## Friday, February 23, 2007

Lots of picks from this week's news, blog articles and random finds.

• From the BBC is an interesting article about the new high resolution bionic eye being tested in the US. An implant on the back of the retina feeds into the optic nerve from a camera placed in front of the eye. This new technology has around 60 electrodes, corresponding to 60 pixels which compares to the previous version with just 16. The previous version was already helping people to detect objects around them, though wasn't high enough resolution to recognise faces. Prohibitively expensive now, I guess it will be some time until it can help any large number of sufferers of the particular conditions this is supposed to aid. Still, the steps ahead in technology and the increase in our understanding of the visual cortex are all leaps in the right direction
• For information on image processing and the visual cortex I recommend Paul Churchland's rather grandiosely titled book on the brain: The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul. If experts know of better sources for non-experts then I'd love to read more.
• From eyes to mouth and Kevin Smith reports on his experiences with Chinese dentists. Considerably hairier reading than my stories of international mullet catastrophes.
• And from teeth to ears, from Retrospectacle comes the most bizarre headline of the week and an interesting story to boot. Rather than using piezoelectric crystals to convert movement to energy, NASA is using protein found within the inner ear to help turn astronaut's body movements into energy for their space-suits.
• This story has been talked about in a number of places but Peter Rhode debunks the myth that what most would define as a quantum computer had been built. After much hype that a fully functioning, completely coherent 16 qbit device was manufactured and on the market, the makers agreed that in fact it was a quantum computer in the, err, classical sense. It seems that the device uses some quantum mechanical effects for very specific purposes, but then that's one way to define the regular computer you're sitting at now.
• From Bad Astronomy Blog came a fascinating article about an area of research which has taken so many exciting leaps forward in the last few years. Before the late 90s we could only presume that our planet was not alone. Technology then reached the phase that we could detect extra-solar planets and we quickly started racking them up. We now have a list of over 200 known planets outside our solar system, most of which are gas giants but our ability to spot smaller ones is continually getting better. Another step forward was recently published when the spectral signatures from a couple of planets some 100 light years away were analysed. The analysis seems to show silica dust in the atmosphere and no detectable water, which is presumed to be hidden in the lower layers. I'm not sure how significant the spectrum itself is, but the fact that we can now do this is amazing, and there is bound to be a lot more to come in the very near future.
• Some interesting, more technical articles to peruse: Kicked off from the articles here and here on Cosmic Variance, talking about Boltzmann brains - rare statistical fluctuations in the vacuum in which a conscious entity appears and has time to make observations of its surroundings (This is a big simplification, but you really should read the CV articles for more of an intro) - I had a read of the paper by Don Page, which was being discussed. It's fascinating, seemingly on the verge of metaphysics, but there seem to be enough clever minds interested in the consequences of all this that it is taken seriously. Reading the paper is a challenge in semantics and I can't profess to have taken it all in. The general idea seems to make sense but I can't help but feel that it's all rather too subjective in terms of discussing the ordinary observer's place in the universe.
• From Bolzmann brain's via entropy and to the ultimate computer. Seth Lloyd talks about the maximum possible computing power allowed by the universe, in this nature article. Something that B.G wouldn't even dream of, though Google might.
• In this paper by Casero et al, a new model of chiral symmetry breaking from AdS/CFT is proposed by studying open string tachyon condensation. One of the most interesting results is that this type of model automatically seems to give linear confinement: $m_n^2\sim n$which is hard to produce in most AdS/QCD scenarios. In addition, the full non-abelian chiral symmetry breaking can be studied, with non-massless quarks (c.f Sakai Sugimoto model). There are many interesting aspects to this paper and I'm sure that anyone working in this field will be digesting the results.
A couple of photography pages to finish with this week.
• I'm currently thinking about upgrading to a high quality, not broken camera and so have been looking on flickr at photos, photographers and camera discussions. I came across this guy's site. He specialises in high dynamic range images (HDR and links therein) by which many photos with different exposures are overlayed and altered such that the contrasts and tones stand out significantly more than a single shot would. My feeling is that sometimes this is rather over the top, but some of the time the effects are startling and the photos are truly beautiful. Here are a few particularly impressive images (1,2,3,4). Some of them begin to look like caricatured drawings but I'm interested in learning more about this.
Hope there was something for most. Interesting contributions from sources I haven't seen are welcomed. E-mail address is in my profile.

• I almost forgot, for cephalopod fans everywhere I couldn't miss off the first collosal squid ever caught, in the Ross Sea.