Friday, August 29, 2014

From the Mind of the Lemming: Morning in the City

As a whole, humans are adaptable critters: and remarkably durable. Somehow, they've learned to use fire, string, and motorized vehicles without killing themselves. Not very often, anyway.

The Lemming hasn't noticed any perceptible decrease in human intelligence. If anything, those noisy opportunistic omnivores seem to be getting smarter. Individual differences apply, of course: some seem determined to demonstrate that there's no intelligent live on their home world.

Still, the Lemming thinks humans show great promise.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Rediscovering Timber Construction, and a Rambling Lemming

"Rethinking construction: introducing timber into our commercial buildings [video]"
Geraldine Chua, Architecture & Design (August 21, 2014)

"Following on from our series of articles looking at the possibilities and benefits of building with timber, we spoke to Rod Pindar, a principal at Fitzpatrick + Partners (F+P), about some of the work the practice is doing, with a focus on their Macquarie Park project.

" In this interview, Pindar shares why Australia's building and design industry will move towards mass timber construction (MTC) in coming years even though it has a long way to go.

" 'We think it's important that the knowledge of timber is out there and freely available,' he says.

" 'We'd like to see buildings get built in timber, we'd like to see multi-storey commercial buildings built in particular. We know CLT has been proven in the residential market and that will continue to grow, but the commercial market really is the tough nut to crack.'..."

"CLT?" That could mean Charlotte Douglas International Airport; Chile Standard Time; or the Oprah Winfrey Network, a Canadian TV channel that's now called Canadian Learning Television.

None of those make sense in this context, so the Lemming figures that Geraldine Chua means cross laminated timber, or glulam. It's plywood, only different: apparently.

Most readers of Architecture & Design might see "CLT" and immediately think Cross Laminated Timber. Then again, they might not. Surely the Lemming isn't the only reader whose interests span more than one specialty.

Acronyms, Pronoun Trouble, and a Latvian Bridge

Acronyms are useful when all readers realize what, say, ACK, BLS, CALABARZON, DTs, or ead. mean — and gibberish when they don't.

It's the acronyms that are gibberish for autochthons marginalized from the requisite cognoscente. And that's another topic. Topics.

The Lemming applauds Pindar on realizing that timber, in fact, actually does grow on trees: and was used by humans in the construction of large structures long before other traditional products like steel, fiberglass, or prestressed concrete.

There's a reason why timber isn't used in skyscrapers or long suspension bridges. Short ones — that's yet another topic.

(From Igors Jefimovs, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(A suspension bridge in Ozolnieki, Latvia: photo by Igors Jefimovs.)

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Robots With Attitude: Maybe, Eventually

Humans are a little closer to building robots with attitude: a very little closer.

It's been nearly seven decades since von Neumann helped develop the first electronic computers: the first ones that handled ones and zeroes, anyway. Since then, the Lemming has been impressed with developments like transistors, fiber optics, and pay-per-view cable television.

But humans were still building computers that stored data one place, moved it somewhere else for processing, and then back to storage for the next process. Sure, it worked better than pressing symbols into clay tablets: but even humans realized that the artificial intelligence of these "electronic brains" was emphatically artificial.

Now, finally, humans have made a new sort of computer. Some of them, including a team that works for IBM.

Well, actually, it's a new kind of computer chip. And it'll need an entirely new sort of software, so the Lemming figures it'll be years before you'll see them in the electronics department.

Here's what got the Lemming started —

"Brain-inspired chip fits 1m 'neurons' on postage stamp"
Jonathan Webb, BBC News (August 8, 2014)

"Scientists have produced a new computer chip that mimics the organisation of the brain, and squeezed in one million computational units called 'neurons'....

"...Each neuron on the chip connects to 256 others, and together they can pick out the key features in a visual scene in real time, using very little power....

"...Instead of binary ones and zeros, the units of computation here are spikes. When its inputs are active enough, one of TrueNorth's 'neurons' generates a spike and sends it across the chip to other neurons, taking them closer to their own threshold.

"Software has to be written completely differently for these spiking-network systems...."

And now, the mellow moods of Festo and the Flying Mechanical Penguins.

The Lemming is not making that up.

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The Lemming thinks it's interesting: Your experience may vary.

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