Science in sealed envelopes, for priority or posterity’s sake, in France

January 24th, 2017

Michèle Audin, writing for Oulipo, tells the history of les plis cachetés:

bientot350no[THIS IS A MACHINE TRANSLATION:] “Let me begin by reminding you (or tell you) the ancient practice (and a tad outdated) sealed envelopes. Suppose you make a discovery you deem worthy of interest. You want while you posterity attributed maternity (or paternity, if you are a man) of the thing. But for one reason or another, you do not want to publish it. You will then go to the Academy of Sciences and you drop a fold (ie a letter, a piece of paper), which shall seal (with wax, yes) under your eyes (it is this operation that transforms the fold ‘sealed envelope’), which is assigned a serial number and is preserved.You have certainly noticed that, during this series of operations, one has knowledge of the content of your fold.
Even if it seems a bit absurd way of doing science, this practice has been used once or another, by serious scientists…. Well, and that happens next? Well, the sealed envelope can be opened as soon as the author on request. Otherwise, it must be open after a hundred years….”

The tradition arose with, and is carried on by, l’Académie des sciences.

Face Recognition of Cattle: Can it be Done?

January 23rd, 2017


“Contrary to popular belief that all cattle look alike, this paper presents a current state of the art research and study in animal biometric based recognition a system which provides an important insight in the identification of cattle based on their facial images.”

– so explain researchers Santosh Kumar, Shrikant Tiwari, and Sanjay Kumar Singh of the Department of Computer Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (BHU), and the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Technology, Shri Shankaracharya Group of Institution, Shri Shankaracharya Technical Campus, Junwani, District-Durg, Bhilai, Chattisgarh, India, in a new paper for the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, India Section A: Physical Sciences, June 2016, Volume 86, Issue 2, pp 137–148. It’s entitled ‘Face Recognition of Cattle: Can it be Done?’

The team created an image database of 3000 images (300 subjects each with 10 photos) and tested several different computerised methodologies, leading to an answer for their question which, broadly speaking, is ‘Yes’.

“The appearance (holistic) based face recognition approaches, independent component analysis (ICA) [36–38] algorithm yield the recognition accuracy of 86.95 % at the starting level of Gaussian smoothing. The PCA-LiBSVM [17–19, 32, 33, 41, 43] and ICA-LiBSVM [36–38, 41, 43] face recognition approaches provide the recognition accuracy of 95.62 and 95.87 % respectively.”

COMING SOON Other methods of computerized cow recognition that can also be done.

BONUS (facial recog. related): The privacy goggles of Prof. Echizen


Q: what, exactly, did Orville Wright invent? A: a mailbox

January 22nd, 2017

Many people associate the name Orville Wright with the invention of the airplane.

However, Orville Wright invented — and patented — a combined mailbox and lamp:


Was the prayer nut filled with gunk?

January 21st, 2017

“The prayer nut” is the subject of this video, which zeroes in on the question: Was the prayer nut filled with some kind of gunk? Research, careful research, hints that it may indeed have been filled with gunk, and that that gunk may have included fragrant herbs, one of which may have been cannabis.

The maker of the video tells what the prayer nut is. The prayer nut is, in this telling, “a microscopically carved medieval devotional.” The scientist in the video, he who probes the innards of the prayer nut, is Joris Dik.


This is not the only prayer nut. You can visit a prayer nut in The British Museum, in London. You can purchase prayer nuts. You can make prayer nuts, if you have the desire, the time, and perhaps the talent.

Really, there are few limits to what you can do with regard to a prayer nut.

The prize-winning lecture about recognizing bullshit

January 20th, 2017

The 2016 Ig Nobel Peace Prize winners explain about people’s craving for bullshit, in their Ig Informal Lecture, as you see in this video:

The prize was awarded to Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang for their scholarly study called “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit”.

The details of that study: “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit,” Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek J. Koehler, and Jonathan A. Fugelsang, Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 10, No. 6, November 2015, pp. 549–563.

Two days after the ceremony, at the Ig Informal Lectures, the new winners give brief public talks, at MIT, to explain what they did and why they did it. That’s what you see in this video.