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Training Neural Networks to Write Bach in a Day! March 24, 2017

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Brain, Geek Stuff, Toys, Video.
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Fascinating bit of video here as Our Hero (not me, in this case) takes Bach (and later Mozart) MIDI files, creates an 88-character ASCII-character alphabet from them and trains a Recurrent Neural Network to output similar sequences.

The results (and a lot of the process) is shown in the video above.  Take your time and watch the whole thing; I wonder how long he would have to train the RNN to start outputting Baroque Muzak continually?

Why Trump? February 20, 2017

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff.
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https://medium.com/@DaleBeran/4chan-the-skeleton-key-to-the-rise-of-trump-624e7cb798cb#.jmnimypj1 contains the answer to that puzzle.  Be warned: it is a long, thoughtful piece with some uncomfortable ideas for both left and right alike (but not alt-right).

HR 8799 Image Animated With Hot Jupiters January 28, 2017

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Geek Stuff, Photography, Science.
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Scientists have detected thousands of exoplanets in recent years, by watching varying brightness as they occlude their stars. This animation comes from direct imaging methods (not radio telescopes), meaning that the telescopes saw the Jupiter-sized planets directly (hot Jupiters are young planets that still glow in the infrared portion of the spectrum).

Jason Wang at the University of California, Berkeley has combined several observations of HR 8799 into the delightful GIF below. This is years of optical data, folks. “In this video you’re seeing real data,” he told Gizmodo1 of the video above. “I smoothed out the orbits so that it’s as if we’re watching [the planets] constantly in real time.”

orbitin beta pictoris hot jupiters


1 I stole the picture from Giz.  I feel no shame at all.  Follow that link, though; there’s much more!

Getting There, One Piece at a Time January 24, 2017

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Geek Stuff, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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Open the Alexa app on your phone.

Use the More icon (the hamburger) in the upper left corner.

Select Settings.

Select the device whose wake word you wish to change.

Tap the Wake Word setting.

Select Computer from the drop-down.

You are done.

I would like to point out that Star Trek has so influenced culture that the United Federation of Planets is likely to happen any time now…we just need more planets.  We already have Majel Barret’s voice phonemes.  Now we need Google to sync up, a bit better response to voice meaning (the voice vector thing should help), a truthiness evaluator and bingo! Star Trek in your phone/home/office/laboratory/dungeon/whatever.

Amazon Moto G Play Phone January 19, 2017

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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People in the know (i. e., my readers) are aware that I take my phones seriously, and have for three smart phones now. Well, smart-enough phones, I guess.  I mean I had an HTC 8125 ancient creaking phone with one of Microsoft’s many, many failed phone operating systems (are they really up to FOUR commercially-failed systems, and about to go for FIVE?), which did some things I needed in a phone: calculator (never used it, but could have), texting (would have used it but did not…not sure that it could, now that I think on it), took [execrable] photographs (look back in this blog far enough and you will find them, along with scathing reviews of the image quality) but at least ran the flash card app I wrote for it, among others (my writing them would not have been necessary if MS has anything like an app store.  Just sayin’), and played my beloved audio books during my [endless] commute.1

Still, it was not the optimum device.  My next phone (Samsung Galaxy S3 i9250) was a considerable improvement, in that the camera focused closely enough to copy text.  It ran Android apps mostly without complaint (even ones I had written myself), texted my children and played Bluetooth music and audio books without complaint, even after having survived several cracked glass incidents (to be fair, I never did repair the glass.  It looked like a vandalized cathedral when it finally died). It was a vast improvement, and I cried bitter tears indeed2 when it suddenly stopped letting me make telephone calls.

Now I have the aforementioned Amazon Moto G Play phone, and I must say it is an improvement on my previous experiences (except for the annoying notifications.  How the #$%^&* do I turn them off?) in speed, in reception and in sound clarity (although not volume).  The camera is much better (see recent postings about the weather, blue jay invasion, etc.) and the Android version is 6.0, which is 1.7 better than previous.  And it was cheap: $99 for the phone with advertising, $149 without.  I have been unable to figure out how to replace the bootloader to get rid of the advertisements (which would violate my agreement and would be Bad And Wrong), but it works so well I don’t care at all.


1Not sure that’s the longest run-on sentence I have ever written, but Baron Bulwer-Lytton must feel somewhat threatened in his cozy grave.

2Mostly because I had spent a fortune on it.  Don’t fear; this story DOES have a happy ending.

I’m So Stuffed I Could Just Burst November 25, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Geek Stuff, Mutants, Photography.
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From BoingBoing.

Exciting update: Apparently aliens are a thing.  Who knew?

What I Want for Newtonmas This Year November 18, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Geek Stuff, Japan, Science, Toys, Video.
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A realistic dinosaur costume.

Or a T-Rex.  Either way.

Too Much Science to Read, Let Alone Review November 15, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brain, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys, Uncategorizable.
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It’s been a banner week for science geeks, nerds, and squints. The locked-in lady gets to at least shout from her prison quietlyGoogle has radar sensitive enough to not only find objects but identify them by their radar signature and perovskite is once again breaking solar-conversion efficiency records.

Ordinarily I would give you a breakdown of each of these nifty developments, but more are coming and I may want to return to these later when I am not pressed for time.  Follow the links above; there are others as well that you will find more well constructed than my chicken scratchings, I’m sure.

Brain-Computer Interface Now in Use at Home!!! November 15, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Brain, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys, Uncategorizable.
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A 58-year-old woman (“HB”) with ALS has had a functioning brain-computer interface (BCI) for a while now, and is able to communicate (slowly) with the outside world. She was facing total lock-in Real Soon Now, so any device which offers communication ability is welcome.

What it is:

A diagram illustrating the setup and use of the ECoG implant.

Electrode strips at the top laid across her brain like band-aids read faint electrical signals.  With training HB was able to “type” fairly quickly (words per minute, but still).  More work remains to be done on the interfacing software (I am imagining more inputs and a neural network to interpret her thoughts more and more efficiently), and HB is ecstatic to have a way t live in the world.  She would like to use the interface to control a wheelchair, for example, but that is a ways off.


Homework:  Vansteensel, Mariska J. et. al., Fully Implanted Brain–Computer Interface in a Locked-In Patient with ALS, New England Journal of Medicine November 12, 2016 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1608085

Update: New Scientist has an excellent writeup as well.

How Statistics Can Predict the Future November 10, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Science.
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The X Axis on the graph is the percentage of GDP spent on R&D and the size of the balls is the amount of spending. The Y Axis is the scientists and engineers per million people.


Notice that the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th largest amounts are spent by Asian countries.  And notice that Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Singapore and Finland have the largest number of scientists per capita, but look at the volume of South Korea and the number of scientists…those guys are going to eat the world.

Excuse me; I have to go buy a Samsung phone.

Better Neutrino Detection Through Beta Decay November 9, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Geek Stuff, Japan, Science, Toys.
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Once upon a time scientists studying the sun couldn’t have the faintest idea of the internal activity of the Sun. One bright (see what I did there) scientist realized that monitoring neutrinos, the massless, chargeless, non-interacting particles that zip through the universe barely interacting with anything at all, might give a useful clue to the machinations therein.  I mean, they knew neutrinos are part of the solar flux,so it’s just a matter of detecting massless, chargeless, non-interacting particles.

Oh, crap.

Well, luckily neutrinos do not remain neutrinos forever; they decay into detectable particles…eventually.  Not often to be sure, as billions pass through a square centimeter every second without leaving any decay particles. Those decay particles can be detected with rather elaborate photomultipliers in a huge cavern in Japan somewhere: “It consists of a tank filled with 50,000 tons of ultra-pure water, surrounded by about 13,000 photo-multiplier tubes. If a neutrino enters the water and interacts with electrons or nuclei there, it results in a charged particle that moves faster than the speed of light in water. This leads to an optical shock wave, a cone of light called Cherenkov radiation. This light is projected onto the wall of the tank and recorded by the photomultiplier tubes.1“ Despite the heavy hardware only a few thousand are detected every year, which should tell you something about the likelihood of a decay event…not very damn likely.

Thing is, the theoretical number and the actual number didn’t match; the experimental result was one-third of theoretical, indicating something must be wrong with the theoretical understanding, or the experiment is crap. It turned out that neutrinos oscillate among three forms (electron, muon and tau) and detectors were primarily sensitive to only electron neutrinos.

Here’s where science gets really intricate; pour another shot and I’ll tell you why. In a distantly-related field, other scientists observed variations in the rate of beta decay of radioactive elements.  Once again, either the data is crap or the theory, and the theory says the decay rate should be constant.  Looking at the data over time, they found that the beta-decay rate matched the neutrino data, indicating a one-month oscillation attributable to solar radiation. Many now believe that neutrino emissions from the Sun are somehow affecting beta decay.

If that’s not strange enough for you then feature this: the same guys who figured this out are going to use beta-decay experiments here on Earth to monitor massless, chargeless, non-interacting neutrinos, and thereby the Sun.


1. Sometimes I don’t feel like writing all that much.  It is 11:30p.m. and I’m tired. Sue me.

Homework:  P. A. Sturrock et al. Comparative Analyses of Brookhaven National Laboratory Nuclear Decay Measurements and Super-Kamiokande Solar Neutrino Measurements: Neutrinos and Neutrino-Induced Beta-Decays as Probes of the Deep Solar Interior, Solar Physics (2016). DOI: 10.1007/s11207-016-1008-9

The Homemade Muon Detector October 15, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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Dazzling in complexity, the little chart above details the fate of cosmic rays (high-energy protons hurtled from the sun) which impact our atmosphere, leaving a byzantine collection of particles and EM emissions.  Some of these suckers are relatively easy to detect; the muon possibly the easiest.  Scientists studying the output of our sun can use more information about cosmic ray bombardment and an array of muon detectors would be really useful for this as muons (and other particles) are generated within a cone-shaped shower, with all particles staying within about 1 degree of the primary particle’s path.

Enter Spencer Axani, doctoral student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has whomped one up for a mere hundred bucks, and published a paper with detailed construction plans (no Instructables project yet, however.  I checked):


Straightforward as heck, a plastic brick and a photomultiplier tube are locked up in a light-tight box.  Muons hit the brick, generate a photon on decay and the photomultiplier generates enough juice to tell there’s been an event. An Arduino is used (yes, an Arduino) as a peak detector and a Python script crunches the time-stamped data for delivery to a PC.

He took it around Fermilab to test it out in Real Life:


Neat-o, right?


Homework:  The Desktop Muon Detector: A simple, physics-motivated machine- and electronics-shop project for university students , S.N. Axani, J.M. Conrad, and C. Kirby, Physics Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.

Extra credit:  http://www2.fisica.unlp.edu.ar/~veiga/experiments.html

Mad Scientist Tutorial October 13, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Geek Stuff, Science, Toys.
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An Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) generator can overload various kinds of circuitry, causing all sorts of merry havoc among the pinks.  You can make a little baby one and overload poorly-protected circuits up close, although a hammer is more certain to succeed.

Statcheck Checks PubPeer Stats and Conclusions October 10, 2016

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“When starting this project, I wouldn’t say [this was a big problem],” Nuijten tells me. “We’re detecting when people are making rounding errors, who cares?”

But she and some colleagues in the Netherlands were curious enough to check. They built a computer program that could quickly scan published psychological papers and check the math on the statistics. They called their program “Statcheck” and ran it on 30,717 papers.

Rounding errors, and other small potential mistakes in calculating the statistics, were rampant. “We found that half of all published psychology papers … contained at least one p-value that was inconsistent with its test,” Nuijten and her co-authors reported in 2015 in the journal Behavior Research Methods.

Most striking was that the errors weren’t entirely random. Most of the errors tipped the results in favor of statistical significance. And around 13 percent of the papers contained an error that could potentially change the paper’s conclusions.

–Shamelessly stolen from Vox.com

Superbowl Warmup (uh, sorta) September 30, 2016

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Experimental Design Review—Before Results September 25, 2016

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BMC Psychology has taken a novel (actually, a scorched earth) approach to the problem of irreproducible results in psych studies. Peer reviews of submitted studies will be checked for experimental methods only, until the end of the review process.  The thinking is, reviewers may be unconsciously biased by seeing results they agree with (or disagree with), rather than the value of the methods by which they were derived.

Given that as many as one-third of psych studies in a recent review (of a thousand studies) could not be reproduced, I think this is an excellent first step to cleaning house of cognitive biases.

Sadly, BMC Psychology is not one of the larger players in this field; it may be that this will enhance their prestige.

The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin September 4, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff.
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The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin is another beautiful exploration of the enslavement of talented beings at the hands of merciless monsters, the (frightened) merely human.  The talented beings are oregens, who have the instinctive ability to use the energy of the earth in many often destructive ways. Usually they are killed like witches, but an empire made them slaves instead, to quell earthquakes and volcanoes. Usually successful, oregens nevertheless sometimes failed to keep Father Earth from causing volcanic winters, or Seasons.  This book is about one of them, and how it came about as a direct result of slavery.

It’s a damned good read (or listen, in the case of the link above), filled with pathos and sympathy for the abused and the foolish, and understanding of the wronged. It is thematically nuanced enough that you forget you are reading a polemic against slavery. In this sense it is very similar to N. K. Jemisin’s first book The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (lovingly reviewed by me earlier), which also got a boatload of award nominations (Hugo, Nebula, Tiptree and Sense of Gender). Given her astounding writing it is hardly surprising that The Fifth Season was nominated for Nebula and won the Hugo last year.

This is a trilogy, and you will buy into the main character so thoroughly you will pay for the next two books, so the commitment-phobic among you should probably stay away.

Wicked Waves. August 31, 2016

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New from TOOOL  USD30.

They Are Here Somewhere August 28, 2016

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From reddit.com.

A Theory of High-temperature Superconductivity August 18, 2016

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Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have a potential  explanation for high-temperature superconductivity of cuprates, the superconducting breakthrough of the 1980s. They theorize that a certain density of electron pairs is required and when the density is too small or too great, superconductivity disappears.

They painstakingly created many different cuprates with different amounts of doping to create cuprates (actually, 2500 different compounds of lanthanum, strontium copper and oxygen) with differing number of electron pairs using an amazing beam epitaxy system to create each compound layer by layer. Because cuprates have 50 atoms per unit cell, it’s very easy to get a mixture of compounds, so it’s hard to know what kind of result you are seeing. They fixed that problem with this:


This beam epitaxy system builds compounds layer by layer and has some awesome built-in surface chemistry tools, like an absorption spectrometer and an electron diffraction gizmo to monitor surface morphology, thickness, chemical composition, and crystal structure of the resulting thin films in real time.

This is exceptionally elegant work, and points to potential understanding of  a general theory which may help in finding room-temperature superconductors.

Homework: Dependence of the critical temperature in overdoped copper oxides on superfluid density , I. Božović, X. He, J. Wu & A. T. Bollinger