This is the third time we’ve had the (dis)pleasure of talking about ABC’s reality competition Dancing With the Stars here on GFR, following Bill Nye’s short-lived run on the series. I can’t tell if I’m bothered by this, due to my lack of interest in the show or if I’m satisfied with more science and sci-fi personalities making their way into reality television. (It’s probably the former.) In any case, the show’s 18th season started with a bang — or at least a pyoo-pyoo sound — when 76-year-old Billy Dee Williams strutted out on stage and Lando-bombed the crowd with a Star Wars-themed version of the cha-cha. To say it was magnificent would be a major understatement.
Calculus remains the hardest class I’ve ever taken in my life. Senior year, for some ungodly reason, I decided to try my hand at AP Calculus, probably because it seemed like I should. Chemistry was fun, and even physics wasn’t too bad, so how hard could calculus be? I remember the day our teacher taught — or in my case, tried to teach — u substitution. He might as well have been speaking in Greek (or, if he wanted to be awesome, in Klingon). I had absolutely no idea what was going on, and only passed the class because of my teacher’s sympathy and my abundance of extra credit. I’m pretty humbled to learn that flies with their teeny-tiny brains can do something I never could: perform calculus, and quickly.
Being able to report science news of the magnitude that we did earlier this week is incredible. Science geeks all over the world speculated rabidly and awaited Monday’s announcement like it was Christmas, which it was, and then some. The only problem with such news — and I’m not complaining, mind you — is that the science news that comes after it may seem a bit less momentous. Not every discovery can be the Holy Grail, though, and of course every discovery about our planet and our universe matters. In the grand scheme of things, we still know far, far less than what we don’t know, and there are even more things we don’t know we don’t know. Such is the awesomeness of space, which has given us a few other amazing stories this week, including the news that there’s a star cluster currently barreling through the cosmos in our direction.
It may be counter-productive and self-destructive to write an article about this, as I might just be writing myself out of a job, but what the hell — my love for robots trumps my fear (thus far, anyway). I know robots can do all kinds of things people can do, including taking care of the elderly, acting as emissaries for the disabled, and making coffee, but I thought I’d have some time before robots invaded the world of journalism. Time’s up. A robot wrote a story about Monday’s California earthquake and the L.A. Times published it within three minutes.
If I’m jeopardizing my own job by reporting this, then L.A. Times journalist Ken Schwencke is embarking on an even more dangerous path — he devised an algorithm called Quakebot to write an article whenever an earthquake of a certain magnitude occurs. Schwencke was woken up by the quake at 6:25 a.m. on Monday, and by the time he got on his computer, the story was already waiting in the publication queue. All he had to do was hit and button and presto, the L.A. Times had the first coverage of the quake.
If you watched Sunday’s episode of Cosmos, you know that Tyson and the Spaceship of the Imagination headed to Titan, Saturn’s gigantic moon that is thought to be one of the most likely spots for life beyond planet Earth in our solar system. As the ship cruised around, Tyson explained that the hydrocarbon lakes of Titan are the only bodies of surface liquid found outside of Earth. Just one day after that episode aired, scientists announced that they may have caught a glimpse of moving waves on the seas of Titan.
Of course, the hero in all this is the Cassini spacecraft, which continues to provide breathtaking and historical images of the solar system’s most picturesque planet. In 2012 and 2013, the spacecraft caught some reflective sunlight off the surface of a sea called Punga Mare, and scientists think it may have come from ripples — the kind only made on liquid. These aren’t big waves, we’re talking a few centimeters. But given that Punga Mare has always appeared to be completely flat, it’s still a major discovery.
Welcome to the jungle. We’ve got fun and games, like Robot Charades and airings of Jeopardy with IBM’s Watson on it. Providing today’s music is a power trio called Z-Machines, whose name is less a mystery than a confession in a bad French accent. Zeez are zee machines, namely three robots created by University of Tokyo roboticists, that are able to play music in ways humanity could only dream of. Z-Machines debuted last year during a live performance in Tokyo, and they’re taking it even farther by releasing an original EP next month, proving that metal, at least the scrap kind, will reign forever!
Music for Robots is the unimaginative but spot-on name for the five-song EP, which Warp Records will be releasing on April 8 (here in the States), both on CD and vinyl. Robot music on a record player is the most implausibly perfect thing I’ve ever heard of. The CD was programmed or composed or produced by famed British electronic musician Squarepusher, who teamed up with the roboticists and created a months-long venture into making music from the heart, as filtered through these three organ-less beings.