Sunday, August 30, 2009


(available here)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Basin Street Blues

Kid Koala's cover of Basin Street Blues, by way of Constant Siege. Really love the underwater feel of the animations, it goes well with the song.

Friday, August 28, 2009


TinEye is a reverse image search engine-- ie you upload a picture from your computer and it'll look for sites that use that picture. Seems to work pretty well, though sadly it was unable to tell me where the above picture came from-- it's been sitting orphaned on my PC for ages. Their Cool Searches page shows some examples of what the site is capable of in terms of image recognition-- impressive stuff. Similar to this, Google has a Similar Images search function, which seems to work pretty well but doesn't seem to support searching uploaded images so far.

Hmm, I wonder what it'd take to make a content search for music-- I'm not sure how input to the search would work, but it'd be an interesting project just to study feature/melody extraction from mp3s. Most music has some sort of regular structure: could you automatically find the hook or the chorus of a pop song? Maybe make a filter that converts complex orchestral sound to pure tones, or even generates sheet music from sound files? Time to do some digging.

Imaging a molecule

Researchers at IBM announce that the detailed chemical structure of a single molecule has been imaged for the first time.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Google News timelines

So I've just discovered Google News has an Archive Search feature, which lets you search historical news articles for a given phrase and return a histogram of hits. It makes an interesting way to map the rise and fall of concepts, events, and phrases in the public mind. Here are some queries I've come across that have interesting patterns:

First, some normalization: a search for the, and, a, etc gives us an estimate of the number of articles on record-- gradual uphill increases like those seen here should be attributed to the nature of the data set and not the data itself. (Science!)

There's lots of modern words and phrases we can watch grow into popularity, like outer space and DNA. More subtly, we see the emergence of the adjective global starting in the 1940's, and a sudden rise in popularity of the word deadly in the 1980's (wut?). Robot grows gradually in use over the 20th century, though there is a funny spike in the summer of 1944, which correlates to German use of "robotic" planes to bomb Britain during WW2. And atom shows a boom midway through 1945, of course, though it's curious to note that its appearance in the news is deminished prior to that, during the war-- this could be a result of wartime news censorship, but then if you search science itself, you see that science reporting in general tends to drop during wartime, which could also be a factor.

Then some words are tied to a certain time period-- like fallout shelter and elixir. Others fall from popularity: for some odd reason, the word obituary became wildly unpopular in 1986, while the civil rights movement (I assume) soundly quashed use of the word negro after the late 60's. And lipstick, after rising in popularity starting in the roaring 20's (a phrase which didn't actually take off 'til the 60's-- does that mean 20's culture was to the 60's what baby boomer culture is to the 90's/today?), lipstick suffered a temporary blow in the 1970's, either from the growth of the feminist movement or simply from the fashion of the time.

What other trends are out there?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

More Weapon Salves

Also, the book I got the previous quote from has the most fantastic extended metaphor title thing going on, which merits a post of its own. The top bit reads:
Doctor Fludd's Answer unto M. Foster
The Squeezing of Parson Foster's Sponge, ordained by him for the wiping away of the Weapon Salve.

Wherein the Sponge-bearer's immodest carriage and behavior towards his brethren is detected; the bitter flames of his slanderous reports are by the sharp vinegar of Truth corrected and quite extinguished; and lastly, the virtuous validity of his Sponge, in wiping away of the Weapon-Salve, is crushed out and clean abolished.


On Weapon Salves

My new hobby: using my lovely institution access to EEBO to look up random subjects from a course I took on History of Science. Here's a mention of usnea, which is moss taken from the skull of a hanged man, from a text published in 1631:

Scull-mosse, or Bones, (saith Doctor Fludd,) Mummy, and the Fat of Man (the especiall ingredience) comprehend the corpor all perfection of man, and so are apt to heale, by reason of a naturall Balsam resting in them, sympathizing with the hypostaticall Balsam residing in the living Man.

"Mummy" here being dried out human flesh, it appears; Doctor Fludd made a balm out of these things to treat injured people, a la weapon salves.

The premise of weapon salves is that when a person is injured by a weapon, there forms a Sympathetic link between that weapon and the person. Now, when someone gets their arm hacked open with a sword, one's first instinct would be to treat the arm-- but because of this sympathetic link, one other option would be to apply your treatment to the sword instead. There was a lot of argument back and forth about this theory, but the weapon salve people held their ground for a while, in part because their method was rather successful. This is, of course, because medical balms at the time were made from bear fat and chunks of rotting corpses: weapon salves worked better because they put the rotting fat salve on the sword instead of the person's arm, which in the weapon salve treatment was simply cleaned and wrapped in fresh bandages each day.

One wonders what seemingly reasonable (and in fact genuinely successful) methods of today will look equally bats to future generations.