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Robot Dance Videos Don’t Just Happen By Themselves

January 14th, 2021

Not yet, anyway. This video took a lot of work:

The makers talk (in an IEEE Spectrum interview) about how they went about making it:

How Boston Dynamics Taught Its Robots to Dance
Aaron Saunders, Boston Dynamics’ VP of Engineering, tells us where Atlas got its moves from

…Strictly speaking, the stuff going on in the video isn’t groundbreaking, in the sense that we’re not seeing any of the robots demonstrate fundamentally new capabilities, but that shouldn’t take away from how impressive it is… What is unique about this video from Boston Dynamics is the artistic component, much of which came through a collaboration with choreographer Monica Thomas

We definitely learned not to underestimate how flexible and strong dancers are—when you take elite athletes and you try to do what they do but with a robot, it’s a hard problem. It’s humbling. Fundamentally, I don’t think that Atlas has the range of motion or power that these athletes do, although we continue developing our robots towards that, because we believe that in order to broadly deploy these kinds of robots commercially, and eventually in a home, we think they need to have this level of performance.

One thing that robots are really good at is doing something over and over again the exact same way. So once we dialed in what we wanted to do, the robots could just do it again and again as we played with different camera angles.

(Thanks to Philip Rubin for bringing this to our attention.)


Shipway’s Shipworm Sex Frenzy Film

January 13th, 2021

SHIPWORMS’ COMPETITIVE SEX FRENZY CAUGHT ON FILM” is the headline on a press release from the University of Portsmouth.

Below the heated headline, the body of the text begins:

A competitive sexual frenzy in which bigger appendages have the most success of reproducing might sound like the briefing for a porn film, but instead, it’s the finding of a new study examining a clam.

Scientists, led by Dr Reuben Shipway, at the University of Portsmouth, studying the sex life of the giant feathery shipworm may be the first to have witnessed the wrestling and sparring between individuals during copulation.

The shipworm is a gender fluid, worm-like, wood-eating clam common throughout the world’s oceans and notorious for causing billions of pounds in damage by eating wooden ships, docks, piers and sea defences….

Details are in a paper published in the journal Biology Letters: “Mate competition during pseudocopulation in shipworms,” by J. Reuben Shipway, Nancy C. Treneman, and Daniel L. Distel.

The authors are, one way and another, at the University of Portsmouth, UK; the University of Massachusetts; the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology; and Northeastern University. Here’s some of their stimulating video:

Toilet graffiti studies 1731 – 2007

January 11th, 2021

The first scholarly work on toilet graffiti was very likely The Merry-Thought: or the Glass-Window and Bog-House Miscellany. Part 1  written and published by ‘Hurlo Thrumbo’ in 1731.

‘Hurlo Thrumbo’ was, many believe, none other than poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor, lexicographer. and man-of-letters Samuel Johnson himself.


“The Original Manuscripts written in Diamond* by Persons of the first Rank and Figure in Great Britain; relating to Love, Matrimony, Drunkenness, Sobriety, Ranting, Scandal, Politicks, Gaming, and many other Subjects, Serious and Comical.

Faithfully Transcribed from the Drinking-Glasses and Windows in the several noted Taverns, Inns, and other Publick Places in this Nation. Amongst which are intermixed the Lucubrations of the polite Part of the World, written upon Walls in Bog-houses, &c.”

Since then, there have been several more scholarly studies of toilet graffiti. See for example, a 2007 work from the Centre for the Study of Language in Social Life, Department of Linguistics and English Language, Bowland College, Lancaster University, UK, entitled : ‘Dialogues in solitude: the discursive structures and social functions of male toilet graffiti’ (Working Paper No. 126)

“The genre is seen as hybrid, incorporating both spoken and written features, and as located in three contexts: the micro-context of the physical location, the mesocontext of social relations at the institution and the macro-context of the wider social formation.”

Notes :

[1] The full 2007 paper is available here, but unlike Hurlo Thrumbo’s treatise, in which the gravitas of the lucubrations has largely been dampened by the mists of time, the new paper features many examples of foul language which current-day readers may well find grossly offensive.

[2] *The use of the word  ‘diamond’ is literal rather than poetic – at the time, graffiti artists were in the habit of scratching their creations onto drinking glasses and glass windows using a cut diamond.

Research research effectuated by Martin Gardiner

Podcast Episode #1050: “Bottle-Cork in Your Eye”

January 10th, 2021

In Podcast Episode #1050, Marc Abrahams shows an unfamiliar research study to physicist Melissa Franklin. Dramatic readings and reactions ensue.

Remember, our Patreon donors, on most levels, get access to each podcast episode before it is made public.

Melissa Franklin encounters:

Bottle-Cork Injury to the Eye: A Review of 13 Cases,” G.M. Cavallini, N. Lugli, L. Campi, L. Pagliani L, and P. Saccarola, European Journal of Ophthalmology, vol. 13, no. 3, April 2003, pp. 287-91. 

Seth GliksmanProduction Assistant

Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Google Podcasts, AntennaPod, BeyondPod and elsewhere!

Alligators Bellowing in Heliox [Ig Informal Lecture]

January 8th, 2021

Here is the Ig Informal Lecture by the winners of the 2020 Ig Nobel Acoustics Prize.

The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that make people LAUGH, then THINK. In the Ig Informal Lectures, some days after the ceremony, the new Ig Nobel Prize winners attempt to explain what they did, and why they did it. [In non-pandemic years, the lectures happen at MIT, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, two days after the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. But in the pandemic year 2020, it’s all happening online.]

The 2020 Ig Nobel Prize for Acoustics was awarded to Stephan Reber, Takeshi Nishimura, Judith Janisch, Mark Robertson, and Tecumseh Fitch, for inducing a female Chinese alligator to bellow in an airtight chamber filled with helium-enriched air. They documented that research, in this study:


We are releasing The Ig Informal Lectures, one at a time, here on, and on YouTube. Here are the release dates:

  • November 26th, 2020: Economics
  • December 3rd, 2020: Psychology
  • December 17th, 2020: Medicine
  • December 24th, 2020: Physics
  • December 31st, 2020: Entomology
  • January 7th, 2021: Acoustics
  • February 4, 2021: Materials Science
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