Mars orbiter catches pic of Curiosity on its way down! | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine

The simple and sheer amazingness of this picture cannot be overstated. Here we have a picture taken by a camera on board a space probe that’s been orbiting Mars for six years, reset and re-aimed by programmers hundreds of millions of kilometers away using math and science pioneered centuries ago, so that it could catch the fleeting view of another machine we humans flung across space, traveling hundreds of million of kilometers to another world at mind-bending speeds, only to gently – and perfectly – touch down on the surface mere minutes later.

The news these days is filled with polarization, with hate, with fear, with ignorance. But while these feelings are a part of us, and always will be, they neither dominate nor define us. Not if we don’t let them. When we reach, when we explore, when we’re curious – that’s when we’re at our best. We can learn about the world around us, the Universe around us. It doesn’t divide us, or separate us, or create artificial and wholly made-up barriers between us. As we saw on Twitter, at New York Times Square where hundreds of people watched the landing live, and all over the world: science and exploration bind us together. Science makes the world a better place, and it makes us better people.

via Mars orbiter catches pic of Curiosity on its way down! | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine.

Purely awesome.


Brittany Wenger, 17, Wins Google Science Fair Grand Prize For Breast Cancer Diagnosis App

The Grand Prize winner of the science fair, for good reason, was a 17-year-old from Lakewood Ranch, Florida. Combining the fields of biology and computer science, Wenger wrote an app that helps doctors diagnose breast cancer, according to the description of her project on Google.

The type of computer program, called a “neural network,” was designed by Wenger to mimic the human brain: Give it a massive amount of information (in this case, 7.6 million trials), and the artificial “brain” will learn to detect complex patterns and make diagnostic calls on breast cancer. Her program used data from “fine needle aspirates,” a minimally invasive procedure that, unfortunately, is often one of the least precise diagnosis processes, according to Fox News. But Wenger is helping change that, as her program correctly identifies 99 percent of malignant tumors.

via Brittany Wenger, 17, Wins Google Science Fair Grand Prize For Breast Cancer Diagnosis App.

Very amazing and inspiring science projects from teenagers. See Brittany’s winning project here.


Cool sound sculptures, many made with motors and objects that collide to sound like wind and rain (and storms and crickets and a million other things that come to mind), and look like they would be fascinating to experience and see in real life. Every installation makes me wonder how Zimoun thought of and developed it.

The video is long but worth watching to get the whole experience of sound, motion, and environment (as opposed to just looking through the installation photos on the website). Each piece is unique but together they have a particular style, so the overall video is very enjoyable to watch.

“Using simple and functional components, Zimoun builds architecturally-minded platforms of sound. Exploring mechanical rhythm and flow in prepared systems, his installations incorporate commonplace industrial objects. In an obsessive display of simple and functional materials, these works articulate a tension between the orderly patterns of Modernism and the chaotic forces of life. Carrying an emotional depth, the acoustic hum of natural phenomena in Zimoun’s minimalist constructions effortlessly reverberates.”

Source, Video

On Slowness and the Slow Web

Jack Cheng writes on the idea of a Slow Web, an alternative to the Fast Web, which has taken over much of our internet lives. This is very similar to the Slow Food movement in response to Fast Food. Think for a second about what that might mean, then check out his article — I highly recommend it, and quoted some of my favorite parts below.

For the record, I’ve had a bowl of ramen noodles at Minca in the East Village with a good old friend I hadn’t caught up with in awhile. It’s a calming, slow, and very, very nice experience. And delicious.

Source: The Slow Web


The Fast Web
What is the Fast Web? It’s the out of control web. The oh my god there’s so much stuff and I can’t possibly keep up web. It’s the spend two dozen times a day checking web. The in one end out the other web. The web designed to appeal to the basest of our intellectual palettes, the salt, sugar and fat of online content web. It’s the scale hard and fast web. The create a destination for billions of people web. The you have two hundred twenty six new updates web. Keep up or be lost. Click me. Like me. Tweet me. Share me. The Fast Web demands that you do things and do them now. The Fast Web is a cruel wonderland of shiny shiny things.


Rhythm vs. Random
Let’s say I told you there was a new HBO drama that aired for one hour from 9-10pm every Wednesday night. Once you decide it’s a show you’re interested in and can make room for, the act of watching takes over. It becomes about the show. Now let’s say I told you there’s a new HBO drama that’s sometimes times an hour, sometimes half an hour, sometimes two hours, that may or may not air every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night, between 6 and 11pm. Suddenly it’s no longer just about the show. It’s about whether or not the show will be on. What next? becomes When next?

In the Fast Web, we’re faced with this proposition numerous times a day. The randomness and frequency of the updates in our inboxes and on our dashboards stimulate the reward mechanisms in our brain. While this can give us a boost when we come across something unexpectedly great, dependency leads to withdrawal, resulting in a roller coaster of positive and negative emotions. The danger of unreliable rhythms is too much reward juice.


Knowledge vs. Information

Timeliness. Rhythm. Moderation. These things dovetail into what I consider the biggest difference between Slow Web and Fast Web. Fast Web is about information. Slow Web is about knowledge. Information passes through you; knowledge dissolves into you. And timeliness, rhythm, and moderation are all essential for memory and learning.


The Slow Web
Timely not real-time. Rhythm not random. Moderation not excess. Knowledge not information. These are a few of the many characteristics of the Slow Web. It’s not so much a checklist as a feeling, one of being at greater ease for the web-enabled products and services in our lives.

Like Slow Food, Slow Web is concerned as much with production as it is with consumption. We as individuals can always set our own guidelines and curb the effect of the Fast Web, but as I hope I’ve illustrated, there are a number of considerations the creators of web-connected products can make to help us along. And maybe the Slow Web isn’t quite a movement yet. Maybe it’s still simmering. But I do think there is something distinctly different about the feeling that some of these products impart on their users, and that feeling manifests from the intent of their makers.

Fast Web companies want to be our lovers, they want to be by our sides at all times, want us to spend every moment of our waking lives with them, when sometimes that’s not what we really need. Sometimes what we really need are friends we can meet once every few months for a bowl of ramen noodles at a restaurant in the East Village. Friends with whom we can sit and talk and eat and drink and maybe learn a little about ourselves in the process. And at the end of the night get up and go our separate ways, until next time. Until next time.

1 Hour in Square’s World |

Take a look at this infographic published in Wired last week that shows an hour of transactions that were performed through Square. Square is a rapidly-growing payments platform that makes it possible for anyone to accept credit cards, using their main feature, the free (yes, free) little white square credit-card-swiper that you might have seen at small businesses or places where people exchange money that has traditionally been more cash-focused because of temporary or mobile conditions (such as flea or farmer’s markets). Anyone can sign up and get a reader, and the app is free on phones and iPads, so if you lend out a lot of money to your friends and they never have cash to pay you back, here’s an option for you. The reader is free but every transaction gives a 2.75% cut to Square.

Square is also trying to push a mobile payments platform that lets you pay via your phone, without needing any card, at local businesses that you frequent or just want to check out. The businesses must be listed in the Square directory, meaning that they’re all set up to accept money that way, and you can just walk in and add purchases to your tab on your smartphone, which gets confirmed at the register (iPhone and certain Android devices only, at the moment). Not only does it cut out the need for carrying your wallet, as Square emphasizes, it also encourages recognition between local, smaller businesses and their frequent customers. Or even just any customers.

Square is definitely not the only mobile payments platform out there, but they’ve been pushing hard to get their little white block out there, and the map is fascinating to look at. I can’t say it’s a favorite device of mine, because I’ve used and experienced it before and it’s always been finicky and difficult to work with — mostly in problems getting the cards to swipe and register, which seems to be more of the hardware. I’m always scared it’s going to break, because it’s connected to your device through the headphone jack. While it’s great that they’ve worked so hard to get their product and app out, I think that their reader can probably be improved, and it’s interesting that they’re sort of letting everyone test-drive the hardware on such a large scale when it’s not quite reliable yet. But clearly that has been working for them, looking at this map.

1 Hour in Square’s World | Wired Business |

What Are Those Circles?

The circles represent single transactions going through the Square payments system during a one-hour period on a recent Thursday afternoon–the larger the circle, the bigger the dollar amount of the sale. These transactions happened around 4 p.m. Eastern. So think happy hour in New York, and lunch hour in San Francisco, where Square is based. A busy period for Square and the merchants who use it.

Genome Compiler is released!

Genome Compiler‘s first public release just came out, as announced by Omri Drory, the founder and CEO of Genome Compiler. It’s a software tool for designing and debugging synthetic DNA, and ordering it, too! Haven’t played around with it yet but I’m excited to (update later after I try it out). Everyone is starting to make big, visible steps towards making synthetic biology more accessible, modular, and highly functional. Hopefully this will lead to many more awesome developments.

Kio Stark at Kickstarter

“Don’t Go Back to School is a handbook based on over 80 interviews with people who have successfully taught themselves a wide variety of skills and subjects outside of school. Some of them are dropouts, some of them went to college, and some even went to grad school, but they all have in common an obsessive passion for the learning that they do independently. The book shares their secrets and strategies, so that anyone with curiosity and a desire to learn can find out how to do it without heading back to class.”

Last night, I got to hear Kio Stark speak at Kickstarter’s headquarters. Kio launched a Kickstarter project last fall, for a nonfiction book called Don’t Go Back to School: A handbook for learning anything. It’s about learning, education, and getting where you need to go without going to (or going back to) traditional school, such as college or grad school. The book hasn’t been finished yet, though you can head to her website to see how you can get a copy if you weren’t a Kickstarter backer. I was interested to hear what she found through interviews for her book, and to hear more about the ideas in the book, but the talk turned out to be centered more on stranger interactions and social dynamics in cities, which was just as fascinating. I think in a lot of ways, while the two topics seemed separate at first, the conversation really brought it all together.

Kio teaches at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (check out cool stuff from their Spring Show 2012!), where she leads classes in stranger interactions and intimacy and technology, and thinks about how humans relate to their technology and to each other through technology. It might be ironic to think of such a book coming from a grad school professor, but for what it’s worth, ITP definitely doesn’t work like regular grad school, and Kio herself dropped out of a Yale graduate program. I think her personal history and teaching position also just shows that everyone finds their own way to do their own thing, an idea that underlies her book.

Her talk at Kickstarter was sort of a crash course in what she teaches at ITP. She got us thinking about how cities are full of strangers, and how all of those interactions affect us, in person and online. It’s a very relevant concept for crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, where strangers often come together and help each other out, whether for personal material gain (rewards) or altruism, or that blurry middle ground where your friend is making something awesome and you want to help your friend out and also get a bit of the awesome. It’s a relevant idea for New York City, which is a liberal island in itself full of a constant interchange of ideas and very social-media-connected people (though Kio pointed out that being a liberal island is often actually very limiting and paints a skewed picture of what the world is or can be). It’s a big idea for the internet overall, which thrives on stranger interactions, and interactions with people you know that wouldn’t otherwise be possible without the internet. She got us thinking about anonymity versus accountability, such as how the culture has moved from using avatars and screen names to connecting all of your various social media accounts, and allowing openness with your name, identity, and personal details.

Interactions with strangers also facilitate learning, particularly on the internet. It’s fairly clear that while it was possible to self-learn and motivate personal education before the internet, it’s been completely revolutionized and entirely accessible with the internet — Wikipedia, open textbooks, Quora, even the Facebook posts that pop up on your feed with current events news articles. People want to share and show what they know, and in doing that, whether as a side or directed effect, they’re helping other people learn.

Overall, all of this thinking just emphasizes that there’s plenty out there to learn, in school or out of school, but doing it out of school opens up a wide variety of methods, on top of the range of topics. Kio received a range of responses from people who have built their own businesses, people who are engaging in biohacking, people who are trying to homeschool their kids, people who studied one thing in school and realized that there was so much more about other things that they wanted to learn. Humans are innately curious, and while school might have developed to nourish and encourage that curiosity, it’s become pretty clear that by trying to meet the needs of everyone as a collective, individual creativity and curiosity suffers. How do we fix the school system to still be a system, but still work for everyone? As more and more people turn to finding their own methods and paths, it makes you wonder — is it even possible?

(Side note: Kio lives with Bre Pettis in Brooklyn with their daughter. Bre is one of the founders of NYC Resistor and MakerBot…speaking of DIY)