Monday, October 26, 2009

Getting to know Adam Giambrone, in one article or less

Hey, it's a start!

Describe an ideal afternoon in the city.
I enjoy exploring neighbourhoods across the city and spending time with friends and family. The best way to answer this is probably to recount a Sunday afternoon I spent just over a month ago. We (my partner and I) started by taking the Queen streetcar to Mimico, had lunch and explored Mimico and the historic former Lakeshore Lunatic Asylum (which is being converted by Humber College into a new campus). It is a beautiful series of brick buildings built in the late 19th century. We ended the day with dinner in Bloor West Village. That was a great day.

Adopt a star

All it is really is just a donation to a non-profit organisation (Pale Blue Dot) that supports a project to find out the precise size of the planets found by Kepler.


It all really started out as an interest in the Kepler Mission closely and its hunt for planets outside our solar system (these type of planets being called extrasolar planets). Kepler was launched in March 2009 on top of a Boeing 7925-10L (Delta-II) launch vehicle.

I've got my eye on:

KIC 8490918
log g=3.584

Here's a good, but rather science-y article on how variable stars have been historically discovered.

Who needs sleep? We apparently can use drugs for that

(sleeping mouse on a limb)

In the experiment, two groups of mice were either allowed to rest over a five-hour period or were constantly disturbed by handling. The sleep-deprived group demonstrated particular problems when it came to performing a basic retrieval test, which they had learned before [BBC News]. When the researchers examined the brains of the sleep-deprived mice, they found that these mice made more of an enzyme called phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4). In turn, the surplus of PDE4 caused a shortfall of a compound called cAMP, which is involved in forming new memories in a brain area called the hippocampus [WebMD]. When the researchers gave sleep-deprived mice a drug that stops PDE4 from working, the mice aced their memory tests.

How Shazam identifies music

Shazam uses a mobile phone's built-in microphone to gather a brief sample of music being played. An acoustic fingerprint is created based on the sample, and is compared against a central database for a match. If a match is found, information such as the artist, song title, and album are relayed back to the user (Wikipedia).

First, a short explanation of how Shazam works. The company has a library of more than 8 million songs, and it has devised a technique to break down each track into a simple numeric signature—a code that is unique to each track. "The main thing here is creating a 'fingerprint' of each performance," says Andrew Fisher, Shazam's CEO. When you hold your phone up to a song you'd like to ID, Shazam turns your clip into a signature using the same method. Then it's just a matter of pattern-matching—Shazam searches its library for the code it created from your clip; when it finds that bit, it knows it's found your song.


Thus Shazam creates a spectrogram for each song in its database—a graph that plots three dimensions of music: frequency vs. amplitude vs. time. The algorithm then picks out just those points that represent the peaks of the graph—notes that contain "higher energy content" than all the other notes around it, as Wang explained in an academic paper he published to describe how Shazam works (PDF). In practice, this seems to work out to about three data points per second per song.

Why are eggs getting harder to peel?

As an egg ages, it loses some carbon dioxide through tiny pores in the shell, making the egg white more basic. At the same time, it loses moisture, which increases the size of the “air cell” at the bottom of the shell, between the inner and outer membranes. The dynamics of this process are, in the words of a University of California, Davis agriculture publication, “not completely understood,” but the combination of these changes makes an old egg a lot easier to peel than a one that is fresh out of the bird.


“As the contents of the egg contracts and the air cell enlarges, the shell becomes easier to peel,” the USDA Shell Eggs from Farm to Table fact sheet states. “For this reason, older eggs make better candidates for hard cooking,”

"There's nowhere to sit at this classy party!"

Viral milk ads.

"What's the moral mathematics of the moment?"

Perception, or expectation?

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approximately. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.


45 minutes:

The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour:

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.


I don't think this has really much to do with perception. It has a lot more to do with expectations, time, knowledge, appreciation and exposure. I'm also not sure this has anything to do with moral mathematics... just a cool sentence. Anyway, yeah... some mathematics involved for sure. Really, the coolest part I see here is that Joshua Bell was willing to do this. He continues to play...

Funniest part? I don't remember this happening, just over two years ago. (with video)

Gene Weingarten won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing back in 2008 for this.


TO GET TO THE METRO FROM HIS HOTEL, a distance of three blocks, Bell took a taxi. He's neither lame nor lazy: He did it for his violin.

Bell always performs on the same instrument, and he ruled out using another for this gig. Called the Gibson ex Huberman, it was handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari during the Italian master's "golden period," toward the end of his career, when he had access to the finest spruce, maple and willow, and when his technique had been refined to perfection.

"Our knowledge of acoustics is still incomplete," Bell said, "but he, he just . . . knew."

Bell doesn't mention Stradivari by name. Just "he." When the violinist shows his Strad to people, he holds the instrument gingerly by its neck, resting it on a knee. "He made this to perfect thickness at all parts," Bell says, pivoting it. "If you shaved off a millimeter of wood at any point, it would totally imbalance the sound." No violins sound as wonderful as Strads from the 1710s, still.

The front of Bell's violin is in nearly perfect condition, with a deep, rich grain and luster. The back is a mess, its dark reddish finish bleeding away into a flatter, lighter shade and finally, in one section, to bare wood.

"This has never been refinished," Bell said. "That's his original varnish. People attribute aspects of the sound to the varnish. Each maker had his own secret formula." Stradivari is thought to have made his from an ingeniously balanced cocktail of honey, egg whites and gum arabic from sub-Saharan trees.

Like the instrument in "The Red Violin," this one has a past filled with mystery and malice. Twice, it was stolen from its illustrious prior owner, the Polish virtuoso Bronislaw Huberman. The first time, in 1919, it disappeared from Huberman's hotel room in Vienna but was quickly returned. The second time, nearly 20 years later, it was pinched from his dressing room in Carnegie Hall. He never got it back. It was not until 1985 that the thief -- a minor New York violinist -- made a deathbed confession to his wife, and produced the instrument.

Bell bought it a few years ago. He had to sell his own Strad and borrow much of the rest. The price tag was reported to be about $3.5 million.

All of which is a long explanation for why, in the early morning chill of a day in January, Josh Bell took a three-block cab ride to the Orange Line, and rode one stop to L'Enfant.

More new life.

(via Slashdot)

"A heart patient in Singapore has been implanted with an artificial heart that pumps blood continuously, allowing her to live without a pulse. From the article: '... the petite Madam Salina, who suffers from end-stage heart failure, would not have been able to use the older and bulkier models because they can only be implanted in patients 1.7m or taller. The 30-year-old administrative assistant is the first recipient here to get a new artificial heart that pumps blood continuously, the reason why there are no beats on her wrist.'"

The story is light on details, but an article from last year in MIT's Technology Review explains a bit more about how a pulse-less artificial heart works.

The no pulse heart, that's alive.

Philip Spooner

That clip of the World War II veteran speaking out for the civil rights of his gay son is not new. In fact, it dates from last April. But the Dish's re-posting on October 21 gave it a second life. From the Dish (1.27 pm) to HuffPo (8.26 pm) to Boing Boing (10.57 pm) and then back to Maine's own evening news, the Youtube has now passed the half million viewer mark.

Quantum to Cosmos Festival

I went Saturday for two lectures... Great experience, and even went back to the Black Hole Bistro for a beer or two.

Just a reminder that all these lectures are online for viewing (fast and great quality) here: