Podcast #18: Personal space at the beach

July 1st, 2015

Personal spacing at the beach, pseudostupidity, and other things, turn up  in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

Click on the “Venetian blinds” icon — at the lower right corner here — to select whichever week’s episode you want to hear:

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[NEWS: Soon, the podcast will also be available on Spotify.]

This week, Marc Abrahams tells about:

The mysterious John Schedler perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The Improbable Research podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that may be good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, both on the new CBS Play.it web site, and on iTunes (and soon, also on Spotify).

A generator of lyrics and music from academic papers

July 1st, 2015

“This work attempts to create lyrics from academic papers and appropriate melodies to go with them. We believe this system can also be modified to use different initial data sources, be it text sources for the lyrics or music sources for the music style. We chose academic papers as input due to their diversity and availability. Furthermore, due to their usual seriousness, it was our opinion that it would be amusing, not only for readers but also for authors, to see these works in a different light.”

The SMUG: Scientific Music Generator has been developed by Marco Scirea, Gabriella A. B. Barros, and Noor Shaker of the Center for Computer Games Research, IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and Julian Togelius at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, New York University, US.

TRY IT: You can try it yourself, online, and hear the delights of such music.

The paper provides a sample which SMUG generated from Darwin’s ‘On the origin of species by means of natural selection’SMUG-music

“Bul let tins first ar gu ments na tu re an is an same thus hist re ca pi tu la tion con tro ver sial ahh p man in ha bi tants”

Their paper is presented today at ICCC 2015: The Sixth International Conference on Computational Creativity, Park City, Utah, US, June 29 – July 2, 2015. The conference programme, including papers on AI cocktail generation, AI computer-aided humour and AI automatic painting, can be found here.

UPDATE: The authors have kindly alerted us to the existence of an online version of SMUG. Improbable has uploaded the paper ‘Frictional Coefficient under Banana Skin’ (by the winners of the 2014 Ig Nobel physics prize, Kibyyoshi Mabuchi, Kensei Tanaka, Daichi Uchijima and Rina Sakai) The paper is now available as a lyrical and musical rendition.

Upload your paper of choice (in .pdf format) here.

A look back at the opening of the Improbable Research European Bureau

June 30th, 2015

It’s exciting to look back, every now and again, at the opening of Improbable Research’s European Bureau, in 2006.

Is science that seems crazy crazy?

June 29th, 2015

The news is awash today with the question: Is scientific research that makes people laugh bad or is it good, or what?

Shirley Wang, in the Wall Street Journal, explores the general question, under the headline “Science Wants to Know: Can Worms Swim?” It begins:

Can worms learn to swim? And why do some people see the face of Jesus on their toast?

Science is filled with research that can appear wacky or silly, obvious or trivial. Some topics elicit concern from both inside and outside the scientific community about whether they answer important questions or waste time and taxpayer money.

But sometimes the seemingly oddest studies add meaningfully to scientific knowledge, provoke a new direction for inquiry or spur a different way of understanding a phenomenon. Predicting what research will be significant can be difficult. It may not become apparent for years or even decades.

As the money from the government to support and conduct research gets tighter, scientists and funding agencies say it’s increasingly difficult to get any grants, particularly for high-risk research. More big grants go to researchers who have already tested out their methods and can show data suggesting their proposed experiments will work, they say….

Also today, Kelly Servick reports, in the journal Science, on a specific research program that achieved “Sorting cells through levitation” It begins:

What looks like a row of drifting gumdrops could hold a wealth of information for both clinical researchers and bench scientists. A team of bioengineers and geneticists has designed a device that can suspend a single living cell between magnets and measure its density based on how high it floats. Such measurements could be used to sort different types of cells—to distinguish cancerous cells from healthy ones, for example—or to measure how cells change when exposed to drugs.

A demonstration of the approach, published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is “pretty amazing stuff that could be a game changer for a lot of things if true,” says John Minna, a cancer biologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Researchers have used magnets before to levitate whole creatures, such as living frogs—a bizarre demonstration that won its author an Ig Nobel Prize….

BONUS: Here’s detail, including video, on that cell levitation research.

BONUS: Here’s now-historical video of the Ig Nobel Prize-winning magnetically levitated frog:

Leadership and Gardening – an update

June 29th, 2015

Following on from our Improbable note about Leadership via Gardening, may we also draw attention to the work of Dr. Thorsten Grahn (of Regent University, Virginia Beach, US) who not only considers the analogies between gardening and organizational leadership but is also one of the very few organizational observers to have examined the leadership implications of artificial flowers. See: Artificial Flowers are Beautiful, but Do Not Grow.

Paper_flowers_in_vaseThere are many good reasons to prefer artificial flowers to natural ones. The good ones look extremely pretty. Even after a month in a vase they are still in full bloom, the leaves have not gone limp and they require no water, no sunshine and no nutrition to keep looking pretty. They will never die.

Artificial flowers only have one disadvantage: they do not grow! They stay the same forever. They will never die, but only, because they never lived.

Sometimes leaders wish their staff would behave like wonderful artificial flowers. However, soon they would discover that there is no more growth, no more flexibility and no more adaptation to a changing environment. In fact, no more change at all.

Organizations need living people who want to grow, and not people, who want to keep the status quo. The leadership must treat the people as living plants that need much care, but in the long run they will always outshine the ‘artificial flowers’ in the organization.“

[photo courtesy Tom Harpel @ Wikipedia]