5 Intriguing Things: Friday, 12/27

HD video from space, biomimicry's next step, boomer hunters, music by machine, and Britain's surveillance network.
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1. A consumer can now purchase high-resolution video from space. It's watching the individual cars that will freak you out

"With our ability to capture up to 90 second video clips at 30 frames per second, we are now able to gather dynamic information about the world around us at an unprecedented scale. There’s an immense amount of knowledge that we can glean from analyzing movement – supply chain monitoring, maritime awareness, industrial plant activity, environmental monitoring, and humanitarian relief monitoring – and we are excited to explore the breadth of possibilities with this unique data source."

 

2. Biomimicry should be more than an aesthetic

"A truer biomimicry, Soar believes, would abandon simple biophilia and its crude design metaphors—bullet trains as bird beaks, sharkskins as swimsuits, or termite mounds as skyscrapers. Instead, architects and designers would begin building things as nature builds them. That is, iteratively and algorithmically, with each form sculpted by many optimized functions, each of which acts as its own independent agent. Soar and many others have experimented with simulating insects and insect homes using 'agent modeling systems' in which thousands, millions, even billions of individual programs— each a very primitive 'virtual insect' with its own objective—compete over limited resources within some carefully arranged digital domain. Following the 'right' set of rules in their virtual world, the agents can replicate the structures and morphologies actual insects create in reality. These systems are not limited to replication, however—they can also be used for innovation. Sometimes, complex optimizations can emerge that bear little resemblance to anything produced by the minds of insects or of humans."

 

3. The baby boomers, as hunters

"Boomers have made up the biggest single cohort of hunters in American history. They grew up in a golden age for field sports. Conservation schemes built up wildlife populations, post-war prosperity generated jobs with decent salaries and time off, cars were plentiful and new highways opened up the country. The generation is still active: a third of all hunters are over 55, according to census data. And they are willing to dig deep to maintain their hobby. Sales of ground blinds—some of them quite elaborate affairs, resembling camouflaged garden sheds—are rising as boomers lose their taste for climbing trees."

 

4. Remko Scha's 1981 algorithmic music piece, Guitar Mural One featuring The Machines.

"Five electric guitars hang on a wall. Sound is produced by the impact of rotating rubber strings, of a sabre saw, and of standing waves in four ropes, hanging across the wall. Machine speeds vary."

 

5. On Britain's vast "next-generation" surveillance camera network

"During the 1990s, thousands of cameras, including plate readers, were installed to form a so-called 'ring of steel' around the City of London, a massive operation aimed at ending the string of Irish Republican bombings in the financial district. Laws were changed to make the technology more effective: legislation enacted in 2001 required characters used on plates to be displayed in a font that made them easier for ANPR cameras to recognize.

In the same year, the government decided to deploy “spectrum vans”—mobile units with multiple ANPR cameras, connected by radio to local control stations—across every police force in England and Wales. The success of the scheme led to Project Laser, a 2005 plan to deploy more than 2,000 fixed cameras nationwide, and to the creation of the National ANPR Data Centre, which is tasked with handling the information collected.

Since that time, the system has been continually, if largely invisibly, expanded throughout the UK. In 2012 the Metropolitan Police, which patrols Greater London, announced its own ANPR bureau, and rolled out a new fleet of dedicated 'ANPR interceptors': at least 110 police vehicles on London’s roads, each equipped with mobile camera equipment and a live link to the central computer."

 

Today's 1957 word is:

accouchement &c. An established euphemism (confinement, also a euphemism, at least has the virtue of being English). Pron ǎkoosh'mĕnt or as Fr.

Now a disestablished euphemism... But what was it a euphemism for? CHILDBIRTH. Wouldn't want to have to say that aloud, no?

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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