Category Archives: Science and Technology

Cool Optical Illusion

How Many Colors are There?

How Many Colors are There?

What color are the large stripes in the above picture? Most people (including myself) say blue and green with pink space in between.

Would you believe me if I told you that the “blue” and “green” stripes are the exact same color?

Bad Astronomy explains:

For pedantry sake, the RGB colors in both spirals are 0, 255, 150. So they are mostly green with a solid splash of blue.

The reason they look different colors is because our brain judges the color of an object by comparing it to surrounding colors. In this case, the stripes are not continuous as they appear at first glance. The orange stripes don’t go through the “blue” spiral, and the magenta ones don’t go through the “green” one.

On that same page you can see samples from each stripe taken independent of its surrounding and you will see that they are, in fact, the exact same hue.

Via Bad Astronomy, Richard Wiseman, Buzzhunt

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Weird Story of the Day: Girl who doesn’t Age

Brooke Greenberg was born 16 years ago.  Yet, she looks like a toddler.  Her bones appear to have aged ten years, and she still has her baby teeth. She communicates through toddler noises, and shows no sign of having brain development beyond age 2. Despite various tests she’s never been found to have any chromosomal or genetic disorders. She weighs 16 pounds, and is 2 and a half feet tall. Doctors tried to give her growth hormones early in her life, but they didn’t seem to have any affect on her. Below you can see a picture of her at age 3 and then a picture of her age at 16.

Three Year Old Brooke

Age 3

Brooke at age 16

Age 16

This is interesting for a few reasons.

1) The family looks for teenage qualities in Brooke.  Despite no evidence that she’s had any significant physical or psychological progress since she was a toddler, her sister said:

“She looks like a 6-month-old, but she kind of has a personality of a 16-year-old,” Caitlin said. “Sometimes we joke about how she rebels.”

It would be interesting to learn if this is simply wishful thinking, a joke, or if there are parts of a personality that go beyond age.

2) No one knows how long she will live.  If everything is aging slower then it seems possible that Brooke could live longer than normal.  However, even if she lives far shorter than anyone else, it will still be remarkable. Will we see a twenty-year old infant? A thirty-year old toddler?

3) Will she reveal the age gene?

The fact that Brooke seems to be healthy (except for the age thing), makes it seem like maybe there is some “switch” in her genetic code that is almost always turned on in most people, which is turned off in her case.  Scientists put forward the fascinating possibility that analyzing her genetic code could reveal the answer to the question “Why do we age?”.

TLC is broadcasting a documentary about Brooke Greenberg on August 3rd, until then here’s a clip from 2005 about then 12-year old Brooke.

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Waste time = do astronomy @ Galaxy Zoo 2

The Galaxy Zoo is a neat little site with a long list of prestigious universities behind its development. It harnesses the power of human cognition to allow users to look at pictures of galaxies and classify them for future research. Humans are way, way better at this visual processing tasks than computers, as it turns out.

The site itself is easy to use. You register, look at a one-page tutorial, and then you are off, counting the arms of spiral galaxies and flagging unusual astronomical features in photos. The bulk of the galaxies I classified were smooth and dull, but that just made the occasional brilliant spiraling galaxy more exciting. There is an option to check if you see anything unusual – I daydream that when I press this option a fleet of goggle-wearing scientists in lab coats receive an emergency page and scurry to a computer to see the anomaly.

This is a great game for wasting time – just fun enough to hold my attention and easy enough a child could do it. In fact, in a Scientific American podcast (click here to listen) with Yale astrophysicist Kevin Schawinski, one of the project’s creators, Schaminski said that was one of the great things about the Galaxy Zoo – parents get online and classify galaxies with their children, getting them excited about scientific research.

The Galaxy Zoo isn’t the only project out there that harnesses the power of the internet and the human brain. Called human-based computation, these projects usually seek to accomplish what otherwise might have been the world’s worst temp job and turn the task into a game shared by a huge network of people. The ESP Game makes image search engines work better by having two players look at an image and guess what descriptive words the other player uses to tag the image. The tags that the players agree on then become associated with the image and improve its searchability. 

Can you count the spiral arms? Of course, you are a human.

Can you count the spiral arms? Of course, you are a human.

ReCAPTCHA is the bookworm cousin of CAPTCHA, those annoying squiggling letter tests that verify your humanity for all sorts of online activities. ReCAPTCHA puts a handwritten word already known to the computer alongside a untagged word from manuscript. The user types both in, verifying their humanity and coding word in a manuscript in one fell swoop. Best part is, putting reCAPTCHA on your site is free. Although perhaps both CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA might fall into disuse if Slate’s Chris Wilson is correct that increasingly sophisticated bots are learning to read these images as well as humans – or, possibly, that spammers get around this security measure simply by outsourcing the human cognition overseas.

Some of these sites will even pay the human workers. The Amazon Mechanical Turk is the only one I am prepared to say is not a scam. Not a get-rich-quick scheme by any means, but you can put your human brain to work and earn yourself a few Amazon dollars through this site.

If you are looking to tap the power of your computer rather than your brain, a list of active distributed computing projects that use a portion of your computers CPU can be found on Wikipedia here.

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