The guys over at Wisecrack have created one of the most compelling videos collections I’ve seen. The group – a media collective run by comedians, academics, filmmakers and artists – attempts to answer humanity’s most important questions using 8-bit graphics and constant awesome game references.
The videos themselves are great, with some of the most complex philosophical problems explained with such ease that it makes me re-think how much better I could have done in my philosophy classes if these had been around at the time (Heideger, I’m looking at you). Anyway, it’s never too late.
Doodling is a great habit to generate new ideas through keeping active. Sketches, drawings and experiments without any objective allow the mind to roam free and prompt new ideas. That’s how inspiration is born.
Sometimes it’s hard to make time for doodling in between all the serious work for customers. That’s why I created my Hexagon Project: make a doodle and change or add to it every day. Sometimes ten minutes, sometimes half an hour. A few phases of the project are displayed here.
I add to the project every weekday, and intend to keep it up until I reach number 365. You can follow the progress on my social media (facebook, Twitter or Instagram). A full overview is available at my website.
Prime numbersare a cryptographer’s dream: It’s easy to take two very large prime numbers and multiply them, but it’s extremely hard to do the opposite. There is no fast algorithm (yet) to factorize an integer into its prime factors, if you try to factor a large prime number you’ll have to try every possible number between 2 and that large prime number. This makes primes the ultimate favourites for cryptography.
Because prime numbers have been in the spotlight for a while, there is a growing interest in finding what the next big one is. The record at the moment is 257,885,161 − 1, a number with 17,425,170 digits. Unfortunately (or fortunately for some), there is no easy way of finding primes, no pattern you can follow to predict them. This doesn’t mean people haven’t been trying to crack the mystery for as long as prime numbers have existed, but nobody has yet made it.
However, some of those attempts resulted in beautiful graphs that display a strange, enchanting pseudo-symmetry. Here are some examples. If you find a new one, let us know!
As humans, we have a very reduced visual spectrum. We can only catch light within certain frequencies, as Newton demonstrated this by dividing light using a prism (a beam of light contains the colors of the rainbow, because colours are wavelengths – the longer wave we can see is red, followed by orange, yellow, green, cyan, blue, and violet, the shortest wave. Whatever falls outside those frequencies – infra-red and ultra-violet – escapes our eye). But this is not the case for other animals.
Bees, for example, can detect ultraviolet light. If a plan depends on insect pollination, it is definitely advantageous for it to also have ultraviolet “colors” and patterns that can help bees and other nectar searching insects identify them. Birds can also see ultra-violet, and some feathers have markings we cannot se. There is, however, a downside to being sensitive to ultraviolet: sensibility to red decreases too (red is on the other end of the spectrum and all animals have a limited range – regardless of whether it matches ours or is displaced compared to it).
Mammals are not that lucky in regards to spectrum, because with the exception of some primates, they only have two cones (and red-green colorblindness). Birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and some invertebrates, however, have three or more cones, and they can probably see better than we do.
Honeybees and bumblebees have trichromatic colour vision too, and are sensitive to ultraviolet (and consequently insensitive to red). If you think that’s impressive, wait until you hear about the Papilio butterfly, which has six types of photoreceptors making it only of the few lucky animals with pentachromatic vision. Still not wowed? The mantis shrimp has up to twelve spectral receptor types, which are thought to work as multiple dichromatic units. Bottomline: What we see is just a small portion of what is there. Luckily for us, we have devices to capture UV and UR light. Here are some incredible examples!
The most common question I get when people see my drawings are “how long did that take you?!” The next question I get is “what is it?” Neither question being relevant or interesting. It seems a piece of work is weighted and valued by time; meaning must be figurative. I find this very odd, this need for everything to be something, and that my explanation is important. The interpretation is wide open, it can be whatever you want. I rarely name artwork, but this is called the network – it does not mean anything.
When the internet was fairly new, a project without precedent set itself to push the limits of what seemed then inconceivable for both science and technology. It was called SETI@Home, and it marked the beginning of a completely new era.
SETI’s goal was to detect intelligent life outside Earth. To do so, the project collected a huge amount of information using radio telescopes (narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space do not occur naturally, so if found, they provided evidence that we are not alone in the galaxy). Unfortunately, the data was so large that the normal supercomputers specially built for analysing them were simply unable to process it. So how was the problem to be solved? A virtual super machine was created by using a large number of personal computers connected to the internet. In 1999, SETI@Home was launched. People were able to download a client that run as a background process using idle computer power.
Screenshot of the screensaver for SETI@home
After 10 years of collection (in 2009), SETI had listened and analysed 67 percent of the sky observable from Arecibo, about 20% of the full celestial sphere. No intelligent life has been found yet, but the project is still considered a huge success.
But this was just the beginning. Many equally fascinating projects emerged in the following years, anxious to tackle some of science’s biggest problems by, and here comes the surprise, playing online games.
In 2011, just twelve years after the birth of SETI (a short time for us, a very long one when it comes to technology), the players of FoldIt, a game about folding proteins, resolved the structure of an enzyme that causes an Aids-like disease in monkeys. Scientists had been toying with it for a decade, without success. It only took gamers 3 weeks to come up with the solution. Curiously, human protein folders can be more effective than computers at certain aspects of protein structure prediction.
Are we using people to solve issues because our technology is not yet developed enough, or is there something else machines, at least the ones we have now, can’t quite grasp? Why was FoldIt more effective than computers? Fortunately for us, when a complex problem requires intuition and insight, we seem to do much better than our artificial counterparts – which are based more on brute calculation. Our brains are geared up to recognise patterns. FoldIt knew this, and made the process accessible, adding a competitive edge to i (layers can develop and try different strategies for the folds). And hell it worked.
With so many people happy to spend time playing online games of different kinds, the challenge for anyone wanting to exploit that enormous potential is to make the games themselves attractive. So far they are doing a great job, the precedents of SETI and FoldIt opened the way for a myriad of new games that do science.
Puzzles have always fascinated me. Language puzzles, escape rooms, logic problems. When I code, I tend to see the coding problem as a puzzle that I need to solve. Especially CSS feels like that lots of the time.
Recently, I dove into my parent’s bookcase and fished up this old jewel:
This 70s book is a collection of German variations on the ancient Chinese puzzle ‘Tangram’. The original and these variations were issued in brick around 1900. The writers of this book have recreated eight of those variations in coloured cardboard and collected numerous problems to recreate with each puzzle.
They even retained the original, poetic names. The Magic Egg is used to create bird-like shapes; the Zoo has lots of animal shapes. The friendly-sounding Gnome is deceptively hard, while the ominous Lightning Rod is easier than it sounds. I’ll let the Patience Assessor speak for itself.
What fascinates me is that these puzzles can be deceptively easy and deceptively hard at the same time. Often, I blunder into a solution, or the solution of one shape is easily deduced from the previous one. But when I try and reproduce that solution later, it can elude me for a frustratingly long time.
the eight puzzles
problems for the Broken Heart
problems for the Lightning Rod
a Lightning Rod problem solved
solved Lightning Rod closeup
a Gnome problem solved–yay!
Interesting is that the difficulty of this puzzle is tightly knit with the rules and principles of gestalt theory. Especially the more closed forms are easily seen as just an outline, and it can be very hard to try and discern how each puzzle piece needs to be positioned to recreate the black blob on the page.
The reasons I play tangram are threefold. First, there’s just plain fun. Second is relaxation–some of the Eastern zen is retained in this Western edition. Getting angry at a puzzle sure doesn’t help, at least.
And third is inspiration: the way the puzzle pieces interlock make me see interesting shapes and possible logos and patterns to try and use in my work. I should start keeping a sketchbook handy for any interesting shapes I encounter!
But for now, I’ll have to try and have this purple square change into a killer whale. How do I make another parallelogram?