Never Say Die

Scientia potentia est

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Around the web XXXVI

Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Today does however mark the death of the sound barrier at the hands of a (rocket) plane in level flight - in 1947, by US pilot Chuck Yeager. Other notable anniversaries occurring today include the Battle of Hastings (1066) and the beginning of the Cuban Missle Crisis (1962).

Sci/Tech;

  • Gamers playing a protein folding “game” have succeeded in helping scientists researching the molecular structure of enzymes related to the AIDS virus. The collaborative game, FoldIt, involves players attempting to create 3D molecular structures with the most energy-efficient designs possible (thus matching how the natural versions will work). See MSNBC story.
  • As with previous research into the area, further results continue to indicate that electrical stimulation of the brain can improve learning (it doesn’t make subjects learn better than their max natural level, but it does appear to help them reach that level more quickly and consistently). In this case, learning of motor skills was improved with non-invasive application of electrical current - something that could aid stroke recovery for instance (though in this experiment, it also showed strong effects on normal, healthy subjects). The BBC have more.
  • Slime molds might not sound like the most interesting of topics, but they have quite a history and some strange and some unexpectedly complicated behaviours going on - they can form into multi-celluar co-operative masses, scientists are experimenting with the mathematical properties of their behaviour, etc. A New York Times article explains.
  • Switching to the far end of the scale in terms of simple technology, poor families in the Philippines are getting cheap daytime interior lights for otherwise dark rooms using nothing more complex than a bottle of water. This BBC video explains.
  • This impressive bit of research from SIGGRAPH Asia enables the casual user to insert new objects into existing photographs - with matching perspective, lighting, shadowing, etc. Very cool; see video demo.
  • Deus Ex style replacement limbs draw closer - monkeys have been trained to control a virtual arm using only their brain activity, and have also received sensory feedback from the arm directly into their brains. See BBC article.

Gaming;

  • Max Payne 3 details have been emerging. Here’s a preview from Rock, Paper Shotgun and an interview from GameSpot.
  • Also more details on the new Hitman game, Hitman: Absolution. Here’s an interview and over 15 minutes of gameplay footage.
  • In classic gaming revival that stays truer to its roots, indie game Legend of Grimrock is looking to recapture the classic first-person dungeon crawler (think Bard’s Tale and the likes) in modern form. Looking impressive so far - Rock, Paper Shotgun have more (includes video).
  • In a revival of a much older series, 10 minutes of gameplay footage of the new Syndicate game (now in FPS form) has just been released. Looks like a poor man’s combat-heavy Deus Ex, but we’ll see.
  • The next entry in the X series of space sims, X Rebirth, is in the works; PC Gamer have some details and screenshots.
  • In other gaming news, GOG.com have a half-price sale on classic Atari games this weekend, some real gems in there - Rollercoaster Tycoon, Alone in the Dark, Master of Orion, Total Annihilation, Outcast, Independence War, Blood, etc. Also includes the more modern classic RPG The Witcher for $5, a steal.

Business;

  • The paper that bank notes are printed on (which is actually made of cotton) is serious business, as the BBC report in this inside look at a recently rejuvenated company that produces a lot of it.

Dev;

  • How do you build a 30,000 core cluster with 27 terabytes of RAM and 2 petabytes of disk space? Well, Cycle Computing did it relatively easily using Amazon’s EC2 service. Read all about it.
  • This fascinating rant from Google (formerly Amazon) employee Steve Yegge on the difference in culture between Google and Amazon, the leadership of Jeff Bezos and the effect this has had on their respective platforms and architectures, makes for interesting reading. It was originally intended for a private audience of Googlers, but was accidentally made public and remains so for now (with Steve’s permission and Google’s support).

GameDev;

  • As is their custom, id released the Quake 2 source code some time ago. There are various source ports and indie projects based around the codebase, and now, if you’re interested in such things, Fabien Sanglard has a detailed multi-part review of the Quake 2 code on his blog. Interesting stuff - he goes into the rendering, visibility management, etc, with reference to the specific implementation details from the code and the architectures around it.
  • Also on the historical game engines front, Sean Barrett recollects the rendering technology he worked on for Thief’s software rendering engine in this article.

Misc;

  • The BBC have the story of a German Jew who acted as a translator for American psychiatrists at Nuremberg, and his sometimes surreal interactions with the senior Nazis there (who didn’t know he was Jewish).
  • When an eagle owl comes blasting in in ulta slow-motion, here’s what it looks like.
  • Paul Lukas discovered around 400 report cards from a Manhattan girls’ school dating from the 1920’s. In the first of a series of articles for the Slate, he talks about how he found the cards, how they changed his life, and the stories they contained.
  • Following the recent survival of a 67 year-old man for six days after crashing his car in a forest near LA, the BBC have some rounded up several other famous tales of amazing human survival; see article.
  • This BBC gallery highlights some innovative school building designs from around the world, as featured in an architectural showcase.
  • Speaking of design, in New York City two chaps with no experience of urban planning or the likes managed to succeed in building a park up in the air - along a mile or so of derelict elevated railway line. See video.

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