Month: July 2012

A LEGO Turing Machine?

Science geeks are at it again. They’ve built the Antikythera Mechanism and Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine out of LEGOs. Now to celebrate Alan Turing’s birthday they’ve constructed a functioning Turing Machine:

Davy Landman and Jeroen van den Bos constructed a Turing Machine out of LEGOs.

The video at the original post shows the machine blazing through the difficult mathematical problem: 2+2.

What will these science geeks build next, a functioning astrolabe? Maybe an Armillary Sphere? Or maybe Mechanical Turk?

From Trash Collecting to Collection of Trash

Nelson Molina poses with his collection, from NY Times slide show.

Another article in the NY Times raises questions about the nature of features of a museum. This time, a NYC sanitation worker, Nelson Molina, has spent the last 20 years collecting things that other people have thrown away. His collection now includes around 1000 pieces of art that he has arranged in the second floor of a Sanitation Department garage.

Molina’s theory of art is both straighforward and unassailable. When asked to explain how he decides whether or not to include a piece, he replied: “It doesn’t matter what it is. As long as it’s cool, I can hang it up and I’ve got a place for it.”

The endowment effect apparently makes us value things we possess or can imagine possessing.

Over at’s Smart News blog a recent post tries to explain why we collect things, or at least why we hoard things: Why We Hoard and How to Stop. The basic claim seems to be we value things we own or wish to own—there may be a circularity here that tends toward vicious. Researchers call this the endowment effect.

I am not convinced this the endowment effect is acting in Mr. Molina’s case. He doesn’t, after all, owns any of the objects he collects and arranges.

Oregon Plague Update

Paul Gaylord, the Oregon man who contracted the plague last month is recovering after a particularly nasty struggle with both bubonic and septicemic forms, at least according to the LA Times. He will lose some of his fingers and toes but should otherwise be okay.

Gaylord’s plague-stricken hand doesn’t look good. From LA Times story.

The story seems to have changed a bit since it was first reported. Last month Gaylord had been trying to save a mouse from a cat. Now apparently he was trying to save the cat from choking on the mouse. In the process he was bit by the cat. In the end, however, he had to shoot the cat to put it out of its misery.

Like most recent cases of the plague, this was an isolated incident. While the cat tested positive for plague, other animals in the area were tested and showed no signs of plague infection. Further, there was no evidence of dead rodents or animals that indicated a broader problem.

Perhaps most interesting, to me anyway, is the religious overtones in an article in the Oregonian. The family seems to attribute much of Gaylord’s recovery to God’s intervention. According to the reporter, as the family was preparing for his death, they

… called the hospital’s chaplain. Gaylord had always wanted to be baptized, so they held a ceremony in intensive care about a week after he entered the hospital.
With Gaylord unconscious, tied to a web of tubes, the chaplain read the liturgy and performed the rite. He took a ball of cotton, dipped it into a tiny pitcher and traced the sign of the cross on Gaylord’s forehead, hands and feet.
Hours later, doctors told his family that he had improved.
“It was a miracle,” Diana Gaylord said.

Whatever role medicine played in Gaylord’s recovery, it plays little or no role in the reporting of it. In 2012 as in 1350 God is both the source of and the salvation from the plague. Plus ça change