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 life on their home world.

Still, the Lemming thinks humans show great promise.

More-or-less related posts:

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.)

Very-nearly-related posts:

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.

There's more — from the mind of the Lemming, and elsewhere:

Friday, August 8, 2014

Kulindadromeus Zabaikalicus: A Cute Little Dinosaur

Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus 100% accurate reconstruction by dimetrodone.That incredibly cute critter is what Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus might look like: in an Arisa manga comic.

Maybe someone will write the heartwarming tale of a Kulindadromeus — named Kuddly Zeke??

Or maybe not.

Dinosaur Feathers

Until paleontologists found Kulindadromeus, a dinosaur that lived where Siberia is now, scientists knew that some dinosaurs had feathers: but had only found them on theropods.

Scientists are still pretty sure that Coelurosaurs, a particular sort of theropod, are the distant ancestors of birds. Oddly enough, though: theropods have lizard-like hips, or did.

Kulindaromeus is an Ornithischian: one of the 'bird-hipped' dinosaurs. It wasn't, the Lemming understands, just feathers that pegged theropods as the dinosaurs that eventually gave the birdseed industry a reason for existence: and that's another topic.

As far as the Lemming knows, there is no "Sir Richard Owen Zoological gardens." Not yet, anyway. Richard Owen did, however, give Mesozoic reptiles a name: Dinosauria. That was before other scientists realized that they weren't, or weren't quite, reptiles, and that's yet another topic.

(From Chris Masna, via Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol; used w/o permission.)
("Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus reconstruction by Chris Masna, non-threatening occupant of the Sir Richard Owen Zoological Gardens."
(Dept. of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol))

And no, to the best of the Lemming's knowledge: nobody has found Kulinda DNA, or grown a live dinosaur. Not yet.

Seriously, Though: That's a Cute Dinosaur

(From Andrey Atuchin, via Deptartment of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol; used w/o permission.)
(Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus in its lakeside environment.)

"Kulindadromeus, the feathered ornithischian
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol

"The first ever example of a plant-eating dinosaur with feathers and scales was reported from Russia in 2014. Previously only flesh-eating dinosaurs were known to have had feathers so this new find indicates that all dinosaurs could have been feathered. This has important implications for our understanding of the biology and success of dinosaurs and for the evolution of bird characters.

"The new dinosaur, named Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, meaning 'Kulinda runner from the Zabaikal region' as it comes from a site called Kulinda on the banks of the Olov River, in Zabaikal District, in Siberia, is described by Godefroit et al. (2014). Kulindadromeus shows epidermal scales on its tail and shins, and short bristles on its head and back. The most astonishing discovery, however, is that it also has complex, compound feathers associated with its arms and legs...."

The Lemming is pretty sure that an American would have written "...the evolution of bird characteristics...," or maybe the University of Bristol folks meant that the cute little ornithischian looks a bit like Tweety and The Road Runner. Then again, maybe not.

Not all scientists are sure that "Kulinda runner from the Zabaikal region" really had feathers. The stuff that apparently kept Kulindadromeus warm isn't shaped like bird feathers. Not the sort birds have these days, anyway.

Maybe the way scientists processed these Kulindadromeus fossils made the feathers look funny, or maybe feathers have changed in the last 150,000,000 years, or maybe some of Earth's critters grow hair or fur, some sprout feathers, and some kept warm with — something else.

If you haven't read enough about dinosaurs and all that yet, there's more:

Friday, August 1, 2014

"Tampering With Things Man Was Not Supposed to Know:" the Angst Continues

It the Lemming's opinion that humans are curious: some, anyway.

Others seem convinced that "tampering with things man was not supposed to know" will doom them all.

Somehow, though, humans have managed to survive one of Earth's glacial epochs: despite, or perhaps because, some of them wondered if fire might be useful. Eventually, reckless experimentation with sharp sticks led to flint tools and PDAs.

And some humans still seek knowledge: while others fear what the future may bring.

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