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Dante Alighieri was early in recognising that our age has a problem. He was the first writer to use the word moderno, in Italian, and the difficulty he spotted with the modern mind is its limited capacity to relate to the whole of reality, particularly the spiritual aspects. This might sound surprising, given that his masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, is often described as one of the most brilliant creations of the medieval imagination. It is taken to be a genius expression of a discarded worldview, not the modern one, from an era in which everything was taken to be connected to the supreme reality called God. But Dante was born in a time of troubling transition. He realised that this cosmic vision was being challenged, and he didn’t seek to reject it or restore it, but to remake it.

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February 20 1968 is a red-letter day in the annals of TV history as the day Prescription: Murder first aired, bringing Lieutenant Columbo, as we mostly know and love him, to the collective consciousness of millions.

But what many casual fans don’t realise is that Columbo, the character, was created by William Link and Richard Levinson nearly a decade earlier and had already graced both the stage and screen long before Peter Falk assumed the beige raincoat and ever-lit cigar.

As a newborn mammal opens its eyes for the first time, it can already make visual sense of the world around it. But how does this happen before they have experienced sight?

A new Yale study suggests that, in a sense, mammals dream about the world they are about to experience before they are even born. 

Writing in the July 23 issue of Science, a team led by Michael Crair, the William Ziegler III Professor of Neuroscience and professor of ophthalmology and visual science, describes waves of activity that emanate from the neonatal retina in mice before their eyes ever open. 

This activity disappears soon after birth and is replaced by a more mature network of neural transmissions of visual stimuli to the brain, where information is further encoded and stored. 

“At eye opening, mammals are capable of pretty sophisticated behavior,” said Crair, senior author of the study, who is also vice provost for research at Yale.” But how do the circuits form that allow us to perceive motion and navigate the world? It turns out we are born capable of many of these behaviors, at least in rudimentary form.” 

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Tomato fruits inform the mother plant when they are being eaten by caterpillars, shows a new study. Little is known about whether a fruit can communicate with the plant to which it’s attached, which could be important for warning the plant of threats. This early evidence shows that pest attacks do trigger defensive electrical and biochemical responses across the plant. This could provide more effective monitoring strategies for detecting agricultural pests in the future.

A recent study in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems shows that the fruits of a type of tomato plant send electrical signals to the rest of the plant when they are infested by caterpillars. Plants have a multitude of chemical and hormonal signaling pathways, which are generally transmitted through the sap (the nutrient-rich water that moves through the plant). In the case of fruits, nutrients flow exclusively to the fruit and there has been little research into whether there is any communication in the opposite direction–i.e. from fruit to plant.

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Electromagnetism has always been a subtle phenomenon. In the 19th century, scholars thought that electromagnetic waves must propagate in some sort of elusive medium, which was called aether. Later, the aether hypothesis was abandoned, and to this day, the classical theory of electromagnetism does not provide us with a clear answer to the question in which medium electric and magnetic fields propagate in vacuum. On the other hand, the theory of gravitation is rather well understood. General relativity explains that energy and mass tell the spacetime how to curve and spacetime tells masses how to move. Many eminent mathematical physicists have tried to understand electromagnetism directly as a consequence of general relativity. The brilliant mathematician Hermann Weyl had especially interesting theories in this regard. The Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla thought that electromagnetism contains essentially everything in our universe. So what is the mutual relationship of electromagnetism and gravitation? We provide one possible explanation to the riddle.

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In China, suburban garages do not factor in the lore of computing history the way they do in the United States. But prisons do – at least, one particular prison in which a brilliant Chinese engineer was sentenced to solitary confinement for thought crimes against Mao Zedong during China’s Cultural Revolution. His name was Zhi Bingyi and, during long and anxiety-ridden days, months and years of solitude, he made a breakthrough that helped launch China’s personal computing revolution: he helped make it possible to type Chinese with a run-of-the-mill Western-style QWERTY keyboard.

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In the search for life beyond Earth, distinguishing the living from the non-living is paramount. However, this distinction is often elusive, as the origin of life is likely a stepwise evolutionary process, not a singular event. Regardless of the favored origin of life model, an inherent “grayness” blurs the theorized threshold defining life. Here, we explore the ambiguities between the biotic and the abiotic at the origin of life. The role of grayness extends into later transitions as well. By recognizing the limitations posed by grayness, life detection researchers will be better able to develop methods sensitive to prebiotic chemical systems and life with alternative biochemistries.

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“The Internet: An Unprecedented and Unparalleled Platform for Innovation and Change.” That was the title of a chapter published by the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2012. It echoes a commonly expressed sentiment. Back in 2012, most proclamations about the internet praised its unprecedented power. Just five years later, most proclamations about the internet criticized its unprecedented power. Commentators, analysts and policy makers worried that the internet, and social media platforms in particular, presented wholly new threats to democracy, global governance and the integrity of information.

There is a lot to question in the underlying assumption that the internet is unprecedented and unparalleled. That assumption makes it seem as if history is no longer a useful tool of analysis to guide future policies. But history is ubiquitous in our discussions around the internet and disinformation. While some discuss history by claiming that our current circumstances are unprecedented, assumptions about the history of disinformation are everywhere in policy making.

Policy makers in some countries deploy history quite often to guide their regulatory approaches. German policy makers refer frequently to the Nazi and Stasi pasts to justify their actions. Finnish policy makers invested early in media literacy because of long experiences with Russian and Soviet disinformation. Finally, it’s a historical judgment to claim that something is unprecedented; often that turns out not to be true!

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Every now and then, due to some egregious blunder or blatant overreach on the part of government agencies or tech companies, concerns about surveillance and technology break out beyond the confines of academic specialists and into the public consciousness: the Snowden leaks about the NSA in 2013, the Facebook emotional manipulation study in 2014, the Cambridge Analytica scandal in the wake of the 2016 election. These moments seem to elicit a vague anxiety that ultimately dissipates as quickly as it materialized. Concerns about the NSA are now rarely heard, and while Facebook has experienced notable turbulence, it is not at all clear that meaningful regulation will follow or that a significant number of users will abandon the platform. Indeed, the chief effect of these fleeting moments of surveillance anxiety may be a gradual inoculation to them. In my experience, most people are not only untroubled by journalistic critiques of exploitative surveillance practices; they may even be prepared to defend them: There are trade-offs, yes, but privacy appears to be a reasonable price to pay for convenience or security.

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Working with the United Nations, scientists hope to establish standards for satellite ‘megaconstellations’ and reduce disruption of astronomical observations.

Revelations about the use of spying tools sold to governments by NSO Group sparked furious political rows across the world on Monday after evidence emerged to suggest the surveillance firm’s clients may have sought to target their political opponents.

Amid growing concern over the apparent abuse of NSO’s powerful phone-hacking spyware, Pegasus, Amazon confirmed it already had cut some of its ties to the Israeli surveillance company. The stock price of Apple dipped amid worries about the privacy and security of its handsets.

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An international team of computer scientists reported on Friday that they found four cryptographic vulnerabilities in the popular encrypted message app Telegram.

The weaknesses range “from technically trivial and easy to exploit to more advanced and of theoretical interest,” according to the security analysis. But ultimately they prove that the four key issues “could be done better, more securely and in a more trustworthy manner with a standard approach to cryptography,” said ETH Zurich Professor Kenny Paterson, who was part of the team that uncovered the flaw.

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If you have heard of Zig before, you may know it as a promising new programming language which is ambitiously trying to overthrow C as the de-facto systems language. But did you know that it also can straight up compile C code?

This has been possible for a while, and you can see some examples of this on the home page. What’s new is that the zig cc sub-command is available, and it supports the same options as Clang, which, in turn, supports the same options as GCC.

Now, I’m sure you’re feeling pretty skeptical right about now, so let me hook you real quick before I get into the juicy details.

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Researchers have found evidence for an anomalous phase of matter that was predicted to exist in the 1960s. Harnessing its properties could pave the way to new technologies able to share information without energy losses. These results are reported in the journal Science Advances.

An intriguing article has just been published in the journal Perception about a never-before-described visual illusion where your own reflection in the mirror seems to become distorted and shifts identity.

To trigger the illusion you need to stare at your own reflection in a dimly lit room. The author, Italian psychologist Giovanni Caputo, describes his set up which seems to reliably trigger the illusion: you need a room lit only by a dim lamp (he suggests a 25W bulb) that is placed behind the sitter, while the participant stares into a large mirror placed about 40 cm in front.

The participant just has to gaze at his or her reflected face within the mirror and usually “after less than a minute, the observer began to perceive the strange-face illusion”.

The set-up was tried out on 50 people, and the effects they describe are quite striking…

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The Voynich Manuscript, for those not in the know, is a mysterious codex likely written and illustrated some time between the years 1400 and 1600. It’s a riddle in many ways: its origins are unknown, the author is unknown and, more importantly, the meaning of its contents is also unkown. The name Voynich comes from a Polish book dealer who bought the manuscript in 1912.

The text is written using an indecipherable alphabet and although statistical analysis reveals similarity to natural language, cryptanalysis of it has thus far been unsuccessful. The illustrations are similarly confounding, consisting mostly of unidentifiable plants and women emerging from baths, barrels or canisters.

Various theories have been put forth about the meaning and/or purpose of the manuscript, but none of them have managed to satisfactorily explain all aspects of the codex or even produce a single meaningful decoding of the text. Whenever a new theory emerges - which still happens from time to time - it is swiftly debunked

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World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen has now been the world no. 1 on every rating list for the past decade since July 2011, an unbeaten streak that will now eclipse Garry Kasparov’s two decade-long streaks as world no. 1 from 1986 to 1996 and 1996 until he dropped off the list after his retirement in 2005. Although Magnus has suffered scares — for instance any loss to Fabiano Caruana in the 2018 World Championship match would have taken Fabi top — he’s remarkably been unbroken world no. 1 for a decade on the live rating list as well.

When Magnus was recently asked about crossing 10 years as the consecutive world no. 1, he was actually surprised.

I didn’t even know that, but for me I guess it was more special either January 2010, when I was officially no. 1 for the first time, or in, I think, it was October 2008, when I was unofficially no. 1 for the first time, but it’s been a long time!

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