Friday, February 22, 2008

Crowdsourcing in Space

Whether being used to locate billions of dollars in gold for savvy mining companies or tracking online contributions to Barack Obama’s campaign it appears that my esteemed colleague Chris was correct in dubbing 2008 the year of the crowd.

I was so intrigued by the idea of successfully enlisting random strangers to do important and interesting things that I did what I do whenever something incites my cat-like curiosity. I looked up “crowdsourcing” in wikipedia.

I was surprised to see that there is an unprecedented crowdsourcing program in action at the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Lab. My running buddy, Ryan “The Brain” Ogliore, works there, and he was kind enough to offer some insight into his project, AKA, Stardust.

<Stardust Probe

Would you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you’re doing?

I'm a postdoctoral scholar at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Lab. I work on NASA's Stardust mission: a comet-return from a Jupiter family comet called Wild2.

What is Stardust?

The Stardust mission captured cometary particles in a low-density material called aerogel. Before the rendezvous with the comet, the opposite side of the collector was exposed in a part of space where a stream of interstellar dust travels through our solar system. This material has been viewed astronomically before, but never has a solid sample been returned to the lab for study.

What does the Stardust crowdsourcing project entail?

The interstellar dust particles that were collected by Stardust are microscopic, and they make very tiny tracks in the aerogel. To scan the entire surface of the detector would take many person-years of microscope-searching. The detector containing the interstellar tracks was photographed digitally. The logical thing to do, then, would be to program a computer to scan through these digital images and find the tracks.

This turns out to be a very difficult if not impossible problem, because the aerogel contains many imperfections and cracks that would fool an image-recognition algorithm. A person, however, with minimal training, can identify these particle tracks with high accuracy.

So Stardust@home was created as a way to have hundreds of volunteers search the microscope images and identify particle tracks that interstellar dust made in the detector. Using test images randomly given to the volunteers, or "Dusters" as they've called themselves, we determined that they were very good at this task.

The volunteers are extremely dedicated, abundant, and talented. Unlike other projects, like SETI@home, which are essentially a large, distributed electronic computer, Stardust@home is a network of human brains doing something that (at this point in time) only human brains can do extremely well.

How long has the program been in place and what have your results been so far?

The project has been going on for a year and a half and we already have something to show for it: last week, three of the candidate interstellar particles, found by our volunteers, were extracted from the detector.

The project's success is dependent on the work of the volunteers -- this is real science, unique and exciting, that was made possible by the "crowds" of passionate people, eager to be involved with the science.

I think this kind of cool space stuff appeals to a lot of people, and the opportunity to actually search for an interstellar needle in a haystack is something people jumped on: every time you log in you can see a piece of never-before-seen galactic material.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

The Stardust@home approach has proven successful and could spawn another image recognition project: instead of looking for interstellar dust, trained eyes can search for hominids.

Thanks a lot, Ryan!

(End of Interview)

Even aside from all of the amazing things that are being accomplished with crowdsourcing, I am constantly impressed by the underlying sentiment from which these projects emanate. More than anything else, I think that crowdsourcing highlights the willingness of people to pitch in and selflessly donate their time based on their desire for excitement, a challenge, or simply to help in whatever manner they are able. As much as crowdsourcing can accomplish for the original sourcer, the fulfillment and sense of purpose it provides the crowd should not be overlooked or undervalued.

To quote Bill Nye – science rules!

Typical Obama Type

Forgive me for the pun.

This article discusses - or should I say psychoanalyzes - Obama's decision in type-face.

Definitely watch the embedded video.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Mobile Search

An enlightening simile from an article on iPhone:

"Searching on a computer, he said, is like going to a store, where the customers sees every product displayed, and can make comparisons, touch the products, even try things on for size. Doing the same search on a mobile, he said, but like trying to shop in the same store but "through a drive-up window." No matter how much stuff is in the store, you can only find out through the cashier at the drive-up window."

"The dilemma, left unsolved by the panelists, was how to squeeze the user through that window, past the cashier, to sample all the things in the store, without guilt, while still feeling grateful to the cashier who seemed, all along, to be standing in the way."

Movie Review. Shoot 'Em Up

This is the first celebrity guest blogger we've had on TheRoaringLyon and I hope it's not the last.

I present to you a movie review by SnowMongoose:

Film Review: Shoot 'Em Up

This movie delivers. The title fully expresses what the film is about: over the top, out of control gunplay. Carrot toting bum Smith (Clive Owen) (And yes, he does quote Bugs Bunny) is sucked into a mysterious tumult of bullets and death, obtaining (delivering!) a newborn and ending up at odds with the sadistic and ruthless Hertz (Paul Giamatti). Monica Bellucci reprises the role of ‘hooker with a heart of gold,’ providing extra impetus for Owen as his conscience forces him to protect her and baby Oliver every turn. (More importantly to the plot, Bellucci’s specialty in the world of prostitution is defined by her lactation, making for an atypical heroine)

Owen touches on familiar territory, as an aggressive, very angry, one-lining version of his character from “Children of Men,” and as Smith, he can be summed up in one line: He cuts Oliver’s umbilical cord… with a bullet. Come on, how badass is that?! Seeing Giamatti in such a bizarre role, after growing to appreciate his work in “Sideways” and “Cinderella Man,” was a treat, and provided much of the initial draw for me to see “Shoot em Up” in the first place. (And incidentally redeemed the damage he may have done to his reputation incurred by his role in “The Nanny Diaries”) Combining cold cruelty with quirks (a scarily analytical mind, a brief brush with necrophilia, and recurring cell conversations with his nagging wife) has been seen in the past, but not with the feel that Giamatti accomplished here.

The tempo never wanes, staying redlined for the vast majority of the movie, with only an occasional detour for halfhearted attempts at plot turns. (Intrigue involving the firearms industry, presidential candidates, and harvesting bone marrow, to name a few)

My only regret involving this film is that I only watched it with a handful of buddies, at home… I feel that the combined oohs, ahhs, and “Oh my god, that just happened” type laughter from a full theatre would have been worth every penny of my eight or so dollars. Only if one decided to view this film without taking the title seriously, or had an overt sensitivity to violence could one walk away from it with a bad taste in their mouth: in either case, no amount of changes could have redeemed the experience. I’ll give this one an easy 8 out of 10, crisp, brutal-yet-playful action, inventive shootouts, a uniquely evil villain, and an interesting spin on the obligatory hottie costar.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

IKEA Taking a Poke at Lasse Viren?

It may be coincidence.

It may be that after naming hundreds of thousands of affordable Swedish furniture, food, and nick-nacks, the branding people at IKEA are at the end of their ropes.

But naming a toilet brush/holder after four-time Olympic gold medalist Lasse Artturi Viren whose past is spotted with allegations of reindeer milk and more troubling accusations seems a little too ironic.

Then again, the universe has a way of making sure that these kinds of coincidences happen...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Evolution of Tech Company Logos


Very cool.

Here's a little trick I learned in the CIA...

On YouTube.

Get the full article here.

It's not surprising that the intelligence community is monitoring user-generated content for important intelligence. While some people might think that monitoring such seemingly innocuous lines of communication is a waste of intelligence dollars, I would simply point out that gambling on the average human's stupidity is usually a good bet and that there is probably some extremely sophisticated screening and searching technologies and techniques available to these analysts to separate the wheat from the chaff in regards to credible intelligence.

I wish there was more information on how exactly the CIA is leveraging social media in the intelligence war on terror.

Lies, Damned Lies, and...

This graph on Valleywag would be far more informative if it indicated how large each of those markets is.

The Chart: Why Google's unstoppable
Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

While Google search is clearly dominating the Australian market, because the graph doesn't tell us the size of the market, we don't know if Google's far smaller market share in Japan is in fact a less substantial market for it.

I'm not saying that the graphs isn't useful and interesting. It is extremely important to know how much of the market each company controls and it is one of the only objective ways to tell which search company is "winning" in those places. I'm simply pointing out that the raw numbers are essential to a full grasp of the relationships between Google, MSN and Yahoo.

I will try to find the raw numbers as to the size of these markets and post them later...