Tuesday, January 26, 2010

AVATAR: Biggest Box Office Movie Ever!

While Avatar has broken Titanic's record, Toby Young blogs an alternative view of James Cameron's 3D cine-spectacular. Don't be fooled by the author's comments, Avatar is a timeless, classic tale of the meek inheriting and keeping their wondrous planet

Roll on BAFTA and OSCAR awards!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cameron's AVATAR replacing Slumdog Feel-good? - BAFTA nominations

JAI HO !!!!

Scene is set for James Cameron's AVATAR to replace last year's multi-BAFTA winning Slumdog-endearing-Mumbai Dharavi-kids feel-good movie with the botanist, the paraplegic and Neytiri the Na'vi.

Image: Official Avatar Movie flickr photostream

Avatar has already become the "biggest Hollywood grosser at the Indian box office" with over 1bn Rupees (IDMB).

AVATAR is nominated in the following BAFTA categories:

BEST FILM: James Cameron, Jon Landau
DIRECTOR: James Cameron
MUSIC: James Horner
EDITING: Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua, James Cameron
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg, Kim Sinclair
SOUND: Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson, Tony Johnson, Addison Teague
SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS: Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham, Andrew R. Jones

Watch James Cameron: A Life in Pictures at an Alfred Dunhill BAFTA event here.

Let's hope Cameron's 3D epic wins those awards and is OSCAR nominated similarly. AVATAR is the New Year / Twenty-ten's and New Decade / Tween's feel-good movie - Jai Ho!!

Avatar trailers and movie clips here.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Beyond Darwin, Turing's Biology of Creation, Chemistry of Nature: The Secret Life of Chaos

The perspicacious physicist, Baghdad-born Professor Jim Al-Khalili, presenter of the excellent three-part BBC series Language of Science returns with a stunning tale of chaos:

A system completely described by mathematical equations that is more than capable of being unpredictable without any outside interference, whatsoever. (Al-Khalili, 2010: BBC4)

Launching The Secret Life of Chaos, Al-Khalili acquaints us with another seminal paper by 20th century mathematician, Alan Turing: The chemical basis of morphogenesis. In 1952, Turing was the first man to take on the momentous task of unravelling nature's mysterious mathematics, Al-Khalili reveals. Turing, grasping the idea, that the wonders of creation derive from the simplest of rules, wondered about 'mind', what is it?, explained Turing's biographer, Dr. Andrew Hodges featured in Al-Khalili's programme.

Familiarising viewers with the butterfly effect (flapping of wings in one place can effect massive change, such as in weather, somewhere else), and the link between nature's power to self-organise, Al-Khalili demonstrated that chaos is everywhere, unpredictability is hard-wired into every aspect of the world we live in, and that global climate can dramatically change in the course of a few short years. Order is linked to chaos, Al-Khalili showed. Moving through Belousov's patterns to Mandelbrot's set, Al-Khalili's journey to the centre of chaos shows us that feedback gives rise to both order and chaos and involves pattern formation, which is deeply woven into fabric of the universe. Patters are everywhere, just waiting to happen, Al-Khalili added.

Complexity is based on simple rules, which themselves give rise to complexity through a feedback loop. Spontaneity emerges from the feedback of simple rules, organisms replicate with a few random mutations now and again. Feedback comes from the environment which favours mutations best-suited to it. Nature's ability to turn simplicity into complexity explains why life exists, Al-Khalili maintains, and that it is evolution, a powerful system of creative power, which has caused the universe, full of simple dust to create human beings, causing inanimate matter to spawn intelligence from simple rules. It is evolution, an unconscious process, which hones patterns and experiments by mutating, finding what works and then builds upon this.

Design, Al-Khalili concluded beautifully, does not need an active, interfering designer; self-organising complex systems develop from simple rules, without conscious thought. Professor Jim Al-Khalili's The Secret Life of Chaos can be viewed here.

Mandelbrot set image: Scientific American

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Russell Group's Wendy Piatt Discusses UK University Cuts

From Twitter:

Dr Wendy Piatt due to appear on the Jeff Randall show on @skynews later today to talk about university cuts

Are the British Government leading UK science down the garden path to third world STEM nation-ship? Or do universities need to consider their role in cheapifying themselves through reduced calibre student intake, increasing lower-cost business studies courses, at the expense of engineering, mathematics and physics?

[Comment left by capot on CiF: I know a woman who was sent four emails with three different answers on her eligibility to progress to the next year. One of the emails very explicitly said her results were well below the standard required. Out of the blue, she was allowed to continue. That was a Russell group university. The course was said to be the most sought after in Britain in that subject area.]

Or is 'the market' at fault for attracting bright STEM graduates away from producing good science into calamitous banking complexity? Could universities have worked closer with schools to foster interest in science beyond teenage, celebritifying their bestest alumni? One notable item has emerged from the Alan Turing Year 2012 project, there's no money in Government to celebrate a true British genius. Perhaps if Ministers had put their hands in their own pocket regularly, rather than in the taxman's, as Obnoxio so indelicately puts it, "It's the insane unreasonableness of arrogant MPs", there might be a little bit left over for fantastically engaging science projects. Turing digress over!

The Guardian delivers Dr Wendy Piatt's bleak outlook for UK universities (audio report).

Other reports here:

"While academics are terrified by the threat of redundancies and pay cuts, commentators are rightly worried that cuts and fee-rises will threaten the project of opening up university education to a wider section of the public" (Guardian CiF)

"The Russell Group, which represents the top 20 universities, warns that the cuts will damage research and teaching, as well as British competitiveness. They point out that, by contrast, other leading European economies and the US are pumping more into universities as an investment for the future. The impact of the cuts would be felt quickly in terms of student places." (London Evening Standard)

"Spending cuts targeting universities are threatening to bring Britain's higher education sector "to its knees"." (Politics.co.uk)

Michael Arthur and Wendy Piatt warn: "It has taken more than 800 years to create one of the world's greatest education systems and it looks like it will take just six months to bring it to its knees" (in the Guardian)

Responded with fair points:

"You can't be immune from cuts given the size of the public sector deficit. Leaving your funds intact means some pensioner freezes, OK?

So you have three choices left -

1. Swallow the cuts and make do with less. Don't pretend our gold standard universities don't have some old duffers on the staff drawing salaries for doing bugger-all, nobody will believe you. {guffaw, guffaw!!}

2. Increase tuition fees to plug the gap.

3. Admit that Blair's dream of 50% of people going to university was ineptly planned and implemented: allowing a bunch of former tech colleges to call themselves universities and hand out confetti degrees for "music technology" or "media studies" to any fool who turns up, with no prospect of ever being sent down and jeopardising future funding, was the real betrayal of the gold standard.

Newspapers and recording studios are not hiring these days, and the end of the recession is not going to change much. Most of the cannon fodder drafted in to make up Blair's wish-list numbers should be doing apprenticeships or some other vocational training. Which might actually lead to decent, well-paid jobs.

And they would not be starting those jobs with a £20,000 student loan to repay". [stevehill, from here].

And finally: "... some Russell Group universities (especially Oxbridge, LSE, Imperial and UCL) are secretly loving the prospect of these cuts. They know they'll survive them, but they also know it gives them just the right amount of political leverage to force the government's hand on eliminating tuition fee thresholds, which is ultimately the modus operandi of the Russell Group. Wendy & Michael, be upfront about who and what you're representing here. The fall of London Met, Manchester Met, Liverpool John Moores, or many more of the substandard creations of the 1992 Education Act will not keep you awake at night." [snappymuffins from here].

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Turing Test papers for 2010

(Image: © Mark Allen)

In the 60th anniversary of Turing's Mind article, papers discussing Alan Turing's imitation game, textual comparison of machine against a human, in 2010 include:

From the Buzzing in Turing's Head to Machine Intelligence Contests (submitted, Shah & Warwick)

Hidden Interlocutor Misidentification in Practical Turing Tests (submitted, Shah & Warwick)

Testing Turing's Five Minutes Parallel-paired Imitation Game (Kybernetes Turing Test Special Issue, 3/4, March-April 2010, Shah & Warwick)

What does the Turing test really mean? (2009, Tyler Cowen and Michelle Dawson, link)

Turing100in2012 Goes Live!

Professor Kevin Warwick's Turing100in2012 page has gone live and can now be found here.

Gradually, more information will be added about this exciting event, celebrating the brilliant 20th century mathematician in his centenary year, at a very special venue connected to Alan Turing.

Chatterbox Challenge 2010

In its 10th year, in the 60th anniversary of Turing's Computing Machinery and Intelligence, 'can a machine think?' game Chatterbox Challenge launches its 2010 contest.

Alternative to the Loebner Prize, the Chatterbox Challenge galvanises:


- Improves your skills in building your bot.

- Benchmarks your bot intelligence for free.

- Makes your bot win prizes based on his intelligence and personality.

- Gets your bot more popular and reviewed by visitors.


- Gives you the opportunity to judge and review chatbots.

- Helps you to vote for the best chatbot.

- Shows the latest and the most innovative techniques in Artificial Intelligence.

- Is a good reason to start building your own bot.


- Shows you new innovative techniques to run your business.

- Helps you to get in touch with the world wide talents.

- Makes you more popular with a higher page rank.

- Gets you associated with innovative industry for present and future.

Developers can enter their artificial conversational entities - ACE here. Chatterbox Challenge history can be viewed here.

Judges wishing to assess systems (between March and May) can contact the Organiser here.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Baroness Susan Greenfield, female science role model, dismissed unfairly from the Royal Insititution?

This statement put out by the Royal Institution of Great Britain January 8, 2010:

"The Trustees of the Royal Institution of Great Britain have completed the first stage of a governance review and as a consequence have concluded, that the requirement for the functions of the role of Director as currently defined has ceased to exist. We are therefore sad to announce that Baroness Susan Greenfield left the Ri on 08/01/2010."


"Baroness Greenfield has played a leading role, not only in the development of the Ri, but also in the wider scientific community through her work in popularising science. In her twelve years as Director of the Ri, she was the driving force behind numerous initiatives, notably, the recent visionary refurbishment project and the renowned Science Media Centre."

Why release her then? Why not allow the successful Baroness to ..

"focus on strengthening its finances, fundraising, and addressing the organisational governance to ensure the Ri continues to deliver its many, diverse and renowned activities in scientific research, education and public engagement."

Would the Royal Institution have acted in this manner if the Director position had been held by a male? Why ignore Susan's significant contribution and treat her thus:

Britain's most prominent female scientist, Susan Greenfield, was locked out of her grace-and-favour flat in central London within hours of being made redundant on Friday by the Royal Institution.

The 59-year-old neuroscientist, who had been director of the institution since 1998, has now consulted a QC over the decision to serve her with redundancy papers. Sources say Baroness Greenfield was offered a "generous" redundancy package and glowing tributes if she agreed to leave her post, but refused. She is now planning to make a sex discrimination claim following the institution trustees' move to axe her position.

Friends claim an "old boys' club" culture in the institution has led to the move. "I am the only female appointed to this iconic post throughout the 211-year history of the Royal Institution and cannot see how this decision can be in the best interests of the organisation or its members," Greenfield said.

This decision was denounced by Professor Lisa Jardine, a former member of its governing council. "The institution has always had a charismatic scientist as its director. To get rid of the post suggests it has decided to commit suicide. Susan has done her job superbly and did not deserve to be escorted off the premises on Friday. We are allowing one of our most important scientific institutions (where Sir Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday once worked) to go to the wall."

... news on Friday stunned the institution. Staff were given 30 minutes' notice to attend a meeting at which the chief executive, Chris Rofe, announced her redundancy. "There was absolute silence when we were told," said one worker.(Guardian)

Shocking, absolutely shocking.

Accusations cast upon the Baroness, and other notable scientists, include self-promotion; communicating science to the masses is often followed with such charges from quarters who really ought to weigh the 'crime' against how much others are inspired, and influenced in a positive way. For goodness sake the world and the UK suffers from a desperate shortage of high-profile scientists, especially female science role-models.

Not overlooking that the Baroness divides scientists, with followers (Times report), and decriers including Dr. Ben Goldacre, who writes in his blog:

"In my view her argument [about computers damaging childrens brains] is pretty thin, and the goalposts and extremities of the claims seem to me to shift depending on the audience. All I have said is: write it up in an academic journal, making your hypothesis clear, set out the evidence, and set out what evidence you think should be gathered. ... Baroness Greenfield launched her own personally endorsed range of very expensive computer games to train your brain in the House of Lords, to much media fanfare in the Times, Telegraph, BBC and more."

The world demands practicality from science, but when science does produce, occasionally its producers are attacked for profiteering! While there is a strong argument for academic papers, Ben Goldacre's comments infer that the peer-review process is perfect, that reviewers are truly experts in the field they are assessing and that they don't allow garbage, assumption-based hocus pocus through for publication. However, watching family youngsters at play with their various computing devices, I disagree with the Baroness and believe children are more social; they're able to be more interactive with other humans via machines - whether it's a mobile 'phone, playstations, Wii, etc., than children were thirty years ago.

Nonetheless, it is a brave person that takes on the establishment: the Ri will have to answer for their actions in an Employment Tribunal, the Baroness is suing for 'sex discrimination':

"Redundancy is supposed to be about the post, not the person. So my personal performance should not be relevant." (Guardian). "She said she could not comment on other specifics of her claim, but said they would include allegations of sexual discrimination." (Telegraph).

Ri's action unwittingly sends out a signal, that it is better for rung-climbing fecund scientists to curb their personality, inhibit it so as not to clash with fellow climbers and those looking down above the glass ceiling. Apt quote for the Baroness's predicament: "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds" (Albert Einstein)

Not a propitious moment for the Ri celebrating "200 years as a member organisation". Wish Susan Greenfield, the charismatic neurologist all the best with her case and her future.

Update January 11, 2010: (Ironically) The Royal Institution to host 'Women of Substance: Inspiring Women in STEM' event!!!! Link

Friday, January 08, 2010

75th Anniversary - Elvis Presley

That great, 20th century rock 'n roll protagonist, Elvis Presley would be celebrating his 75th birthday today, had he not died prematurely aged 42.

With an unrivalled voice, smooth looks, athletic physique and gyrating hips Elvis's musical legacy will live on forever with terrific tunes, including my favourite Elvis number that begins with a crooning drawl ending with pacy tempo: Devil in Disguise:

Official Elvis Presley, king of rock 'n roll site here.

Guardian piece on Elvis's costumes:

"most famous design, and probably my personal favourite, is the suit Elvis wore for his Aloha in Hawaii in 1973. He had requested a patriotic design because the show was going to be broadcast around the world. I grabbed a piece of paper and sketched out an eagle in blue and yellow marker and told Bill, "I want to do this." He said: "Go for it." I think that jumpsuit became synonymous with his image for many people."

Read more here.

Update: Found this beautiful Elvis ballad - Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Where Should Tiger Woods Go to Redeem Himself?: Planet Pandora!

Must-see brilliantly funny segment on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: The Best F**king News Team Ever - Tiger Woods' Faith

Shown on More4 yesterday, a day later than viewed in the US, the clip can be viewed here (unfortunately, not if you're based in the UK).

The Daily Show's advice for Tiger Wood's redemption? Become a Navi Avatar and enjoy Planet Pandora!!!!

For lovers of the movie, you can 'avatarise yourself' here. This is mine:

Monday, January 04, 2010

James Cameron's Avatar is a Phenomenon: Fastest to Earn $1bn Worldwide!

Amazing news, but hardly surprising considering its global appeal (see the official fan page on Facebook), James Cameron's latest cinematic spectacular, Avatar, has earned $1bn so far, the fastest movie to achieve this, phenomenal! Everything James Cameron 'touches' turns to gold.

Pandora world, image: Flickr

From BBC:

"Distributors 20th Century Fox say it has earned more than $350m (£217m) in the US and more than $670m (£415m) in the rest of the world in only 17 days. The 3D science fiction blockbuster was directed by James Cameron, who also made Titanic, the best selling movie of all time.

The latest figures make Avatar already the fourth-biggest film ever made. Ahead of it are Titanic ($1.8bn; £1.1bn), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($1.12bn; £695m) and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($1.07bn; £664m).

Avatar - ... reportedly the most expensive film ever made, with a budget of at least $300m (£186m).

"This is like a freight train out of control," said 20th Century Fox distribution executive Bert Livingston. "It just keeps on going.

"I think everybody has to see Avatar once, even people who don't normally go to the movies, they've heard about it and are saying, 'I have to see it'," he said. "Then there are those people seeing it multiple times."

Avatar has now reached most parts of the globe. It opened in China on Saturday and is due to reach Italy - its final market - on 15 January.

The huge box office takings are partly down to the higher cost of tickets for 3D performances, says the BBC's Peter Bowes in Los Angeles. But as Hollywood enters its traditional slow season, with few big films due for release, Avatar is likely to dominate the box office for several more weeks, he adds."

It has to be seen in 3D, especially in an IMAX, to appreciate Cameron's brilliance and the wonder of his Pandora world.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Happy New Year Twenty-ten - 60th Anniversary of Alan Turing's MIND paper

Image of fireworks around the London Eye, New Year's Eve (from Sky News)

Let's hope the new year, Twenty-ten, brings forth a fresh decade of compassion and opportunity that is far removed from, as described by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the "terrible and gruelling" Noughties.

2010 marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Turing's MIND paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence - his Imitation Game, and the question of whether a machine can think remains much 'beloved' for philosophers of mind!

"I propose to consider the question, "Can machines think?" This should begin with definitions of the meaning of the terms "machine" and "think." The definitions might be framed so as to reflect so far as possible the normal use of the words, but this attitude is dangerous, If the meaning of the words "machine" and "think" are to be found by examining how they are commonly used it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the meaning and the answer to the question, "Can machines think?" is to be sought in a statistical survey such as a Gallup poll. But this is absurd. Instead of attempting such a definition I shall replace the question by another, which is closely related to it and is expressed in relatively unambiguous words.

The new form of the problem can be described in terms of a game which we call the 'imitation game'."

Read the full paper on Hugh Loebner's Artificial Intelligence Prize site.

2010 is also the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society, world’s oldest science academy of which Alan Turing was a Fellow.

Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton Terrace SW1 (picture: copyright KaihsuTai)

Royal Society's 350th anniversary events will include celebrating "local heroes .. pioneers, mavericks and geniuses, who for centuries have changed the way we live and see the world", and a summer Festival of Science at the Southbank (more information here and here).

Update: 4 January, 2010: BBC Radio 4 In Our Time

In a four-part series which began this morning (repeated tonight at 21.30), Melvyn Bragg introduces the history of the Royal Society, with a visit to Wadham College, Oxford. Listen here (45 mins).

Neal Stephenson's (author of Snowcrash and Cryptonomicon), Baroque Cycle, beginning with Quicksilver is a must read adventure of the period encapsulating the enigmatic and eminent characters in the early days of the Royal Society, including Sir Isaac Newton.