Open Source Car: Riversimple?

A hydrogen based concept car designed by teams in Oxford and Cranfield universities in the UK that I totally missed the news on last week.

There are some very nice technical features to this car such as 300mpg fuel use, energy recovery on each wheel, it’s light and can go up to 50mph (not that fast considering the top speed is 70mph on the roads) but what is very interesting to me is that the overall design will be open source, or some form of open source I guess. While the designs for the motor and fuel cell components won’t be, the idea that the design can be modified and taken up by anyone anywhere in the world is something worth watching.

I’d be interested in finding out what the licenses are, what kind of format the specifications are in and so on before I rush to judgement. But it’s interesting how the ideas we’re developing in the software world are being experimented on in other fields of endeavour.

Science: Visualised Gravity

This is a quick blog post about gravity and the way in which we visualise it in our educational materials, take a look at this:

Typical Visualisation of Gravity

This is what I’ve seen a lot of when I was growing up, it’s also what comes to mind when ever I watch TV shows or have ever had the idea of gravity explained to me in layman’s terms.

But while this does show off the very basic ideas of gravity on a 2D space/sheet, it does lead one to conclude that it would be easy enough to pick up the object and move it somewhere else (e.g. time-travel and teleportation). It also makes us think of other forces as magical forces fields around atoms. Weird.

Instead when I think of things in space I think of them as a part of space:

Object of Space

You’ll have to imagine for a moment that the photo above is more symbolic and that there is nothing inside of the space, it is simply lots of space screwed up into a tiny ball. (bit of a stretch of the imagination required)

So that’s it, objects on space: I don’t believe; objects as space: totally makes sense to me, then your crazy entropy can be just unfolding and expanding space. Crazy! This means though that entropy would increase if the universe was to shrink.

Education Caution Stickers

I was sent a link to these awesome stickers, they dissect through satire the motivations of school boards in some US states.

The whole idea that you can control people through what they learn is a fascinating social weapon. As if the truth wasn’t difficult enough to approach. We have to create stories, often mostly fictional ones, about almost every aspect of science in order to fit the core ideas into our heads. Little lies that can lead to bigger truths.

What is worse than the lies is the erosion of the scientific principles. The enlightenment was our civilisations way of digging our way out of the primitive creation myths and dogmas and now we seem to be sliding back. I see less people able to cope with philosophy, fewer people who are able to wield rational skilfully and worse, people who no longer believe in their own ability to test any theory.

High Speed Rail, At Last

I was surprised this week by the release of a video detailing the plan to move forward with investments into Hgih Speed Rail. This is an important issue which looked like it had dropped off the presidents rhetoric about improving the USA’s infrastructure.

But now it’s back! And I’m happy to see that there are people in the government who are as concerned as I with this counties failing rail ways. Forget getting on expensive, slow and substandard trains, I’m looking forward to getting on modern, cheap more European rail connections.

Trains aren’t some bridge to no where, they perform a very efficient function in allowing people to live in one place and work in another. Take London as an example, without it’s extensive rail and subway system you’d never be able to get from Brighton to the West End in time for that play,  going by car would be impossible if everyone else was also going by car and there is simple not enough physical space for everyone of London’s workers to drive into the city.

Now to get things cheap. Back home, I could take a train from Liverpool to London Euston (240 miles) in two and a half hours and so long as I booked 2 weeks in advanced it only cost me £23 return (~$30 PPP). What we use in England is a chartered agreement system where even though the train operators are private (much against my personal belief) they at least have to agree to some rules which provide the poor with access to the train network at a price they can afford.

Compare that to taking the National Express coach which takes six to seven hours and would cost £36 return in the same kind of cramp style that Americans would be familiar to in the Greyhound bus services.

No, it’d about time America brought it’s train technology out of the 19th century and into the 21st. I just hope that consideration will be given to allowing the poorest of citizens to access this most important infrastructure.

Does Time Travel

I’m relaxing this weekend re-watching all three Back to the Future films, classics of their time and very fun. I’m quite fond of sci-fi stories with time travel, the whole idea of what-if is fascinating to think about.

What is most interesting about stories about time travel is how they deal with paradoxes. There are a number of ways you can deal with them:

  1. You can have the future effecting the past directly (disappearing people!)
  2. You can have a new universe created every time you take the leap, meaning your never effecting your true home universe.
  3. Or you can have the future effected, but the people who travel cut off from those effects, creating a localised alternative, instead of a whole universe.

Thinking about time can really warp your thoughts, if you try and think about events you end up getting into cycles. Some things are worth considering in whole though. Think about the chicken and egg in the none literal sense.

I’m sure there is something about time travel that we’re not even getting. It may be as impossible as picking something up out of the universe in one place and dropping it into another (teleport) but I’d like to think it was possible with wormholes or some physics we don’t yet know about.

Think about this though, in the first Back to the Future when Marty gets back to 1985 and tries to save Doc from the Libyan terrorists. He watches himself run from the Libyans, get into the time machine as last time and drive away. The Marty that he watches is used to a life where he owns that 4×4 truck, where his father isn’t a failure and where Biff was always known as a clown. So how can you square his travel back into the past too?

When Marty is in the past and disappearing, how come it’s his older brother that disappears first? could it be that the time changes radiate out through time? And if they do, how come the changes to fix the problem are quicker then those that broke the time-line.

It’s possible that time fluctuations travel, gravitational ones do according to popular theory. If it’s true, then time is more flexible than pure logical consequence suggests.

Anyway, I always laughed at the idea that in the far future there is a time machine with several Arnold robots and a liquid metal man all waiting in queue to kill John Conner. Another set of films with a whole host of time traveling issues.

Open Street Maps (OSM) and Ubuntu

I wanted to post an entry about a very good and useful collaboration.

The OpenStreetMap project aims to record geographical information in an open and accessible format, so anyone can find their way and create interesting devices and applications.

In the UK our governmental operated mapping data is owned and controlled, unlike the USA where data is made available in the Public Domain. So the service in the OSM for the UK is very important. I myself updated much of the mapping information for the town I grew up in, little parts that others hadn’t yet touched on.

So now, I’d like to see an Ubuntu application that is able to use OSM data, plug into GPS hardware and fuse the two into an offline mapping and route finding system. That would make netbooks very useful indeed! I’m betting someone somewhere has already taken a stab at such a program; but I’ve yet to be able to find it.

Let me know if you know.

Update: And boy did you guys not let me down… I’m compiling a list of things that people have suggested to me.

  1. The Nokia Maemo project has a Mapper tool which doesn’t yet work on Ubuntu.
  2. TangoGPS looks like it does everything, available in the repositories.
  3. Merkaator is a simple GPS Path recorder also available in the repositories.
  4. The Nav-IT project can do similar things, but looks a bit config fiddly, they have their own repository.
  5. If your ok with Java and with German, you might try CacheWolf.
  6. For the python programmers, we have PyRoute.

One missing piece I notice is route finding, it must be a difficult problem to solve. so I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a dedicated lib that could do it.

New: 3D Films (again)

Looks like we’re in for another wave of 3D films, I’ve so far watched Coraline and Monsters vs Aliens.

I have to say I’ve enjoyed having the film in 3D, this new polarised light steroscopics is much more natural than the old red and green varity.

So do I think 3D films will take off? I think so, we’ve been waiting for the tech to reach a point when multiple people can watch a movie in 3D from their own homes, and I think there may be TVs on the way with just such tech in them.

If you get a chance to try it out, do so and tell me what you think. I’m waiting for Pixar’s Up in May and the film called ‘9’ out in September (which looks AWESOME with a capital Awe).

Music Musings

Today I’m just going to ramble on a bit about music and what I’ve picked up about how it all works:

Neurologically humans are programmed to recognise patterns, when the pattern is successfully predicted the brain releases hormones that make us happy, which also strengthen the connections in that area of the brain. When it gets it wrong it release cortisol a stress hormone and I bet we don’t feel as good.

We also feel happier about being in social groups, socially conforming produces much higher releases of happy chemicals than going against the grain or being alone.

So what would a pleb like me make of these ideas?

I reckon this means that the music we enjoy will be what ever music we’ve listened to while in the company of people we like and it’ll be dependant on the number of times listened and how similar the music is to other music you like. If it’s a new form of music which is completely different, then a socially positive experience can introduce the patterns and allow you to enjoy that music more (say listening to Beethoven or Mendel while at a Concert with friends).

It’s unlikely the the kind of music we enjoy are related to our intellect or genetics. A person who is in the social circles of rap music will tend not to like classical music, but that’s only because of the large social separation between people who like each kind.


March Welcome

Hey there readers, (both of you) I figured since it’s a Sunday and the first day of the month, I could recap some of the interesting things going on.

Mark Suttleworth released details about the next version of Ubuntu after 9.04, this version (9.10) will be nick named ‘Karmic Koala’. All those people who like ‘Cloud Computing’ should be happy, it’s mentioned a lot. No mention of any exciting projects to my mind though, no breakthroughs. Although new versions of xorg, linux and gnome are always handy.

It looks like Microsoft is starting to sue more in conjunction with software patents. There are concerns this move is an attack against Linux because TomTom uses the Linux kernel and no doubt the FAT patents being used here are provided at the kernel level. All those pundits who argue that this isn’t an attack are mistaken. Every software patent attack is an attack against Free and Open Source Software. How are we expected to have the freedom to modify and distribute if patent holders can sue everyone who comes in contact with our work? We shouldn’t be looking for specific attacks against open source vendors, an attack against one user (no matter how big) is still a threat to everyone else and we must treat it as such.

Obama said he backs going back to the moon, it’s an interesting move. If we can enthuse people with science and make discoveries in the process when weighed against the environmental impact and the cost; then I say let’s do it, it’s about time we went back before the moon moves further away (it moves a few centimeters each year further away from earth).

Darwin’s 200th anniversary of his birth is upon us and artists have been doing some truely wonderful works in celebration. There has also been quite a lot of creationist criticism in every article posted by New Scientist. It seems religious people love to crowd out psudo-scientists on a proto-science magazine websites.

Novell is hitting a rough patch these days, though the business was in trouble before it even acquired SuSE Linux way back when. I know a lot of people who would be happy to see Novell go away and for OpenSuse to be taken fully community based. It’s sad to watch a company, that has produced good work, melt from unfortunate prioritisation.

How I think Cartoons Work

I’m a bit tired today, been suffering from a cold these last few days. So prior apologies for more mistakes than usual.

I was thinking about how cartoons and drawn symbology works. The first thing that I though was ‘Is a cartoon dog just a symbol of a dog?’ and I thought well no, you can see it’s tongue sticking out and it’s piddling on George W Bush. There is clearly more to the drawing that just symbology.

So I thought about how the eye works, there are multiple components to the eye and a hell of a good pre-processing layer of neurons within the eye. You get out of this a number of layers, a colour layer, a luminosity layer and interestingly a edges layer. The edge detection seems to incorporate stereoscopic vision into a map of where all the various objects you see start and stop. I was looking at some software that mimicked this once and noticed how the outside of a face had huge thick green and red lines between the face and the background, the inside had smaller lines denoting the distances between each of the objects.

Given that we have a brain that likes to mix signals up with synaesthesia. It might be that the black lines used in cartoon images are a replacement for this stereoscopic information and that is why to me at least, some cartoon images look more 3D than a photo of a person on a similar shade background. Although it’s obvious that the cartoon is not a picture of a real thing and the photo is, my brain can’t shake the idea that the cartoon has spacial information beyond what my brain expects.

If this is true then I should expect a number of things of cartoon drawing:

  1. Outside lines should be thicker than inside lines and should vary with depth of space behind them.
  2. Objects that change depth (like noses) should use tapering lines that thin out as they get closer to the object behind them.
  3. Shading/colouring is not required to produce 3D objects in cartoon form.
  4. Lines should get thicker as the object moves closer compared to similar objects.
  5. Bluring a typical cartoon will not make it look out of focus unless the line widths are changed.

Now I’m going to have to start testing these conjectures, firstly with a cube:

And this image for a face, the first with all the same line widths, the second with lines designed as if the thickness was related to the depth.

If you can see more depth or if you can’t, post a comment.

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