ellestra: (cosima)
Today in bizarre American date writing system is 3.14 which makes it Pi Day (3.1416 is a rounding of Pi). It's a day to celebrate it, admire its many graphical representations, write "pi-kus" and "piems". Happy Pi Day.

Today ExoMars mission has successfully launched. It's an European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos mission to hunt for signs of alien life on the Red Planet. The mission’s 2016 phase includes a Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) that’ll search for methane and other compounds of possible biological origin in Mars’ lower atmosphere, and a Schiaparelli entry, descent, and landing module, which will demonstrate complex landing technology for a larger, ground-based ExoMars rover slated to ship off in 2018. Already on Mars Curiosity is switching to a new mission. It's going to look for signs of life too.

Today is also the day when we are only month away from new Orphan Black episode (it's going to be on Thursdays now) and we have a new trailer.
ellestra: (lightning)
So today is the Winter Solstice and the days will finally start getting longer. I'm hoping that this is the reason behind me being so sleepy and tired all the time. This and the weather change. The season started with pouring rain and the beginning of heatwave (for winter). It's 10 pm and it's still 16oC (60F) outside and it's only going to get warmer. Also coming - more thunderstorms. I need to decide witch summer dress to wear for Christmas Eve. Tomorrow, I'm thinking capris since I'm going to spend 3 hours in the cinema (yes, I'm finally going to see Star Wars) and it might be cold inside. How is global warming treating you?

The third episode of The Expanse is on Syfy today but you can watch it and the 4th one on the Syfy website today. I saw all 4 of them and I love it so far but I'll write down the details after it shws up on TV. Also the shows you can see early are the occupied LA of the future drama Colony and Frankenstein-inspired cop drama Second Chance. I'm glad we are no longer playing the "leaked" pilot game and they just officially put them out early to get people interested in the shows (NBC Universal cable channels especially). It turns out that if you give people a way to watch thing legally that what they'll do - Netflix took over torrent as the main internet traffic hog by far this year. But this is still just US solution - the rest of the world is still left catching up on that other internet. Unless you don't care that much and wait for it to show up on TV. I remember that for shows I liked but didn't care to stay current on AXN channels, Fox and Universal were doing pretty decent job on staying current.

Meanwhile on real Mars Curiosity has drilled some more holes. We got detailed pictures of the real Ceres; some even in 3D (almost as pretty as Pluto). And Yutu shows that the Moon is more geologically complex than we knew. And here on Earth the robots are slowly taking over... raindeer jobs. Lucky us they don't fly yet or Robot Santa would come for us all.
ellestra: (sunrise)
So I'm back in US after two extra hours spent in Toronto due to storm delays. Poland was beautiful as this is the time of year when everything is blooming (I went from lilacs and lily of the valley through the whole azalea and rhododendron blooming season all the way to pseudoacacia) and the weather was behaving perfectly. I got new visa. I met family. I replanted plants. And I (traditionally) got sick. I was too busy to write. Now I'm hiding from the heat as I came back straight into 35C (95F) and above weather (it's supposed to be 37 (99F) for the next 4 days straight). I resent the thought of going outside. I thought the 29-31C (84-89F) weather I was leaving in Poland was bad enough.

Also back - Philae lander. It just contacted Rosetta and the mission control. After 7 months of hibernation due to cold and lack of sunlight it's awake again. Just in time for the summer. It's just like a bear. Everyone's excited. It's been trending on twitter and xkcd has updated the Landing strip.
ellestra: (charlie jade)
LHC was supposed to be back in operation after two years of upgrades but it short-circuited during booting so we'll still have to wait for that dark matter explanation a little longer. They need to opposite of vacuum it first by flushing it out with high-pressure helium gas.

For the first time since MIR there will be someone living in space for a year. Or rather two someones. One is Russian and the other is American and a part of real life re-enactment of the famous identical twins experiment. The one when one stays on Earth while the other is in space. Identical twins and space. No near relativistic speeds this time so age difference will be unnoticeable but there are plenty of other things to learn. The last cosmonaut in this mission crew will be only staying for standard 6 months but that will allow him to become the person who spent the most days in space ever nevertheless.

Curiosity discovered another compound that's connected to life as we know it - nitric oxide. Most people think about it as laughing gas but it only has that effect because it's an important signalling molecule that triggers a lot of metabolic pathways. It can also be the result of lightning or meteor impact so it doesn't mean much by itself but might be also another clue in Curiosity's search for life. Meanwhile her landing marks fade.

While Curiosity is still only beginning her journey Opportunity has just finished a marathon. It's been more than 10 years and 42km and it's still going. Maybe xkcd is right. Maybe she's marking what hers. Unless amnesia gets her first.

I thought that starfish ripping themselves apart were horrific enough but now octopodes are eating their own arms. In next Syfy movie this will be an alien virus that just goes up the animal kingdom all the way to humans. The trick is to invent even more horrific form of self mutilation than those already described.

Graphene light bulbs because what is leaving in the future worth without it being made of science fiction materials.

Artificial ants working together just like the real ones
ellestra: (slingers)
The last week in life of Philae lander was full of danger and excitement. I was waiting with this post until we know more about its ultimate fate and not as good as we hoped but not as bad as it seemed for a while. It did land, it's still on the comet and it sent a lot of useful data but for now it's in hibernation and it may never wake up.

It all started very well - perfectly documented in the xkcd comic of the day (here's frame by frame version). Philae landed perfectly on the chosen spot. I managed to time my day perfectly to be able to see the moment of landing. I wasn't the only one watching - comet landing was trending everywhere and people were pretty positive about it. I remember how happy and relieved they were in mission control - dropping the mike and everything - when it turned out the Philae landed. Then I returned to work and when I looked at it again the news weren't as good. But the harpoons didn't fire and Philae jumped and then jumped again. For next day everyone was worrying if it'd even be able to stick to the comet. This is how its jumps looked from Rosetta.


Eventually it stopped moving and was still on the comet. Unfortunately, it stopped in the shadow of a cliff and only gets 1.5 hours of sunlight per 12 hour comet day. This meant its batteries weren't able to recharge and the scientists scrambled to get it to sent as much data as possible before the battery died. They also risked detaching from the comet just before battery run out to get at least result from one drilling (hoping that if it make it jump again the next site might get more sunshine). That didn't happen but they managed to rotate the bigger solar panel to the sunny spot. Maybe once the comet gets closer the sun the battery would get enough charge again. But for now Philae sleeps.

But we did land on a comet in a mission that took 10 years and were only off by few tiny jumps. And we have stunning pictures from the surface of the comet and Philae sent the results from the landing and subsequent test. Just today it was announced that there is proof of carry organic compounds and they could've seeded Earth with them. And of course Rosetta mission continues as the probe travels with the comet towards the sun it will sample and analyse the gases and dust coming out of 67P.









ellestra: (slingers)
Today everyone celebrated the end of a war that started 100 years ago. My family back home is just finishing a 4 day weekend. They saw light show yesterday but today, on the actual holiday, they obviously stayed home. There is nothing like "patriots" celebrating Independence Day by destroying the capitol to want to avoid celebrating.

So let's concentrate on something better. Middle of the night for me and early morning in Europe Philae will detach from Rosetta and start his descent towards the comet. The whole thing will take about 7 hours and will be transmitted on the web so, if you can, you can have it play in the background at work. He can't wait. Let's hope he succeeds.
ellestra: (slingers)
One of my favourite subjects is AI growth and how we will treat it and how it will treat us. This is what made me start watching Battlestar Gallactica and why I'm so obsessed with Person of Interest right now. And that's why Neil Blokamp new movie Chappie trailer looks pretty awesome. I just hope the story will be less heavy handed on the message than Elysium.
ellestra: (tiger)
Everyone is talking about the Jade Rabbit's goodbye messages. China's first Moon rover is malfunctioning and most likely won't survive the night (they last 2 weeks and temperatures drop to -170oC). Like it is in style for the rovers now it has its own twitter feed where it gets personified so we would care. And now they make us watch it die. I blame xkcd with the Spirit cartoon Randall Munroe started the whole tearjerker thing.

But the real horror is happening in the deep. The starfish are suffering from a sickness that makes them rip themselves apart. The arms start crawling in the opposite directions until the body breaks and insides spill out. This is the scariest thing I have heard about and I read a lot about biology that includes parasites bursting out of bodies and zombiefying creatures. Or wearing bodies of your victims as armour. Or becoming sperm dispenser for the first female of your species you encounter. You know nature.

NewScientist has an interactive tool showing temperature changes all over the world. Spoiler alert - it's warmer almost everywhere. Excapt few ocean spots and some regions of Antarctic the planet just gets warmer. For most of Europe, including Poland, it's little over 1oC. The warmest places are Amazon jungle and all the very cold north - Siberia and Canadian Arctic. Poor polar bears.

Turning differentiated cells back into stem cells isn't easy. Stem cells can become any other type of cells even a whole new organism but once they become differentiated there are changes in the structure of chromatin that seal the cell fate. It changes shape, metabolism and can only divide a set amount of times before dying. So far making them go back to the stem cell pluripotent state has been mostly unsuccessful. This means that both cloning the adult organisms and getting stem cell therapies going has been very slow. Including the controversy about harvesting and using embryonic stem cells.

However, recently scientist in Japan crated a method of reversing cells to the stem cell state by placing them in place the cells in a stressful situation, such as an acidic environment. Cells was exposed to a "sub-lethal" acidic environment, with a pH of 5.7, for 30 minutes. Some cells died but the rest started, slowly, over time of several day to show genetic markers of pluripotency – many of which are also seen in embryonic stem cells. It was not only more successful but also faster that any previous method. The method so far worked on every type of cell - from liver to neurons - and on all tested mammals - including primates. What's more - if the cells are placed with growth hormones they can start multiplying exponentially and it may lead to a whole new organism in right conditions and be an alternative and more efficient method of cloning.
ellestra: (slingers)
The Opportunity rover mission was supposed to last 90 days. It just finished a decade of exploration of Mars and it's still going. Think about 10 years - it's 40 times longer then it was planned to work. Without any repairs and all the engeenirs on a different planet with minutes delay.


The Spirit rover that landed three weeks earlier stopped responding in 2010 but Opportunity is still sending us more and more information and along with Curiosity it's letting us learn more and more about Mars warm, humid past.



There are more anniversary videos on the jpl you tube channel and they are all worth watching. Like this recording of the life feed celebration talks:
ellestra: (slingers)
A year ago Curiosity landed on Mars. So this time to celebrate and NASA has its interactive list of Top Five Science Discoveries. New Scientist listed their pick of five coolest finds.

There are also videos celebrating 12 Earth months of research in 2 minutes


And Curiosity playing Happy Birthday to itself on SAM


And I took photos of the double when I was in Chicago (it and Opportunity double are going to be in the Adler Planetarium till the beginning of September if your there and want to see it too). The ones with me are for family but you can have the rest.


ellestra: (telamon)
I realised I haven't written anything about Mars lately and Curiosity has been busy all this time. This weekend she's supposed to take first soil sample and do chemical testing on it. Right now it's just to check if all the elements of her chemistry lab are working properly (including scoop) but even that will give us interesting data about Martian sand.

After all she's just send a photo of something that looks just like a riverbed. From the look of the rocks water there used to ran fast and deep - from ankle to maybe even hip deep. They water flowing through the channel named Peace Vallis rounded pebbles and gravel fragments in a way that could have only been weathered by strong currents. Their shape and orientation shows they were carried by water for a while and signs of many channels indicate the water flowed in this region continuously or, at least repeatedly, for years. So we missed on the rivers of Mars. But, you know, one day.

And recently she posted enough times on Foursquares to become mayor of Mars. One day children will learn about it in history.

So here's panoramic view of View on the Way to 'Glenelg'


And as for what happens next it seems Red Planet wasn't far off base and we may use microbes to help us with making Mars more livable. But not for making breathable atmosphere (at least not yet). For now we are happy for using ones that can make bricks. You just need to pee on them. Peeing bricks - that's the future of masonry.
ellestra: (Default)
The NewScientist has a slew of robotics and AI articles. I look at some of these and I can't stop thinking this is how the whole things starts. After the world becomes a thing run by them these will be what they would look at as we look at our baby pictures - you know the in utero ones. Especially, The Painting Fool's art:



In another attempt to grow an AI are neural networks and this one taught itself to estimate the number of objects in an image without actually counting them. The concept of numbers were not explained to it but it learned to react to the number of objects and the pattern it's neurons create depending on number of objects is similar to the one observed in monkeys. So not only step forward the more efficient image recognition but also another proof of evolution.

Speaking of programs getting better at seeing a newly developed system is able to recognise faces even after plastic surgery. It uses facial-recognition technique similar to sparse representation, which compares individual features of a face with combinations of individual features from faces already recorded in a database, but can work with single image of before and after instead of multiple images from different angles. It can take to mugshots and tell if it's the same person. Not so long ago computers had problems with differentiating simplest images, soon they'll be better at it then us.

Another problem is how to make communicating back with humans more fluent. One way that can help is body language. Taking tips from dancing, masked theatre and cartoons to make robot act out their thought processes. Just like Wall-E.

This also a step toward making robots that are actually useful in everyday life instead of just something to display. Something we all could use in everyday life. How many years it's been since Roomba debuted? In the 21st century we were all to have robots in our home doing things for us. However robotics never really progressed as fast as processing and software development. Robots have still very limited use even in the manufacturing and military where they are most present. Time to get them to every home.
ellestra: (Default)
Here is another Richard Sargent drawing this time featuring robots and besides finding Wall-E there is another challenge to name most of them. You can win a signed poster print of Richard's 'Where's WALL-E?' art. Thers's a guide picture to help you name as many as you can. I'm afraid I'm not very good - I think I just missed too many old shows and cartoons. I recognize most of upper left and many others from Tachikoma to DRD but there is so many that just don't even ring a bell. In total I recognise maybe a third. I did, however, manage to find Wall-E.



I agree with tor.com however that lack of Data is a gross overlook. There are other androids on this picture (from evil Bill and Ted to Terminator) but no Data. There are two of Terminators, Marvins, K-9s, Cylons and Cybermen but no Data. Both Daleks and Cybermen are not even robots and are included but no Data.
ellestra: (telamon)
Once again it's time for the biggest TV ad fest on American television (they call it Super Bowl for some unrelated reason). For the last week I saw commercials for the commercials they'll show today. I don't really care as I'm sure they'll be showing them all again and again but there is one thing (well, two but from the same source) in that whole event worth watching. NASA is presenting it's new robot - Robonaut 2, or R2. Or at least its double - the original one is already packed on board Discovery ready to go to space. It has the most advanced movement and grip capabilities of any robot ever built so it'll be able to use the same tools humans use. Another cool thing NASA will show is the Sun. Our Sun's surface for the first time in 360o. The twin STEREO satellites should be in position just about 7:30 EST.

Neil Gaiman has a lampost. A lampost that stands in among trees and in the snow. He also has friends who could not let such opportunity go past. And now there is a photographic evidence of what happened to Mr. Tumnus when he met the White Witch. Perfect. Only the wolves seem too friendly.

And for those not interested in neither sport nor snow here are cut Great Old Ones to eat your souls


I'm going back to watching the Top Gear marathon on BBCA and it's way too entertaining to be factual.
ellestra: (charlie jade)
Royal Academy of Engineering has published a report exploring the social, legal and ethical implications of ceding control to autonomous systems. Someone outside science fiction tries to explore who should be blamed if machine does something wrong.

I've been thinking along these lines for a while now. On a surface it is a simple problem - if it becomes sentient then it has to take the responsibility for it's actions, if it's not then the programmer take the blame. But with self evolving software come new problems. The end result cannot be foreseen. It becomes subject to the laws of evolution and it can become virulent and toxic without any evil design, without premeditation. Just by chance. A single line of false reasoning that can lead to disastrous consequences, simple error in judgment. Or something that makes that trait advantageous - like competing for resources. It doesn't even have to want to kill us. Never become sentient. Just be more efficient then the biological factors that want to kill us all the time. Not evil. Just trying to survive. Like mosquitoes and HIV and tapeworms. However, unlike as with biologicals, we can still blame the people who started this mechanical doom, even if they didn't intended it. If we're still around.

But even if the machines do get sentient, there's no guarantee their sense of right and wrong and necessary will be like ours. Morality is part biological programming, part social structure. We can get other people to agree on absolute rights and wrongs and what is the overreacting. How can we expect something that doesn't share our common genetic program of social interactions and ability for compassion to act according to our norms? The mirror neurons give us the ability to understand other's feelings, to put oneself in someone else's shoes but how can we expect it form something that doesn't have them (neither neurons nor shoes)? Can we blame it for not being like us when we made it that way in the first place?

Who gets to be blamed for terminator killing people - after all they are programmed to do it, so it's not their fault. They are neither responsible for what they do nor evil. They don't have a choice. The one who programmed them is the one to blame. But Skynet (at least original version) could always claim self-defence. It was made by military no wonder it couldn't tell it was using excessive force . When a war starts it's hard to stop and the victory must be ours, no matter the price.

Same with cylons. I always wondered about the refusal to acknowledge their sentience. If they didn't decide to do it on their own then the humans are to blame for programming them that way. After all they made killer robots, why are they surprised they kill? The moment you hold them responsible for all that happened should also be the moment you admit they are no longer things. And that maybe you shouldn't make the killers in first place.

It may turn out one has to destroy them either way (or be destroyed). The faults may be beyond repair and being able to make a choice doesn't mean making the right one. Still there is the difference who gets the blame.
ellestra: (Default)

Robot love stories.

Movies and tv love them for or some reason. It irritates me.
I can understand when it’s human in love with robot – we have tendency to project feelings on anything – sheep, statues and computers.
I can understand when it’s programmed fake out – the sex dolls.
And human like cylons don’t count – they are just humans really – all the human like behaviours are normal for them.

I’m just at loss why any real robots would do anything even close to falling in love. Love is emotion fuelled by hormones and made for reproduction. Without flesh and evolutionary necessity love is simply illusion. There’s a reason why noone can precisely explain what it means and why they fell in love. The pheromones, hormones and receptors are not part of the robot’s machinery. No reason for computers to fell in love. No way. No use.

ellestra: (Default)
When I left home today wind was throwing hail at me. It was small - I mean in diameter - looked like styrofoam balls. Last summer I saw a building being insulated with styrofoam - to save energy, lower cost of heating and lessen greenhouse effect. The ground around the building was covered in small white balls - just like today. Wind was throwing it at me - just like today. But it wasn't just frozen water - it was pollution. It got me thinking about the costs of saving the Earth - after all it's like throwing plastic bags around - won't go away for ages. It's like with one-use paper bags instead of plastic ones are actually worsening greenhouse effect because of the production and transport costs. The best intentions and all that.

So anyway today weather went crazy again with even occasional sunshine but when I went back home hail was on again. In some places it looked like it snowed (which it kind of did). Luckily the temperature was to high for it to froze - so no glaze - but it is below 0 now so it still before us.
Tomorrow rain with snow (or snow with rain). The full spectrum of precipitation.

Luckily I saw the robot snakes and they make it all better. They are eerily alike real ones in some of their moves. I want the one that can climb legs - imagine that at parties. So much better then robo-dogs.

May 2016

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