The Secret Life of Robots

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“Everyday scenes from the lives of robots have been captured in this exhibition for us to observe,” says artist Toby Atticus Fraley.

“Robots assembled from pieces of Americana illustrate mundane everyday rituals, acts of daring, and precious milestones. These scenes of great joy and crushing sadness cover the beginning to the end of a typical robot’s lifespan, celebrating and revering the beauty in the everyday.”

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Artist Toby Atticus Fraley via Neatorama.

Slime Maps Simulating Real World Transportation Networks

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Several research groups around the world in the area of mobility and transportion optimization are exploring the use of a particular slime mould, Physarum polycephalum (the “many-headed slime”), to establish the most efficient routes around congested cities and countries.

The moeba-like creature forages for food by sending out branches (plasmodia) from a central location, with a speed of approximately 1cm per hour in optimum conditions.

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Even though it forms long, sprawling networks, it biologically still remains a single cell.

As the creature uses its tentacles to explore for nearby food sources, and then thins out those part that do not contribute, it is able to find the most effective way of linking together scattered sources of food, or even find the shortest path through a maze.

Via Information Aesthetics.

The Aztec Dog Burials

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Archaeologists in Mexico City have made an extraordinary discovery—the skeletons of 12 dogs all mysteriously buried together more than 500 years ago, in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.

Dog burials have been uncovered before at archaeological digs, but this is a first such finding not associated with a building or a human burial.

Dogs were important symbolically in Aztec mythology. They were believed to serve their masters even after death, guiding the soul of the deceased through the many hazardous layers of the underworld to reach Mictlan, the place of the dead. Whether the Aztecs associated the buried dogs with such symbolism is still unknown.

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Interestingly, the bones look quite intact, meaning these particular dogs probably weren’t eaten for food (the primary reason dogs were raised – hey, they weren’t hypocrites, they ate people as well, albeit for religious reasons).

The location has been dated to somewhere between A.D. 1350 to 1520, so before the Conquest.

Via National Geographic.

Darwin’s Children Drew Over The Origin of Species Manuscript

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[At] the Darwin Manuscripts Project, a collaborative initiative based at the American Museum of Natural History you can read through Darwin’s personal notes. Scholars believe that a young Francis Darwin, the naturalist’s third oldest son, drew this on the back of Darwin’s manuscript for On the Origin of Species.

It’s all a great reminder that even legendary scientists had family lives, and that when we think about history, it’s important to remember that famous figures weren’t working in isolation. They were surrounded by far less famous friends, family members, acquaintances, and enemies. And sometimes, when we get lucky, we see some of their artifacts from the past too.

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Via The Appendix.

The Needle-Free Vaccinator

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Mark Kendall thinks a fingertip-sized patch covered in thousands of vaccine-coated microscopic spikes is the future.

The nanopatch is designed to place a tiny amount of vaccine just under the skin without the need for a needle jab. Because it delivers the active ingredient right to where it is needed, tests have shown it can generate same immune response with only a fraction of the dose needed in a conventional vaccine.

And because it uses the vaccine in dried form, it does not need cold-chain refrigeration or trained staff to deliver it. [I]mmunologists have discovered that skin, unlike muscle, is rammed full of immune cells, making it a far more effective place to apply vaccines.

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Also, while we don’t usually think of needles as being expensive, we use them in such huge quantities that it adds up – and the Nanopatch is actually cheaper than a needle.

Via Reuters.

Faulty Time Zones

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A few years ago I went to Spain for the first time, and like many I was surprised by how late is dinner. The first night I dined almost alone in a restaurant at 8pm, going away just as people were starting to come in. [N]ear the winter solstice, Madrid’s sunset is around 17:55, more than an hour later than the sunset in, for example, Naples, which is at a similar latitude.

Looking for other regions of the world having the same peculiarity of Spain, I edited a world map from Wikipedia to show the difference between solar and standard time. It turns out, there are many places where the sun rises and sets late in the day, like in Spain, but not a lot where it is very early (highlighted in red and green in the map, respectively).

So why is this?

Part of the reason is simply that days don’t actually have the same length. The modern calendar simply tolerates this with true midday not actually being noon, and letting it go at that. Different regions are also at different longitude, and that also impacts it, making the entire concept of “time zone” kind of a culturally agreed upon fiction.

Political considerations can also enter into this; a big part of the reason Spain is as displaced in its time zone as it is is in order to allow it to be at the same time as central Europe. Similarly – and resulting in an even more severe extreme – the entirety of China is locked the coast’s solar time resulting in a difference of what would otherwise be three hours.

Google engineer and math blogger Stefano Maggiolo on his The poor man’s math blog.

The No Weekend, Rotating Soviet-Era Calendar

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The Soviet calendar added five- and six-day work weeks between 1929 and 1940 to the Gregorian calendar adopted by Russia in 1918.

From the autumn of 1929 until the summer of 1931, each Gregorian calendar year was usually divided into 72 five-day weeks (=360 days). Each day of the five-day week was labeled by either one of five colors or a Roman numeral from I to V. Each worker was assigned a color or number to identify his or her day of rest.

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Eighty per cent of each factory’s workforce was at work every day (except holidays) in an attempt to increase production while 20% were resting. But if a husband and wife, and their relatives and friends were assigned different colors or numbers, they would not have a common rest day for their family and social life.

During the second half of May 1929, Yuri Larin proposed a continuous production week. In December 1929, it was reported that about 50 different versions of the continuous work week were in use, the longest being a ‘week’ of 37 days (30 continuous days of work followed by seven days of rest). By the end of 1929, orders were issued that the continuous week was to be extended to 43% of industrial workers by 1 April 1930 and to 67% by 1 October 1930.

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Images via Wikimedia.
Via Wikipedia.