misce stultitiam consiliis brevem

Archive for November, 2008

Boring Objects Used Creatively

Carl Warner’s art gallery is quite entertaining to peruse. His work is fairly wide-ranging, but the common theme seems to be the idea that ordinary things, once removed from the contexts in which we’re accustomed to seeing them, can surprise us: by their beauty, their hilarity, and their resemblance to other things with which we don’t often associate them.  It’s unfortunately not possible to link to specific images within the gallery, but I’d like to point your way to a couple.

Under the second page of “still life”, you can view a genuine “cook’s brain-pan”. I don’t know what Warner was thinking, but my immediate association with that image was the uncharacteristically Carollian, and never solved, conundrum from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Yeoman of the Guard:

JACK POINT: But before proceeding to a more serious topic, can you tell me, sir, why a cook’s brain-pain is like an overwound clock?

LIEUTENANT: A truce to this fooling–follow me.

JACK POINT: Just my luck; my best conundrum wasted!

The other objects on this page are equally interesting, if perhaps less evocative of light opera: a goldfish swimming in a blender, two fish in a toaster, and what appears to be a zinc-coated strawberry.

But these images pale beside Warner’s most singular achievement (found on page 1 of Fotographics): intricate landscapes crafted entirely out of food. They’re really something. When you load the page, you see a bucolic scene that is, if obviously not a photographic reproduction, a convincingly stylized interpretation–in terms of style, they remind me of nothing more than J.R.R. Tolkien’s drawings of Middle Earth (I can’t find an online collection, but see e.g. these). A few familiar things pop out: potatoes for rocks; broccoli for trees. And then you look again and see more: the gravel is made out of rice! And is that house carved out of cheese? Are the awnings peppers? You look again. The sky is made of lettuce! And the river of salmon!  The glorious moment you get from an optical illusion is the one where you look at something and suddenly see something else. I’ve only been looking at these pictures for a few minutes, but I haven’t stopped seeing another “something else” every time I look, and I don’t think I’m anywhere close.

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Mirror’s Edge

I’m not much of a videogamer, but I’m intrigued by what I’ve read about the new video game Mirror’s Edge. The game is a “first person runner” based on parkour, the art of running, jumping, climbing, and otherwise moving quickly through urban environments. Amusingly, the game’s main selling point seems to be that playing it might make you vomit, due to the intensely realistic first-person perspective.

Clive Thompson of attributes the game’s nausea-inducing realism to the fact that it successfully hacks into our proprioception, our sense of the position and movement of our own bodies. It is well established in psychology research that carefully controlled visual and tactile stimuli can subvert our proprioception, even to the point of inducing minor out-of-body experiences. But it’s impressive to see that translated into something we can all do at home with a TV and a video game controller.

(For more information, see Thompson’s review and Tom Stafford’s follow-up on Mind Hacks.)

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Google better at finding flu epidemics than doctors

Google has a new service which reports U.S. influenza activity by state
using aggregated data of how often people in an area search on flu symptoms.

Here’s how it works. Note how ridiculously well its curves overlap the CDC (Center for Disease Control) curves.

Quoth Dr. Lyn Finelli, chief of influenza surveillance at the CDC:

“The data are really, really timely. They were able to tell us on a day-to-day basis the relative direction of flu activity for a given area. They were about a week ahead of us. They could be used … as early warning signal for flu activity.”

I just think it’s darn cool that appropriate combing of Google search terms can be a week ahead of the CDC in finding influenza hotspots.


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Announcing the HRSFANS motto

HRSFANS has decided on an official motto: “Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem”

(“Mingle a little folly with your wisdom” from Horace’s Odes)

Thank you to everyone who participated in selecting the motto, and particularly to Alexa F. and Kartik V. for suggesting the winning motto!

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