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Martin GardinerRSS Feed of this column.

I specialise in beachcombing the scholarly journals and university websites for uncommonly intriguing academic articles by uncommonly intriguing people. Articles such as moustache transplants, the... Read More »


Part 1, ‘Generative Text Generation’

Daniel Shiffman  is Assistant Arts Professor at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

The professor has developed a Markov chain-based Generative Text computer programme which he describes (and provides the code for) here. The programme is able to generate English text which appears at first glance to make sense, but in reality has more in common with ‘context-free-grammar’ or, as some might say, gibberish.

A good number of very high profile philosophers and mathematicians have drawn attention to what they see as the intrinsic beauty in mathematical solutions.

For example :

"It seems to me now that mathematics is capable of an artistic excellence as great as that of any music, perhaps greater; not because the pleasure it gives (although very pure) is comparable, either in intensity or in the number of people who feel it, to that of music, but because it gives in absolute perfection that combination, characteristic of great art, of godlike freedom, with the sense of inevitable destiny; because, in fact, it constructs an ideal world where everything is perfect but true."

Dr. Andy Martens,  of the psychology dept. at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and colleagues from the University of Arizona, US, have devised an Extermination Machine [pictured at right]. The machine was designed to experimentally investigate a bug-killing paradigm – in order to provide clues towards answering the  the question ‘Might killing something (in this case some pill bugs) fuel the urge for subsequent killing (in this case some more pill bugs) ?’

Shaving foam and baby diapers might not be the first key components to spring to mind if you were tasked with developing a gargantuan Non Lethal Weapon (NLW) for use against enemy warships.
But spring they did, however, to the mind of Lieutenant Commander Daniel L. Whitehurst of the United States Navy –  for he describes just such a weapon in a 2009 research report originating from the Air Command And Staff College, Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. (“The Intellectual and Leadership Center of the Air Force.”)

That weapon is ‘The Slimeball’

The ubiquitous ‘Stray Sock Syndrome’ can be a considerable headache for human sock-owners and sock-sorters. But help is afoot courtesy of the Computer Science Division at the University of California at Berkeley, US, and the Max Planck Institut Informatik, Germany. Where a team of computer scientists and robotics experts have “…considered the problem of equipping a robot with the perceptual tools for reliable sock manipulation.”

Hubert Devonish, who is Professor of Linguistics at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston, Jamaica, is one of the very, very few researchers to have published a scholarly paper written entirely in Guyanese Creole.

An example paragraph :