survive.

As a result of his experimenting with mezzotint technology Martin was commissioned to produce 24 engravings for a new edition of Paradise Lost—perhaps the definitive illustrations of Milton’s masterpiece, of which copies now fetch many hundreds of pounds.

He exhibited many works during the 1840s, culminating in his triumphal The Last Judgment trilogy of paintings which were completed in 1853, just before the stroke which paralysed his right side. He was never to recover and died on 17 February 1854, on the Isle of Man.


To be honest, pictures don't quite do his monumental paintings justice, they have to be experienced to really grok them. APOCALYPSE IS COMING

Frank Gehry - Cutting into the past to make some room for a future

Frank Owen Gehry, born Frank Owen Goldberg in 1929 in Canada's Toronto, is a Pritzker Prize winning architect whose buildings have become world renowned tourist attractions. His works are cited as being among the most important works of contemporary architecture in the 2010 World Architecture Survey, which led Vanity Fair to label him as "the most important architect of our age".

He moved to California in 1947 where he got a job driving a delivery truck while studying at Los Angeles City College. In 1954 Gehry graduated at the top of his class with a Bachelor of Architecture degree. Afterwards, he spent time away from the field of architecture in numerous other jobs, including service in the United States Army.

The renovation of his own private residence in Santa Monica, California, jump-started his career but it can be argued that it was the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain that truly put his name on the map. Gehry's best-known works include the MIT Ray and Maria Stata Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts; The Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles; The Vontz Center for Molecular Studies on the University of Cincinnati campus; Experience Music Project in Seattle; New World Center in Miami Beach; Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis; Dancing House in Prague; the Vitra Design Museum and the museum MARTa Herford in Germany; the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto; the Cinémathèque française in Paris; and 8 Spruce Street in New York City.

Much of Gehry's work falls within the style of deconstructivism. Deconstructivist structures are not required to reflect specific social or universal ideas nor do they reflect the belief that form follows function. The style is characterized by fragmentation, an interest in manipulating a structure's surface and skin and non-rectilinear shapes which appear to distort and dislocate elements of architecture. The finished visual appearance of buildings that exhibit deconstructivist "styles" is characterized by unpredictability and controlled chaos.

I think of his buildings as similar but different to those of another legendary architect, Zaha Hadid. Both their styles seem to spring from that same futuristic well but where Hadid often opts for aggressive flowing curves, Gehry tends to love brutal straight cut lines. It's hard to really describe his style as it has manifested itself in many different forms. Sometimes he does incorporate curves into his structures but when he does they don't look purposeful like Hadid's. His curves give the impression that they started out as straight lines that ended up warped, almost as if erased by heat or pulled down by weight. Both Gehry and Hadid's buildings look natural but from different perspectives. Where Hadid's give me the impression that they sprang into existence, perhaps similar to how a seashell emerges from the void bottom up, Gehry's on the other hand remind me of a top down approach, appearing as if they were cut out of their surroundings the way wind shapes a mountain or water erodes a rocky coast line. Together with others like Daniel Liebeskind and Rem Koolhaas, they belong to a specific class of architects who all seem dead-set on materializing the future one building at a time.

Sketches of Frank Gehry

A Circle Inside a Circle

Holden - A Circle Inside a Circle

For my second #fivedayquest post I'd like to share with you the place from where I communicate with you all.

As you lay your eyes upon this hallowed ground, you must pay respect to the gods of geekdom, for this is an ever changing shrine to their most precious gifts. From the arcane and hyper modern knowledge stored in the books around me to the spine tingling thrills and heart-string tugging tragedies of the 20th century myths that live on an now ancient DVD collection, these are my most beloved non digital treasures. Surrounded by these most exquisite fruits of mind, this is where I play, eat and sleep and have spent so many hours of my waking life that no matter where I go from here, this will always be home. This is my sanctuary.

Apologies for the crappy picture quality, my phone is old and before you ask, no I do not have a girlfriend. :p

I'd like to say I had to resist the urge to clean up before taking these shots but who am I kidding, I've not once experienced such a feel in my entire life.

Under the Skin

108 min - Drama | Sci-Fi | Thriller

A mysterious seductress preys upon the population of Scotland.

Director: Jonathan Glazer
Stars: Scarlett Johansson

Films like this don't come around often and deserve to be experienced on a massive screen with a sound system capable of generating 200 mph vortex winds. From the first minute alone you just know that you are in store for a treat. They say there are two sorts of schools for films to follow. Almost all the films made today are focused on telling a well defined story through dialogue and narration but there is another school which tries to get away from that and instead uses the language of the visual to hint at underlying meaning. This film is most definitely a follower of this second school. It automatically brings with it echoes of films like 2001 or the Tree of Life simply because there isn't much else to compare it to. Without a doubt this is one of the most original movies of the past decade. In fact, I don't think we've ever seen something quite like this before.

It took Glazer a decade to get this out and it shows. It's a deeply personal film that doesn't care if you'll like it. Where most commercial films try to please their audience by checking the usual boxes and some artsy directors will try to meet their audience halfway, It's obvious that Glazer didn't compromise on anything but instead chose to fanatically execute his singular vision.

This is not market researched mass production which scores an "it's okay" with 90% of its audience. If a film is made for everyone, it's made for no one in particular. Art on the other hand isn't made for everyone or even anyone in particular but if you are lucky enough to be on the same wavelength as its creator, his work can connect with you in such a way that it goes well beyond simple entertainment. Sometimes a good piece can alter the way you think, making it life changing.

It's with this in mind that I can't guarantee you'll like Under the Skin but I most definitely recommend you see it. In the worst case you'll hate it, but if you are like me, you'll get to see a mindblowing masterpiece. One thing's for sure, even if you hate it, this film will get under your skin and haunt your thoughts for weeks to come.

The film itself is a truly unique and utterly alienating experience. Hidden cameras film unsuspecting people as they interact with a predatory Johansson as she stalks the streets of Glasgow. We see people go about their daily lives but from a disconnected point of view which infuses the mundane with an eerie dose of strangeness. The camera lingers on actions each and every one of us has performed many times over but seeing Johansson go through them seemingly for the first time makes you question yourself which can at times be quite unsettling.

A haunting and brooding tension simmers just below the surface throughout the entire film, only punctuated by a couple of chilling key moments where the slow pace gives way to pure shock and terror when the speed unexpectedly ramps up. It's not just the pacing that contributes to the feeling of dread. Certain scenes will quite simply nail you to the floor. Either by their macabre beauty or because you feel like a rabbit trapped in headlights. Glazer brings to the table a visionary style, effects that transcend "special", and layers of metaphor so deep you'll have a hard time keeping your head above the water...

There's also a hypnotic quality to the horror that makes it impossible for you to look away for which the score is largely responsible. It's hard to put into words just how perfect the score matches the movie. It is at times as perfectly cold and calculated as Johansson's mastery of murder, next it's completely unpredictable, jumping around as if it were a deer caught in bear trap. The only constants are its threatening and otherworldly qualities. Under the Skin - Death

The location, Scotland, perfectly suits the themes of the film. There is beauty in the bewildering chaos of its natural landscapes but also despair in its grim and desolate character. I am not going to give anything away about the film's story or what I think it means. It's much more fun to go in without having a preconceived notion of what it's all about. I wouldn't even bother with the trailer and instead go in completely fresh but if I haven't convinced you yet; Under the Skin Trailer Official - Scarlett Johansson

Do yourself a favor, go find out what it does for you.

Love all the things!

Now normally I tend not to share personal stuff but since I've been invited by the lovely +Denise Case to participate in the #fivedayquest thingy, I am going to lift the curtain a little bit and give you a small behind the scenes peek at my life. Don't be alarmed, it'll only be for 5 posts and I wouldn't be me if I didn't try to package the personal with some of the usual geeky or sciency stuff.

It's been 3 years to the day since g+ launched and at the time I wrote down my point of view on my g+ profile page and I still stand by what I then said.

"I feel defined by what I love and besides the universe as a whole I also love being alive." Now there's more to life than love alone but it can't be denied that it plays a large part in making it worthwhile. Note that I am not necessarily talking solely about the cliched and somewhat narrow view of love as something that grows between two people. They say that unconditional love means loving someone without expecting to be loved in return. I love the concept but I think it needs to be expanded to include not just people and not just some things but many things. I think the world would be better off if we didn't treat the highest form of love as an exclusive product for that special someone. There's so many people and things out there that deserve to be loved, to be cherished, to have songs written about them, ... So many are left out in the cold, aborted before having had the chance to bloom. There's about 7 billion of us. It's a travesty that so many end up feeling alone and abandoned.

Sometimes I wonder how many things worthy of love still reside within the mysterious unknown but most of the time I am convinced the answer must be a very high order infinity. The universe is vast and we are tiny. What if we've only got so much love to give? Don't those cute sea pigs deserve more? What about Glaucus Atlanticus or any of the other millions of things you and I don't even know exist? Then again, would you give your life for a sea pig? No? Does that mean certain loves are cheaper than others? Are we flawed creatures for having such a limited capacity for love? Can we learn to love more and more deeply? Should we? If high value love is in high demand but feeds too few hearts while cheap love isn't nutritious enough, than the key, as usual, is balance.

In the last 3 years I've met many very interesting people. People I would have never known to exist had I not joined google+. They brighten up life and not a day goes by where one of them doesn't introduce me to something new I can love wholeheartedly. I'd like to dedicate this post to them, the two people below, whoever else is reading this and whoever is not reading this. I love you guys!

If you've been following me I probably don't need to tell you that I am deeply in love with the universe, life, art, science and technology but for my #fivedayquest I thought I'd share a look at what's made me who (or what? :p) I am and where better to begin than at the beginning? For day 1 I present to you the two people that have been showering me with love since I first saw the light of day.

I guess this is a bit of a cheat since I wasn't around yet when these pictures were taken but these 2 folks most definitely have "something to do with my life". In fact, if this pic was taken in 3D at a much higher resolution, you'd might be able to track down the egg responsible for my mitochondrial DNA. :) Although I am grateful for my particular nature, the genetic mix I've received, I feel downright lucky for the nurturing care they provided me with. Thanks mom and dad!

I'd also like to thank +Denise Case for the kind words and pressing me to expose a bit about myself. ;)

These are the rules for the game:
1) Post 5 shots on 5 days that have something to do with your life
2) Use the hashtag #fivedayquest on every post
3) Mention the person who invited you on every post
4) Tag a new person to join the challenge each day - no pressure, it's just for fun!

I'm wondering if +Rajini Rao might be interested to join in on the fivedayquest fun? She's a very open and passionate communicator but I also know she leads a very interesting but busy life so I would fully understand if you choose not to.