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25 Nov 22:31

Samsung Shows 'Eye Mouse' For People With Disabilities

by Soulskill
Samsung today announced a project among a group of its engineers to build an input device that allows people with limited mobility to operate a computer through eye movement alone. The EYECAN+ is a rectangular box that needs to be situated roughly 60-70cm away from a user's face. Once calibrated, it will superimpose a multifunction UI and track a user's eye movements to move the cursor where they want. Samsung says they won't be commercializing this device, but they'll soon be making the design open source for any company or organization who wants to start building them.

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21 Nov 13:46

How TV legend Glen Larson transformed science fiction

by Rob Beschizza
battlestar_galactica_classic The producer behind Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Knight Rider and Battlestar Galactica was often mocked as derivative, but he brought home screeen science fiction for generation X.
21 Nov 19:00

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Prophetic Speech Wins the NBAs

by Claire Burgess

In her speech at the National Book Awards on Wednesday, Ursula K. Le Guin shares her Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters with “all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long,” blasts the commercialization of literature and the greed of publishers, and predicts:

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now . . . and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who remember freedom: poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art.

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19 Nov 17:13

Great Job, Internet!: Neil Peart presents Neil Peart’s Drum Guide

by Becca James

Neil Peart’s extensive drum kit is just as well known as the Rush drummer himself. It’s also a pop-culture touchstone, with shows like Freaks And Geeks paying homage to it, and Nick (Jason Segel) even showing Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) his drums, exclaiming, “Six more pieces I got a bigger kit than Neil Peart. Rush, yeah!”

So, if you’ve ever wondered exactly what pieces make up the legendary kit, here’s a guide from the man who knows best.

19 Nov 15:48

Monkeys Know What They’re Doing

by Mary Bates
Monkeys Know What They’re Doing

Researchers showed that macaques were able to associate their actions on a joystick with an icon moving on a computer screen.

The post Monkeys Know What They’re Doing appeared first on WIRED.

18 Nov 20:10

New Geologic Map Shows the Beauty of the Asteroid Vesta

by Marcus Woo
New Geologic Map Shows the Beauty of the Asteroid Vesta

A new colorful map reveals the geological history of the asteroid Vesta.

The post New Geologic Map Shows the Beauty of the Asteroid Vesta appeared first on WIRED.

18 Nov 21:59

Natalie Dormer Did An AMA, Someone Hold Me - No flaws detected.

by Sam Maggs


Natalie Dormer, one true Queen of England and Westeros and the Capitol and Baker Street and our hearts, did an AMA yesterday on Reddit. Shall we see if she’s as charming as we want her to be? (Spoiler alert: she is).

The smirk is genetic.


Ser Pounce is a diva.


She loves Elementary (me too!)


She’s a Ravenclaw.




She really loves cheese guys.



Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 4.34.43 PM

Of course Pedro is hilarious.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 4.34.28 PM

She’s a girl after my own heart.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 4.33.41 PM

How dare.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 4.33.14 PM

I want to see a show with just the two of them.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 4.32.47 PM


Bonus: she was also on Conan.

You can read the whole AMA over on Reddit if you want to love her even more than you already do. All hail Queen Natalie!

(via Reddit, image via Gage Skidmore)

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18 Nov 13:27

Polyphonic Overtone Singing Explained Visually With Spectrograms

by timothy
New submitter Tucano writes The overtone singer Anna-Maria Hefele can sing two notes at the same time. In her latest video, spectrograms and frequency filters are used to explain how she can produce two melody lines at the same time, and how she uses her mouth to filter the frequencies of her voice. When the voice produces a sound, many harmonics (or overtones) sound at the same time, and we normally hear this as a single tone. In overtone singing, the mouth filters out all harmonics but one, and the one that remains is amplified to become louder. This is then perceived as a separate tone, next to the fundamental. In her video, Anna-Maria shows techniques that become increasingly advanced. She shows the overtone scale (steady fundamental, moving overtone), the undertone scale (steady overtone, moving fundamental), parallel movement and opposing movement of overtone and fundamental, and even complex compositions with two separate melody lines.

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18 Nov 13:59

A Five-Year-Old Passed the Microsoft IT Technician Exam. Seriously. - So easy a kid can do it!

by Dan Van Winkle

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 6.00.38 PM

Either the bar for being a Microsoft IT tech is so low a child can clear it, or five-year-old Ayan Qureshi is a genius. Luckily for IT people everywhere, it seems that young Qureshi is just very smart, but until he builds Skynet or whatever’s in store for his brilliant future, I’m still open to the possibility that Microsoft tech support is secretly just five-year-olds.

Nope. No smoke and mirrors here. I did not exaggerate this kid’s accomplishments for comedic effect. This is not a bait and switch. Qureshi simply studied with his father for a bit and then went and passed Microsoft’s IT exam to become the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional in history. He told the BBC the exam was “difficult but enjoyable.” And then I believe he added, “Like that time I solved cold fusion, or when I built my time machine! Future you says hi, by the way.”

Qureshi’s father, Ayan, is in IT professional himself, and he found their biggest hurdle to be getting the child to understand the language of the test. “But he seemed to pick it up and has a very good memory,” Asim added. I should hope he’s got a good memory, because it’s going to be a while before labor laws allow him to put his certification to use.

In the meantime, he’s keeping his skills up in his own computer lab at home by building his own computer network, learning about operating systems and software for around two hours a day, and making snarky bloggers ponder their wasted intellectual potential.

(via Gizmodo, image via Sam Maggs)

Previously in child geniuses

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18 Nov 19:25

This Is the Most Destructive Process on Earth

by Annalee Newitz

This Is the Most Destructive Process on Earth

It reduces boulders to smears of ions. It dissolves and disintegrates the tallest mountains. Geologists call it "weathering." It sounds harmless enough, but weathering is one of the most destructive forces on the face of the planet.


18 Nov 13:12

Optical trickery brings Rothko's paintings back to life

Bespoke lighting effects are returning the original colours to five faded masterpieces by artist Mark Rothko at Harvard Art Museums

Source: New Scientist - Discipline: Physics
18 Nov 19:05

A Goofy Wearable That Tracks the Air Quality Around You

by Liz Stinson
A Goofy Wearable That Tracks the Air Quality Around You

An online platform for crowdsourcing environmental quality data launches its first sensor product.

The post A Goofy Wearable That Tracks the Air Quality Around You appeared first on WIRED.

18 Nov 14:00

Why elephants never forget #makereducation

by Kelly

From TedEd!

It’s a common saying that elephants never forget. But the more we learn about elephants, the more it appears that their impressive memory is only one aspect of an incredible intelligence that makes them some of the most social, creative, and benevolent creatures on Earth. Alex Gendler takes us into the incredible, unforgettable mind of an elephant.

Lesson by Alex Gendler, animation by Avi Ofer.

Read more.

Adafruit_Learning_SystemEach Tuesday is EducationTuesday here at Adafruit! Be sure to check out our posts about educators and all things STEM. Adafruit supports our educators and loves to spread the good word about educational STEM innovations!

13 Nov 22:00

The Ultimate Guide to #3DPrinting 2015: Open Source Setbacks #3DThursday

by Pedro Ruiz

Matt Stultz talks about the progress that 3d printer manufacturers have made towards accessibility – though often at the cost of open source licenses.

Every Thursday is #3dthursday here at Adafruit! The DIY 3D printing community has passion and dedication for making solid objects from digital models. Recently, we have noticed electronics projects integrated with 3D printed enclosures, brackets, and sculptures, so each Thursday we celebrate and highlight these bold pioneers!

Have you considered building a 3D project around an Arduino or other microcontroller? How about printing a bracket to mount your Raspberry Pi to the back of your HD monitor? And don’t forget the countless LED projects that are possible when you are modeling your projects in 3D!

17 Nov 22:00

Control Your Christmas Lights With Text Messages And Arduino

by Rebecca Houlihan


Use Arduino to control your christmas lights with text messages. via instructables

I really wanted to be able to control my Christmas lights remotely, with an Arduino.

With this solution you can control my Lights remotely, via text messages!

Skills needed:

Copy and Paste

Components Needed:

An Arduino Yun (Wifi Enabled!) – You could use another Arduino with a Wifi Shield though.
A Protoshield with (or without) a tiny breadboard
a regular breadboard will work as well, but will be less compact.
If you want to solder more, you can just use a small circuit board instead.
A 5V relay
A piezo buzzer
A battery operated Christmas decoration (It’s not even Thanksgiving, so I’m using a Halloween decoration)
A Temboo account (explained in next steps)
A Twilio account


Full tutorial

18 Nov 11:09

It’s textbook approval time again

by Charles Kuffner

You know what that means, because we can’t do this sort of thing without controversy and a generous side order of knuckleheadedness.

Bowing to public pressure, the world’s largest textbook publisher has revised misleading language on global warming in a proposed Texas reader. But another major imprint has yet to do the same, worrying scientists and educators just a week before new textbooks are approved in the state.

Proposed wording in Pearson Education’s English textbook for Texas fifth-graders described climate change as a concern of “some scientists.” It then went on to say: “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change.”

That wording rankled several leading scientific organizations, which point out that 97 percent of qualified scientists say that humans are overwhelmingly to blame for climate change.

The American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Center for Science Education raised complaints with the Texas State Board of Education, urging that the language be changed.

“For these textbooks to present climate change as a ‘debate,’ or to suggest that there is scientific uncertainty around the drivers of climate change, is to misrepresent our scientific understanding and do a disservice to our children,” AGU Executive Director Christine McEntee wrote in a recent letter to the board’s leadership.

In response, Pearson submitted a revised text to the Texas education board on Wednesday — less than a week before the agency votes to approve textbooks to be used at the start of the 2015 academic year.

The new language discusses climate change far less equivocally.

“Burning fuels like gasoline releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, which occurs both naturally and through human activities, is called a greenhouse gas, because it traps heat,” it says. “As the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases increase, the Earth warms. Scientists warn that climate change, caused by this warming, will pose challenges to society. These include rising sea levels and changes in rainfall patterns.”


Another industry heavyweight — McGraw-Hill — is sticking with language that scientists and some educators find objectionable. The sixth-grade geography text asks students to compare texts from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won a Nobel Prize in 2007, with one from the Heartland Institute, a conservative think-tank that has misrepresented climate science and attacked the reputations of climate researchers.

“It’s certainly encouraging that most of the publishers are making changes and revising their materials on climate change,” Quinn told VICE News. “It would be unfortunate if McGraw-Hill is the lone holdout at the end of all this.”

In the end, McGraw Hill came to their senses. There’s still room for improvement overall, but this was a nice result. Today is the day that the SBOE meets to approve (or not) new textbooks, and there are other bones of contention to be dealt with as they debate. As that Chron story notes, a 2011 law allows school districts to buy their own textbooks and not the SBOE-sanctioned ones if they want to. Local action is an option if you think it’s necessary. TFN, Newsdesk, Grist, and the National Journal have more.

14 Nov 15:36

Imaging with vectors

by Evan Bianco

Even though it took way too long (I had been admiring it for quite some time), I recently became the first kid on the block to own a Lytro. The Lytro, if you haven't heard, is sort of like a camera, except that it definitely isn't. Apart from a viewfinder on one end, a piece of glass on the other, and a shutter release button on top, it doesn't really look or feel like a point-and-shoot or SLR either. It actually bares a closer resemblance to a pocket-sized telescope. So don't you dare call it a camera. Indeed, the thing that the Lytro is built to do is what makes it completely different than any camera, and this perhaps, is the best mark of its identity. It captures not only the intensity of the light rays hitting the sensor (or film), but the directionality of those light rays as well.

So what. Right? What does this mean? Why is this interesting? It means that with a light-field camera, the focal point and depth of field are parameters that can be controlled by the viewer. It is interesting because of freeing up of space and of the physical atoms of hardware by deliberately removing the motorized auto-focus mechanism, and placing instead into the capable and powerful hands of software. I find it particularly elegant that this technology was acheived as a result of harnessing light's true nature better than any other camera that came before it. A device designed to to record light as light is; a physical property defined by both a magnitude and a direction.

How do I interact with this picture? 

Normally this would be a weird question to ask, but with the Lytro the viewer can take part in the imaging process in three ways. Try it out on the samples above:

  • Point to focus: collecting the light field from a scene is a technical thing. Creating images by deciding what to focus on, and what to not focus on is an artistic thing. It is an interpretive thing. It's a narrative that the viewer has with the data. The goal of the light field camera is not to impose a narrative, but instead get entirely out of the way.
  • Extended focus: for artistic reasons, the viewer might want to have some parts of the image in focus, other parts out of focus. It's how our eyes work; our peripheral vision. But in cases where you want to see the full depth of field, where everything is in focus, the software has an algorithm for that (to try it out you can press 'E' on your keyboard).
  • Stereo viewing: speaks to the multidimensional nature of the vector field data. In the real world, when we move our head, the foreground moves faster than the background. So too with light-field images, you can simulate parallax, by moving your cursor and better understand the spatial relationship between objects in the scene.

These capabilities aren't just components of the device, they are technological paradigms embodied by the device. That, to me, is what is so incredibly beautiful about this technology. It's the best example of what technology should be: a material thing that improves the work of the mind.

A call to the seismic industry

The seismic wavefield is what we should be giving to the interpreter. This probably means engineering a seismic system where less work is done by the processor, and more control is given to the interpreter through software that does the heavy lifting. Interpreters need to have direct feedback with the medium they are interpreting. How does seismic have to change to allow that narrative?

18 Nov 16:04

How Big Is Comet 67P?

by Rhett Allain
How Big Is Comet 67P?

Comet 67P is quite large. How does it's size compare to other large objects I have used in previous blog posts?

The post How Big Is Comet 67P? appeared first on WIRED.

18 Nov 16:07

Uber exec suggests “opposition research” on journalists

by Casey Johnston

An Uber executive commented Friday that he thought it would make sense for Uber to hire opposition researchers to look into the personal lives of journalists to "give the media a taste of its own medicine," according to a report from Buzzfeed late Monday. The comments were made at an off-the-record dinner as the Uber executive, Senior Vice President of Business Emil Michael, expressed frustration with the way he felt Uber is unfairly attacked in the media.

The Buzzfeed editor who attended the dinner and witnessed the comments was not told by any Uber official until afterward that the event was meant to be off the record. During the dinner, Michael specifically attacked PandoDaily editor Sarah Lacy for writing an editorial accusing Uber of "sexism and misogyny" for running a promotion featuring "hot chick" drivers. Michael said Lacy should be held "'personally responsible' for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted," according to Buzzfeed. Michael suggested there was "a particular and very specific claim" that Uber opposition researchers could prove about her life.

From a privacy perspective, Uber has not always shown restraint with its customers. The company made news in October for displaying a real-time activity map of thirty of its "notable users" at a launch party in Chicago. The map was part of Uber's "God View," an administrative tool that lets the company see a map of all active Uber cars and customers who have called an Uber. One of the users on the map found out he was being tracked when an attendee of the party began texting him his Uber car's exact location.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

13 Nov 20:09

Hawaii residents near active volcano warned of health hazards beyond being, oh, burned alive by hot lava

by Xeni Jardin
Lava claims first home in Pahoa [USGS]

Lava claims first home in Pahoa [USGS]

Civil defense officials in Hawaii went door-to-door last night handing out evacuation notices to residents in the immediate downslope path of the Puna lava flow. Read the rest

13 Nov 14:41

Twisted light sends Mozart record distance through air

By twisting photons into spirals as they travel, large amounts of information can be encoded in light and used for long-distance communication

Source: New Scientist - Discipline: Physics
12 Nov 03:03

L’Aquila earthquake manslaughter verdict reversed

by Chris Rowan

A post by Chris RowanIt should come as no surprise that I think that this is the right result:

Six seismologists accused of misleading the public about the risk of an earthquake in Italy were cleared of manslaughter on 10 November. An appeals court overturned their six-year prison sentences and reduced to two years the sentence for a government official who had been convicted with them.

We’ll have to wait for the verdict to be published before we’ll know the reasoning that led the appeals court to overturn the original verdict, which was a little bit unexpected given the somewhat pessimistic accounts of how the appeal was proceeding last month. There is also still the prospect of a further appeal. For the moment, however, the scientific community can breath a sigh of relief: there is no longer a legal precedent for being prosecuted for failing to predict the unpredictable.

However, although the manslaughter charge was always senseless, as David Wolman’s compelling account makes clear, there are still some hard lessons to be learnt from this tragic affair. I’ve argued before that a lot of harm comes from the whole mistaken idea that earthquake risk assessments can be given and adjusted in real-time, but the way this specific situation was handled at the time was also wanting, in ways I may have been slow to appreciate.

A few weeks ago, I discussed the L’Aquila story with my class. After a lively ‘mock trial’, the consensus in the room seemed to settle on the following points:

  • It wasn’t manslaughter.
  • Bernardo De Bernardinis’ statement about there being “no danger, because there is an ongoing discharge of energy” was…not clever.
  • The rest of the scientists on the Serious Risk Commission abdicated their responsibilities by not talking to the public in L’Aquila themselves, effectively leaving De Bernardinis’ misguided statement as the official line.

I’ve been contemplating that last point ever since, because there does appear to be a critical mismatch between what was said behind closed doors, and what the public heard. The scientists on the Serious Risk Commission would probably argue that their responsibility began and ended with the former: the government asked for their opinion, and they gave it. The latter – what was ultimately done with that advice – was outside of their area of responsibility. But the very act of meeting in March 2009 – being flown down to L’Aquila to do so – was part of a government PR operation designed to calm a troubled populace. Considering that context, did the members of the Serious Risk Commission not have a further duty to ensure that the ‘be calm’ message did not go too far?

Earthquakes remain unpredictable: the close timing of the Italian authorities’ media blitz and a major earthquake remains a tragic and unforeseeable coincidence. It may not have made much difference, but this disconnect between what was said and what was made known might explain much of the anger still felt by people in the region, particularly by the families of the more than 300 people who were killed.

13 Nov 16:40

Americans believe things

by Cory Doctorow

And those things aren't true, according to an Ipsos-Mori poll that put the USA second-from-the-top in the race to see who's the most ignorant, preceded only by Italians. Read the rest

12 Nov 22:34

Crowd-Sourced Experiment To Map All Human Skills

by samzenpus
spadadot writes French-based startup has just launched a website that will let you add your skills to a comprehensive map of human skills. As quoted from their website "We aim to build the largest, most accurate, multilingual skills database ever made, by allowing a diverse and skillful community to contribute their individual skills to the global map." The ontology is simple: skills can have zero or more sub-skills. Every new skill is available in all supported languages (only English and French at the moment). The crowdsourced data is free for non-commercial use."

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11 Nov 07:00

Too Many Kids Quit Science Because They Don’t Think They’re Smart #makereducation

by Kelly


The Atlantic’s Alexandra Ossola spoke to a Carl Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford, about the reasons why many kids give up on science. Hint: self-esteem plays a crucial role. Read the full interview here!

For most students, science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM) subjects are not intuitive or easy. Learning in general—and STEM in particular—requires repeated trial and error, and a student’s lack of confidence can sometimes stand in her own way. And although teachers and parents may think they are doing otherwise, these adults inadvertently help kids make up their minds early on that they’re not natural scientists or “math people,” which leads them to pursue other subjects instead.

Read more.

Adafruit_Learning_SystemEach Tuesday is EducationTuesday here at Adafruit! Be sure to check out our posts about educators and all things STEM. Adafruit supports our educators and loves to spread the good word about educational STEM innovations!

11 Nov 14:54

The rise of unreason

by Azra Raza

Pervez Hoodbhoy in Dawn:

PervezSome 300 years ago the age of reason lifted Europe from darkness, ushering in modern science together with modern scientific attitudes. These soon spread across the world. But now, running hot on its heels is the age of unreason. Reliance upon evidence, patient investigation, and careful logic is giving way to bald assertions, hyperbole, and blind faith. Listen to India’s superstar prime minister, the man who recently enthralled 20,000 of his countrymen in New York City with his promises to change India’s future using science and technology. Inaugurating the Reliance Foundation Hospital in Mumbai two Saturdays ago, he proclaimed that the people of ancient India had known all about cosmetic surgery and reproductive genetics for thousands of years. Here’s his proof:

“We all read about Karna in the Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb.” Referring to the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha, Modi asserted that, “there must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who put an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery”. Whether or not he actually believed his words, Modi knew it would go down well. In 1995, parts of India had gone hysterical after someone found Lord Ganesha would drink the milk if a spoon was held to his trunk. Until the cause was discovered to be straightforward capillary action (the natural tendency of liquids to buck gravity), the rush towards temples was so great that a traffic gridlock resulted in New Delhi and sales of milk jumped up by 30pc.

More here.

07 Nov 03:01

How to de-jargonify health info online

by Thomas Goetz
What is only slightly more annoying than trying to decipher your doctor's handwriting? Trying to decipher their language. Thanks to a new translator extension, however, your life is about to get a little easier to understand. By Thomas Goetz. Read the rest
07 Nov 13:43

Don’t Waste Any Tears on the Democrats

by S. Abbas Raza

Ezra Palmer in Far From Brooklyn:

16395_10152458693736179_870729479636026355_nThere are a thousand and one reasons the Democrats lost control of the Senate, but the main one is this: They didn’t stand for a goddam thing.

The GOP ran on a single talking point — “We’ll stop Obama” — whereas the Dems couldn’t even work up the guts to admit they voted for the man.  

What a bunch of empty suits, lacking vision, courage, values, goals — indeed, lacking any sort of apparent dream other than that of being elected to public office.

It’s become a commonplace to criticize President Obama for failing to lead.  I call bullshit on that.  What happened is that his party has failed to follow.

How hard is it to campaign alongside a man who ended two wars and staved off a second Great Depression?   How hard is it to remind the electorate of what life was like in 2008, when there was a very real possibility of mass failure of our bank system, the collapse of much of our mutual fund infrastructure, and erasure of wealth on a scale never before seen in history?

But the 2014 Democratic candidates, this cluster of zymotic panderers, no, they didn’t even dare to share a podium with the man, let alone attempt to argue for anything that’s happened in the past six years.

So they deserved to lose.  They deserved to have the Senate wrested from them.  They deserved the shame of listening to the victorious GOP talk magnanimously about the need for bipartisanship.

More here.

07 Nov 15:15

The robotic worm

by Tim Busbice

Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from the latest edition of BioCoder; it is republished here with permission. Get your free copy of BioCoder Fall 2014 here.


One of the age-old questions has been whether the way a brain is wired, negating other attributes such as intracellular systems biology, will give rise to how we think and how we behave. We are not at the point yet to answer that question regarding the human brain. However, by using the well-mapped connectome of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans, shown above), we were able to answer this question as a resounding yes, at least for simpler animals. Using a simple robot (a Lego Mindstorms EV3) and connecting sensors on the robot to stimulate specific simulated sensory neurons in an artificial connectome, and condensing worm muscle excitation to move a left and right motor on the robot, we observed worm-like behaviors in the robot based purely on environmental factors.

Our artificial connectome uses a program that can be started 302 times, where each program inherits the attributes of one of the worm’s 302 neurons. These attributes consist of the neuron itself (named, for example, AVAL, DB02, and VD03) and the neurons that it connects to. We use the number of connections that a neuron has to another neuron as a weighted value. For example, if neuron A has three synaptic connections to neuron B, when neuron A “fires,” we send a weighted value of 3 to neuron B. Using UDP1 message communications, we can message the weighted values between each simulated neuron by assigning a port number and IP address.

Each simulated neuron program has a weight accumulator that sums the weights as they are received; a threshold is established that must be met before that neuron will fire. If no message activity is received within 200 ms, the accumulator is automatically set to zero (e.g., depolarizes the cell). Once a neuron fires, the accumulator is also set to zero. This gives our artificial connectome a temporal paradigm that has similarities to living connectomes.

To connect the robot to the artificial connectome, we created a program that reads the robot sensors every 100 ms. Depending on the sensor, we send weighted values to a specific set of simulated sensory neurons. For example, we simulate the worm “nose touch” by using a sonar sensor on the robot. If the robot comes within 20 cm of an object, the well-defined sensory neurons that are associated with nose touch on the worm are activated with UDP messaged weighted values. Likewise, there are many motor neurons within the C. elegans connectome that stimulate each of the 95 body muscles. Four rows of muscles are aligned down the worm’s body: two rows ventral and dorsal left, and two rows ventral and dorsal right. We create a 4 x 24 matrix of these muscles, with each cell of the matrix representing one of the 95 muscles. We accumulate the weighted values on the left and right to drive the left and right motors on the robot. Motor neurons can be excitatory or inhibitory, and we send positive weighted values for excitatory synapses and negative numbers for inhibitory synapses. This, in turn, causes the two wheels on the robot to move independently, forward or backward.


The Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot sensors are read by an input program that activates the appropriate sensory neurons of the simulated connectome. An output program receives the motor neuron output and accumulates weighted values to drive the robot wheels.

In general, the EV3 robot using the artificial connectome behaved in very similar ways to the behaviors observed in the biological C. elegans. In the simplest of terms, stimulation of food sensory neurons caused the robot to move forward. Stimulation of the robot’s sonar, which in turn stimulated nose-touch neurons, caused the robot to stop forward motion, back up, and then proceed forward, usually in a slightly skewed path. Touching the anterior and posterior touch sensors caused the robot to either move forward (anterior touch) or move backward (posterior touch). There is no programming to direct the robot to behave in any specific manner. Only the simulated connectome directs when the robot will move a motor forward, stop, or move backward. This answers, at a very basic level, that the connectome alone gives rise to phenotypes that we observe in animals.

A YouTube video shows the robot using the connectome framework and simulated C. elegans nervous system. The first part of the video displays the sensor input program that captures sensory data and sends it to a set of sensory neurons. This part of the video also shows the output program that captures the motor neuron weights; the weighted data is accumulated by the left and right sides of the C. elegans body muscle structure, and the accumulated weights are sent to the left and right motors of the robot. The middle of the video shows the robot as it comes up to a wall, activates the nose-touch sensory neurons, stops and changes direction, again totally under the control of the simulated C. elegans nervous system. The last part of the video is a capture of the neurons as they are activated, showing green as weights are received and dark green when the accumulated received weighted value exceeds 10.

The C. elegans connectome is highly recursive. When the connectome reaches a sufficient level of stimulation, the connectome will continuously self-stimulate: a neuron (presynaptic) will stimulate another set of neurons (postsynaptic), and in turn, many of those postsynaptic neurons will stimulate the originating presynaptic neuron, creating loops of stimulation. The recursive nature of the connectome has shown to be a key factor in the connectomics research and resulting behaviors of C. elegans. This is now becoming a focal point of our analysis, to determine how these recursive loops play on the topology and resulting actions when the connectome is fully engaged.


This image is created from the direct data output of the simulated C. elegans connectome, and specifically the network that surrounds the activation of neuron DD05. The green arrows are excitatory (positive) stimulation, and the red arrows are inhibitory (negative) stimulation. Oval shapes represent neurons, and rectangles represent muscle cells. As you can see, the network is highly recursive, whereby often neuron A excites neuron B, which in turn excites neuron A.

Although we can show that simple neuronal connections can give rise to expected behaviors, there is much more to the neurons of C. elegans (and of other animals) than just neuronal connections — including, but not limited to, the difference between chemical and electrical connections, neuropeptides, and the various peptides and innexins that create neuronal complexities at the cellular level. Just the differences in chemical (synapse) and electrical (gap junctions) warrants the possibility of two programs to shadow one another and represent a single simulated neuron. Whether this evolves into multiple programs that together comprise a single neuron, or a single application that encompasses all of the systems biology of a single neuron, we must continue to improve and add complexity to get a true representation in reverse-engineering biology. This also includes the spatial aspects of how neurons are placed and connect throughout the nervous system to create a spatio-temporal model (which we have seen is important regarding body-touch sensing).

The artificial connectome has been extended to a single application written in Python and run on a Raspberry Pi computer. To our surprise, this simple program and version of the C. elegans connectome worked very well. We are currently creating a self-contained, Raspberry Pi–controlled robot that will be completely autonomous and independent of Internet connectivity. Our objective is to develop robots that can use the artificial connectome as a means to not only adapt to and navigate unknown environments, but also carry out specific tasks such as identifying or reporting environmental changes that could be vital to specific interests.

There is still very much to experiment with and analyze in reverse engineering the nervous systems of animals. We believe that this first step in being able to study an entire connectome, from sensory input to motor output, and the observations of expected behaviors will allow us to move forward in the understanding of nervous system wiring and how it develops into our behaviors. Moving from a simple 302-neuron connectome to higher-order animals will only increase the complexity and give us greater insight into how our own minds work.

06 Nov 15:33

Early Chinese History Told Through Maps And Poetry

by (Suvrat Kher)
I am really enjoying Jerry Brotton's A History Of The World In 12 Maps. One richly rewarding chapter is on early Chinese map making traditions and inevitably you end up learning quite a bit of history as well.

The Song dynasty (907- 1276 AD) struggled with keeping the empire unified and intact and faced particularly strong challenges from the Jurchen Jin a confederacy of Tungusic tribes from northern Manchuria. In the middle of the 12th century the Song were forced to sign a peace treaty with the Jurchen Jin ceding to them nearly half their northern territory.

Subsequent imperial maps drawn up by the Song never showed this division. Rather, an idealized geography that the Song kept dreaming of based on earlier classical texts like Yu Gong, that of a unified empire to which foreign barbarian rulers paid tribute was portrayed. Using maps as a tool for political propaganda is an old trick! 

What maps did not depict though, poetic license did.

This beautiful passage from the book:

Poetry describing maps either side of the traumatic division of the Song also captures their power to first acknowledge, and then lament the loss of territory. Writing more than 100 years earlier, the ninth century Tang poet Cao Song describes 'Examining " The Map of Chinese and Non Chinese Territories"':

With a touch of the brush the earth can be shrunk;
Unrolling the map I encounter peace.

The Chinese occupy a prominent position;
Under what constellation do we find the border areas!

On this occasion the almost meditative act of unrolling the map and seeing a unified Chinese dynasty at its center evokes emotions of security and assurance. Later Southern Song poets used a similar conceit, but with very different emotions. Writing in the late twelfth century, the celebrated Lu You (1125-1210) lamented:

I have been around for seventy years, but my heart has 
remained as it was in the beginning, 
Unintentionally I spread the map, and tears come gushing forth.

The map is now an emotive sign of loss and grief, and perhaps a 'template for action', a call to unite what has been lost.