3D Printers are becoming more realistic

The above video (in YouTube) shows the successful replication of a wrench from the original object being scanned to the usage of the "printed" wrench as an actual tool.

I remember that I read about these 3D printers not that long ago, but seeing the process and the results in action is something else.

The following video about the ZPrinter® 650 gives a more technical description of the features and the capabilities of this device. It was uploaded last year (June 4, 2010), so there might be even more sophisticated models out there. Still, it is quite impressive. Something to see (it lasts 4'17"):


Opportunity to see a rare "midnight sun" eclipse

The NASA page: "A Rare Eclipse of the Midnight Sun" announces that on the first of June, it will be possible to see a very rare "midnight sun" partial eclipse. This will happen only in the most northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland. The eclipse will also be visible in the extreme northern places of Canada, Iceland and Alaska, but it will be in the afternoon, rather than at "night". On the other hand, in northern China, this eclipse will be seen at sunrise.

Fortunately for those of us interested in these events who live at more "southern" latitudes, the astronomer from the Norwegian Centre for Science Education in Oslo, Knut Jørgen Røed Ødegaard will show live pictures of this event in a web page for Cameras in Tromsø and Bodø, Norway. According to the data published, the eclipse will start at 20:27 Universal Time and will end at 22:14. (The conversion table shows that this will be between 4 and 6 pm, EDT).

Sweden - Midnight sun eclipse, July 31, 2000 - photo by Oddleiv Skilbrei

The picture above is a good example of the previous midnight sun eclipse seen in northern Sweden on July 31, 2000. Given that the next time when something similar will happen will be until 2084, I'm really hoping that the weather cooperates and people can take and share good photos of this rare event.


A virtual visit to a planetarium

Curiosity about a link tweeted by @outsideinmovie (Outside In The Movie) took me to the Vimeo page containing a beautiful video produced by Grant Wakefield, based on timelapse footage by Colin Legg of the night sky in Western Australia .

This video reminded me of the good old times when Toronto had a planetarium (which I miss so much). It is a very good virtual substitute if you like to see the stars and the Milky Way, which is virtually impossible to do nowadays in the city. Enjoy!



IBM's Watson challenging 'Jeopardy!' champions

It is happening... the evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is proceeding full speed ahead in the computing world.

You probably remember Deep Blue. The machine from IBM that was able to beat World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov in a chess tournament in May, 1997. And although quite impressive, its sole focus was to play and understand chess. So, its AI capabilities were somewhat debatable.

By Childman1204 (Own work - available in Wikimedia)

What would you say if another machine developed by IBM, Watson, was not only able to answer questions from a very large set of topics, but even overcome the nuances of language? That's what Watson will be doing, when it faces two of the best 'Jeopardy!' champions: Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on a tournament of  the famous TV game show. Watson is the logical continuation of the AI work done earlier by IBM with Deep Blue. What would the next AI be able to do?

The first article I read about Watson was written by Clive Thomson for the New York Times Magazine (June 16, 2010): What is I.B.M.'s Watson? (Access to this article may require free registration in the NYT. It is really worth it, if you find this subject interesting, as it is very well written and clearly explains the advances made in the field). Ever since I read it, I have been waiting to see the actual Jeopardy! challenge tournament. At least this time I will be able to understand and follow the game, unlike the first famous mental challenge between man and machine.

So, if you prefer watching this AI in action, I recommend the upcoming NOVA episode, "Smartest Machine on Earth" scheduled for Feb. 9, 2011 at 10 pm in PBS stations. (I'm going to set the reminder on my TV - assuming it is aired in my area). And to watch the complete AI vs Human encounter, the Jeopardy! IBM Challenge make note of February 14, 15 and 16, 2011, when the tournament will air. Those dates are already  marked in my calendar.

"Twin" of Deep Blue in Computer History Museum - courtesy of James the photographer
[CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

References for this topic:

1. Guest essays written about AI, Deep Blue and Chess (from  a very short story by Arthur C. Clark to an in-depth essay by Dr. David G. Stork): http://www.research.ibm.com/deepblue/learn/html/e.html

2. Overview page by IBM on things related to Deep Blue: http://www.research.ibm.com/deepblue/learn/html/e.html

3. In-depth article: "What is I.B.M.'s Watson?" in the NYT Magazine: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/magazine/20Computer-t.html?ref=magazine

4. Deep Blue article from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Blue_(chess_computer)

5. Article on Watson (AI software): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watson_(artificial_intelligence_software)

6. NOVA, Smartest Machine on Earth: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/smartest-machine-on-earth.html
(this PBS site has a preview of the upcoming Feb. 9, 2011 episode on Watson)

7. IBM site explaining Watson: http://www-03.ibm.com/innovation/us/watson/what-is-watson/index.html

8. Jeopardy! mini-site about the IBM Challenge: http://www.jeopardy.com/minisites/watson/


Mythical arctic creatures: Narwhals

Today started so cold (-19° Celsius, which felt like -26° with the wind chill factor) so when I came across a page I had bookmarked almost two years ago, it seemed like it was finally the time to add it to this collection of data drips.

The BBC section on Science & Environment has a very interesting video and photos of narwhals which are very remarkable in that they are extremely difficult to capture on film or video since they only live in the Artic Circle.

Illustration to scale between human & narwhal courtesy of Chris Huh

The BBC article ‘Arctic unicorns’ in icy display has a short video of these elusive creatures (1 min. 55 secs.), along with a good description of their lives and the context for the footage as well. The video gives a fascinating view of this fantastic creatures who would seem to like living in the cold. Unlike me, who would love to be in some warm, blue Caribbean waters.


The human journey to the Americas

After watching the last show from the series Human Journey, “The Americas”, I learned about the discovery of the human bones known as “The Arlington Man” which were described as the oldest found in the Americas. These bones are calculated to be 13,000 years old. The remains were found in the Channel Islands National Park, in the Santa Rosa Island, which is approximately 10 kilometres off the coast of California. (There is a beautiful slide show about Santa Rosa Island National Park to get a view of this archeological site).

The Human Journey program identified the Arlington Man, as belonging to the Chumash people. Since it was the first time I heard of this group of Native Americans, I searched for information about them and found out that one of the bands of this ethnic group still survives and has a page on the web, presenting their history and some of their culture. In particular, the “History of the Chumash People” page is a good resource for learning about them.

All this reminded me immediately about the recent claims of finding very old human bones in Mexico, probably the earliest yet found in the American continents. So, the question to me was which are the oldest, so far.

In my previous post “Oldest human bones in the Americas found while diving near Tulum, Mexico” (in this same blog below), I commented on the news about another development in the search for the first inhabitants to the Americas, as the skeleton of a boy found underwater near Tulum seemed to be among the oldest human bones ever found. Digging for more information, I came across another article that talked about “Eva de Naharon” (Eve of Naharon) and other skeletons in the same area.

The article written by Eliza Barclay for the National Geographic News on Sep. 3, 2008, titled “Oldest Skeleton in Americas Found in Underwater Cave?” describes the finding of human bones that belonged to a woman living there approximately 13,600 years ago. Those bones, like the ones from the boy of Chan Hol, were also found in a cenote in an area that so far has contained the oldest human remains at least in Mexico.

Photograph courtesy of Arturo González
It seems like the answer to the question about when the first humans arrived to the Americas point to the Yucatan peninsula, around 13,600 years ago. There may be more recent discoveries yet that could change this view. In the meantime, it seems safe to say that Eva de Naharon is the first human found in the Americas.


It will take 12 more years before Jupiter gets this close to Earth on Sep. 20

NASA website recently published the page "Closest Encounter with Jupiter until 2022", which tells us that on the night of September 20 - 21 Jupiter will shine much brighter than usual as it will be 75 million kilometers closer than in past encounters.

So, if you are lucky enough to have a clear sky on the night of September 20, it would be a great opportunity to observe Jupiter, if possible with a telescope so that you can directly observe features like the two red spots "kissing" or notice the stripe that disappeared in May (details in the post: "Jupiter Loses a Stripe and NASA is Mystified") which is still "missing".

Portion of Alan Friedman's complete photo of Jupiter & Io,
taken on Aug. 30, 2010

I would also like to recommend the website that Mr. Friedman has, called avertedimagination.com. He has taken beautiful pictures of the planets and the solar system, using a 10" telescope from his home in Buffalo, N.Y. Some of these photos have been published in NASA pages, which is how I found about him and his site.

Given that tonight has been clear, I hope tomorrow our luck continues so that we can have a chance to see Jupiter even through all the city lights. Clear skies for everyone on this close encounter with Jupiter!