February 1, 2013 2:12 pm
No, it’s not Brent Spiner. It’s an honest-to-goodness robot.
Japan’s Seinendan Theater Company, currently touring the U.S. with its play “Sayonara,” features an incredibly lifelike android. A (human) actress sits backstage playing the android’s part in front of a video camera and microphone, while the android translates her speech and movement on stage. The play consists of a discussion between the android and another actress on the themes of life and death.
Jackie Mantey, writing for ColumbusAlive.com, said that the use of the robot in the performance is not merely a novelty—it heightens one’s experience of the play and adds to its meaning. The presence of the android, she writes,
helps highlight the humanity — for better or worse — of the other, flesh-and-blood characters and, ostensibly, the audience.
For example, part of the “Sayonara” plot involves the release of radioactivity at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the 2011 tsunami. While considering the pain technology can bring us, audience members are simultaneously reminded of the groundbreaking things it has done as well….
Mantey also reports that the android, named Geminoid F., “looks so much like an actual human being, the company often doesn’t use photos of it in promotional materials for the stage production so as not to confuse audiences.”
Judge for yourself: the BBC did a report on Geminoid F.’s acting skills—and her effect on her fellow actresses—when the show debuted in Japan in 2010. And here she is talking to a group of people and posing for pictures:
The play isn’t Geminoid F.’s only gig, either—far from it. Like so many great actresses before her, she made an early-career appearance at a performance in a shopping mall:
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February 1, 2013 1:04 pm
Quantum physics professors at the University of Ulm in Germany, have created a mathematically-accurate visual approximation of the hypothetical Gödel model of the universe. That is, they show what it would look like if you could simultaneously see past, present, and future versions of physical objects.
Sandrine Ceurstemont of New Scientist, who compiled the video above, explained it this way:
In the first clip, a camera is placed at the centre of this cylindrical universe, simulating what an Earth-like object would look like. Because light behaves differently in this space, as the sphere moves away from you, you see an image of both the front and the back. If it moves above you, it appears as a collection of slices. During its orbit, you see many versions from different time periods all at once.
The video gets even more trippy as it simulates what you would see when looking up at a ball. Because the universe is rotating, light rays move in spirals, creating circular echoes around the object. If a single ball is replaced by a stack, you see all the balls at once.
In a similar attempt to answer the question of what time travel would look like, PBS’s NOVA made the “Time Traveler” computer game to illustrate Einstein’s theories on the subject. Hollywood has certainly given us a wide array of visual representations, from whooshing space-vacuums to screen-flickers and -fades to magic DeLoreans. If you’ve got a lot of um, time on your hands, you can lose a lot of it by exploring the always-lively message board threads where people with varying levels of authority to speak on the matter argue about whether time travel could ever work, and what it would feel like if it did.
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February 1, 2013 12:15 pm
When Andy Warhol famously said that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” he couldn’t have been talking about himself. Two and a half decades after his death, he shows no sign of leaving the spotlight. In the past few months, he’s been popping up everywhere, alongside the discoveries of some of his lesser-known art.
For instance, the Luckman Gallery in Los Angeles is currently exhibiting a series of Warhol’s Polaroid photographs that have never before been on display. LA Weekly describes the particularly Warholian appeal of the show:
Set in glass cases, the tiny photos showcase Warhol’s knack for capturing not only the physical features of his subjects — mostly visitors to the Factory, the studio where Warhol worked — but also their personalities. Their small size forces viewers to slow down and look more closely, and there are multiple photos of some of the people. In a digital camera, the less ideal ones would probably get deleted with the push of a button but here the many shots become little clues to each subject’s personality.
In March, California will also be home to another exciting West coast Warhol debut—his 1968 film “San Diego Surf” will be playing at The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. The surf movie, shot with 16mm cameras near where it will play, was never finished in Warhol’s lifetime. It remained locked up for decades until it was unearthed for the first time for Art Basel Miami Beach in 2011. The San Diego showing will also feature never-before-seen footage of the making of “San Diego Surf,” so Warhol fans that want to catch a glimpse of the man behind the camera won’t be disappointed.
This week, Planet Money also reported that Warhol’s (very rough) sketch on paper of the U.S. unemployment rate from 1928 to 1987 was going up for auction at Christie’s soon. Estimated sale price? $20,000 to $30,000. Not bad for what looks like something scribbled on one of those big notepads in a corporate conference room.
Not only is Warhol’s art still being discussed, dissected, and sold, his influence continues to reverberate in very contemporary culture.
In the cover story of this week’s TIME, for instance, Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow reveals what (or who) inspired her to first switch from painting to film when she was a young artist. As Vulture quotes Bigelow’s profile:
“I think I had a conversation with Andy Warhol somewhere in all this, and Andy was saying that there’s something way more populist about film than art — that art’s very elitist, so you’re excluding a large audience. ” Yep, she got into making movies because of a conversation with Andy Warhol. (“In the future, everyone will have a world-famous fifteen-minute torture scene.”)
It shouldn’t be all that surprising that Warhol’s influence is apparent everywhere, considering how he changed the way we see something as banal as a can of tomato soup.
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January 31, 2013 2:51 pm
It wasn’t a comet. Really.
A widely-held (and often-discredited) theory suggests that a comet from outer space was responsible for killing off the Clovis culture, a Paleo-Indian population living in the southwestern part of North America over 13,000 years ago. The comet theory holds that either the direct impact of the comet or the air burst it caused set the surrounding land on fire, killing all sources of food and eventually starving the remaining people there.
New research at Royal Holloway University in the U.K.—performed in conjunction with 14 other universities around the world and recently published in the journal Geophysical Monograph Series—disproves that hypothesis (again).
The project did not pinpoint an alternate explanation for the disappearance of Clovis, but the researchers have determined that a comet was definitely not to blame. If North America had been hit with something large enough to alter the Earth’s climate and wipe out a civilization, there would have been significant evidence of such an impact. But, they argue,
no appropriately sized impact craters from that time period have been discovered, and no shocked material or any other features of impact have been found in sediments. They also found that samples presented in support of the impact hypothesis were contaminated with modern material and that no physics model can support the theory.
So the comet theory is dead—really. But the problem is, for some reason it just won’t stay dead, says one researcher:
“The theory has reached zombie status,” said Professor Andrew Scott from the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway. “Whenever we are able to show flaws and think it is dead, it reappears with new, equally unsatisfactory, arguments.
“Hopefully new versions of the theory will be more carefully examined before they are published.”
Hmm. Maybe the problem here is that other prevailing theories of the Clovis’ decline—for instance, that gradual changes in the animal populations of the area led the Clovis population to hunt differently and take advantage of different natural resources (that is, that the original Clovis didn’t disappear at all, their descendants merely left different artifacts behind them as time went on)—are just super boring by comparison.
Comets are way more exciting. For that reason, the Clovis Comet theory may remain forever undead.
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January 31, 2013 1:42 pm
Rembrandt van Rijn’s “Old Man in Military Costume,” captures a rich history in one portrait. As the painting’s current home, the Getty Center in Los Angeles, describes its subject,
His military costume may symbolize Dutch strength and patriotism during the struggle for independence from Spain. Although he faces front, the man’s torso is turned in a three-quarter view; his watery eyes gazing off to the side give the image a sense of immediacy.
For several decades, though, art historians and scientists have been intrigued by another story embedded within the 380-year-old painting—the artist’s methods.
Using conventional X-ray technology, researchers investigated “a confusing area of greater density” in one area of the portrait, to try to find out whether it was an earlier portait attempt that the artist had painted over. According to the Getty website, by 1984, conservators had discovered that there was, indeed, another figure hidden beneath.
The difficulty of revealing the “underpainting” lies in the fact that Rembrandt used the same type of paint, with the same chemical compound, in both versions. So more sophisticated X-ray technology was necessary.
Now, new experimental methods at the University of Antwerp have the potential to really see what’s hidden underneath the portrait, even if the composition of each layer of paint is the same. Scientists have tested a kind of macro X-ray fluorescence analysis on a mock-up painting they created for the experiment:
When bombarded with these high-energy X-rays, light is absorbed and emitted from different pigments in different ways. The scientists targeted four elements of the paint to fluoresce, including calcium, iron, mercury and lead, and got much better impressions of the hidden painting in the mock-up than they were able to before.
The next step is to repeat the process on the real thing. It’s not the first time a Rembrandt piece has been put through the X-ray scanner—a year ago, the Brookhaven Labs used macro-scanning X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (MA-XRF) to verify that an unsigned portrait from the 1600s was, in fact, an authentic Rembrandt.
Below is a brief talk by a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art about Rembrandt’s methods, and what makes “An Old Man in Military Costume” such a compelling masterpiece:
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