[LinkBlog] Street Fighting Scientists

Fight as your favourite scientist. Too bad it’s not in English yet. There’s a mobile app planned as well it seems.


Street Fighting Scientists

Just look at those moves

Pixel Art animations made for a newsgame called Science Kombat for Superinteressante magazine. There are 8 playable cientist plus one final boss. Each character has 6 basic attacks and 2 special attacks. The idea of the game is to make a link between the “powers” of each character and his or her discoveries and inventions.

Source: Science Kombat


The X-Men world turned upside down:

When the researchers put the gene for Magneto in zebrafish, a model organism for brain development, they found that the hybrid could alter complex behaviors. Using a genetic switch, the researchers made Magneto active in the zebrafish nerve cells that are involved in sensing touch. And, when they added a magnetic field, the fish upped the amount of time they coiled their tails, a touch-induced escape response.

Source: Magnetic mind control works in live animals, makes mice happy | Ars Technica

Diluting the scientific method: Ars looks at homeopathy again

Debunking at its best for a pseudoscience that relies on “water memory”:

But if the practice of homeopathy turns water into a mechanism for helping individuals feel better via a placebo effect, then the only issue with it becomes ensuring that it doesn’t prevent people who really need medical intervention from getting it.

Perhaps the clearest theme running through many areas of pseudoscience, however, is the attempt to make a whole that is far, far greater than the sum of its parts. Enlarging a collection of terminally flawed trivia does not somehow strengthen its scientific significance. This is especially true when many of the components of the argument don’t form a coherent whole. For example, quantum entanglement, structured water, and silica are essentially unrelated explanations, and any support for one of them makes no difference to the others. Yet somehow, presenting them all at once is supposed to make the case for water’s memory harder to dismiss.

Diluting the scientific method: Ars looks at homeopathy again | Ars Technica.

Thinking Machines – two perspectives

I came across a nice essay by Daniel Hillis on Richard Feynman‘s involvement with Thinking Machines. He has shared quite a few interesting points on the development of the first Connection Machine (a supercomputer), and also on the contribution of Feynman to the project. They were also involved in finding actual applications for the very powerful machines, and explored a variety of fields:

In retrospect I realize that in almost everything that we worked on together, we were both amateurs. In digital physics, neural networks, even parallel computing, we never really knew what we were doing. But the things that we studied were so new that no one else knew exactly what they were doing either. It was amateurs who made the progress.

The essay is a very good read, though a bit technical in some parts. It also sheds some light on the drive behind the founders. However, things seem to have gone really astray in the 90s with the eventual bankruptcy in 1994.

This brings me to the other article on Thinking Machines that I read recently which was on the interview process towards the last stages of the corporation.

… The project was a bit abstract, so I asked how it could be applied for business computing purposes. He scrunched his nose and scoffed at the very notion that I’d ask such a question.

As it turned out, Andrew wasn’t the only non-believer. Just as DARPA was about to send more barrel-loads of cash to Thinking Machines, The Wall Street Journal rained on their “subsidized sales” parade. That led to an embarrassed Bush I administration, which led towards an end of support from daddy.

With the impressively inept Sheryl Handler at the helm — the CEO who prioritized things like publishing a cookbook with recipes from their cafeteria instead of, say, trying to sell their increasingly useless Connection Machine — Thinking Machines quickly sank and filed for bankruptcy a short two years later.

I guess it shows how things can go downhill for a corporation unless there are some real world applications for its products. It is quite ironical in this case, as the founding engineers seem to have thought of quite a number of applications (highly specialised though), but by the time the second article, the employees seem to have very little clue as to the machine’s real world usage. I wonder what happened in the decade in between (possible explanation).

Interestingly, the wikipedia page for Thinking Machines lists both the essay and the article.