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.