Virtual hand shadow theatrics

April 18th, 2014

If you, like Raymond Crowe shown above, are a professional hand-shadow artist (viz. a shadowgrapher according to Wikpedia) then you might think that your job is one of the relatively few that is unlikely to be replicated by a computer any time soon. Think again. Work underway at the IMAGINE (Intuitive Modeling and Animation for Interactive Graphics & Narrative Environments) Laboratory, Grenoble, France, is attempting just that. Here, they announce an M.Sc. / Ph.D. internship opportunity :

“The goal of the internship will be to design and implement generative methods for automatically animating virtual hands and generating shadow plays driven by objective goals, such as reproducing a given shape or motion; or visualizing a given story.”

 BONUS Shadowgraph of an exploding balloon filled with hydrogen/air (is there a mystery face at around 11 seconds, or is it an illusion?)

The drop dropped in the Ig Nobel-winning pitch drop experiment

April 17th, 2014

Big little news from Queensland, as reported by Celeste Biever and Lisa Grossman for New Scientist magazine:

Longest experiment sees pitch drop after 84-year wait

The pitch has dropped – again. This time, the glimpse of a falling blob of tar, also called pitch, represents the first result for the world’s longest-running experiment…. Up-and-running since 1930, the experiment is based at the University of Queensland in Australia and seeks to capture blobs of pitch as they drip down, agonisingly slowly, from their parent bulk.

The Queensland experiment already features in the Guinness World Records and won an IgNobel prize in 2005. It was set up by physicist Thomas Parnell to illustrate that although pitch appears solid, shattering when hit with a hammer at room temperature, it is actually a very viscous liquid.

The eventual result follows several near misses, according to the University of Queensland. John Mainstone, who oversaw the experiment for more than 50 years until his death last August, missed observing the drops fall three times – by a day in 1977, by just five minutes in 1988 and, perhaps most annoying, in 2000, when the webcam that was recording it was hit by a 20-minute power outage….

The university issued an official announcement of the drop’s dropping. The experiment was begun by “the University of Queensland’s first physics professor, Thomas Parnell, in 1927.”

Three decades later, more or less, Professor John Mainstone took over from Professor Parnell. Professor Mainstone oversaw the experiment at the time the Ig Nobel Prize was awarded, and attended the ceremony at Harvard.  Alas, he did not live to see the ninth drop drop.

Professor Andrew White, youthful, now oversees the experiment.

BONUS: The live webcam view of the experiment, which now is hurtling at extremely low speed towards the day or night when the tenth drop will drop.

The curses of being a rat: Landmine-detection reinforcement

April 17th, 2014

Bit by bit, people work to devise improvements in procedures related to explosions. This study tells of one such effort:

Landmine-detection rats: An evaluation of reinforcement procedures under simulated operational conditions,” Amanda Mahoney, Kate Lalonde, Timothy Edwards, Christophe Cox, Bart Weetjens and Alan Poling [pictured here], Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, epub March 27, 2014. The authors, at APOPO in Santa Clara, California, and Western Michigan University, explain:

Alan_poling“The results of this translational research study suggest that the TNT-contamination procedure is a viable option for arranging reinforcement opportunities for rats engaged in actual landmine-detection activities and the viability of this procedure is currently being evaluated on minefields in Angola and Mozambique.”

Instant beer: The birth of a notion

April 17th, 2014


Along with jetpacks and hose-down-able houses, food in pill form has been perennially one of those futuristic advances that is just around the corner. 65 years before Willy Wonka’s three-course-meal chewing gum, German scientists brought us desiccated beer — according to the Indian Medical Gazette, summarized here in the New York Medical Journal [July 22, 1899 -- p. 143].

No doubt this was technically possible in some form, but it was desired by nobody, not even arctic explorers.

In Germany the beverage has been reduced to a powder by a process of evaporation, and a very small quantity of the powder is needed, with the addition of water and carbonic-acid gas, to make a foaming tankard of ale just as good as if it were freshly drawn from the barrel.insta-stout

Now in 2014, the dream lives on. Insta-Beer, “the world’s first instant beer”, is available exclusively at KegWorks. And who is responsible? A “dedicated team of German scientists”.

Follow Amboceptor on Twitter: @AmboceptorBlog

High-level food for fad-diet theorists

April 17th, 2014

Persons who make their living by creating, naming, and giving advice about fad diets can find food for their professed thoughts about food in this new study:

Lower Obesity Rate during Residence at High Altitude among a Military Population with Frequent Migration: A Quasi Experimental Model for Investigating Spatial Causation,” Jameson D. Voss, David B. Allison, Bryant J. Webber, Jean L. Otto, Leslie L. Clark, PLoS ONE, April 16, 2014DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0093493. The authors explain:

“Whether or not high altitude residence confers benefit in humans… remains unknown.”

The study contains the intellectually inspirational statement:

“Among overweight service members in the U.S. Army and Air Force between January 2006 and December 2012, those stationed at higher altitude duty locations had a lower incidence of obesity.”

BONUS INFO: The co-authors, all of whom now have proper credentials to create new diet books and televised lectures, are dispersed among the following institutions:  1Epidemiology Consult Division, US Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, United States of America, 2Department of Preventive Medicine, Uniformed Services University, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America, 3Department of Biostatistics, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, United States of America, 4Nutrition and Obesity Research Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, United States of America, 5Trainee Health Surveillance, Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Lackland, Texas, United States of America, 6Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States of America, 7Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America, 8General Dynamics Information Technology, Fairfax, Virginia, United States of America.