Posted in communication and networking, electronic imaging and displays

MIT Students Invent A Universal Language Made Of GIFs | Co.Design

My grandfather used to write me letters in pictograms, so using a sheep (ewe) when asking “how are you?” This sort of reminds me of that, but way more complicated.

Which GIF better expresses happiness? This one of Ren and Stimpy bouncing up and down, or this one of Lost’s John Locke grinning with an orange slice in his mouth? Does your opinion change if Grumpy Cat is added in? These seemingly trivial questions about how you perceive animated GIFs is the central task of GIFGIF, a project from MIT Media lab that isn’t just a fun web game, but a first step toward building up a universal library of non-verbal communication.

GIFGIF was born out of a series of conversations over the watercooler at MIT between Kevin Hu, a first year master’s student studying data visualization and network analysis, and Travis Rich, a first year PhD student with a background in electric engineering. Although Hu and Rich don’t have the same credentials, they were both fascinated by the power of non-verbal communication.

more via MIT Students Invent A Universal Language Made Of GIFs | Co.Design | business + design.

Posted in communication and networking, design and architecture, museum

Pictish art may have been language

Riders and horn blowers appear next to hunting dogs on what is called the Hilton of Cadboll stone, pictured here.

Thanks, once again, to Boing Boing:

How do you tell the difference between art and written language?

Oh, yeah. It’s math.

[Rob Lee] and colleagues Philip Jonathan and Pauline Ziman analyzed the engravings, found on the few hundred known Pictish Stones. The researchers used a mathematical process known as Shannon entropy to study the order, direction, randomness and other characteristics of each engraving.

The resulting data was compared with that for numerous written languages, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese texts and written Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Ancient Irish, Old Irish and Old Welsh. While the Pictish Stone engravings did not match any of these, they displayed characteristics of writing based on a spoken language.

There is, sadly, not a lot of detail about what specific characteristics make language stand out from decoration. I’m guessing it has something to do finding patterns in the choice of symbols, or the way symbols are oriented, or how the patterns repeat. Wish there was more though. For the record, even if this is language, nobody is even close to deciphering what it means.

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Posted in biology, music

The physics behind Wagner

Apparently it’s MUSIC THURSDAY. Yeah!

From Seed Magazine‘s Joe Kloc, physicists investigate the grand artistic vision of one of the most influential artists of the last two centuries:

When physicist John Smith spent the night in his garden with the score to Götterdämmerung, the final opera in Richard Wagner’s four-part, 15-hour epic, Der Ring des Nibelungen, he wasn’t interested in its account of the apocalyptic struggle of Norse gods for control of the world. Smith was concerned with a struggle of a different sort—one between the opera’s words and music that might elucidate the controversial German composer’s peculiar vision for the future of art.

On Smith’s mind was an age-old difficulty all soprano singers face: They mispronounce lyrics when singing powerfully in the top half of their range. This “soprano problem” was formally recognized at least as far back as 1843, when French composer Hector Berlioz wrote in his Treatise on Instrumentation that “[sopranos] should not be required to sing many words on high phrases, since this makes the pronunciation of syllables very difficult if not impossible.” It does not appear, however, that Berlioz—or anyone else—ever understood why this problem occurred.

In 2004, Smith and his colleagues Joe Wolfe and Elodie Joliveau at the University of New South Wales published a study in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America that revealed the physiological cause of the soprano problem for the first time.

To find out what it is, click on…

Posted in biology, communication and networking, Optics

Music is good for your health

There are lots of well-documented health benefits of listening to music. It lowers blood pressure, it stimulates the brain, and children who study music also do better in math and foreign languages (although it’s not going to create any baby Einsteins, despite what the ads tell you).

I recently read an article that looks at the benefits of music to athletes, namely that a fast-tempo song makes them go faster, and can help endurance athletes as well. I have read about this before, but thought it was an interesting article none the less. This information has been around for awhile, including articles arguing that athletes would soon have little teeny music players graffed into their skin so they can play music as they race in the Olympics. Nike has even put out a shoe that includes an ipod so you can listen to music while you run.

On the flip side (a term coined during the use of records), if you are not an elite athlete music can help you out too. One study has found that playing the didgeridoo is great therapy for the respiratory system. Another study found that the Beejees’ “Stayin’ Alive” and Queen’s “Another One Bights the Dust” are the same tempo at which people should perform CPR, and if they are taught CPR to that beat, they can consistently perform effective CPR. Of course, the Queen song doesn’t seem very appropriate, so they’re pushing the Beejees’ song a little bit more.

Posted in communication and networking

Wordle rocks!

All of my loves – science, art, and words – combined into one! How did I not know of this thing sooner? Okay, in this case the science is actually a technology, computer programing, but it’s close enough to make me very pleased. I give you…Wordle! 

Wordle is a “toy,” as described on its website, created by IBM senior software engineer Jonathan Feinberg. It allows anyone to enter in a sample of text, and the program will analyze how often certain words were used in the text and will create an artistic interpretation of the word usage. It’s a lot cooler than I’m describing it; here’s a page from the Wordle gallery. My computer seems to be lacking something (apparently my Java isn’t up to date enough) so I cannot currently make one to show you my deepest thoughts, or a more artistic interpretation of my science articles, but as soon as I make one I’ll post it here. *edit* Hopefully this will work.

Try it out and post your results here! I’m interested to see what people come up with.