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how flies fly

Wednesday,  10/27/04  11:30 PM

Tonight my daughter Alexis and I had the pleasure of attending a Watson lecture on the subject of "How Flies Fly", given by Michael Dickinson in the venerable Beckman Auditorium at Caltech.  It was a great lecture; Michael hit just the right note between serious technical research and general interest discussion.  Lots of decent nerd humor, too.

fly flying
artificial stimulation of fly steering muscles

It turns out that flies are remarkable little machines.  About 10% of all animal species on Earth are flies, so they are incredibly successful.  They're the number one way sunlight gets turned into protein (by eating and digesting plants).  And one of the most interesting things about flies is how they fly.  Insect wings are nothing like bird wings; they are basically flat surfaces used to "bat" the air around.  In flight the wing is angled one way, waved through the air (pushing air down and the insect up), and then angled the other way and waved back, doing the same thing.  This enables insects to hover, move straight up and down, turn on a dime, and generally do whatever they want in the air.  The neuro-mechanical interplay that enables this to happen is well understood and through a series of fascinating experiments Dr. Dickinson and his team have begun to understand how flies "think"; that is, the processing that goes on in the central nervous system which links fly vision to fly flight muscles.  Amazing and thought-provoking.

fly maneuvers
dynamic control of flight maneuvers

For more information please see the Dickinson Lab website, which includes some of the high-speed stop action movies Michael showed during his talk.

 

Wednesday,  10/27/04  11:39 PM

A pet peeve: why does the whole world think it is important to give sports scores?  Airline pilots, lecturing scientists, radio disc jockeys, and even - yes, in fact especially - bloggers all feel the urge to pass along live scores.  I can't even look in my RSS reader if I'm going to watch a game later, because bloggers who aren't even interested in sports are going to indulge this urge, putting the score in a subject line as if they're breaking a major scoop.  Look, if I want the score, I'll find it; I have an internet-connected cell phone.  ESPN or Yahoo will give it to me along with as much other information as I want.  I do not need or want YOU to give me the score, in fact, if you could kindly keep it to yourself so those of us with Tivos can enjoy the game later, that would be great.  Okay.

Oh, yeah, congratulations Red Sox!  I haven't watched the game yet, but I was unable to avoid knowing the score :)

total lunar eclipseDid you see it?  Tonight there was a total eclipse of the moon, visible in North America (around 6:15 PST).  I saw it, and man, was it spooky.  Looked like the moon was a blimp, it seemed so close, and so large!  You could really see the Earth's "shadow" move across the lunar surface.  The first full moon in October is called "the blood moon".  Whew.

Here are some more eclipse pictures...  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

I'll be the 10,000th blogger to link Scientists Find Ancient Hobbit-Sized People.  "Although the odd little humans likely left no descendants, and therefore no mark on modern human biology, the scientists say this is the first documentation of the entirely new species of hominids that apparently adapted and lived for thousands of years in caves on the isolated island."  Are we sure they're gone?  Maybe they're just living in The Shire .

Reminds me of this thought-provoking post on FuturePundit: What Drove Divergence of Humans from Chimpanzees?  Perhaps the Indonesian "hobbits" were really Chimpanzees...

[ Later: More at The Panda's Thumb, including a link to a nice summary by Carl Zimmer: "but if evolution can produce homo floresiensis, who knows where a few thousand years on Mars or another solar system could take our descendants?" ]

Fortune: How Do You Think the Brain Works?  "Jeff Hawkins brought the world the PalmPilot and the Treo. Now comes his boldest invention yet: a far-reaching theory of how intelligence actually works."  Very interesting, check it out.  Jeff has written a book called On Intelligence (of course it is available as an e-book for the Palm :).  The basic idea is that the brain is constantly modeling the near future, so that it has pre-computed reactions to a variety of expected situations.  Fascinating.

C|Net interviews Jeff Hawkins:

Q: You talk about the brain as always predicting things.  Humans act on those predictions, and experiences provide sensory input that's sent back to the brain, which develops new predictions.  A computer is mostly computing its most recent thing and involves very little prediction.  Elaborate on that difference.

A: Well, our brains work on a completely different principle than computers.  It doesn't mean you can't emulate a brain on a computer, but you have to understand what the brain is doing first.  The failings of (artificial intelligence) come from the idea that you have some input and then you have some output.  You feed in some information, and the output you get determines the success of the system.

ScanScope T2AlwaysOn wonders Is Healthcare IT Finally Gaining Momentum?  "Increasingly, hospitals are turning to technology to drive cost savings and improve efficiencies throughout their organizations.  In fact, IDC recently stated that spending on healthcare IT is likely to increase from $15.1 billion to $17.3 billion by 2007—IT spending that is finally on par with other large industries."  Interesting.  The "electronic medical record" has been talked about for so long it is almost a mythical legend, but it may finally become real.  Of course EMR data must include Pathology images, so instruments to digitize microscope slides are essential :)

Google bought Keyhole, the earth-image database people.  What's the synergy?  John Battelle suggests it is because they're both in the "holy crap that's a lot of data" business.  "Hanke showed an application, which he called geoblogging, which allows folks to fly around Keyhole's data and annotate various things they see."  I wonder if anyone has annotated my house yet :)

Mt. St. Helens from Landsat and RTSM dataA little while ago NASA released World Wind, a cool 3D application which "allows any user to zoom from satellite altitude into any place on Earth, leveraging high resolution LandSat imagery and SRTM elevation data to experience Earth in visually rich 3D."  That's a LandSat image of Mt. St. Helens over there on the right.

Lawrence Lessig on the Alternative Compensation System.  Essentially, how do we compensate content producers in a world where content duplication and distribution are "free".  Great analysis.

Ottmar Liebert has posted some thoughts on this...

Bono and Steve JobsI mentioned the iPod Photo yesterday; that was the big news, the little news was the U2 iPod Special Edition.  Um, a red click wheel?  I don't think so.

As Cult of Mac notes, "there was the clear impression Bono and Edge were endorsing not just U2-branded iPods, but the whole idea of digital distribution."  Are there still artists who don't think digital distribution is the future?

Matt Webb muses on the future of the iPod.  "The iPod is still about music, but the next obvious step is sharing...  You can legitimately build all kinds of iPod-to-iPod functionality in, if the iPod is seen as a platform for media that doesn't have property rights attached.  Bingo."  A WiFi iPod?  Why not?

Ross Rubin considers the iPod's slippery slope toward video.  "Sure, video is ridiculous, but how about an iPod that can display 30 photos per second synchronized to sound?  Apple need not even stray far from its music mantra in order to justify adding video to the iPod.  Like other players with color screens, the iPod Photo supports album art.  But iTunes supports music videos; why shouldn’t the iPod?"  I have to admit, this seems inevitable to me too, despite Steve Jobs' disclaimers.

In this connection, it is worth pondering the fact that the iPod Photo dock has s-video out.

Meanwhile Marc Cantor is confused because the iPod doesn't have a camera.  Huh?  I think that's why he's confused, I'm not sure.  He also thinks Apple's 50%+ share of MP3 players is going to drop down to 2%.  Now that confuses me.

Finally, Conrad at The Gweilo Diaries ponders The Wheels of Justice.  Another great blog you should read daily.  Especially on Friday :)

 
 

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