Tag Archives: computer science

The Science Behind Hollywood Explosions

Nobody blows things up like Hollywood. Frequently, those jaw-dropping pyrotechnics are digitally created in post-production.

Now, with the help of a tool called Wavelet Turbulence, filmmakers can generate realistic swirling smoke and fiery explosions that are more detailed, easier to control and faster to create.

UCSB researcher Theodore Kim (along with three collaborators) developed the software, which won an Academy Award in 2012. So far, Wavelet Turbulence has been used in a number of major Hollywood films including Avatar, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and Super 8.

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A video game that teaches you how to code

“I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think,” Steve Jobs said in a lost interview from 1995.

But for a beginner, learning to code from scratch can be intimidating.

Enter CodeSpells. UC San Diego computer scientists developed this video game to teach people how to code. The story line is simple: you’re a wizard that uses spells (i.e. code) to navigate through the world, fight off foes, and solve problems.

While experienced coders can delve deep into the programming to create some truly devastating spells, newbies can easily experiment with the simple drag-and-drop coding interface.

CodeSpells was influenced by research conducted on how successful programmers learn their trade. They surveyed 30 computer scientists and identified five characteristics that are key to learn programming outside a classroom setting: activities must be structured by the person who is trying to learn; learning must be creative and exploratory; programming is empowering; learners have difficulty stopping once they start; and learners spend countless hours on the activity.

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Exploring Urban Trends through Selfies

Vintage Selfie

The term ‘selfie’ took on a life of its own in 2013, especially after the Oxford English Dictionary selected it as the ‘international word of the year’. The Internet and mobile phones were awash in self-portraits as consumers purchased more smartphones with front-facing cameras – turning the selfie into a truly worldwide phenomenon.

Now, the Software Studies Initiative –– led by UCSD Comp Sci professor Lev Manovich –– has been working on a project called selfiecity, which investigates selfies using a mix of quantitative, theoretic and artistic methods.  Looking at five cities around the world, they randomly select 20,000-30,000 photos per city, per day.

Here are some of their findings:

  • People take less selfies than often assumed –– depending on the city, only 3-5% of images analyzed were actually selfies.
  • Moscow is at the bottom of the selfie smile index. (Bangkok is at the top.)
  • In every city analyzed, there are significantly more women selfies than men selfies.
  • Men over 30 share more selfies than women over 30. “Women may take them, but they don’t post them.”
  • And it’s a young person’s game. The median selfie age is 23.7 years.

What will they look at next? Perhaps Manovich will compare selfies taken in cities with those taken in suburbs or rural areas … or selfies that have professional polish with those of a more casual nature.

[The image above is from the Museum of the City of New York.]