TagMassachusetts

Eric J. Heller Gallery-Where Science Inspires Art and Art Informs Science

Eric Johnson Heller (b. 1946) lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is a member of the Physics and Chemistry faculties of Harvard University, where he also received his Ph.D. in 1973.

“Art has a unique capacity convey insights, intuitively and emotionally, about complex subject matter. If there is a short circuit to wisdom, it is through art. I try to exploit the powers of art to relate secrets of Nature only recently uncovered. A key element in my work is exploitation of Nature’s almost narcissistic self-similarity, her repetition of pattern on vastly different scales and in radically different contexts. Consider, the motion of the planets around the sun and electrons orbiting a nucleus, or waves on water and electron waves in a semiconductor. With such repetition, Nature provides her own windows into otherwise secret worlds.”

(Eric J. Heller Gallery)

Debate on the Benefits and Risks in Fitting Patients with RFID Tags

“In 2004, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved a radiofrequency identification (RFID) device that is implanted under the skin of the upper arm of patients and that stores the patient’s medical identifier. A debate in this week’s PLoS Medicine discusses the pros and cons of patients getting fitted with such an RFID chip. When a scanner is passed over the RFID device, the identifier is displayed on the screen of an RFID reader. An authorized health professional can then use the identifier to access the patient’s clinical information, which is stored in a separate, secure database.

In the PLoS Medicine debate, Mark Levine, Chair of the Council of Ethical and Judicial Affairs at the American Medical Association (Chicago, IL, USA), argues that such devices have the potential “to make significant advances in the effectiveness, efficiency, and safety of medical care by improving patient identification, promoting patient safety, and expediting access to patients’ medical records.” Yet, as with all new technologies, he says, “their adoption must be tempered by attention to potential unintended consequences.” Ethical concerns regarding the use of RFID devices arise, he says, from issues pertaining to informed consent, the privacy and accessibility of stored information, and the purposes for which the transmitted data will be used. Because of the risks of unintended consequences, the implantation of RFID devices “merits a healthy dose of skepticism,” argue Ben Adida (Children’s Hospital Informatics Program, Boston, MA, USA) and colleagues. If such devices become widely deployed, say Adida and colleagues, they may provide an incentive for both well and ill-intentioned parties to set up readers for these ‘license plates for people.’ A store owner, for example, might set up a reader to track frequent customers, linking the unique identifier to the customer record upon first purchase. Law enforcement might leverage RFID as a means of ubiquitous surveillance. At the very least, say the authors, the informed consent process must “transparently convey the significant societal side effects of RFID devices.”

via PLoS Journal

Straight Talk: Videotaping Police

Last month, Brian Kelly of Carlisle, Pa., was riding with a friend when the car he was in was pulled over by a local police officer. Kelly, an amateur videographer, had his video camera with him and decided to record the traffic stop.

The officer who pulled over the vehicle saw the camera and demanded Kelly hand it over. Kelly obliged. Soon after, six more police officers pulled up. They arrested Kelly on charges of violating an outdated Pennsylvania wiretapping law that forbids audio recordings of any second party without their permission. In this case, that party was the police officer.

Kelly was charged with a felony, spent 26 hours in jail, and faces up to 10 years in prison. All for merely recording a police officer, a public servant, while he was on the job.

There’s been a rash of arrests of late for videotaping police, and it’s a disturbing development. Last year, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly threatened Internet activist Mary T. Jean with arrest and felony prosecution for posting a video to her website of state police swarming a home and arresting a man without a warrant.

Full Story: Fox News.

Computer analysis provides Incan string theory

Via me, Fell, a pretend-ninja and superstar in my own mind

Oh? and New Scientist?

The mystery surrounding a cryptic string-based communication system used by ancient Incan administrators may at last be unravelling, thanks to computer analysis of hundreds of different knotted bundles.

The discovery provides a tantalising glimpse of bureaucracy in the Andean empire and may, for the first time, also reveal an Incan word written in string.

Woven from cotton, llama or alpaca wool, the mysterious string bundles – known as Khipu – consist of a single strand from which dangle up to thousands of subsidiary strings, each featuring a bewildering array of knots. Of the 600 or so Khipu that have been found, most date from between 1400 AD and 1500 AD. However, a few are thought to be about 1000 years old.

Spanish colonial documents suggest that Khipu were in some way used to keep records and communicate messages. Yet how the cords were used to convey useful information has puzzled generations of experts.

Unpicking the knots

Now, anthropologist Gary Urton and mathematician Carrie Brezine at Harvard University, Massachusetts, US, think they may have begun unravelling the knotty code. The pair built a searchable database containing key information about Khipu strings, such as the number and position of subsidiary strings and the number and position of knots tied in them.

The pair then used this database to search for similarities between 21 Khipus discovered in 1956 at the key Incan administrative base of Puruchuco, near modern day Lima in Peru. Superficial similarities suggested that the Khipu could be connected but the database revealed a crucial mathematical bond – the data represented by subsidiary strands on some of Khipu could be combined to create the strands found on more complex ones.

This suggests the Khipu were used to collate information from different parts of the empire, which stretched for more than 5500 kilometres. Brezine used the mathematical software package Mathematica to scour the database for other mathematical links ? and found several.

First word

“Local accountants would forward information on accomplished tasks upward through the hierarchy, with information at each successive level representing the summation of accounts from the levels below,” Urton says. “This communication was used to record the information deemed most important to the state, which often included accounting and other data related to censuses, finances and the military.”

And Urton and Brezine go a step further. Given that the Puruchuco strings may represent collations of data different regions, they suggest that a characteristic figure-of-eight knot found on all of the 21 Puruchuco strings may represent the place itself. If so, it would be the first word to ever be extracted from an Incan Khipu.

Completely deciphering the Khipu may never be possible, Urton says, but further analysis of the Khipu database might reveal other details of life. New archaeological discoveries could also throw up some more surprises, Urton told New Scientist.

Greening the Ghetto

In opposition to the debasing welfare programs of both church and state stands EcoVillage Farm just outside the heart of Richmond, CA’s inner city. For anyone who has never been to Richmond, VA don’t think South Bronx- think Gary, IN, Springfield, MA, “the Bricks”, Compton, &c. Richmond resembles many other forgotten post-industrial towns whose residents have committed the ultimate crime of being poor in America.

Which seems only one reason why EcoVillage farm represents such a revolutionary attack on the status quo. Food no longer comes in plastic wrapped packages which cannot be smelled or handled but out of the soil and the toil of those tilling. “Ownership society” falls in the category of “phrases GWB perverts into right-wing bullshit.” However EcoVillage farm seems to represent an “ownership society” that anyone with a brain could get behind. Far from just another bourgeois “organic” farm stand, EcoVillage not only provides food but relevant skills.

This type of social welfare contains more tangible benefits than I can name. First, it puts food on people’s plates. Secondly, the co-op teaches useful skills which instill a sense of pride. Few things make a person hold their head up higher than the knowledge “I can produce something.”

Terrain Magazine Article: Shabaka’s Seedlings

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