Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

The birth of live webcasting: The 1995 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony

Friday, July 24th, 2015

The 1995 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony was one of the very first events to be webcast live. Robert T. Morris (who was notorious!), Trevor Blackwell, and Chris Small — all Harvard computer science grad students — engineered the webcast, with backing and encouragement from Professor Margo Seltzer. Today, Scott Kirsner profiles (for the BetaBoston web site) something else that Robert Morris and Trevor Blackwell were doing at that time:

Cambridge company born in Internet’s ‘big bang’ has lasting impact

Viaweb co-founders (from left) Trevor Blackwell, Robert T. Morris, and Paul Graham in the company's original office in Cambridge, circa 1995.

Viaweb co-founders (from left) Trevor Blackwell, Robert T. Morris, and Paul Graham in the company’s original office in Cambridge, circa 1995.

The summer of 1995 was a “big bang” moment for the Internet. switched on its servers two decades ago this month, and the founders of AuctionWeb — later renamed eBay — were busily preparing to launch their site on Labor Day weekend. Browser-maker Netscape went public in August. And a company you likely haven’t heard of, Viaweb, was founded in a triple-decker in Cambridge.

Viaweb never became as well-known as the others, but it played a pivotal role in the evolution of e-commerce, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The founders were a trio of Harvard University computer science alumni and graduate students who saw that selling things on the Web was going to be huge, at a moment when most people were still apprehensive about typing a credit card number into a Web browser. They also realized that rather than businesses buying their own servers, connecting them to the Internet, and taking orders that way, “etailers” might want to pay someone else to operate their online catalogs, shopping carts, and cash registers….

Our repeated and continuing thanks to Robert, Trevor, Chris, and especially Margo, for making that first webcast happen. We have webcast the ceremony every year since. In the early years, our engineers (the aforementioned Robert, Trevor and Chris) had to invent/cobble major parts of the technology. In recent years, webcasting has of course become easier to do.

The 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony will be webcast live on Thursday, September 17, 2015. We hope you will watch (tickets to be physically in Sanders Theatre are almost sold out).

Here’s video of that historic 1995 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony (as you’ll see, it’s disjointedly edited):

Here’s our report, in the mini-AIR newsletter that went out shortly after that ceremony:

1995-10-05	Other Ig Nobelliana

1. This year's Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony was, as we had hoped, 
televised live the Internet MBONE facility.  We were pleased to 
hear from people in a number of countries who witnessed the events 
as they folded and unfolded.  The unfortunate part was that the 
ethernet cable into the hall was installed only two days before 
the ceremony, too late for us to get out a special issue of mini-
AIR in time to notify most of you.  Next year, all the technical 
aspects should be in place in plenty of time.

2. The theme of this year's ceremony was "DNA, the stuff of life 
and legend."   DNA was celebrated throughout the evening in a 
variety of ways by everyone from 12-year old Kate Eppers to DNA 
pioneer James Watson to Sally Yeh, president of Bijan Fragrances, 
the creators of DNA Fragrances for Men and Women.

3. If you were at the ceremony, or if you saw it over the 
Internet, you witnessed the work of an extraordinary group of 
people, many from Harvard and MIT, many from elsewhere, who 
labored mightily and mighty lovingly to make this ceremony happen.  
Extremely special thanks to producer igstaordinaire Sip 
Siperstein, literary mathematician Stanley Eigen, stage manager 
Roger Kautz, organigzer igstraordinaire Christopher Thorpe and the 
Harvard Computer Society, Christopher Pimlott and Tangents, 
choreigrapher Nicola Hawkins (and the Nicola Hawkins Dance 
Company), lichtmeister and propologist Eric Workman, 
scientist/supermodel Symmetra (Deb Kreuze), jazz harpist and stage 
presence Deborah Henson-Conant, videontologist Steph Gainer, 
audiogrammatographers Dave Goodman and Jeff Bryant, Joe Wrinn and 
the Harvard News Office staff, Brian Yankee and the Sanders 
Theater staff, the Holyoke Center ticket office, the Harvard 
Parking Office, John Mather and the Harvard Science Center 
magicians, Alan Symonds, Tatiana Divens, Brett Neubig, Frank Wu, 
Focus Magazine, the incomparable and elusive R.T. Morris, Chris 
Small, Jerry Lotto, Trevor Blackwell and Prof. Margo Selzer & 
company, our friend Tom, our radio friends Thomas and Raymond, the 
Nobel and Ig Nobel Laureates and their families, and many other 
people whom -- most unfortunately! -- we do not have room to list 
here.  And let us not forget Lucky the flying dog.

Snotbot, the whale snot-collecting drone, builds on Ig Nobel Prize-winning research

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Snotbot, a project to make drones that will collect whale snot, for scientific research purposes, builds on some Ig Nobel Prize-winning research.

The 201o Ig Nobel Prize for engineering was awarded to Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse and Agnes Rocha-Gosselin of the Zoological Society of London, UK, and Diane Gendron of Instituto Politecnico Nacional, Baja California Sur, Mexico, for perfecting a method to collect whale snot, using a remote-control helicopter. (The documented their work, in the study “A Novel Non-Invasive Tool for Disease Surveillance of Free-Ranging Whales and Its Relevance to Conservation Programs,” Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, Agnes Rocha-Gosselin and Diane Gendron, Animal Conservation, vol. 13, no. 2, April 2010, pp. 217-25.)

The new project, Snotbot, describes itself:

About this project.  We’ve invented a way to learn about whales while removing the need to harass them in the process. It’s called Snotbot.

What is a Snotbot? Snotbots are custom-built drones created in partnership between Ocean Alliance and Olin College of Engineering. They hover in the air above a surfacing whale and collect the blow (or snot) exhaled from its lungs. Snotbot then returns that sample back to researchers a significant distance away….

Why drones? 

By using Snotbots, the whale never knows the data is being collected. The custom-built drones fly well above the surface of the water and into the blow, the subjects are never touched or approached closely. Ideally, whale researchers should be positioned about half a mile away from their subjects, giving the whales plenty of room to go about their business. Dozens of technological hurdles had to be overcome in order to make the drones capable of collecting a physical sample at this distance in an uncontrolled marine environment.

Nidhi Subbaraman, writes about it, for BetaBoston: “Whale conservationists seek backers on Kickstarter for snot-harvesting drone“.

Patrick Steward, he of Star Trek, the Next Generation, stars in a video about Snotbot:


Podcast#21: Objects found in people’s rectums

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

“In subsequent years, as consumer confidence soared, so, too, did the purchasing of goods that would find their way into people’s rectums.” Hidden objects — of many kinds — turn up  in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

Click on the “Venetian blinds” icon — at the lower right corner here — to select whichever week’s episode you want to hear:

SUBSCRIBE on, iTunes, or Spotify to get a new episode every week, free.

This week, Marc Abrahams tells about:

The mysterious John Schedler perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The Improbable Research podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that may be good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, both on the new CBS web site, and on iTunes and Spotify).

Statues not far from Stalin World are in danger

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

The Guardian reports, from Vilnius, Lithuania:

[On] the Green Bridge over the Neris river in Vilnius the approaches are dominated by monuments to heroic Soviet archetypes: soldiers, workers, farmers and students.

But for how much longer? Plans to remove the badly corroded monoliths for repairs are proving highly controversial in Lithuania, particularly among the Russian-speaking minority…

After Lithuania restored its independence, most of the Soviet sculptures were removed and demolished. Some of the sculptures that remained intact were later collected and moved to the Grutas sculpture park near Druskininkai, where a local businessman, Viliumas Malinauskas, made a tourist attraction out of the monuments. His idea was awarded an Ig Nobel peace prize in 2001.

Here are some of the many statues in the Grutas sculpture park — an institution that most people call “Stalin World“:

stalin worldHere’s a video, with dramatic music, of Stalin World:


A Gastropod taste and listen to electro-acoustical modified Pringles-crunching

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

The Gastropod podcast (perhaps the most delicious of all podcasts) tastes the taste-and-sound experimental research of 2008 Ig Nobel Prize winner Charles Spence. Here’s a snippet, in print form:

Pringle-stack“Food and drink are among life’s most multisensory experiences,” Spence pointed out, so it’s perhaps hardly surprising that it occurred to him that the parchment skin illusion might work in the mouth, using food rather than clothing. He recruited 200 volunteers willing to eat Pringles for science, and played them modified crunching sounds through headphones, some louder and some more muffled, as they ate. And he found that he could make a 15 percent difference in people’s perception of a stale chip’s freshness by playing them a louder crunch when they bit into it.

“The party version” of this trick, according to Spence, was developed by colleagues in the Netherlands and Japan. Volunteers were asked to crunch on chips in time with a metronome, while researchers played crunching sounds back, in perfect synchrony, through their headphones. All was well until the researchers replaced the crunching with the sound of breaking glass—and “people’s jaws just freeze up.”….

Give it a listen.