Archive March 2012

Competition(ish): it’s not computer magic, it’s computer science aimee whitcroft Mar 22

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A phrase oft-uttered, in anything from a restrained growl to an infuriated scream, by my partner.

Who works with those strange computery things, and the networks connecting them, every day.

A phrase he uttered once again today, while we were chatting through some of our other favourite science related phrases*.

Which led us to a wonderful idea!  We think the phrase it’s not computer magic, it’s computer science (add any emphasis of your choosing) is ripe for some sort of drawing/photoshopping/image/typography mashup competition thing.  Yes, we could make something, but we bet that all of you could make this at least a trillion times better if you did it, too :P

it's not computer magic, it's computer science - your interpretation

your challenge, should you choose to accept it: interpret "it's not computer magic, it's computer science"

So, go for it!  Prizes?  Erm, we will be most amuse.  The picture will, no doubt, do the rounds.  Hell, we can probably do a ‘favourites’ roundup or some such thing.

And how knows?!  Maybe it will do the rounds on the hoodie/tshirt set.  In fact, if it’s awesome enough?  We’ll have a hoodie/tshirt printed FOR THE WINNER (judged by us, possibly, or by general vote), featuring THEIR DESIGN.

Have a read of the article which started the entire thing today — this remarkable one about the Ike Jime method of processing raw fish (for sushi etc), and the scientific basis (possibly) behind it.


* Which contain profanity, so they’re available in the original post of this, but not here on Sciblogs :)

Earth Now — near real-time, map-based climate data from JPL aimee whitcroft Mar 20


Gosh, but this is gorgeous.

Admittedly, I have a jones for data.  And for maps, too*. And NASA/JPL** and their work.

Screenshot from JPL's Earth Now app, taken by my phone. Click to enlarge. And that tiny purple dot near the bottom of the globe? That's New Zealand, where I live :)


All of which means that Earth Now, a recently-released iPhone/iPod/iPad app from JPL, is my idea of phonepr0n.

It shows, on an interactive model of earth, various overlays for various types of near-real time data, coming from NASA’s plethora of Earth science satellites.  Types of overlay include gravity field (shown above), carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sea level, and a bunch.  With accompanying information.

According to a press release put out today by the fine people at NASA, Earth Now has been downloaded some 170,000 times***.

Said Michael Greene, manager for public engagement formulation and strategic alliances at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Plans are in place for development of an Android version and for the addition of new NASA Earth science data sets over time.

I’m really glad it’s coming to Android, given the huge number of Android phones out there, although there’s also a small frisson of ‘hah!’, given how many awesome things are available on Android but not iphone * sulk *).

I’m also curious to see, though: to what extent might this app also begin to incorporate environmental data from other sources/organisations?

Anyway – go download it, and show it to your children and teachers and bosses and partners! I now several of my colleagues are Going to Be Shown It Forthwith (some are in meetings now, or at lunch.  pah).


* Although, sadly, I am not quite as hardcore a maplover as these sorts of people (or some of my colleagues, who got all miffed that certain projections had been left out of the list!)

** JPL is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Also often thought of as nirvana for space/rocket geeks :)

*** Which is weird, as my phone’s App store says no ratings have been given yet. The iTunes store _website_, however, says it’s had a grand total of 129 reviews, all of which rated it well (4+ out of 5). So there you go :)

Petridish — the new kid on the science crowdfunding block aimee whitcroft Mar 20


Welcome, dear readers, to the most recent foray into the new, and very exciting*, world of crowdfunded science/research: Petridish. front page crop

Launched in early March, the platform’s still pretty new. Currently, though, there are 9 projects up, primarily covering critter-related projects, but not exclusively. Examples include looking into preserving the culture(s) of climate refugees, helping to find the first exomoon, and capturing (for the first time) the sounds of deep sea creatures.

Petridish vs #SciFund

Last year, there was a great deal of excitement in circles around the pilot of #SciFund, another crowdfunded science platform which ran for a limited time only, and with a limited number of projects. The first round raised $76,230, and the second is slated to begin later this year, which applications closing at the end of March.

SciFund, of course, was started and run by RocketHub, which primarily works with creative and art projects. UPDATE: One of the SciFund founders has told me that RocketHub did not, in fact, found SciFund, but rather allows the use of its platform, with SciFund having been founded by by two scientists. :) Check the comments for more details!

Petridish, on the other hand, was founded exclusively to serve science and research — a brave tactic which them somwhat at risk, given how new science/research crowdfunding is. On the other hand, it also means tht science/research projects, and the communities which live around them, can get the proper attention they need. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out over the coming months and years that platforms such as these might work slightly differently, too.

As Matt Salzberg, former venture capitalist and now founder of Petridish,  said in a conversation I had with him:

We are building a community for science and research only, which we think is necessary for crowdfunding to be successfully applied to science.

Of course, it differs from #SciFund in other ways too. Of these, some of the more obvious appear to be:

  • that it’s not working on a ’round’ basis
  • that its primary aim is to raise funds, and make some profit doing so. #SciFund’s (not so) secret aim, of course, is to get scientists communicating with the public
  • that, like Kickstartr (and its NZ equivalent, PledgMe), money is only awarded to scientists if their project raises its target funds. If not, whetever was collected goes back to the original funders.

More on that funding thang

This last difference is a major one, and one which I’ll be watching with great interest.  On one hand, it makes perfect sense that, should projects not be able to raise everything, then (as is often the case with other, more artistic endeavours) they’re not doable, or not to the appropriate quality. Then again…Well, yes.  We shall have to see which model turns out to be the better.

And, which makes sense, there is a limit to what funding projects can seek. According to the website’s ‘project inquiry‘ page:

We’re currently only accepting projects that require less than $15,000 in funding from our site. It’s okay if your project relies on other sources of funding as well, but the project must be sufficiently funded to be launched with funding from our site.

Of course, though, the issue of how much researchers get is moot if no one’s interested in being on the platform. So, on to the next topic.

Interest: lots or not?

Turns out, says Matt, that they’ve had ’literally had hundreds of people reach out to us with project proposals.  At the moment, we’re trying to keep the number of projects on the site manageable however, so are curating the best ones to some extent.’ Pretty good news, I think, and it’s also encouraging to hear that they’re doing some curation around what goes up, and what doesn’t (more on that later).

Petridish launched with the projects that are there at present, but Matt says they’re hoping to add more soon, given the enormous interest they’ve seen by prospective fundees.

I also asked him why, at least so far, so many of the projects were related to biology/critters. Don’t get me wrong — with a background in molecular biology I’m far from life-hating, but I was nonetheless curious.  Matt’s response?

Part of the reason we have a lot of animal, ecology and biology projects is that these are very underfunded areas of science that the public is excited about.  We’re going to be adding new projects in medicine, social science, archeology and more very soon and hope to cater to all areas of study.

That seems reasonable.  If nothing else, it’s going to be fascinating to track which kinds of projects raise what kind mof money, interest and so forth.  And I reckon, given how cool the incentives can be — authorship rights to published papers, never-before-seen sounds or pictures, souvenirs from unusual places, talks/dinners with famous researchers, naming rights for new species, hell, even getting to _help_ with field research — that interest from funders should be high. If nothing else, the fact that some of the projects are already mostly funded is a good sign!

<mini rant>This, of course,  notwithstanding the interest that people should have in (and support for) research full stop, whether they’re getting direct benefits or not, or know whether or not the research is, for example, commercially viable!</mini rant>

Getting your project onto the platform

And here’s the rub, of course.  You have some research you’d like some dollar dollar bills for. Yo. But how to go about getting your project up onto Petridish.  What are they looking for?

Well, the website’s project inquiry page gives you a good idea of what you need to think about.  And the form to fill out’s nice and short.  Also, and thank again to Matt for answering my questions:

Fundamentally, the beauty of our model is that we let the public decide which projects they want to fund.  But, we do have an application process and we look for a few things:
  1. The quality and affiliations of the researcher or organization
  2. The meaningfulness of the science
  3. Projects that are accessible to the layperson and that we think the public will be excited about
  4. We make sure there is no obvious junk science like perpetual motion machines

So there you have it.  Something veeery interesting to watch, or even, if you possibly can, to support!  After all, you know it’s the right thing to do :)

Oh, and also? Excellent, _excellent_ name.

And, perhaps, because the following image and caption may be appropriate, and because I absolutely adore the brilliant tumblr ANIMALS TALKING IN ALL CAPS, I leave you with this, final thought (well, except for related posts and asterisks**):

animals talking in all caps - mad with science

(C) animals talking all in caps,






Related posts: Crowdsourcing science funding


*And entirely necessary, given the increasing squeeze on science funding, from all fronts


The sound of pi — delicious, delicious pi aimee whitcroft Mar 15

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Yesterday was Pi Day.

It’s celebrated each year on March 14th – or 3/14, of course – with Pi Approximation Day then being held on July 22nd. And on these days, we get to appreciate this most marvellous of numbers.

While many (rather funny, I’ll admit) pie/pi-related jokes, puns and slices of humour were thrown around the internet, there was an awful lot of beautiful content generated and shared and remembered, too.

My favourite?  This gem, from New Scientist.  It’s a musical interpretation of the sound of pi, to 30 decimal points. In other words, how the following numbers 3.1415926535897932384626433832795 sound when filtered through the Western 8-toned octave.

/goes back to hoarding ever greater list of things to blog about, arg

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

Quiet! I was talking! aimee whitcroft Mar 02


Because there simply aren’t enough real problems which science could tackle, Japanese scientists have unleashed the newest weapon in the war for airspace in a conversation.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen: allow me to introduce the SpeechJammer.  In essence, a directional mic takes a recording of what the sinning conversationalist is saying, and the plays it back to them with a direction-sensitive speaker, with a delay of 2 (or so) hundred milliseconds. 0.2 seconds, in other words.

This has the effect of shutting the person up. If you don’t believe me (or them) – ever been on Skype and had a delay plus hearing your voice repeated back at you? An the fact that it made saying anything further impossible?  Yeah.  That.

But why?  WHY? According to the PDF* released around the gadget,

It is expected that the negative aspects of speech…can be relaxed by the ability to jam remote people’s speech.

Negative aspects can involve someone talking to long, or too loudly or, heaven forfend, several people talking over each other. Of course, there’s no _way_ something like this might be abused, and of _course_ all spoken interactions with each other should be the conversational equivalent of Final Fantasy (or any turn-based game, I guess).

Then again, it’s a far better method of shutting someone up than hitting them over the head, or throwing your drink at them…

/shakes head ruefully, and in some amusement

HT DigitalTrends for this.  As well, at this point, as the rest of the internet :)


*Which document also, in my opinion, should win some sort of award for hilarious diagrams…I thoroughly suggest going and checking them out :P

Science animation evolves another step aimee whitcroft Mar 01

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Well, it branches further out, at the very least.

My feeds threw up a wonderful post by Carin Bondar (PsiVid) today. Animation student Tyler Rhodes wanted to produce an animation of evolution which was true to the spirit of the process itself – judging by the final product, he succeeded!

Rhodes’ starting point for all of this was a simple drawing of a salamander.  He then had 5 groups of primary school children simulate evolution, over the course of an hour, by drawing their own versions of the creature/creatures they were shown.  Of course, this would result in a number of ‘mutations’ along the way.  Rhodes would then ‘kill off’ 98% of whichever generation he and the kids had been working on, and then he’d restart the drawing process again, using the drawings which had been judged most fit, and thus ‘survived’, as the starting point. 460 drawings in total :)

Apparently, he also threw in environmental effects, such as desertification or volcanoes, of which the children took account in the drawings.  Because evolution ain’t nearly as fun without some seeerious environmental pressure :P

Finally, he animated the 6 generations shown below, adding in sound effects from the children, and his own music.  The animation uses about 100 of the final drawings he accumulated from one group, and he plans to go through the entire process another 4 times, once for each group, and each group getting its own, unique ending (this one ended in Ice Age).

I think it’s wonderful* :)

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

* Although, having said that, I actually find it more difficult to understand (in terms of being an explanation of evolutionary processes) than many other explanations and diagrams I’ve seen.  Perhaps it’s because my degree was in genetics/microbiology…

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