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V-2005: 06

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high speed responses in plants

“The researchers further classify these elastic instabilities as either snap-buckling or explosive fractures. Both classifications rely on plant designs that permit the gradual storing of elastic energy and its sudden release.”

“ Snap-buckling refers to a rapid change in plant shape that does not tear any plant tissue, such as that of the Venus flytrap. Explosive fractures involve a rapid shape change from tissue tearing.

“For example, the Brazilian tree Hura crepians uses an explosive fracture to spread its seeds. While the seedpods are still on the tree, they bake in the sun. As a result, the outside cells of the seedpod lose water and shrink more than the cells lining the seedpod. This creates stress that grows and grows until the pod explodes and sends its seeds flying.”

the web address for the article above is




giant breakthrough in translation technology, now available at google

Google Search is now available for many countries [listed part way down this linked page at Visit Google's Site in Your Local Domain].

If a search result is in a language different from the one ‘native’ to the current search page, for instance a French language result on an English/American search page or an English result on a French search page, there willl be a linked phrase “Translate this page” (or similar words in another language). Clicking on the link will give a translation of the original page. [Note that is not the same translation method obtained when using the Google Language Tools page.]

“Using machine translation technology, Google now gives English speakers access to a variety of non-English web pages. This feature is currently available for pages published in Italian, French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese. [Google say that they are working on several other languages.]

“If your search has non-English results, there will be a link to [generate] a version of that page translated into English.” [Quoted from Google]

Until very recently, Google was using typical machine translation technology, based upon dictionaries and a set of rules. Google are being rather spare with the information they are giving out on the new translation technology. In my view, it is based upon ideas described in an earlier abelard.org news item. Google are calling this translation method, the Rosetta Stone approach. This is, essentially, a statistical approach rather than a rule-based approach and is giving vastly improved results.

Their new version of this translation facility was announced at the Google Factory Tour [select “Slide 136” to the right of the webcast page - the complete webcast runs and runs through the full day’s presentation]. This new version provides a considerable jump in the useablity of machine translations, giving greater fluency and readability.

Rather than translating by following rules of grammar, the Google Translator was trained on the translation database of simultaneously translated documents from the UNO, about 200 billion English words and their translations.

This new method of translation has only become seriously feasible now that Googe has a huge database available through the work of their search engine.

A google translation example.

The greater the number of results that show a particular translation, the higher the weighting for that translation of a phrase.

“Google proposes a free service which ensures the machine translation of the pages published on the Web in languages other than English. Our automatic translation service is available only in certain languages [...]. In addition, the software translation that we implemented does not detect the text present in the images, with the result that this text is not translated.” [Quoted approximately from a Google translation of a Google page in French]

For instance, finding abelard.org’s page on Dax cathedral and church iconography with google.fr, gives a followable, if not entirely elegant, French translation.

Here, for instance, the translator fails to find an appropriate translation for “stained glass”. A correct translation would be vitraux or verre colouré - the translation given is verre souillé, that is “dirty glass”!

Note that this information is unreliable - we have made contact with Google in order to clarify the situation.

the web address for the article above is

following up our story on google translations [just above]

“Today, nearly every translation service offered on the Web - AOL, Alta Vista, Babblefish, even Google's - is powered by translation technology developed by Systran. The company, based in San Diego and Paris, has been involved in MT for more than 30 years.[...]

“MT [machine translation] involves years of hard work creating rules for translation between a pair of languages, says Dimitris Sabatakakis, chief executive officer of Systran. Using statistical methods, such as Google does, is a well-known technique. "There is no technology breakthrough," he says. "Everybody does the same." ”

“Google's MT system is still under development and not available to the public. Talking about it at an event for journalists and industry analysts may mean that at least a test version will be coming in the next few months, observers speculate.”

Chess grandmasters made a similar mistake when chess-playing computers first came on the market: “A chess machine will never beat a human at chess”.

Now Gary Kasparov, ex-world chess champion has to make real efforts to hold his own against machines such as Deep Blue, and Hydra is reckoned to be stronger still. The methods used by chess computers have been sometimes disparagingly refered to as “brute force methods”. However, as computers become ever faster and are able to store increasingly larger amounts of data, there is no reason to suppose that computers will not be able to out-perform human minds in specified tasks using these ‘brute force’ methods.

related material
possibilities of advancing natural language translation using ‘google distance’
the Turing test and intelligence

the web address for the article above is

modern technology reveals archimedes’s writing

“A particle accelerator is being used to reveal the long-lost writings of the Greek mathematician Archimedes, work hidden for centuries after a Christian monk wrote over it in the Middle Ages.”


“Scholars believe the treatise was copied by a scribe in the 10th century from Archimedes' original Greek scrolls, written in the third century B.C.

“[About 200 years later,] it was erased [...] by a monk who reused the parchment for a prayer book, creating a twice-used parchment book known as a "palimpsest." In the 12th century, parchment (scraped and dried animal skins) was rare and costly, and Archimedes' works were in less demand.”

“It's the only [document] that contains diagrams that may bear any resemblance to the diagrams Archimedes himself drew in the sand in Syracuse [more than] 2000 years ago," [...]”

About 80% of the document has already been recovered using “digital cameras and processing techniques as well as ultraviolet and infrared filters developed for medicine and space research.” It is now expected that the other pages will be recovered during the next four years.


“ [...] Stanford physicist Uwe Bergmann realized he could use a particle accelerator to detect small amounts of iron in the ink. The electrons speeding along the circular accelerator emit X-rays that can be used to cause the iron to fluoresce, or glow.

“ "Anything which contains iron will be shown, and anything that doesn't contain iron will not be shown," [...] .”

At the Walters Museum in Baltimore website, there is a history of palimpsests in general (this page has a photo of a page from the Archimedes palimpsest), on this palimpsest in particular, and an illustrated description of how the monk concerned nearly destroyed this valuable resource.

From Greek roots meaning “again-scraped“.

the web address for the article above is

deep earth nuclear penetration weapons lack plausibility

“Long before a nuclear earth penetrator is deployed, targets will be located more than 300 meters deep, just out of range of the nuclear weapon. The U.S. will have lost all the benefits that non-proliferation restraint would have won us, and we will be in exactly the same position we are in today.

“The conclusion also implicitly accepts the key premise that the tunnel must be destroyed, not just isolated. For some reason, sealing the entrances with conventional weapons and cutting off the power, air, cooling, and water are not adequate. The tunnel must be crushed.

“This objective is not plausible for real targets [...].”

the web address for the article above is

nuclear batteries advance

“[...] scientists demonstrate a new fabrication method that in its roughest form is already 10 times more efficient than current nuclear batteries—and has the potential to be nearly 200 times more efficient.”

“The technology is geared toward applications where power is needed in inaccessible places or under extreme conditions. Since the battery should be able to run reliably for more than 10 years without recharge or replacement, it would be perfect for medical devices like pacemakers, implanted defibrillators, or other implanted devices that would otherwise require surgery to replace or repair. Likewise, deep-space probes or deep-sea sensors, which are beyond the reach of repair, also would benefit from such technology.”

“Betavoltaics, the method that the new battery uses, has been around for half a century, but its usefulness was limited due to its low energy yields. The new battery technology makes its successful gains by dramatically increasing the surface area where the current is produced.”

Remember that these batteies are nuclear-powered. At least the scientists aren’t concerned by putting such batteries in the body.

the web address for the article above is

turning your computer into a spy

“But what happens if your intruder then walks off with the evidence and steals the PC with the images on? The answer is to send your images to a website.”

the web address for the article above is

first steps towards self-breeding robots

block robot reproducing itself. Image credit: Cornell University

One robot unit. Image credit: Cornell University

Above: A molecube.

Left: Cube robot reproducing itself. Image credits: Cornell University

Javascript link to video (on link page, beneath photo on left).

“ [...] the machine is just a proof of concept -- it performs no useful function except to self-replicate -- but the basic principle could be extended to create robots that could replicate or at least repair themselves while working in space or in hazardous environments [...] ”

“Their robots are made up of a series of modular cubes -- called "molecubes" -- each containing identical machinery and the complete computer program for replication. The cubes have electromagnets on their faces that allow them to selectively attach to and detach from one another, and a complete robot consists of several cubes linked together. Each cube is divided in half along a long diagonal, which allows a robot composed of many cubes to bend, reconfigure and manipulate other cubes.”

“The new robots in Lipson's lab are also very dependent on their environment. They draw power through contacts on the surface of the table and cannot replicate unless the experimenters "feed" them by supplying additional modules.

“ "Although the machines we have created are still simple compared with biological self-reproduction, they demonstrate that mechanical self-reproduction is possible and not unique to biology," the researchers say.”

marker at abelard.org

Gregory Chirikjian at John Hopkins University has also made self-replicating robots - mini bulldozers from Lego - that will build another version of themselves. Again, the spare parts are preassembled and the sequences follow very precise rules.

This video has close-up video inserts - putting together four modules.

This video is of another ‘bulldozer’ fairly frenetically, yet carefully, putting together numerous pieces to make a fellow bots.

marker at abelard.org

The importance of the cube-based robots’ replication/reproduction process is that it is scaleable. For instance, in nanoscience:

“What's needed, he says, are huge numbers of robots working together at a molecular scale. Self-replication is seen as a way of achieving this, using nanobots that can create copies of themselves to form vast numbers of microscopic assemblers.” [Quoted from Nat. Geo.]

Lead thanx to James Hammerton.

the web address for the article above is

bendy concrete

“The new concrete looks like regular concrete, but is 500 times more resistant to cracking and 40 percent lighter in weight.”

“The ductile, or bendable, concrete is made mainly of the same ingredients in regular concrete minus the coarse aggregate, Li said. It looks exactly like regular concrete, but under excessive strain, the ECC [Engineered Cement Composites] concrete gives because the specially coated network of fibers veining the cement is allowed to slide within the cement, thus avoiding the inflexibility that causes brittleness and breakage [...].”

“ The key is that ECC is engineered, Li said, which means that in addition to reinforcing the concrete with microscale fibers that act as ligaments to bond the concrete more tightly, scientists design the ingredients in the concrete itself to make it more flexible.”

the web address for the article above is

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