Augmented reality, that real-time meshing between the physical real-world environment and virtual, computer-generated imagery, used to be stuff of sci-fi.

But with internet-linked, GPS-embedded cell phones, it isn’t so anymore. Here is a little taste of what is about to arrive, but has arrived already:

Among the other augmented reality programs that recently have hit Apple’s App Store is Robotvision. If you hold your phone parallel to the ground, Robotvision displays a map of your surroundings. Hold the phone up, however, and it goes into augmented-reality mode, highlighting places like coffee shops and bars. Robotvision also can search for other kinds of businesses with Microsoft’s Bing search engine. You can view pictures that people took nearby and posted to Flickr with a “geotag” of the shot’s physical location.

Dropping stones

“I had always wanted to see if there was a way to test what the crow did in Aesop’s fable,” explains Nathan Emery, University of London.

As the 2000-year-old story goes, the crow filled the bucket of water with stones until the level became high enough for him to quench his thirst.

A number of corvids have been found to use tools in the wild, and New Caledonian crows appear to understand the functional properties of tools and solve complex physical problems via causal and analogical reasoning. A 1980s study tells how a rook plugged a hole in its aviary to allow a pool of water to form.

Emery’s experiment includes four captive rooks, presenting them with clear tubes partly filled with water with a bug floating on top, and piles of stones. The tube contained the larvae of a wax moth–the birds’ favorite food–floating near the bottom, just beyond the reach of the rooks’ beaks.

The researchers then placed a small pile of stones next to the tube; in some of the experiments, these varied in size, so the birds had a choice of using either large or small stones. The amount of water in the tube also varied, requiring that the birds drop between one and seven rocks in order to get the prized worm.

Video footage is astonishing: it shows the rook first assessing the water level by peering at the tube from above and from the side, before picking up and dropping the stones into the water. Within a couple of trials the birds had figured out how many stones they needed to bring the bug within reach.

The experiment is a further demonstration of convergent cognitive evolution between the primate and corvid lineages, with both groups having a generalized understanding of the physical world. The rooks are “clearly combining some sort of understanding of the task with an understanding of the tool and are able to solve the task so quickly.” At the very least, adds Emery, the experiments demonstrate the rooks’ talent for “innovation, because they are adapting their previous experience with stones and tubes [in other experiments] to a new problem.”

Where is my spleen?

Where is my spleen?

Galen considered the spleen to be a source of one of the four bodily humors, specifically the black bile associated with irritable, melancholic cranks. “Splenetic” describes a person affected by ill humor or irritability, although the first book of the Talmud (Berakoth 61) says the spleen “produces laughter” (and “the lungs absorb all kinds of liquids”, and “the liver is the seat of anger”).

The new research entitled “Identification of Splenic Reservoir Monocytes and Their Deployment to Inflammatory Sites” and published at Science Mag shows that the spleen is a reservoir for monocytes, and that in the event of a serious trauma to the body like a heart attack, gashing wound or microbial invasion, the spleen will disgorge those monocyte into the bloodstream.

From the abstract:

A current paradigm states that monocytes circulate freely and patrol blood vessels but differentiate irreversibly into dendritic cells (DCs) or macrophages upon tissue entry. Here we show that bona fide undifferentiated monocytes reside in the spleen and outnumber their equivalents in circulation. The reservoir monocytes assemble in clusters in the cords of the subcapsular red pulp and are distinct from macrophages and DCs. In response to ischemic myocardial injury, splenic monocytes increase their motility, exit the spleen en masse, accumulate in injured tissue, and participate in wound healing. These observations uncover a role for the spleen as a site for storage and rapid deployment of monocytes and identify splenic monocytes as a resource that the body exploits to regulate inflammation.

The role of spleen in the production of antigens is well known. It has been found that the brain has the capacity to stimulate the production of antigen specific antibodies by its parasympathetic autonomic output.

But spleens are rather sensitive organs and can rupture during contact sports or accidents, at which point the risk of hemorrhaging is so that a surgical removal is the best choice. The new findings doesn’t counter this practice, but suggest that the loss of the organ is more than a mere “inconvenience”, and could help explain previous reports showing an enhanced risk of early death among people who have undergone splenectomies. In 1977 researchers compared a group of WW2 veterans who had had their spleens removed as a result of battle injuries with a similar size sample of veterans who had suffered other war injuries but had kept their spleens. The splenectomized men, the researchers found, were twice as likely to die of cardiovascular disease as were the veterans in the control group.

August 3rd, 20:30pm PST:

“NKorean media says Clinton arrives in Pyongyang” (Associated Press)

August 4th, 2009, 1:09 PM EDT:

“Clinton’s Unwise Trip to North Korea” – John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006, for the Washington Post.

August 4th, 2009, 4:07 p.m. EDT:

“North Korean media say leader Kim Jong Il has pardoned two American journalists and ordered their release during the visit of former U.S. President Bill Clinton.” (Associated Press)

* * * UPDATE

In late 1993, evidence of a North Korean clandestine nuclear weapons program came to public. Pyongyang then abruptly announced its intention to become the first nation ever to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, defying its earlier commitments to submit its nuclear activities to full international inspections, unleashing a potentially nuclear crisis. The whole story about the 1994 crisis is told in “Going Critical“, including how former President Jimmy Carter went to North Korea as a “private citizen”. In this book, Bill Clinton gave his view:

“Look, I knew I was going to take some heat for letting Carter go there,” Clinton recalled. “But I also knew I needed to give the North Koreans an escape hatch, some way to climb down without losing face. I figured if they could say to themselves that a former president had come to their country, it would allow them to do that.”

Deja-vu.

Wolfram Alpha, the “computational knowledge engine”, is online. The engine is well worth visiting: tons of information nicely presented altogether. From the same guys that brought Mathematica, this engine is already taunted as an adversary to Google and perhaps Wikipedia: with short, descriptive queries and tons of compiled data.

All in all it’s a big hit, so big their servers couldn’t handle. I got this already:

And some Easter eggs have been found already: when querying “to be or not to be”, it responds “that’s the question”.

Indeed.

What happened in Vegas, this time, didn’t stay in Vegas. There, 2 out 3 houses are upside down: they owe more than their homes are worth.

Nationwide,

the number of borrowers who are underwater climbed to 20.4 million at the end of the first quarter from 16.3 million at the end of the fourth quarter. The latest figure represents 21.9% of all homeowners, according to Zillow, up from 17.6% in the fourth quarter and 14.3% in the third quarter.

An expedition team on a carbon emission-free trip to Greenland, relying solely on sail, solar and man power to promote climate change awareness, has been rescued by an oil tanker.