петак, 04. октобар 2013.

A human brain was preserved for 4,000 years after being boiled in its own skull


Ancient, well-preserved human remains aren't exactly a common thing to find, which makes the discovery of a 4,000-year-old brain in western Turkey pretty noteworthy. The brain was found in 2010 in an ancient burial ground that appeared to have been burned — charred skeletons and wooden objects were found, but somehow brain tissue inside the skulls of four skeletons had been preserved. Scientists at universities across Turkey have been analyzing the findings ever since and published their findings late last month. As reported by New Scientist, the scientists found clues by analyzing the ground — it's believed that an earthquake leveled the settlement, burying its inhabitants before a fire spread through the rubble. The fire would then have essentially boiled the brains in their own moisture, which eventually would have dried things out and largely removed the presence of oxygen. This combination of the boiling off of the brain fluid and the lack of oxygen helped prevent the expected brain tissue breakdown.
Another essential factor in the preservation was the soil's makeup — it was full of potassium, magnesium, and aluminum. These components combined with the fatty acids in the human tissue to create something called "corpse wax" (or the more scientific name adipocere), which helped to preserve the shape of the brain. Frank Rühli, at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, gave his opinion on the find to New Scientist: "The level of preservation in combination with the age is remarkable," he said. As for what we can learn from these findings, Rühli believes that these preserved brains could be studied for pathological conditions like tumors, hemorrhaging, or degenerative diseases. "If we want to learn more about the history of neurological disorders," Rühil says, "we need to have tissue like this."

Hacker Scouts youth group changes name to avoid Boy Scouts lawsuit


It seems the Boy Scouts of America doesn't take trademark infringement lightly. Earlier this year, it sent a letter to the Hacker Scouts — a small youth group in Oakland, California — demanding that the parent-run organization change its name. BSA insisted it had a trademark on the word "scouts" and urged Hacker Scouts to exclude it from any new moniker. "As any organization would do, from time to time, it's necessary for the BSA to take steps to protect its intellectual property and brand," a spokesperson told The Los Angeles Times after the ongoing disagreement was publicized in a blog post. BSA has recently followed that up with a second letter, and there doesn't seem to be much wiggle room: Hacker Scouts can either change its name or face litigation against the largest youth organization in the United States. After careful consideration, it's opting for the easy and less costly way out. "Our board has decided to close this matter and change our name," writes co-founder Samantha Matalone Cook. "We know this will disappoint some of you. We know some of you wanted us to fight this," Cook writes. "We don't blame you. We had those same feelings." But the group ultimately decided to relent and rid its members of the distraction. "We have a chance to reinvent ourselves in some ways with a new name, which, once it is chosen, will allow us to move forward in several other areas." Cook also strongly believes that Congress should reexamine a 1919 Congressional charter that the Boy Scouts of America says gives it exclusive ownership of "scouts."

Heavy metal spectacle: the making of 'Metallica Through the Never'


From Katy Perry to One Direction, concert films have been enjoying a recent resurgence, but Metallica’s decision to jump into the genre with Metallica Through the Never didn’t happen overnight. “We’ve been trying to do an IMAX film for a long time now,” guitarist Kirk Hammett tells me. “The idea had been around since the ‘90s, and it’d been revisited numerous times but for some reason or another never came to be.” The idea resurfaced several years ago, with the band’s manager envisioning a custom-built stage that would incorporate imagery from records like …And Justice For All and Master of Puppets. “What we wanted to do,” Hammett says, “was make the stage so incredible, and super cool, and basically build the film around it and do it in IMAX and 3D.” But while the technology is a prominent selling point on the film’s poster, the most vital differentiating element was a wholly creative concern: the decision to interweave a narrative storyline alongside the live footage.
Producer Charlotte Huggins has made a particular impact on the industry thanks to her involvement with 3D projects, working on everything from documentaries to the Journey to the Center of the Earth series. When Metallica manager Cliff Burnstein contacted her in 2011 about working on a Metallica movie, however, she told him she wasn’t really interested in making a concert film. "It’s not that I don’t think concert movies are good," she says. "I do, and I watch concert movies all the time," but the mix of live and behind-the-scenes footage can become homogenous, no matter how big the band. "And he said, ‘Oh no, no, we don’t want to do a concert movie at all,’" Huggins recalls. "‘We want to do a movie in which a concert takes place, and we really, really want it to be something different. We don’t really know what that is, but we want to hear what directors have to say.’” That directive kicked off a search in which numerous filmmakers pitched their takes on what kind of story would mesh with Metallica’s heavy metal mayhem. Several of the leading candidates for the job thought science fiction was the key, something the band itself didn’t warm to, but then Nimród Antal (Vacancy, Kontroll) stepped in. "Nim came in the door and pitched this extremely grounded, very un-science fiction sort of story," Huggins says. Time magazine had just announced its 2011 Person of the Year, "The Protester," with an iconic magazine cover courtesy of Shepard Fairey. "He dropped it on the table and said, ‘This is what’s happening right now. The whole world is in protest. People all over the world are protesting, and that’s what I want to bring out.’”
Antal explains that linking Metallica with the concept was a natural reaction to his own relationship with the band’s music. “I certainly know when I found Metallica in my life — and I think a lot of the fans did, you know, in their teenage years — there was a lot of angst and protest and broken homes,” he says. “And I think they’ve always kind of represented that spirit of strength, or protest, in moments of darkness.” Using the band’s own passionate fans as inspiration he centered the narrative around Trip (Dane DeHaan), a roadie who’s sent off on a mission during which he finds himself surrounded by rioting protesters, police, and eventually a masked horseman named The Death Dealer. "I think they’ve always kind of represented that spirit of strength, or protest." For the concert footage, Antal says his goal was relatively straightforward: capture the energy of a live Metallica show by any means necessary. He joined the band for several shows in Mexico City before the production shot at concerts in Vancouver and Edmonton. With his director of photography, Gyula Pados, Antal drew up schematics of the stage set-up and the shots they wanted to grab. “Just making sure that when a ball of fire goes off behind James, I’d make little mental notes or scribble them down on a piece of paper, just regarding potential cool angles,” he tells me. “It was really just a question of being in the right place at the right time, and making sure that we were there when they were doing their thing.” Dane DeHaan and director Nimród Antal To ensure they had enough coverage, the project used up to 24 cameras simultaneously, but there was a conscious choice to focus on the audience as much as the band members themselves. “Day one, most of our cameras weren’t even looking at the stage, they were looking at the audience,” he says, then pauses and laughs. “Maybe not most, maybe half.” It gave Antal and editor Joe Hutshing (Almost Famous, JFK) up to 30 options to pick from in certain situations, which the director describes as a “creative blessing and a creative nightmare all wrapped into one big package.” Throughout the process, the band struck a balance between heavy involvement and letting the filmmakers execute the jobs they were hired to perform. In the early stages, Huggins says, the band and its management team were heavily involved in every single decision. Then when the script and budget were locked they just stepped away. “I felt I enjoyed much more creative freedom than I’ve enjoyed in any of the studio films I’ve partaken in, certainly,” Antal concurs. When it came time to edit the project, Metallica got involved once again. “We’d be eight weeks into the cut and we’d show them something,” he says. “Then we’d go further; we’d show them something.”
Metallica Through the Never is being billed as a 3D experience, and while its use of the technology undoubtedly pulls the viewer in, it’s able to do so without being gimmicky nor distracting. Much of that is due to Antal’s decision to approach the film visually without specifically catering to 3D effects. “We knew that the opportunity gave us a chance for an emotional connection,” Antal explains. “That said, if I’m shooting something on video, if I’m shooting something on film, if I’m shooting something with digital; regardless of the platform, regardless of the toys that you use, they’re all there just to help you sell the experience.” Metallica Through the Never delivers on that experience. It’s as close as you can get to attending a Metallica show without entering an arena — if you’ve ever wanted to practice your air drumming in a movie theater, this is the film to see — ultimately revolving around the crucial concept of a band connecting with its audience. “I think the band’s longevity in large part has to do a lot with the fact that they understand the gifts they’ve been given, and the loyalty that their fans have for them, and the love the fans have for them. I think they’re grateful, and aware.”

Fabian Oefner turns simple science into stunning art photography


Swiss photographer Fabian Oefner is known for using art to breathtakingly illustrate simple science at work. His latest series of images, called The Invisible Dimension, captures crystals of color rising in reaction to a speaker's soundwaves, magnetic liquid pushing paint into canals, and a flame of burning whiskey traveling through a glass bottle. In a recent TED talk, the artist explains the motivation behind his creations: "I'm trying to use these phenomena, and show them in a poetic and unseen way, and therefore invite the viewer to pause for a moment and think about all the beauty that is constantly surrounding us." You can see Oefner's artistic process demonstrated in his TED talk below, and check out his website to see The Invisible Dimension photos in high resolution.

Amazon was thinking about a 3D phone years ago, early patents reveal


In 2008, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was already dreaming up a 3D smartphone. Now it's five years later, and while Amazon has built a series of great tablets, a smartphone has yet to materialize. But rumors of one have: Amazon is now said to be developing Bezos' 3D smartphone, which would work by tracking its user's head and adjusting the interface to make it appear to have depth. While details are otherwise slim, Unwired View has unearthed a number of Amazon patents from over the years — in addition to one from Bezos himself dating all the way back to 2008 — that detail what just such a device might look like. Smiling could become a gesture One of the main concerns with current smartphones and tablets that these patents focus on is that they can become difficult to use when at odd angles. One solution they suggest is that by using their tracking technology, the device's keyboard could be constantly repositioned so that it fell directly beneath its user's hands. They also describe Leap Motion-style hand tracking, allowing users to press buttons by performing gestures in midair. But most of the gestures seem to be more subtle than poking at nonexistent buttons: nodding your head, leaning to either side, or even just smiling could all be used to control a phone or some other device's interface, the patents say. The patents' illustrations give a look at how this might play out on a smartphone. Some illustrations show a card-style interface that would appear deeper or shallower, or shift left or right depending on where the viewer was looking from. Other illustrations show how an item might appear to physically depress when activated by using shadows that match up with the angle the viewer is looking from. Those details don't strictly sound like the makings of a helpful user interface, but these are also just patent illustrations meant in part to exemplify what Amazon is thinking about — not strictly what it'll end up doing with them. It looks like Amazon is focusing on other projects for the rest of 2013, so there may still be quite a ways to go before Amazon reveals its real plans.

Rap Genius' newest project lets you search the rise and fall of rap's favorite words


Rap Genius is no longer content to simply explain everything. The annotation site has launched Rap Stats, a kind of Google Trends for every rap song in its catalog, going back to 1988. Feed a term into Rap Stats, and you'll get a plot of how much of the rap lexicon it takes up. This will give you everything from a stark but objective history of subgenres to the unpredictable rise and fall of slang. If you're wondering about rap's most frequently cited recent president (George H.W. Bush, at his peak), American city (LA), or social network, you'll find them — that last one is Twitter with a strong showing by Instagram, though MySpace at its peak handily beats Facebook. No rapper has ever mentioned LinkedIn. Rap Genius is playing to its strengths here, so you won't find searches for the history of poetry, rock, or inspirational speeches. You will, however, find an excellent annotated breakdown of how rap has changed since its inception, as well as some useful research on what the genre holds most dear. For anything more, you can refer to our second episode of Small Empires, following Rap Genius' quest to footnote the world.

Apple reportedly buys Cue intelligent personal assistant app


With its latest acquisition, Apple may be looking to improve its agenda services. TechCrunch and AppleInsider first reported that the Cupertino-based company purchased Cue (formerly Greplin), and Apple has now provided The Verge with its typical statement when such acquisitions are rumored. It says that "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans." It's as close as a confirmation Apple will provide. Cue's original service was designed for heavy social network users, allowing them to search content across Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but last year when it rebranded it switched to an offering roughly similar to Google Now. That's a favorable comparison for Cue, however, as it didn't use algorithms like Google Now to make intelligent (and useful) recommendations. Cue culled emails and calendar appointments, among other information, to provide a daily agenda. In iOS 7, Apple introduced a "Today" screen with similar functionality, and it's not far-fetched to think Cue could help bolster the feature. Just yesterday Cue announced on its website that it was shutting down, with a simple note saying "We appreciate all of the support from you, our users, as Cue has grown over the last few years. However, the Cue service is no longer available." The notice did not make it clear whether the company had a future, but now it's clear that the Apple acquisition likely led to the suspension of service. TechCrunch's sources say the company will not be shut down following the acquisition, and it's rumored that Apple paid at least $35 million for Cue.