Cellular automata

Jonathan McCabe is an Australian digital artist and systems engineer I'm so keen on that I've done two previous posts about his generative art 2D images and videos. He recently sent me a nice email with a link to more of his work so I had to share.

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These images were generated using a cellular automata program he authored. He describes the process:

Each pixel represents the state of the 4 cells of 4 cellular automata, which are cross coupled and have their individual state transition tables. There is a "history" or "memory" of the previous states which is used as an offset into the state transition tables, resulting in update rules which depend on what has happened at that pixel in previous generations. Different regions end up in a particular state or cycle of states, and act very much like immiscible liquids with surface tension. The resulting structures remind me of cells under a microscope.

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They remind me of microscopy too; check out these stones. Obviously very different, but…

He's just added 28 new images to the archive, explaining that "these have 8 coupled cellular automata and a different function generating the state transition tables, so they look a little different. I'm guessing the larger number of automata might lead to more interesting behaviour, but it makes it slower to compute."

My brain was a bit slow to compute the concept of cellular automata (I'm so not a mathematician), but in Googling to learn I found another cellular automata art project. Visit Artificial Life and Other Experiments by Ariel Dolan for that and more online, interactive works. Enter nucleotide DNA sequences to find palindromes, woot!

Meanwhile, McCabe has more images available online in the form of tiles/coasters sold at CafePress. At $4.50 apiece, art doesn't get much more affordable than that. Also a bargain are signed prints and more signed prints.


Future Scent

Lavender essential oil aromatherapy carries a long list of pseudoscience claims, and though some are outrageous, it seems aromatherapy for relaxation may have some science to back it up. Smelling lavender and rosemary increases free radical scavenging activity and decreases cortisol level in saliva, Atsumi and Tonosaki [who are dentists, not psychiatrists], Psychiatry Research, Feb 2007 (epub). "Our study may be the first to report the cortisol-lowering effect of smell in human saliva," they said, concluding that lavender and rosemary scents may provide protection against oxidative stress.

Does this justify my rosemary mint shampoo and lavender soy moisturizer as medical expenses? I wonder what Ben Goldacre would say.

The handful of other aromatherapy studies include Ambient odors of orange and lavender reduce anxiety and improve mood in a dental office, Lehrner et al., Physiol Behav. 2005 Sep 15;86(1-2):92-5, and Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults, Moss et al., Int J Neurosci. 2003 Jan;113(1):15-38. The latter reported:

... lavender produced a significant decrement in performance of working memory, and impaired reaction times for both memory and attention based tasks compared to controls. In contrast, rosemary produced a significant enhancement of performance for overall quality of memory and secondary memory factors, but also produced an impairment of speed of memory compared to controls. With regard to mood, comparisons of the change in ratings from baseline to post-test revealed that following the completion of the cognitive assessment battery, both the control and lavender groups were significantly less alert than the rosemary condition; however, the control group was significantly less content than both rosemary and lavender conditions. These findings indicate that the olfactory properties of these essential oils can produce objective effects on cognitive performance, as well as subjective effects on mood.

The Reebok Zan Chi Aromatherapy tank top is designed to release lavender or peppermint scent from heat-sensitive fabric but has yet to be studied empirically. Maybe it'd be useful for anxiety-provoking situations beyond yoga, but there's no FDA approval for it or any other of the vast range of aromatherapy products for mental health.

One neuroimaging study, EEG asymmetry responses to lavender and rosemary aromas in adults and infants, Sanders et al., Int J Neurosci, 2002 Nov;112(11):1305-20., recorded a shift from left frontal activity to right frontal (indicating a calmer emotional state), could blossom into a whole new subtype of neuromarketing (neuroperfumery?) for products like Smiley.

Touting itself as an "olfactive antidepressant," Smiley is a perfume containing "micronutrients to activate happiness." Theobromine and phenylethylamine are mixed into extrait de parfum ("maximum dose"), eau de toilette ("normal dose"), and a tanning simulator lotion (dose unspecified). The "pharmacodynamic action" of those neurochemicals is usually delivered via chocolate - ingested - not perfume - an ambient whiff. You could dip yourself in melted chocolate and still not feel elation from phenylethylamine transdermally.

But Smiley doesn't take itself or its scientific claims entirely seriously (being a chic concept from a French parfumier) so at least some consumers won't either. Visual designer ora-ito said, "I was immediately seduced by the idea of taking part in the creation of the very first perfume-treatment! For the Damien Hirst fan that I am, it's a kid's dream coming true to develop an ironic clinical universe." There's a photo of 50 Cents (sic) hyping the brand at Cannes. Ironic is key.

No word from Clinique, manufacturers of Happy.

Makers of lavender and rosemary essential oils must be thrilled by this latest study, but buyer beware. Though hawked by the Discovery Channel, Lovey the Lavender Lamb hasn't been in a lab.

[Cross-posted to Omni Brain]

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