Thankfully Samson has found something more interesting than digging up our yard…he likes to chase critters that hop and slither around our yard. In fact he was fixated and barking like mad the other day – this is what he was barking at!
The Computer that Detects Forged Art
One of the things that continue to separate human intelligence from that of machines is the ability to recognize art. (Well, sometimes it’s hard for us humans to tell too…!)
A step towards remedying that has been taken by Milan Rajkovic at the University of Belgrade and Milos Milovanovic at the Mathematical Institute of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. They have developed a “machine-vision analysis technique” that detects in the pattern of brushstrokes in a painting the underlying cognitive processes of the artist, which indicates which of a pair of identical paintings is the original, and which the copy — even if painted by the same person.
This was undertaken to solve a legendary conundrum in the art world, involving two versions of the painting La saveur des larmes (The Flavour of Tears) by the Belgian surrealist Magritte. It has long been known that Magritte himself painted both versions, likely to make two sales to two different collectors, in the painter’s financially challenged, immediately-post-WWII period. Since Magritte took especial care to make each appear to be the same painting, it has proven impossible for art experts to determine which was painted first: even the inscriptions of the back match!
Enter Rajkovic and Milovanovic. The pair hypothesize that creating an original painting is a task more cognitively complex than copying one, resulting in more layered colours and differently organized brushstrokes, which can be detected by computer. The pair tested this hypothesis by engaging Dutch painter Charlotte Caspers to execute seven artworks using different media, and then create copies of them as closely as she could. Then Rajkovic and Milovanovic unleashed their analysis.
“[It] transforms a two-dimensional image into a time-frequency representation which captures information about the painting at various scales. These scales can be thought of as looking at progressively more blurred images of the paintings.
Rajkovic and Milovanovic perform this analysis using the red, green, and blue channels of a conventional RGB image of each painting, and they repeat the analysis for patches of each painting.
Sure enough, they say a difference in complexity is clearly visible between Caspers’s originals and copies. ‘For all patches and all the paintings, the mean global complexity of an original painting is larger than the corresponding value of a copy,’ they say.”
With the success of their trial run under their belts, Rajkovic and Milovanovic turned to La saveur des larmes 1.0 and 2.0. Using their techniques, they have definitively identified the original and the copy in relation to each other, but, in a move Gizmodo is calling “either a fantastic display of academic trolling or paranoid ass-covering,” they have omitted any other real-world details (home gallery, for example) that would indicate which is actually which.
Rajkovic and Milovanovic are currently being challenged to fully identify the paintings. While that means that someday this tantalizing mystery will sadly be solved, it means the next step for machine intelligence (and the forgery-detecting business!) may be in the horizon.
Alchemy has been an interest of mine for quite awhile…to me it represented the more glamorous and legacy aspect of chemistry. So it was with interest as I was preparing this week’s article that aqua regia, “royal water” played a part. Back in my chemistry days, I worked in a precious metals refinery which meant that gold was one of the products we worked with, including the refining of it. Aqua regia was a staple in my daily work life and often because it was so corrosive minute amounts of the gold solution (made up of aqua regia & gold) or chloroauric acid would leak through my gloves and get on my hands. As this was in the 70’s I would just wash my hands and go on with my day. However after a few months at this job my husband and I went to Aruba — as soon as the tropical sun hit my hands they turned black and purple from the silver nitrate and gold chloride respectively. Don’t be horrified, it was the 70’s and it made me think that my hands were more valuable!
Dissolving the Nobel Prize: How Science Defeated the Nazis
The history books are full of tales of great capers and feats of derring-do, but some of the most breathtaking are quite compact in scale. Such is the story of the physicist Niels Bohr and chemist Gyorgy de Hevesy saving the (literally) prized possessions of two Bohr’s colleagues from plunder — with science!
In 1940, Bohr was running his Institute of Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen, where de Hevesy worked in the lab. The Nazi forces that were sweeping Europe had finally taken Denmark, and Bohr had a unique problem: he was hiding contraband gold that fellow physicists Max von Laue and James Franck had smuggled out to him from Germany for safekeeping — in the form of their respective medals for the 1914 and 1925 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Harbouring this secret gold was a capital offense under the new regime. Bohr had to hide the medals, fast; and in an ingenious way, as the dogged Nazis, who now had much practice in pillaging, would be sure to find the medals if they were buried in the garden, as de Hevesy first suggested.
As a chemist extraordinaire, de Hevesy turned to his trade for his next try. He found the solution in (wait for it…) a solution:
“He took the first [medal], he says, and ‘I decided to dissolve it. While the invading forces marched in the streets of Copenhagen, I was busy dissolving Laue’s and also James Franck’s medals.’
[… G]old is a very stable element, doesn’t tarnish, doesn’t mix, and doesn’t dissolve in anything — except for one particular chemical emulsifier, called ‘aqua regia,’ a mixture of three parts hydrochloric acid and one part nitric acid.”
De Hevesy spent a nail-biting afternoon slowly dissolving both medals into the aqua regia. What resulted was an unremarkable beaker full of a reddish brown liquid, which escaped the Nazis’ notice when they finally arrived and ransacked the lab.
The beaker was so non-descript that, once Bohr and de Hevesy returned from exile after the war ended, it still sat on the shelf on which they had left it. And then de Hevesy worked a wonderful bit of science magic: he reversed the original reaction and extracted the gold back out of the solution, then sent it off to the Royal Swedish Academy of the Sciences. Von Laue’s and Franck’s medals were recast, and presented back to them in a ceremony in 1952! (De Hevesy racked up his own Nobel in 1943, for “ his work on the use of isotopes as tracers in the study of chemical processes.”)
It’s just after dark and it’s really noisy here – so much so, it’s hard to concentrate….It’s not traffic outside or the tv program that’s blasting which my husband is trying to convince me that he needs to watch – no it is the birds! There are so many new birdsongs around that it drives me to distraction. In the morning I hear the loon, crows and a bird that makes a “reebee reebee” type of sound and in the evening, always after dark, there is another more complicated song. My new favourite website is Cornell Lab of Orinthology’s All About Birds. The challenge though, is that is so many birds and you almost need to know the bird you’re looking for in order to find it’s song. Anyone out there amongst you who knows something about birds? Please contact me!
This Is Your Brain on Injectable Implants
I admit: I’m guilty of making frequent jokes about how much easier things will be when we all have chips in our brains. But even I was taken aback by the news coming out of Harvard University: Researchers have discovered a method by which a tiny polymer mesh can be injected into mouse brain tissue, where it unfurls and observes neuron activity — and it could become a platform for all kinds of therapeutic interventions.
The mouse trial is basically a stone’s throw away from human implantation, where the mesh could eventually ameliorate the effects of conditions like Parkinson’s, or events like a stroke. (In addition to turning you into a really cool cyborg!) The study outlining this development was published last month in Nature Nanotechnology.
The mesh is a game changer in the field of neuroscience: most current brain-observing technologies are too narrowly focused to get a good idea of how thousands of neurons work together. They are also too rigid to stay on a target cell when the subject breathes, or its heart beats. The mesh is wide-ranging and flexible enough that these problems can be eliminated, and a whole new way of looking at the brain becomes possible. It is made of:
“conductive polymer threads with either nanoscale electrodes or transistors attached at their intersections. Each strand is as soft as silk and as flexible as brain tissue itself. Free space makes up 95% of the mesh, allowing cells to arrange themselves around it. […]The team [rolls] up a 2D mesh a few centimetres wide and then use[s] a needle just 100 micrometres in diameter to inject it directly into a target region through a hole in the top of the skull. The mesh unrolls to fill any small cavities and mingles with the tissue. Nanowires that poke out can be connected to a computer to take recordings and stimulate cells.”
The rodent subjects’ brains see the mesh as a friendly material, and cells soon grow on it, integrating it fully into the environment it observes. But, of course, further stringent testing must occur before we see human use of this technology. (The researchers are thinking of next implanting the mesh in the brains of newborn mice, to see if it will expand as they grow.) The possibilities for cognitive improvement and support are fascinating, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds (pun intended)!
Here’s a quick quiz for you dear readers: The picture below shows a few things that is in our new backyard – soil covering Samson’s hole digging, clothes on a line, hidden fence flags and a fire bowl for burning things….So the question is, what would have been considered a violation in our old neighborhood?
If you guessed the hanging clothes you would have been right!
When we moved into our old house close to 30 years ago, we had to agree in the purchase papers not to have a clothesline in our yard with which to hang clothes on! In these days of energy awareness, it just seems wrong that we opt to use an appliance instead of Mother Nature’s own energy in the form of sun and wind. Times have changed and I sleep all the better for it…(there’s nothing like sleeping in sheets that have hung outside and feeling that one has done their part for the environment).
“It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye”: an appreciation of brutalist playgrounds
The architecture style Brutalism (think, Fort Book at UofT ) — whose literal definition is “raw concrete” — certainly does not inspire visions of fun, child-friendly, safe environments. But, the post-WWII movement that brought us buildings like Le Corbusier’s famous Palace of Assembly in Chandigarh, India, also brought us many less-known government complexes and apartment blocks in Europe and the Americas. Any place you expect kids, you need a playground — and if you expect kids at a Brutalist site, that playground’s gonna be Brutalist.
Web Urbanist reports on an installation by artist Simon Terrell and the collective Assemble at the headquarters of the Royal Institute of British Architects in London. The installation recreates (in high-density foam, thank goodness) the Brutalist playgrounds from those mid-century halcyon days before they invented safety. Just looking at them makes my healed-over childhood skinned elbows ring with phantom pain. My personal favourite is the evil-looking tilt-a-whirl construction at the Churchill Gardens playground, with stepping stones leading to it that resemble the Devil’s Postpile in California.
Joking aside, the rationale behind Brutalism and its playgrounds is fascinating; coming immediately after — and making a serious comment on — the destruction of the “frivolous” architecture of the previous decades in the crucible of World War II. And as someone who believes that today’s kids are being coddled a bit more than they should be, I appreciate that these playgrounds taught kids to assess risk and harden themselves. (Just maybe not with scar tissue…!)
This business that we have been in since the late 1980’s has seen substantial change. I remember when I had to explain what the web was to potential customers, let alone what a web page was…the “Information Highway” was going to be the next big thing! Fast forward a “few” years and the Internet is not given a second thought anymore, except when we cannot connect to it in a manner that we expect. Along with the ubiquity of the being online, has come viruses, hackers, bad creepy people that try to steal sensitive information, etc. Of course bad, creepy people have always existed and now the internet just gives them another venue for their mischief (and more); thus security, which has always been part of DFC’s business has seen more interest recently. One aspect of increased security which is necessary to protect your information, is password management. No longer is it a good idea to use simple words for passwords, or use the same password for all your accounts! So in order to stay safe, life has gotten more complicated — passwords have to be changed regularly, they must be complex and each account should not share the same password with a different account! (Just for fun you can test your password here) My poor brain…but wait maybe my poor brain may be used in the future instead of passwords….
The Future of Passwords May Be Found Inside Your Mind
We all know about fingerprints and security — how our unique prints are calling cards that can, say, unlock a laptop, or incriminate us if we forget to wear gloves during that bank heist (*ahem*).
But researchers are thinking that there may be something even more secure than a fingerprint: a brainprint. And in the near future, we may be able to use brainprints in lieu of remembering all the complicated passwords that litter our lives.
Researchers from Binghamton University have published a study in the journal Neurocomputing, which shows that subjects’ brains react to acronyms differently. This means that the detectable reaction can be scanned and used by security software to confirm a person’s identity before giving them access. Co-author Sarah Laszlo describes another feature of a brainprint-based security system:
“‘If someone’s fingerprint is stolen, that person can’t just grow a new finger to replace the compromised fingerprint — the fingerprint for that person is compromised forever. Fingerprints are “non-cancellable.” Brainprints, on the other hand, are potentially cancellable. So, in the unlikely event that attackers were actually able to steal a brainprint from an authorized user, the authorized user could then “reset” their brainprint.’”
The computer system in the study identified volunteers’ brainprints with a whopping 94% accuracy. Soon, we’ll be able to use our brains’ natural processes as passwords, instead of shoehorning awkward at-least-one-numeral-and-one-capital-letter constructions into them. And I say it’s about time!