The Alaskan nutrient cycle

Paul Klaver has an absolutely breathtaking short film revealing the nutrient cycle spawned (rimshot) by the salmon in Alaska. It’s gorgeous and I just don’t understand how he managed to get some of the shots. Watch it in fullscreen mode.

I have a fond (?) memory of growing up in Portland, Oregon and heading out to “Outdoor School” for a few days, where they attempted to inculcate a love of the outdoors in us city kids. We visited right after spawning season which meant the stream that ran through the camp was surrounded with decaying salmon carcasses, resulting in the entire place smelling of old fish. Lovely, no?

via Explore

How a car engine works

How a car engine works by Jacob O’Neal. I’ve recently been having engine trouble with my car about whose workings I know practically nothing. Nothing!

He has a bunch of other stuff worth checking out, too. I like this animated Cheeatah infographic and this one about porn and dopamine (whose scientific data on ‘porn viewing’ is made up, but whose graphical presentation I love).

In the future, all music will be death metal performed by robots

At least, that’s my takeaway from this story:

The robot band Compressorhead is a trio of hulking metallic machines designed to play real instruments. Stickboy, the four-armed, mohawked, headbanging drummer, who even has a mini-me on the hi-hat. The guitarist, Fingers, has 78 hydraulic fingers — wires stream out from the arms to trigger notes along the entire fretboard. Bones is on the bass.

“They have the poses of rock gods, those robots. The bass player’s definitely the most photogenic,” says Shar Try, who was up on the stage snapping shots of Compressorhead as they banged their heads and swished their hips.

The music video is also excellent. Between this and holographic 3D anime idols, what chance do us meatcreatures have?

Prosthetics are not just for mammals anymore

This article about cyborg plants is full of all sorts of potential scifi goodness.

Cyborg Plant consists of a simple avocado plant (Persea americana) which is nurtured by an attached robotic prosthesis. The prosthesis measures the avocado’s drought stress — indicated by “the position of the leaves and the electrical potential within the trunk” — and irrigates the plant as required. This attachment, which is essentially a spacesuit for plants, enables the avocado to live indoors without human attention for much longer periods of time than would otherwise be possible (the interior of a built space being nearly as hostile for plants as land is for fish).

Or how about:

This might sound like a far-fetched idea, but, as Next Nature notes, a Filipino scientist produced a bio-luminescent Christmas tree by covering it in bio-luminescent bacteria harvested from local squid in 2007, and other researchers have proposed applications for (truly) bio-luminescent plants ranging from lighting highways (which, assuming that the bioluminescent trees would at some point begin to naturalize, might produce the most strikingly beautiful displays of exotic plant invasion imaginable) to crops which glow when they need water. Mushrooms make forests glow; why shouldn’t trees make cities glow?

It also talks about networking plants. As we continue to mechanize food production, cyborg plants are going to become part of our understanding of ‘nature’. What surprises me more, however, is how little this appears in scifi. The concept seems so obvious once you start thinking about it; mammals are made cyborg all the time. Why not plants as well? It often seems that our networked future is entirely too anthro- and mammalian-centric.

Hops flavors

I am from the PNW so of course I love hops. Here are some popular hops flavors:

Centennial: This member of the “American C’s” (along with Chinook, and Cascade) has the most pronounced flowers and citrus. A medium aroma with mid-to-high bittering value makes it a great all-purpose hop. The fantastic grapefruit and subtle pine notes of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale is an excellent example of this hop. Big Hunt always has a fresh keg of this popular beer on tap for you to taste.

Hallertau: Named for the region in Germany it is grown in, it is a staple of many German beers. This noble hop imparts a mild taste with huge aromas of spice and fruit. These usually create the subtle hop flavors of your favorite Hefeweizens and Oktoberfests. The newly-opened Biergarten Haus will have all of your Hallertau needs.

Saaz: This classic hop is known for its spicy and slightly peppery notes. Low alpha acids make this one used primarily for flavoring. When you taste Pilsner Urquell, you’re tasting the Saaz. You can often find this on tap at The Reef.

Challenger: A newcomer to the British beer movement, this flavoring agent starts slightly spicy, but remains fruity throughout: think tart fruits without the bitterness. Coniston’s Bluebird Bitter is a delicious, low alcohol (3.6% ABV) beer exemplifying the new wave of British brewing. CommonWealth usually carries this in bottles.

Warrior: This hop imparts only subtle flavors but is important in American craft beers. It has a large role in some of the bigger beers we’ve come to love due to their huge acid profile (upwards of three times the amount of some varietals). Dogfish 60, 90, and 120 minute beers are great examples of this and can be found anywhere from the revered ChurchKey to the rockin’ DC9.

Fuggles: While a quintessential British ingredient, Fuggles are also used in Belgian ales for their light flavors. Slightly woody and almost earthy tones make it wonderfully mild and multidimensional. Westmalle Triple predominantly uses Fuggles and is available at Brassiere Beck and Belga Café.

Here are a lot of other hops flavors, and of course Wikipedia has more.

[photo from]

Gravity is just entropy; an eternal rot between two objects

Seeing how the entropic theory of gravity by Verlinde is popping up all over the place, I thought I’d write up a summary of what it is so that I don’t forget. Fortunately, I remembered an excellent explanation has already been written elsewhere! So another job well done that I don’t have to do well. Here’s an example from a toy model:

Our toy universe consists of six ‘ray paths’ that form the edges of a tetrahedron. Each ray path can be in two distinct states: occupied or empty. This accounts for a total of 26 = 64 states. Three ray paths meet at each vertex. If all three are empty, the vertex represents ‘a hole’ that gets filled with at least one particle. If any of the three ray paths is occupied, the vertex is ‘full’ and can not contain any particle.

Throw the die, note down the number of spots, and check the corresponding ray path in the tetrahedron:

A) If the ray path is occupied, make it empty, unless doing so would create more than two vertices containing particles.

B) If the ray path is empty, occupy it, unless this would result in zero particle vertices.

Again throw the die and repeat ad infinitum. This simple process creates a sequence of configurations, each of which contains two particles occupying either two different vertices (two particles in two distinct holes), or the same vertex (two particles in the same hole).

In this model there is no explicit force acting between the two particles. So one might naively postulate that both particles will jump randomly from vertex to vertex, and will be as often at the same vertex as at different vertices. This is not the case. The reason is simply that there are 16 states with one hole, against only 6 states with two holes (by allowing only for one and two-hole configurations, 42 of the 64 total number of microstates are forbidden).

Another way of looking at this is that for a given vertex to contain a particle, the three ray paths meeting at that vertex need to be empty. This reduces the entropy (the number of bits needed to describe the tetrahedron universe) by three. For two given vertices to contain a particle, both vertices need to have three empty ray paths. One would therefore expect an entropy reduction of 3 + 3 = 6 bits. However, both vertices necessarily have one ray path in common, and an entropy reduction of 6 – 1 = 5 bits results. However, if both particles are accomodated at the same vertex, both particles dictate the same three ray paths to be empty. In other words: there is 3 common ray paths and an entropy reduction of 6 – 3 = 3 bits results. So, the two particles being together at the same vertex creates a smaller entropy reduction compared to the case of the two particles being seperate. In other words, two particles together at one vertex corresponds to significantly more states than two particles at separate vertices. This is all that is needed for a tendency for both particles to stick together.

That gives the gist of this whole entropic universe idea, and it’s pretty clever. Read the whole post for a more detailed explanation beyond the toy model, along with some excellent explanatory animations.