5 Intriguing Things: Tuesday, 2/11

Google's Hangar One, the remnants of an exploding star, a robot that makes speech like a person, when teosinte became corn, and the Helicopter String Quartet
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Talking Bot

1. They should definitely put huge robots in it. 

"Google is taking over the lease at the airfield that houses Hangar One — the giant eight-acre aircraft hangar that was built in 1933 to house massive dirigibles and now is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Silicon Valley.

On Monday, NASA said that Google subsidiary Planetary Ventures LLC had been selected to take over the blimp hangar — a highly visible icon on Silicon Valley’s Highway 101 — and operate the Moffett Federal Airfield that is already home to the fleet of private jets owns by Google’s executives.

The deal is still being negotiated, but if it gets finalized, it could lead to a better lease for the fleet of private jets. And it helps NASA earn some cash for a property that it let languish for the past 20 years. But more than that, it underscores the increasingly tight relationship between Google and the space agency research center, located just three miles from Google’s headquarters. Google has alreadyleased more than 40 acres of NASA Ames space to build a 1.2-million-square-foot R&D facility, and the company is working with NASA to test the world’s first quantum computer at Ames too."

 

2. We are all made from the leftovers of supernovas, but this star was formed from the remnant elements of a single exploding star

"Based on a comparison of its abundance pattern with those of models, we conclude that the star was seeded with material from a single supernova with an original mass about 60 times that of the Sun (and that the supernova left behind a black hole). Taken together with the four previously mentioned low-metallicity stars, we conclude that low-energy supernovae were common in the early Universe, and that such supernovae yielded light-element enrichment with insignificant iron. Reduced stellar feedback both chemically and mechanically from low-energy supernovae would have enabled first-generation stars to form over an extended period. We speculate that such stars may perhaps have had an important role in the epoch of cosmic reionization and the chemical evolution of early galaxies."

 

3. Talking is complicated! As proven by a biomechanically realistic robot that produces human speech like a person

"For clarifying human speech, mechanical models are superior method. The speech production is acoustic phenomena, so it is difficult to simulate accurately by computer simulation. From few centuries ago, peoples developed several mechanical models of speech organs, however, these are simple mechanism and difficult to simulate the movement. We started to develop anthropomorphic talking robot Waseda Talker series to combine the speech science and humanoid robot technology, and realized speech production of various vowels and consonant sounds. Additionally, from WT-5(Waseda Talker No. 5), we started to develop models have three dimensional vocal cord and vocal tract models and reproduced more human-like speech production mechanism...

We developed WT-7RII(Waseda Talker No. 7 Refined II) in 2009, which have human-like speech production mechanism. WT-7RII are consisted of the mechanical models of the lung, the vocal cords, the tongue, the jaw, the palate, the velum, the nasal cavity and the lips. These mechanical models are designed based on human and they have same size as adult male of human to have similar acoustic characters. The mechanism have 1 DOF(Degrees Of Freedom) in the lungs, 5 DOF in the vocal cord model, 1 DOF in the jaw model, 7 DOF in the tongue model, 1 DOF in the velum model and 5 DOF in the lips model: the total DOF is 20."

+ See the (pretty creepy, honestly) video (mpg)

 

4. Why pre-history's farmers decided to domesticate a lowly grass named teosinte into the global agronomical juggernaut we know as corn

"Piperno explains that she and research collaborator Irene Holst planted a dozen identical seeds of teosinte in both glass cubes on the same day, but, in one of them, they tweaked the climate to recreate “the conditions that this wild grass probably faced 11,000-10,000 years ago,” during the late-glacial period, when “it’s 2C degrees cooler and the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are around 265 parts per million.”

In other words, while one set of teosinte seeds germinated and grew under today’s temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, their neighbours, just a couple of metres away, lived their lives in a late-Pleistocene bubble.

Piperno repeated the experiment three times, and then grew out their descendents in an atmospheric recreation of the early Holocene..For each growth cycle, the time-traveling teosinte was accompanied by a contemporary analogue in the second greenhouse. The results were quite a surprise. 

It turns out that eleven thousand years ago, in the late-glacial period, teosinte plants actually looked a lot more like contemporary corn than teosinte does today... Rather than being one of the more extreme examples of the power of human desire to reshape nature, the form of today’s corn is, in part, the product of the plant’s own ability to change in response to its environment."

 

5. Karlheinz Stockhausen's Helicopter String Quartet

"Dedicated to all astronauts, Helicopter String Quartet was composed for a very classical formation, the string quartet, in a very unusual setting: four players in four different flying helicopters, synchronized by means of voice signals and click marks. Stockhausen once had a dream. He was at some high-class party where he didn't feel welcome, and he just wanted to fly away from there. He suddenly starts flying in the air and through the objects, performing an elegant flight that mesmerizes the tuxedo-clad party guests who had snubbed him before. This was, the composer says, the very origin of this controversial piece. And throughout this fascinating documentary we see Stockhausen joyfully narrating the many signs, premonitions and supra-rational events that lead him to compose the piece. Many ideas merge in Helicopter: the dream of flying, music as a flying object, the double goal of translating the helicopter floating pitches into a score and integrating them in the recording, or the spiritual connotation of the flight. There is an overt spiritual quest in Stockhausen's composition, but this modern mystic must come to terns with his earthly dimension and become entangled in the mundane details of material reality in order to achieve an approximate translation of his dream. We thus are presented with a sample of the painstakingly meticulous rehearsals with the Arditti String Quartet and the immense technical challenges posed by the extravagant idea of putting four musicians playing together in four different helicopters."

 

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip:

antenna. In zoology, biology, pl. -nae; in radio, mechanics, -as.

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. 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 Web site 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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