Archive for March 14th, 2008

Another Happy Cetacean Story

This is a nice companion piece to the great story about the entangled humpback whale thanking the divers who freed her:

A dolphin guided two stranded whales to safety after human attempts to keep the animals off a New Zealand beach failed, a conservation official said Wednesday.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this before, it was amazing,” Conservation Department officer Malcolm Smith said.

The actions of the dolphin, well known locally for playing with swimmers at Mahia beach on the east coast of the North Island, probably meant the difference between life and death for the whales, Smith said.

Smith had been working for over an hour and a half to save the two pygmy sperm whales which had repeatedly become stranded despite his attempts to push them back out to sea.

A bottlenose dolphin, named Moko by locals, appeared and guided the whales to safety after apparently communicating with them, Smith said.

The whales, a 10-foot female and her male calf, were apparently confused by a sandbar just off the beach and could not find their way back to open water.

Smith had been alerted at daybreak on Monday by a neighbor about the two stranded whales on Mahia beach near his home.

“Over the next hour and a half I pushed them back out to sea two or three times and they were very reluctant to move offshore,” Smith said.

“I was starting to get cold and wet and they were becoming tired. I was reaching the stage where I was thinking it’s about time to give up here, I’ve done as much as I can.”

In that situation, whales are often humanely killed to end their suffering.

Smith said Moko arrived on the scene and he could hear the whales and the dolphin making noises, apparently to one another.

“The whales made contact with the dolphin and she basically escorted them about 200 yards parallel with the beach to the edge of the sandbar.

“Then she did a right-angle turn through quite a narrow channel and escorted them out to sea.

“There’s been no sign of the whales since Monday, they haven’t re-stranded.”

“What the communication was I do not know, and I was not aware dolphins could communicate with pygmy sperm whales, but something happened that allowed Moko to guide those two whales to safety.”

Moko has become famous for her antics at Mahia, which include playing in the surf with swimmers, approaching boats to be patted and pushing kayaks through the water with her snout.

That’s amazing – Moko rules. I would love to know what kind of communication there was between the dolphin and the whales. I don’t think they have a common language, and their gesturing capabilities are pretty limited. Possibly the whales were more inclined to trust and follow someone who looked and sounded more like themselves, and clearly knew how to navigate the shallow water.

2 comments March 14th, 2008 at 11:13pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science

Demolition Photoblogging

As promised, some demolition photos. Unfortunately, there’s fencing 50-100 feet (I suck at distances) in every direction, which is a pretty big constraint on what angles I can shoot. Especially since I’m trying to shoot over the fence wherever possible.

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This one is through the fence, as you can see from the haze in the upper right.

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They’re peeling the walls off pretty good.

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Closer look at the gutted interior.

March 14th, 2008 at 09:41pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Photoblogging,Pittsburgh

Eli’s Obsession With The Google

I was on the first page of search results for Jesus and Giant Salamander, but it appears to have gone away.

Um, so is there a Book of Amphibians in the New Testament somewhere? Did Jesus fight the giant salamander? Convert it? Heal it? Resist its temptations? Perhaps the Bible is more interesting than I realized.

Also, why was the Jesus and Giant Salamander scene omitted from The Passion Of The Christ? It would have been box office GOLD!

5 comments March 14th, 2008 at 06:48pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Eli's Obsession With The Google

Friday Quote & Cat Blogging

This week’s quote is from the surprisingly funny SLC Punk!, which is about, um… punks. In Salt Lake City.

Look, I’m really sorry about the beating, and I hope the rest of your stay in America is more pleasant.

And, of course, there’ll be other people’s cats…

The shadowy and mysterious Codename B, adrift in a sea of orange.

1 comment March 14th, 2008 at 05:41pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Friday Quote & Cat Blogging

Passing The Turing Test

Apparently all it takes to simulate human consciousness is the world’s fastest supercomputer:

Passing the Turing test–the holy grail of artificial intelligence (AI), whereby a human conversing with a computer can’t tell it’s not human–may now be possible in a limited way with the world’s fastest supercomputer (IBM’s Blue Gene), according to AI experts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. RPI is aiming to pass AI’s final exam this fall, by pairing the most powerful university-based supercomputing system in the world with a new multimedia group designing a holodeck, a la Star Trek.

“We are building a knowledge base that corresponds to all of the relevant background for our synthetic character–where he went to school, what his family is like, and so on,” said Selmer Bringsjord, head of Rensselaer’s Cognitive Science Department and leader of the research project. “We want to engineer, from the start, a full-blown intelligent character and converse with him in an interactive environment like the holodeck from Star Trek.”

Currently, Bringsjord is stocking his synthetic character will all sorts of facts, figures, family trivia and personal beliefs gleaned from what he calls his “full-time guinea pig,” a graduate student that has agreed to bare all for his synthetic doppelganger. The synthetic character will be able to converse with other human-controlled avatars about his educational and family history, his personal pastimes, and even his feelings and beliefs.

“This synthetic person based on our mathematical theory will carry on a conversation about himself, including his own mental states and the mental states of others,” said Bringsjord. “Our artificial intelligence algorithm is now making this possible, but we need a supercomputer to get real-time performance.”

The Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI) is donating the supercomputer time this fall, when the Turing-test demonstration will open along with RPI’s new Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC). There, the Turing test will be limited to controlling avatars in a virtual world–probably Second Life. Both the synthetic character and his human doppelganger will be operating different avatars. If the human-operators can’t tell who the RPI synthetic character is, then it passes the Turing test.


Mimicking the behavior of a human-controlled avatar in a virtual world like Second Life is possible, according to Bringsjord, if you craft the necessary algorithms carefully and run them on the world’s fastest supercomputer. Bringsjord’s synthetic-character software runs on the supercomputers at CCNI, which together provide more than 100 teraflops, including a massively parallel IBM Blue Gene supercomputer (the title-holder to world’s fastest supercomputer), a Linux cluster-supercomputer, and an Advanced Micro Devices Opteron processor-based cluster supercomputer.

…[T]he brains of the algorithm running on the supercomputers will come from software called Rascals, for Rensselaer Advanced Synthetic Architecture for Living Systems.

Rascals is based on a core theorem proving engine that deduces results (proves theorems) about the world after pattern-matching its current situation against its knowledge base. Each proven theorem then initiates a response by virtue of having a synthetic character speak and/or move in the virtual world.

“Upon analysis, anything that our synthetic character says or does, is the result of a theorem being proven by the system,” said Bringsjord. “So far, theorem provers have only been used in toy-problems. We are scaling that up to enough knowledge for a synthetic character, which requires a very fast supercomputer.”

I guess being human is harder than I thought.

(h/t Slashdot via Engadget)

March 14th, 2008 at 11:15am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Technology,Weirdness

The Prosecution Asserts That This Shit Is Off The Hook.



A computer that Rockwall County District Attorney Ray Sumrow says he built as a backup server for his office contained documents related to eBay sales, personal e-mails and a cheat sheet for a computer game, an FBI computer expert testified Monday morning.

Rod Gregg, an FBI senior forensic examiner, said 80 percent of the content he found on the computer appeared to be personal rather than work-related.

Mr. Sumrow is being tried in Dallas on charges of forgery, theft and records tampering. As part of the case, prosecutors allege that he used office funds to buy the computer for personal use.

“I would not configure a backup computer in that way,” Mr. Gregg said.


The computer – equipped with two hard drives, seven fans, high-end video and audio cards, a wireless Internet connection and cables that glow under ultraviolet light – is designed for playing video games, prosecutors say.

As Engadget says:

Testimony will take place through the week, and prosecutors expect to hear how it was imperative to Mr. Sumrow’s legal work that he, “Frag the crap out of dudes.”

Hey, at least he didn’t blow the money on hookers.

March 14th, 2008 at 07:22am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Comics,Coolness,Corruption/Cronyism,Technology

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