Meet the Mad Scientists Who Invented Edible Fireworks

wired, Bompas and Parr, food, experience design

People like to call Sam Bompas and Harry Parr the Willy Wonkas of the 21st century. The two Londoners do have some distinctly Wonkalian qualities: the distinct sense of style, the larger-than-life personalities and most notably, a penchant for creating fantastical, logic-defying food experiences. Like Wonka himself, Bompas and Parr once built a 10-foot waterfall flowing with chocolate and have even invented a flavor-changing chewing gum. Even so, the knee-jerk description might be selling the mad food scientists a bit short. As Bompas puts it: “Wonka was a bit of a sadist, and I’d like to think our events are a lot more open and democratic than his approach.”

Google Goes Evil By Funding Ted Cruz and ALEC’s Global Warming Denial

GOOG, Google, Evil, climate denial, ALEC, capital

There is simply no squaring the moral ambition of the “Don’t Be Evil” motto of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin with funding for a group that promotes “The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2.” ALEC is exactly who Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was talking about when he said at a recent Google symposium: “You can lie about the effects of climate change, but eventually you’ll be seen as a liar.”

Crash Course on Notation in Programming Language Theory

programming, PLT, theory, notation, programming languages, computing, mathematics

This post is a crash course on the notation used in programming language theory (“PL theory” for short). For a much more thorough introduction, I recommend Types and Programming Languages by Benjamin C. Pierce and Semantic Engineering with PLT Redex by Felleisen, Findler, and Flatt. I’ll assume the reader is an experienced programmer but not an experienced mathematician or PL theorist. I’ll start with the most basic definitions and try to build up quickly.

A Preliminary Analysis of the Botany, Zoology, and Mineralogy of the Voynich Manuscript

Voynich Manuscript, botany, patabotany, mexico, catholic church, herbal

We note that the style of the drawings in the Voynich Ms. is similar to 16th century codices from Mexico (e.g., Codex Cruz-Badianus). With this prompt, we have identified a total of 37 of the 303 plants illustrated in the Voynich Ms. (roughly 12.5% of the total), the six principal animals, and the single illustrated mineral. The primary geographical distribution of these materials, identified so far, is from Texas, west to California, south to Nicaragua, pointing to a botanic garden in central Mexico, quite possibly Huaztepec (Morelos). A search of surviving codices and manuscripts from Nueva España in the 16th century, reveals the calligraphy of the Voynich Ms. to be similar to the Codex Osuna (1563-1566, Mexico City). Loan-words for the plant and animal names have been identified from Classical Nahuatl, Spanish, Taino, and Mixtec. The main text, however, seems to be in an extinct dialect of Nahuatl from central Mexico, possibly Morelos or Puebla.

The End of the Snowden Operation

NSA, Snowden, IC Reform, International Relations

However, yesterday President Obama ended the political debate about the Snowden Operation with his much-anticipated speech about NSA and reform, based on the recommendations of his own panel. As my colleague Tom Nichols and I have long predicted, the reform package Obama has delivered is a stinging defeat for the NSA haters. Yes, it will be more difficult for NSA analysts to access metadata, but access it they will. Yes, NSA collection against top foreign leaders will be restricted, somewhat, but Agency support to U.S. and Allied diplomacy will continue. The bottom line is that President Obama’s reforms contain no significant changes to how NSA does business as the leading foreign intelligence agency in the United States and the free world.

social turkers: crowsourced dating

outsourced life, turkers, mechanical turk, IRL, social interaction

Would unbiased third party monitors be better suited to interpret situations and make decisions for the parties involved? How might augmenting our experience help us become more aware in our relationships, shift us out of normal patterns, and open us to unexpected possibilities? I am developing a system like this for myself using Amazon Mechanical Turk. During a series of dates with new people I meet on the internet, I will stream the interaction to the web using an iPhone app. Turk workers will be paid to watch the stream, interpret what is happening, and offer feedback as to what I should do or say next. This feedback will be communicated to me via text message.

First Observation of a Quantum Cheshire Cat

quantum, measurement, weak measurement, cat, cheshire cat

Yuji Hasegawa at Vienna University of Technology in Austria and a few pals say they’ve observed a quantum Cheshire cat for the first time. These guys have performed a paradoxical experiment in which they measure the location of neutrons in one part of the set up while detecting their spin in another part. “The results exhibit the characteristics of a quantum Cheshire Cat,” they conclude.

[T]here is no other aesthetic problem than that of the insertion of art into everyday life. The more our daily life appears…

“[T]here is no other aesthetic problem than that of the insertion of art into everyday life. The more our daily life appears standardized, stereotyped and subject to an accelerated reproduction of objects of consumption, the more art must be injected into it in order to extract that little difference which plays simultaneously between other levels of repetition, and even in order to make the two extremes resonate — namely, that habitual series of consumption and the instinctual series of destruction and death.”

Gilles Deleuze,Difference and Repetition

Provenance and Trust

Provenance, trust, systems, science, Yolanda Gil, traces

Provenance refers to the origins of objects. Software systems should generate provenance records for their results, containing assertions about the entities and activities involved in producing and delivering or otherwise influencing that object. By knowing the provenance of an object, we can for example make assessment about its validity and whether it can be trusted, we can decide how to integrate it with others, and can validate that it was generated according to specifications.

"About six years ago I found a discussion forum online where users were sharing techniques for accessing various devices that…

surveillance, IoT, security, panopticon

“About six years ago I found a discussion forum online where users were sharing techniques for accessing various devices that were all networked through the internet. A large part of the discussion surrounded the ability to access unsecured webcam control panels, which had at some point been indexed though the search robots at Google. Interestingly, even control panels that required a password were sometimes very easily bypassed by a default user & password combination from the original device settings. At some point I started making screen captures [with] the webcams I was able to access. Sometimes it would be an image of a dog in a cage, or a tired employee behind a cash register in a convenience store… fairly uneventful moments, but every camera that successfully loaded felt like I was viewing a portal into another world, a space only accessible though digital means.

Using this methodology, I eventually accessed the control panel for this camera, which offered almost complete pan & tilt options, a 21x optical zoom, focus control, and exposure adjustments. The level of control was unparalleled compared to the other cameras I was accessing.

Andrew Hammerand’s Suburban Panopticon via In the In-Between

Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky: State of the World 2014

2014, WELL, Bruce Sterling, Jon Lebkowsky, state of the word

Well, it’s 2014, and I thank goodness the WELL is still here. I’ve never been so happy to have an Internet account that doesn’t belong to some ultra-rich creep. It’ll be hard, this year, not to dwell obsessively on the capering specters of the NSA, Snowden, Wikileaks, Bitcoin… 2013 turned out to be the year when the Digital Revolution trended Stalinist. Old-school Digital Bolsheviks scattered hapless in every direction, as Big Data Killer Bot Commissars scoured the darkening landscape, and Trotsky went to ground in Ecuador. An extraordinary atmosphere of sullen, baffled evil, as the year opens. I don’t know what to compare 2014 to – except for many other glum post-revolutionary situations, when the zealots succeeded in toppling the status quo, then failed to install a just and decent form of civil order. The world in 2014 is like a globalized Twitter Egypt.

02013 (365) in review

photography, 2013, review, first person, daily practice

2013 timeline_colour

“Perhaps true, total photography […] is a pile of fragments of private images, against the creased background of massacres and coronations.”
—Italo Calvino

For the last three (solar) years i’ve taken at least one photo per day, every day, in an ongoing series of small acts of deliberate persistence. After more than 1000 days patterns emerge, inspiration ebbs and returns, the pile of fragments grows. While i’ve never made a deliberate attempt to narrow the focus or or create further constraints than ‘one photo per day’ it’s inevitable that subjective and analytic patterns become visible.


The analytic patterns have been extracted using the Flickr API (the code can be found at github). During 02013 there are more greyscale images (171) than previously while light (66), pattern (41), reflection (38), texture (29), shadow (27) and plants (20) remain common themes (for previous years see 02012 (366) and 02011 (365))



During the year there were 746 unique tags used of which 462 were only used once, these include agave, fishbones, gargoyles in boxes, ရွှေတိဂုံစေတီတော် (aka Shwedagon Zedi Daw) and vanga. Taxidermy, Sarracenia, The Secretariat, Geomancy and Filmske Novosti were also only mentioned once.


The majority of photos were made in Belgium (241) with others in Australia (48), Croatia (18), Austria (10), Burma (9), Cambodia (7), Singapore (7), Indonesia (6), Iceland (4), UK (5), Romania (4), Germany (3), Switzerland (1), The Netherlands (1) and France (1). (local level geolocation is probably more informative but also less comprehensive)


Flickr also establishes a ranking of what it algorithmically determines “interestingness” and interestingly enough, a significant portion of those images are from 02013. Of the various groups posted to, the most common were blurism, Leica, Black and White, FlickrCentral, Abstract Photos and Urban Fragments (No People).


I’ve begun to see this daily practice as a point of departure, a habit to maintain focus (or resemble it) curiosity and ambiguity. Some of the more persistent photos from 02013 were sliced from moments of distraction, accident or circumstance during which suggestions and new directions may emerge.


In a sequence, each image absorbs metadata, footnotes, contextual bleed (images within images) it becomes dislocated with images rendered from the middle ground between mechanical/chemical and electronic/networked where each image is no more than a scratched line across spacetime. fleeting. crystalised. repeated.


“When I’m dreaming back like that I begins to see we’re only all telescopes.”
—James Joyce

The Magic Bishop- Hugo Ball

dada, hugo ball, cabaret voltaire, art, alchemy, evil, magic, play

Dada was an attempt to return ‘through the innermost alchemy of the word’ to a more magical, playful reality through overturning of all the conventions associated with civilized adult society- drawing on African, Nordic and Sanskrit traditions, the Cabaret Voltaire was a riot of nonsense, play, colour, and noise- a giant, noisy incantation against all the ills of the world. Dada was ‘the heart of words’. It was a fight. It was a magical battle.

“We’re like meridians, all beginning and ending in the same place. We spread out from the beginning and go our separate ways,…

“We’re like meridians, all beginning and ending in the same place. We spread out from the beginning and go our separate ways, over seas and mountains and islands and deserts, each telling our own story, as different as they could possibly be. But in the end we all converge and our ends are as much the same as our beginnings.”

 - Neal Stephenson (

Searching the Internet for evidence of time travelers

time travel, arxiv, Robert Nemiroff, Teresa Wilson, internet

Time travel has captured the public imagination for much of the past century, but little has been done to actually search for time travelers. Here, three implementations of Internet searches for time travelers are described, all seeking a prescient mention of information not previously available. The first search covered prescient content placed on the Internet, highlighted by a comprehensive search for specific terms in tweets on Twitter. The second search examined prescient inquiries submitted to a search engine, highlighted by a comprehensive search for specific search terms submitted to a popular astronomy web site. The third search involved a request for a direct Internet communication, either by email or tweet, pre-dating to the time of the inquiry. Given practical verifiability concerns, only time travelers from the future were investigated. No time travelers were discovered. Although these negative results do not disprove time travel, given the great reach of the Internet, this search is perhaps the most comprehensive to date.

Favorite Photobook Lists of 2013

lists, 2013, photobooks, photography, list of lists

Every year hundreds of Photobook Lists are published. They now come in a wide variety of sizes, designs, and quality, offering something for all. A healthy Photo List collectible market has developed, and indie stores selling Photobook Lists are popping up all over. We’re living during a true Photobook List renaissance. The unlisted number of Photobook Lists is not just astonishing. It’s probably beyond listing.–2013.html


Reinheitsgebot, beer, brewing, fermentation, preservatives, history, law, regulation

Medieval brewers had used many problematic ingredients to preserve beers, including, for example soot and fly agaric mushrooms. More commonly, other “gruit” herbs had been used, such as stinging nettle and henbane. Indeed, the German name of the latter, Bilsenkraut, may originally mean “Plzeň herb”, indicating that this region was a major centre of beer brewing long before the invention of (Reinheitsgebot-compliant) Pilsener.

The Unlikeliest Cult in History

Objectivism, Ayn Rand, Randroids, cult, belief, reason, historical contingency, self interest, capit

The cultic flaw in Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is not in the use of reason, or in the emphasis on individuality, or in the belief that humans are self motivated, or in the conviction that capitalism is the ideal system. The fallacy in Objectivism is the belief that absolute knowledge and final Truths are attainable through reason, and therefore there can be absolute right and wrong knowledge, and absolute moral and immoral thought and action. For Objectivists, once a principle has been discovered through reason to be True, that is the end of the discussion. If you disagree with the principle, then your reasoning is flawed. If your reasoning is flawed it can be corrected, but if it is not, you remain flawed and do not belong in the group. Excommunication is the final step for such unreformed heretics.

Visualizing Cyclical Time – Hour of Day Charts

Doug McCune, visualisation, visualization, time, cyclic time, graph, plot, ringmap, 12h, 24h, day, n

This is the first part of a few blog posts on this topic. Apologies ahead of time if you don’t find the topic of visualizing the 24 hours of the day as fascinating as I do, but I’m going to take the time to fully geek out and focus in on this very specific problem in depth. This is Part 1: Explaining the Challenge and Reviewing the Status Quo. This is sort of like a lit review; it’s my attempt to consolidate everything I can find about how people are currently representing 24-hour cyclical data.

The 7 Habits of Highly Overrated People

If you too want to be highly overrated, read on. Being overrated can mean that you’re mediocre but people think that you’re great, or it can mean that you’re completely incompetent but nestle in somewhere and go unnoticed, doing, as Peter Gibbons in Office Space puts it, “just enough not to get fired.” The common facet is that there’s a sizable deficit between your actual value and your perceived value — you appear useful while actually being relatively useless. Here’s how.–7-habits-of-highly-overrated-people

Aveek Sen on Italo Calvino’s “The Adventure of a Photographer”

Aveek Sen, Italo Calvino, photography, aperture, invisibility, imagination

In recording Antonino’s descent into a psycho-pathology of everyday life driven by the camera, Calvino shows how photography could lead, through an obsession with capturing the real, toward the unhinging of the mind from that very reality. It is, paradoxically, the compulsion to document that dooms photography to transgress the limits of the visible, opening up a terrain that belongs to the imagination rather than to empirical certitude. In his tribute to Barthes, Calvino described the capacity of language to speak about things “that are not”: this was its fundamental difference from photography. Yet, in this story, Antonino takes photography close to the inwardness of the imagination unshackled from the real, and to the irreducible logic of memory, dream, and fantasy. This is also the domain of fiction and, dare one say, of art. It is the rigorous unruliness of fiction— rather than the discursiveness of theory, or the objectivity of history—that becomes the mode in which Calvino fathoms the meaning and possibilities of photography. It is fiction that rescues photography from the risk-averse middle path of empiricism by toppling the eye, and the eye’s mind, into the abyss of the invisible.

The Archaeology of Beer

fermentation, archeology, beer, wine, mead, grog, kvasir, ancient beverages

“We always start with infrared spectrometry,” he says. “That gives us an idea of what organic materials are preserved.” From there, it’s on to tandem liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry, sometimes coupled with ion cyclotron resonance, and solid-phase micro-extraction gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. The end result? A beer recipe.