Tag Archives: future

Futurology ~ Kepler’s legacy, Earth weighed, chip chiefs and chipsets, placebo effect, cell-making, cardboard vs plastic


Microfluids have pushed cell-making attempts to new levels

Kepler’s legacy — Since March 2009, NASA has discovered more than 2600 planets, including potentially habitable ones, thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope. Last week, after nearly a decade of hunting for new planets, the Kepler finally ran out of fuel. NASA decided to officially retire Kepler within its current orbit, away from Earth, on Oct. 30, 2018.
NASA plans to continue the hunt for new planets. While Kepler’s mission was to search for planets about 3000 light-years away, NASA launched a new spacecraft called Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short, in April of this year to search every star within 100 light-years of Earth.
~ Kepler kept on keeping on – until last week, anyway.

Earth weighed with ghost particles — Scientists have to use some roundabout methods to weigh the Earth and measure what’s inside it – typically, they’ve used sound waves and the strength of gravity to make their calculations. But one team has weighed the Earth in a whole new way: by measuring mysterious cosmic particles that pass through it.
~ Yeah, well, how much does it weigh, then?!

Chiplets to keep up with Moore’s Law — As chipmakers struggle to keep up with Moore’s law, they are increasingly looking for alternatives to boost computers’ performance. Moore’s Law is slowing. More density costs more and takes longer.
Chip chiefs say chiplets will enable their silicon architects to ship more powerful processors more quickly. One reason is it’s quicker to mix and match modular pieces linked by short data connections than to painstakingly graft and redesign them into a single new chip.
~ They’re like high-tech lego blocks. 

Placebo Effect is surprisingly effective — For decades science has acknowledged the placebo effect insofar as it is constantly trying to fight against it – that humans have this pesky thing about healing themselves sometimes better than the actual drugs can. This has led to an entire interdisciplinary field trying to fold the placebo effect back into medicine, something that is worked into treatment, and not controlled out of drug trials.
~ I remember asking my daughter if she’d like a placebo for her hypochondria. Since she was only 4, this ploy worked very well for both of us. 

Making biological cells from scratch — Researchers have been trying to create artificial cells for more than 20 years, piecing together biomolecules in just the right context to approximate different aspects of life. They generally fall into three categories: compartmentalisation, or the separation of biomolecules in space; metabolism, the biochemistry that sustains life; and informational control, the storage and management of cellular instructions.
The pace of work has been accelerating, thanks in part to recent advances in microfluidic technologies, which allow scientists to coordinate the movements of minuscule cellular components (main picture, above).
~ Life beckons. Then what? 

Lasers reveal how plants produce oxygen — An experiment using intense laser pulses has allowed scientists to watch plants produce oxygen from water part of photosynthesis in real time, according to a groundbreaking new paper.
Photosynthesis fixes carbon dioxide into sugars and creates oxygen out of water in the presence of sunlight, turning  the sun into usable energy. Scientists hope to understand this reaction and incorporate it into solar energy technology. This new study using one of the world’s brightest lasers to present a view of the intermediate steps of the reaction – a movie of the reaction occurring.
~ I’m breathing easier already. 

Doing without plastic: what to use instead? Packaging designer Ryan Gaither believes in the power of cardboard. At the Swedish-owned BillerudKorsnäs design lab in Portland, Oregon, he’s laid down a massive sheet of it, as big as a king-size bed. He flips the switch on a machine that zips around the cardboard, stabbing and cutting it like a robotic exact-o knife.
BillerudKorsnäs is primarily a paper company that prides itself on its sustainably managed forests. It also has a process – the details of which it won’t divulge – that it says produces super strong paper. Every time you replace plastic with paper, it does more than reduce plastic pollution. It also helps climate change since plastic is made from fossil fuels.
~ Great stuff.

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The Apocalypticon ~ Ripped off, data and destruction, loneliness infections, the weather


They’re ripping us off — The chief executives of America’s top 350 companies earned 312 times more than their workers on average last year, according to a new report published by the Economic Policy Institute. The rise came after the bosses of America’s largest companies got an average pay rise of 17.6% in 2017, taking home an average of US$18.9m in compensation while their employees’ wages stalled, rising just 0.3% over the year.
Is it any wonder young Americans are souring on capitalism? Less than half, 45%, view capitalism positively, representing a 12-point decline in young adults’ positive views of capitalism in just the past two years and a marked shift since 2010, when 68% viewed it positively.
While we’re talking about inequality, over 300 newspapers have denounced Trump’s attacks on the media in coordinated editorials.

Can of worms — Yes, we opened it. The White House was forced to backtrack after wildly misstating the level of job gains by African-Americans under Trump’s predecessor, the presidential [see what I did there?] Barack Obama. Trump’s regime was only wrong by 2.9 million jobs, though
Can Trump legally keep former staff quiet? No, probably not. Manigault Newman’s nondisclosure agreement, like others, contained a no-disparagement clause: a pledge to never, ever disparage the campaign, Trump, Vice President Pence, their families, their families’ companies, and so forth. [And she may have done some really dumb things in her life, like , you know, working for Trump, but at least she refused to sign it.]
Torturing CIA chief — Gina Haspel was confirmed by the US Senate to be director of the CIA on May 17th. But the public never got to see the memos that she wrote and authorised about the brutal torture of Al Qaeda suspects at a CIA black site that she oversaw in Thailand in 2002. Until now. [Yes, it’s weird and horrific. Yes, we should be deeply worried.]
Trade war — when Donald Trump had a brain-fart [does anyone have a better explanation?] and decided to embark on trade wars with America’s biggest trade partners, not many Americans realised what impact this would have in the shops. NPR has investigated what this may mean.

Devices, data and destruction — Artificial intelligence will reshape the world of finance over the next decade. It will do so by automating investing and other services – but it could also introduce troubling systematic weaknesses and risks, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Firefox snoops — Mozilla has removed 23 Firefox add-ons from its add-on store that snooped on users and sent data to remote servers, a Mozilla engineer told Bleeping Computer. [The real question being why were these ever allowed in the first place?]
Facebook and the murder gf Rohingya — More than 1000 anti-Rohingya posts featuring calls for their murder among other hate speech were live on Facebook last week. But it seems the network is still being used to encourage violence against the Muslim minority in Myanmar despite the tech firm promising to tackle the issue.
Speaking of which, the CW’s new Batwoman, Ruby Rose, is the latest high-profile actor to quit social media after facing harassment from so-called fans over her role. It’s becoming more common for actors and creators to leave social media platforms because of online abuse, enough that it’s starting to feel like an everyday annoyance we can ignore. It’s not. And we shouldn’t.
German kids drowning because of parents’ phone use — The German Lifeguard Association (DLRG) has made a direct connection between children getting into difficulty in the water and parents being too busy on their mobile phones to notice. More than 300 people have drowned in Germany so far this year.
People maim their pets to get opioids — A recent survey suggests that some people struggling with opioid addiction might be turning to a tragically desperate method to get more prescription painkillers: hurting their own pets. And veterinarians themselves may be abusing opioids or helping to illegally sell them.
And forget peer pressure, future generations are more likely to be influenced by robots, a study suggests — The research, conducted at the University of Plymouth, found that while adults were not swayed by robots, children were.

Sleepless people may infect you with loneliness — A new study from the University of California, Berkeley suggests that poor sleep can be a nightmare for our social lives too. It just might turn us into lonely outcasts, capable of spreading our misery to others. [Damn it, I like being a lonely outcast!]

The weather — yeah, it’s really out there. Tiny though they are, microscopic phytoplankton, when infected with a particular virus, may influence atmospheric processes such as cloud formation, according to new research.
But there’s hope — a tiny sliver anyway. The US Department of Defence is one of the few federal agencies that still treats climate change as a threat under President Donald Trump. [The others have either been decapitated or have assumed the Ostrich Position.]
And … people are finally realising climate change is real — The scorching temperatures and forest fires of this summer’s heatwave have finally stirred the world to face the onrushing threat of global warming, claims the climate scientist behind the recent Hothouse Earth report. Following an unprecedented 270,000 downloads of his study, Johan Rockstrom, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, said he had not seen such a surge of interest since 2007, the year the Nobel prize was awarded to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Even in the US, whose president [that’s Donald Trump, although I still feel incredulous about this] has vowed to pull out of the Paris accord, public opinion surveys have shown a growing acceptance of climate science. [See? I always try and end on a good note after this avalanche of human stupidity.]

Futurology ~ Star accelerator, superheat exoplanet, Human Cell Atlas, ghost village, Easter Island, Egyptians, Cretaceous pollinator


This chunk of 99-million-year-old Cretaceous amber contains a beetle with bits of pollen around it.

Surprising accelerator finding could change the way we think about neutron stars — Scientists using data from an American particle accelerator compared how protons and neutrons behaved in collisions between electrons and atomic nuclei. It’s an important nuclear physics result that has interstellar implications when it comes to understanding neutron stars, which are objects in space around 1.5 times to twice the mass of the Sun, but packed into a space less than 16km across.
 ~ This may surprise you, but it didn’t change my thinking coz I didn’t have any thinking (about neutron stars). 

An exoplanet has a surface so hot, it rips apart water molecules — It’s almost a star, but not quite; it’s an ultra-hot, Jupiter-like world located around 880 light years from Earth. It’s so hot, it rips water molecules into its components (oxygen and hydrogen), which makes it far different from any of the worlds in our own Solar System.
~ It looks more like a star than a planet. 

Ambitious Human Cell Atlas aims to catalogue every type of cell in the human body —For the last two years Aviv Regev, a professor of biology at MIT, has been co-leading a massive international effort to account for and better understand every cell type and sub-type in the human body, and how they interact.
The Human Cell Atlas has received less attention than the US$3 billion Human Genome Project, which was completed in 2003 after 15 years of work, but it’s equally ambitious.
~ It’s all about those dang faulty proteins!

Scientists have found a rapid way of producing magnesite which could one day help remove CO2 from the atmosphere — If this can be developed to an industrial scale, it opens the door to removing CO2 from the atmosphere for long-term storage, thus countering the global warming effect of atmospheric CO2.
~ Ah, storing it where, guys? 

Heat wave reveals the outlines of hidden garden and ghost village — British Isles heatwaves and wildfires have been revealing hidden signs of the past, from crop marks dating back thousands of years to giant signs meant to signal World War II pilots. At Chatsworth House, a Derbyshire estate perhaps most famous for its connection to Pride and Prejudice, the heat wave exposed the outlines of a long-gone world: the gardens and village that existed here back in the 17th and 18th centuries.
~ So, a visual guide to the pride and, presumably, to the prejudice. 

Easter Island collapse theory questioned — The indigenous people of Easter Island, the Rapa Nui, experienced a societal collapse after the 17th century because they stripped the island clean of its natural resources. Or at least, that’s the leading theory. An analysis of the tools used by the Rapa Nui to build their iconic stone statues suggests a very different conclusion, pointing to the presence of a highly organised and cohesive society.
New research published in the Journal of Pacific Archaeology is now offering a different perspective, showing that the Rapa Nui people maintained a thriving tool-building industry during the time of their alleged descent into ‘barbarity’.
~ Time to carve out a new theory. 

Egyptians preserving corpses long before the Pharaohs — Researchers had long assumed mummies that predate Dynastic Egypt (which begins around 3100 BCE), were preserved somewhat spontaneously by the natural scorching and parched sand of a shallow desert grave. Scientists have often considered this hands-off approach to be a major precursor to the painstaking process of deliberate mummification that was refined over the next 2000 years and reached its apex during the New Kingdom era (c. 1550–1070 BCE), when embalmers excised organs and drained fluids before swaddling a corpse in strips of linen.
But a new paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science suggests it was the result of a carefully concocted recipe, implying the body preservation culture predated the pyramids.
~ The Grand Mummies …

99-million-year-old beetle preserved in amber was a pollinator — Amber fossils containing bugs are nothing new, but the discovery of a beautifully preserved Cretaceous Period beetle with bits of pollen still around it is changing what we know about the planet’s earliest pollinating insects.
This beetle belonged to the boganiid family, which are exceptionally rare in the fossil record, but are known pollinators of cycads.
~ A bogan insect indeed.

Futurology ~ Strange planet, asteroid close-up, denser SSD, shoe-lace-bot, cancer breakthrough, chilli mice, Tsunami graves


Is it a star or a planet? No, it’s a, um, Starnet … Various news outlets have been discussing a strange object in space, which may or may not be a planet. New measurements show that what was thought to be a brown dwarf – essentially a “failed star” that is too small to generate nuclear fusion, but too big to be a planet – might be a planet after all. But that’s far from the strangest part of this story.
Scientists recently took another look at four nearby brown dwarfs, as well as at this strange object, which is located only 20 light years from Earth. The new observation demonstrated that the weird object actually straddles the boundary between planet and brown dwarf. That’s cool, but even more perplexing is how all five of these objects ended up with their intense magnetic fields.
~ I think I will call it the Halo-Dwarf.

Space wall of hydrogen — The New Horizons spacecraft, now at a distance nearly 6.4 billion kms from Earth and already far beyond Pluto, has measured what appears to be a signature of the furthest reaches of the Sun’s energy — a wall of hydrogen. It nearly matches the same measurement made by the Voyager mission 30 years ago, and offers more information as to the furthest limits of our Sun’s reach.
~ The Mexicans are very clear they did not pay for it. 

Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft came tantalisingly close to asteroid Ryugu — It has offered an unprecedented view of the asteroid’s boulder-strewn surface.
The third descent of the mission saw Hayabusa2 come to within 851m of the asteroid, making it the closest encounter to date.
~ Shame that surface is so boring, right? 

Densest SSD take on a new shape — The chip giant Intel first set out this form factor a year ago, based on the Enterprise & Datacenter Storage Form Factor (EDSFF) standard for server makers to cut cooling costs and offer a more efficient format than SSDs in the classic square 2.5 inch size. Intel describes the new ruler-shaped Intel SSD DC P4500, which is 12 inches by 1.5 inches, and a third of an inch thick, as the world’s densest SSD. Server makers can jam up to one petabyte (PB) – or a thousand terabytes (TB) – of data into 1U server racks by lining up 32 of these 32TB Intel rulers together.
~ I love SSDs, they’re so fast and robust compared to hard drives. 

With a budget of just $US600 — a mere pittance compared to what robots such as ATLAS cost to develop — students from the University of California’s Davis’ College of Engineering created a machine that’s capable of tying shoe laces all by itself.
~ This will be really useful for tying the laces of people who can no longer bend over, presumably. 

Cancer put to sleep in Australia — In a world first, Melbourne scientists have discovered a new type of anti-cancer drug that can put cancer cells into a permanent sleep, without the harmful side-effects caused by conventional cancer therapies.
The research reveals the first class of anti-cancer drugs that work by putting the cancer cell to ‘sleep’, arresting tumour growth and spread without damaging the cells’ DNA. The new class of drugs could provide an exciting alternative for people with cancer, and has already shown great promise in halting cancer progression in models of blood and liver cancers, as well as in delaying cancer relapse.
~ Basically, it stops the cancer cells dividing and replicating. 

Chili can keep rodents away from seeds they’d eat — New research suggests that capsaicin – the spicy element of chili peppers – can be a robust deterrent to seed-eating rodents. Ecologists interested in restoring ecosystems after disturbances such as wildfires conducted experiments with deer mice. They started with glass enclosures where on one side, the mice were offered regular old sunflower seeds, while on the other side were seeds that had been given a special, capsaicin-laced coating. The mice ate 86% fewer pepper-treated seeds than untreated ones. When they took the experiment outside to the Missoula Valley in Montana, the scientists saw the results play out. Seeds treated with capsaicin were far more likely to survive to become plants than ones left untreated.
~ But if they develop a taste for it the same way people can, all we do is vary their palettes. 

Prehistoric mass graves located along coastlines around the world may be linked to ancient tsunamis — Mass graves are common in the archaeological record. There’s the Viking-age Ridgeway Hill Burial Pit in the UK which contains 54 skeletons and 51 dismembered heads, or the Early Neolithic mass grave of Schöneck-Kilianstädten in Germany, a likely massacre that resulted in the deaths of at least 26.
In these and similar cases, archaeologists attribute the burials to warfare or pillaging, as evidenced by wounds such as blunt-force trauma, injuries caused by weapons, or decapitations. But in some cases, where the cause of death isn’t obvious, and where no written or oral history exists to explain the presence of a mass grave, archaeologists can only speculate as to the cause.
New research suggests scientists have overlooked a possible cause of some ambiguous mass graves located along oceanic coastlines: ancient tsunamis.
~ They’re going mohave to find diatoms to prove it (really). 

Futurology ~ Supernova birth, other Earths, DNA storage, brain folding, Modernist cooking, urban farming, plant origins


Models shed light on fetal brain-shape development (Image: Weizmann Institute via Gizmodo)

Amateur spots birth of a supernova — Victor Buso was testing his camera-telescope setup in Argentina back in September 2016, pointing his Newtonian telescope at a spiral galaxy called NGC613. He collected light from the galaxy for the next hour-and-a-half, taking short exposures to avoid the Santa Fe city lights. When he looked at his images, he realised he’d captured a potential supernova: an enormous flash of light an energy bursting off of a distant star.
~ Superlative serendipity.

Earth’s incredible, but is there anything else remotely like it? Aki Roberge, research astrophysicist at NASA, explained Earth is the only planet we know of where the presence of life has altered the atmosphere’s chemistry. If another Earth-like planet existed somewhere in the universe, we might be able to spot it by looking for a biosignature: spectral lines from chemicals such as methane, water vapour, oxygen, or other organic molecules indicative of life.
~ Or perhaps aliens waving us away, if they have any sense. 

New way to use DNA as a storage device — Researchers from the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) in Ireland have developed a way to use bacteria to archive up to up to one zettabyte in one gram of DNA. The technique uses double-strained DNA molecules called plasmids to encode data which is stored in the Novablue strain of the E Coli bacteria.
~ Although we’re still figuring out the ‘old way’ DNA stores info.

Model brains reveal brain-folding physics — Brains fold in on themselves as they grow. How and why they do it is mysterious and studying it requires some pretty interesting science.
Israeli scientists wanted to study brain folding from a physics perspective. Growing brain cells for study can be difficult, though — so they came up with a solution to overcome this obstacle: growing simple mini-brains on a chip under a microscope.
~ Here comes the rise of the Organoids …

Modernist cooking needs gadgets, tools and precise measurements— Science requires precision, and these tools allow you to combine perfect amounts and get perfect results. Ryan F Mandelbaum learns to cook like a gadget nerd.
~ This is why you don’t accept dinner invitations from scientists. Crikey, talk about deleting all joy from the kitchen!

Antimatter in a van — Normally, scientists produce volatile antimatter in the lab, where it stays put in an experimental apparatus for further study. But now, researchers are planning on transporting it for the first time from one lab to another in a truck.
~ Very Wide Load …

Big data suggest urban farming — It makes intuitive sense that growing crops as close as possible to the people who will eat them is more environmentally friendly than long-distance shipping, but evidence that urban agriculture is good for the environment has been harder to pin down.
A widely cited 2008 study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that transportation from producer to store only accounts for 4% of food’s total greenhouse gas emissions, which calls into question the concern over “food miles.” A recent analysis of urban agriculture’s global potential, published in the journal Earth’s Future, has taken a big step toward an answer—and the news looks good for urban farming.
~ And there are co-benefits, from social implications to urban heat reduction.

Plants appeared earlier than thought — For hundreds of millions of years, life on Earth was a purely aquatic phenomenon. The jump from the oceans to the continents was a monumental event, one that would irrevocably change the face of our planet. A new study suggests the first plants to make this evolutionary leap appeared much earlier than previously thought, and this affects our modelling of Earth’s atmosphere changes wrought by their impact.
~ Although that is a previous thought I haven’t previously thought. 

Futurology ~ Earth-like, antimatter bombardment, cute lil lander, 2040 Museum mag, Quantum computing, human DNA hacked, robots and aged DNA


Museum has already published its 2040 edition.

Earth-sized world just 11 light years away — Astronomers have discovered a planet 35% more massive than Earth in orbit around a red dwarf star just 11 light years from the Sun. Ross 128 b likely exists at the edge of the small, relatively faint star’s habitable zone even though it is 20 times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun. The study in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics finds the best estimate for its surface temperature is between -60 degrees Celsius and 20 degrees Celsius.
Proxima Centauri b is closer at less than 4.3 light years away from Earth and in the star system closest to our Sun. Even so, due to a variety of factors, Ross 128 b is tied for fourth on a list of potentially most habitable exoplanets, with an Earth Similarity Index value of 0.86.
~ Meanwhile, we are hell-bent on making our own Earth less Earthlike. 

Mystery of Earth being bombarded by antimatter — New observations of nearby pulsars – lighthouse-like neutron stars beaming energy – seem to have deepened a mystery that’s been bugging scientists for around a decade. The Earth is being hit with too much antimatter from outer space, and no one is sure why.
~ Veritably antimatter-spattered, we are. 

Moon Express MX-1E Lander is heading for the moon or bust — After multiple extensions and a couple of flameouts, five teams are racing toward the March 2018 launch deadline, and the cutest contender might be the MX-1E, an R2-D2–shaped lander designed by space startup Moon Express.
~ The MX-1E fits inside a launch vehicle from partnering with the New Zealand company Rocket Lab.

Museum magazine publishes 2040 issue — The Alliance of American Museums has just published an ambitious Nov/Dec 2040 issue of Museum, the Alliance’s magazine. The columns, reviews, articles, awards, and even the ads describe activities from a 2040 perspective, based on a multi-faceted consensus scenario.
Besides virtual reality centers (and carbon-neutral cities), it envisions de-extinction biologists who resurrect lost species. It also predicts a 2040 with orbiting storehouses to preserve historic artifacts (as well as genetic materials) as part of a collaboration with both NASA and a new American military branch called the US Space Corps. And of course, by 2040 musuems have transformed into hybrid institutions like “museum schools” and “well-being and cognitive health centers” that are both run by museums.
~ Future retro-futurism …

Should we be excited about Quantum Computers? They’re fragile, and need to be kept at temperatures close to absolute zero. Quantum computers aren’t much like the desktop PCs we’re all so familiar with – they’re a whole new kind of machine, capable of calculations so complex, it’s like upgrading from black-and-white to a full colour spectrum. Gizmodo goes further.
~ Solves things so complex we don’t even have the minds to boggle at their complexity. 

Scientists edit DNA within the human body — For the first time, scientists have edited the DNA inside of a patient’s body, in an attempt to cure a genetic disorder by permanently changing the human genome. The news represents a major landmark in science.
~ Now it has been edited, it’s called ‘human DNB’.

Robots advance, dance and enhance — Boston Dynamics’ ATLAS Robot is now a backflipping cyborg supersoldier [you know how we all need that] and wait till you see the firm’s new Robodog, and we’re already robotising our workers – but these are human workers with bionic enhancements working at Ford.
~ Where’s Waldo?

Super-old people get their DNA analysed — Scientists looking for clues to healthy longevity in people in their 90s and 100s haven’t turned up a whole lot. It is thought that the DNA of the very old may be a good place to look, but people over 110 are one in five million in the United States. The New York Times has chronicled one scientific quest to collect their DNA.
~ So forget good health and sobriety, let’s find a magic bullet instead. 

Futurology ~ Maybe planets, inside the Magellan, fake faces, ageing, charging colab, Roman wrong vase, Dingo origins


Mirror Lab staffer Linda Warren places the last piece of glass into the mold for Giant Magellan Telescope mirror 5

New planets may lurk in the nearest system to ours — New observations show there’s at least one, but possibly three rings of cold dust around our nearest star, Proxima Centauri. That could indicate the presence of more planets, according to new research.
~ Once we can count them, we can no longer denigrate this galaxy as Aproxima Centauri.

Inside the world’s largest optical telescope — Wired goes 24.3 metres (80 feet) above a mirror 8.38 metres (27.5 feet) in diameter. This disc of glass is one of seven mirrors that will eventually comprise the Giant Magellan Telescope. This mirror has already taken nearly six years – and US$20 million – to make.
~ Who’s the most complex mirror of all? 

NVIDIA’s freakishly fake ‘human’ photos — NVIDIA released a paper recently detailing a new machine learning methodology for generating unique and realistic looking faces using a generative adversarial network (GAN). The result is the ability to artificially render photorealistic human faces of “unprecedented quality.”
~ I’ve even noticed some actual human faces of unprecedented quality. 

Scientists have mathematical proof it’s impossible to stop ageing — Mathematically speaking, multicellular organisms like us will always have to deal with a cellular competition where only one side will win. And ultimately, that means our vitality will always come out as the loser.
~ I’ve always felt that to hate ageing is to hate nature. 

Car companies collaborate for electric charging network — A group of automakers has created a new company to build a network of 400 fast chargers across Europe ahead of the wave of new electric cars they’ve promised in the next few years, as countries push EVs as a way to meet emissions goals. Ionity, announced Friday by BMW Group, Daimler AG, Ford Motor Company and the Volkswagen Group, will install a network of 400 high-power EV chargers across Europe by 2020.
~ To make the EeVee EeZee.

Historians wrong about Roman vase — New research shows that the British Museum’s most famous artefact, the Portland Vase, was manufactured by a different technique than the one traditionally assumed by historians and archaeologists.
For centuries, experts in antiquities have said the Portland Vase, along with other Roman cameo glass artifacts, were manufactured by the ancient Romans using a blown glass technique. Australian National University scientist and expert glassmaker Richard Whiteley is now challenging this longheld assumption, arguing that many cameo glass pieces were built with a cold-processing technique now known as paté de verre.
~ Ah, so it was a paté pot and not a vase at all … well, that blows that theory.

At last we know where dingoes came from — It’s underwater now, but there used to be a land-bridge between mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea. A new DNA study shows dingoes migrated across this bridge between 8000 and 10,000 years ago in two waves.
~ They’re very attractive dogs compared to the miserable things that apparently existed in pre-European New Zealand. 

Futurology ~ Interstellar Visitron, robots, Genetic revolution, Neanderthal with social support


This NASA animation shows the path of A/2017 U1 — an object likely of interstellar origin — through the inner solar system. A/2017 U1 made its closest approach to the sun on Sept. 9 and is now zooming away 97,200 mph (156,400 km/h) relative to the sun.Interstellar visitor — For the first time, scientists have observed an object they believe came from outside our solar system. The object is in a hyperbolic orbit that will send it back into interstellar space. The object, known as A/2017 U1, was detected last week by researchers using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii.
It’s unclear what exactly this thing is. When A/2017 U1 was first spotted, it was thought to be a comet (and was therefore given the moniker C/2017 U1). But further observations have revealed no evidence of a coma (the fuzzy cloud of gas and dust surrounding a comet’s core) so the object’s name was amended to its current asteroidal designation.
~ How about we call it ‘Visitron’?Robots, robots, robots — Fanuc is a secretive Japanese company with 12,192 square-metre (40,000-square-foot) factories where robots made other robots in the dark, stopping only when no storage space remains. About 80% of the company’s assembly work is automated, and its robots then go on to assemble and paint cars, build motors, and make electrical components.
The Guardian GT (above) from Sarcos Robotics has 2-metre ( 7-foot) arms that replicate human motions with incredible smoothness and accuracy, but each limb can lift 227kg (500 pound) weight yet also  manipulate the most delicate of objects. Watching it in action is both hypnotic and unsettling.
And in the latest example of Philip K Dick-inspired nightmare becomes real life, Saudi Arabia just became the first nation to grant citizenship to a robot. The robot’s name is Sophia. It is artificially intelligent, friends with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin and arguably, a glimpse into the dark future that will kill us all.
~I’m working on my own robot invention: it’s a double-spherical self-motivating oared boat I’m calling the RowBot. Kickstarter, anyone?

Genetic revolution — The genome editing technology CRISPR revolutionised genetic engineering by allowing scientists to cut and paste tiny snippets of DNA with more precision than ever before. Now, one of the groups responsible for that technology has harnessed the power of CRISPR to also edit RNA, a molecule that, like DNA, is essential in the coding, regulation, and expression of genes. This development could eventually allow scientists to alter the expression of genes in the human body without having to change the genome itself. (And Wired has more.)
~ So now we’re messing with life’s vital macromolecules – a theologian’s nightmare. 

Neanderthals had social support — A re-analysis of a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal skull shows that, in addition to enduring multiple injuries and debilitations, this male individual was also profoundly deaf. Yet he lived well into his 40s, which is quite old by Paleolithic standards. It’s an achievement that could have only been possible with the help of others, according to new research.
~ And we’re still doing it – look how US senators are still propping up Trump. 

Cosmic lenses, Kilanova, robo-love, electric truck, fibre earthquakes, dolphin brains, Australian army VR


Ultra-powerful radio bursts may be getting a cosmic boost — The Very Large Array spotted a repeating radio burst that continues to puzzle astronomers. So-called fast radio bursts are enigmatic, ultra-brief, ultra-powerful bursts of energy coming from distant galaxies. They last for only a fraction of a second, but in that time they emit the energy of perhaps 500 million suns. Their power and brevity have created an astrophysical puzzle: What could possibly be making such blasts?
James Cordes, an astronomer at Cornell University, thinks he can help explain not only the power of these repeating bursts, but also the seeming irregularity of their eruptions: clouds of charged gas, or plasma, in an FRB’s host galaxy could magnify the burst by as much as a factor of 100.
~ I see a great future for these plasma lenses. 

The ‘Kilanova’ — On August 17, 2017, over 70 observatories around and above the world, including ones like LIGO and the Hubble Space Telescope, all spotted a flash of energy. This light came in many different flavours, and was consistent with a pair of dense neutron stars colliding in a cataclysmic ‘kilonova’ explosion.
So what did we learn from it?
~ Ah those binary star mergers! It will be a monopoly. 

First mass-produced electric truck — Japan’s Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus has unveiled what it says is the world’s first mass-produced electric truck, as automakers around the world go all out to develop cars that run on battery power. The vehicle can carry about 3 tons of cargo and travel about 100 kilometres on a single charge. The truck, unveiled on Thursday, will be used by Japan’s largest convenience store chain, Seven-Eleven.
~ Just chuck some spare batteries in the glovebox for emergencies. 

For the love of robots — In summer 2002, mid-morning in a university research lab on the edge of Osaka, Japan, two girls were dressed in pale yellow, with child-puffy cheeks, black shoulder-length hair, and bangs. They stood opposite each other under fluorescent lights.
More precisely: one was a girl, 5 years old; the other was her copy, her android replica. Things have come a long way since then…
~ I’d prefer an iOS replica, obviously. 

Optical fibre network could be a giant earthquake sensor — Researchers at Stanford have demonstrated they can use ordinary, underground fiber optic cables to monitor for earthquakes, by using innate impurities in the fiber as virtual sensors. They plan a larger test installation in 2018. Their biggest challenge, they say, will not be perfecting the algorithms but convincing telcos to allow their sensor technology to piggyback on existing telecommunications lines.
~ Er, your voice is shaky …

Whales and dolphins grew big brains coz peer pressure — The human brain has evolved and expanded over millennia to accommodate our ever-more-complex needs and those of our societies. This process has given us the big brain we need to communicate, cooperate, reach consensus, empathize, and socialize. The same is true for cetaceans, like whales and dolphins, it seems. These sea creatures also grew big brains in order to better live in societies, according to a study published on Oct. 16 in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
~ Unfortunately, we live tenuously these days by the grace of those with small brains. 

Australian army turns to VR for resilience training — In an effort to help troops with the psychological stress of deployment, University of Newcastle will lead a $2.2 million project to explore what uses virtual reality can have in resilience training.
Christopher Pine, Minister for Defence Industry, has announced $2.2 million of funding by the Defence Science Technology Group and the Australian Army to explore how stress changes the way the brain works.
~ I’m not sure if being virtually resilient will translate to being actually resilient.

Futurology ~ Stolen star, Hauema ring, Titan methane storms, Moon atmosphere, Quantum puzzle, drone-slayer, Deep Learning, robots-camouflage, stay-home Stone Age


Naftali Tishby, a computer scientist and neuroscientist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presented evidence in support of a new theory explaining how deep learning works

Our nearest neighbouring star may have been stolen — Less than five light years away sit three stars orbiting each other. You probably remember that one of them, Proxima Centauri, has a planet orbiting in its habitable zone — which got us really excited about the possibility of life. But what if that star was stolen?
~ Tell it to the judge, I say.]

Ring discovered around dwarf planet around Haumea — Haumea was recognised by the International Astronomical Union in 2008 as one of five dwarf planets alongside Pluto, Ceres, Eris and Makemake. They are located beyond Neptune, 50 times farther away from the sun than Earth. By comparing what was seen from different sites the La Silla Observatory team could reconstruct not only the shape and size of the object itself but also the shape, width, orientation and other properties of its newly discovered rings.
~ A job for space Jif?

Intense methane rainstorms on Titan — Titan is the largest of Saturn’s 60 moons and is roughly the size of Mercury. It has an atmosphere, volcanoes, mountains, and sand dunes. And like Earth, Titan features free-flowing liquid at the surface, manifesting as rivers, lakes and seas. It has regional weather patterns and severe seasonal liquid-methane rainstorms.
~ Yeah, not really selling it. 

When the Moon had an atmosphere — New research suggests that long ago, an atmosphere briefly popped into existence as a result of intense volcanic activity. Around three to four billion years ago, powerful volcanic eruptions shot gases above the Moon’s surface faster than they could escape, creating a transient atmosphere that lasted for about 70 million years.
~ 70 million years is transient?

Australian scientists save 30-year-old Quantum puzzle — The scientific community has been working on this one for more than 30 years. Australian scientists from Griffith University just worked out how to measure things with with single particles of light to a higher precision than ever before – on a quantum level.
~ Dang, I thought I was about to solve that one. 

Humanity gets a laser-shooting, drone-slaying dune buggy — Small consumer drones are fairly benign nuisances, buzzing around beaches, filming neighbourhoods from 100 metres up, and hopefully keeping clear of airports. To US armed forces fighting overseas, though, small drones can be huge threats. They can be rigged with explosives and firearms, or simply deployed as surveillance tools. So Raytheon has rolled out an answer at the Association of the United States Army Exposition in Washington: a laser-shooting, drone-killing dune buggy.
~ Um, ‘hoorah’?

Deep Learning explained in new theory — The magic leap from special cases to general concepts during learning gives deep neural networks their power, just as it underlies human reasoning, creativity and the other faculties collectively termed ‘intelligence.’ Experts wonder what it is about deep learning that enables generalisation – and to what extent brains apprehend reality in the same way. But a new theory seems to explain it.
~ Experience, basically … why is this so surprising?

Robot camouflage informed by the octopus — Scientists have engineered a material that can transform from a 2D sheet to a 3D shape, adjusting its texture to blend in with its surroundings. They mimicked the abilities of an octopus, which can change both shape and color to camouflage. This is a first step toward developing soft robots that can hide in plain sight, robotics expert Cecilia Laschi writes of the research.
~ Oh no, where did I put that washing machine?

Staying home changed the Stone Age — A new study by scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand suggests that at about 58,000 years ago, Stone Age humans began to settle down, staying in one area for longer periods. The research provides a potential answer to a long-held mystery: why older, Howiesons Poort complex technological tradition in South Africa, suddenly disappear at that time.
~ Yet no TV …

Futurology ~ Higgs twin, 3D Graphene, super-accurate time, asphalt batteries, Puerto Rico solar, new chopper, Neanderthal discoveries


Bell finally has its tilt-rotor military helicopter replacement ready

The Higgs Boson’s twin could reveal our universe’s dark sector — The words most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, has failed to find any of the hoped-for particles that would lead physicists beyond the Standard Model of particle physics. But it’s possible the LHC has been producing such pivotal new particles all along, and that we’re just not seeing them.
~ I’m definitely not seeing one. 

Laser light forges graphene into the third dimension — The wonder material graphene gets many of its handy quirks from the fact it exists in two dimensions, as a sheet of carbon only one atom thick. But to actually make use of it in practical applications, it usually needs to be converted into a 3D form. Now, researchers have developed a new and relatively simple way to do just that, using lasers to ‘forge’ a three-dimensional pyramid out of graphene.
~ So soon we may move from ‘wonder’ to ‘usable’?

How accurate a clock do you really need, honestly? A team of physicists lead by Sara Campbell at the National Institute of Standards and Technology used the weirdness of quantum mechanics to create the most precise atomic clock yet. This clock employs atoms vibrating in three dimensions, using laser light to trap them in a sort-of miniature modular bookcase where they count down the tiniest measurable time units. The clock could one day help scientists devise some mind-boggling experiments.
~ They’re my favourite kind of experiments. 

Rice University adds asphalt to speed Lithium metal battery — The Rice lab of chemist James Tour developed anodes comprising porous carbon made from asphalt that showed exceptional stability after more than 500 charge-discharge cycles. A high-current density of 20 milliamps per square centimeter demonstrated the material’s promise for use in rapid charge and discharge devices that require high-power density.
~ So now I’m picturing all the battery manufacturers lining up to get their asphalt. 

Elon Musk says Tesla could rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid with batteries, solar — After Puerto Rico was hit by hurricane Maria, Tesla quickly started shipping hundreds of its Powerwall batteries there to try and get power back on to some houses with solar arrays. Now, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to say that Tesla could rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid with batteries and solar on a bigger scale. Puerto Rico’s electricity rates were already quite high at around $0.20 per kWh and reliant on fossil fuels.
~ Unfortunately there are issues arising with installers ripping off desperate clients. 

Osprey-derived V-280  may finally be ready to replace US military helicopters — When fully operational, the V-280 Valor should offer double the speed and range of the conventional helicopters it’s aiming to make redundant. The V-280 is smaller, simpler, and cheaper than the massively complex V-22, which dates to the late ’80s. Bell designed and built the V-280 from scratch, always with an eye on making it easy to assemble and maintain, with lessons learned from building the V-22, a joint project with Boeing.
~ This could be a revolution for the military, sure, but easy-to-fly must surely have non-military benefits, to, around freight and accessibility?

Humans today have even more Neanderthal DNA than we realised — A international team of researchers has completed one of the most detailed analyses of a Neanderthal genome to date. Among the many new findings, the researchers learned that Neanderthals first mated with modern humans a surprisingly long time ago, and that humans living today have more Neanderthal DNA than we assumed.
The resulting study, now published in Science, confirms a bunch of things we already knew about Neanderthals, while also revealing things we didn’t know.
~ I think I’d worked this out just from following Twitter and the news. 

Futurology ~ 4th wave, Pluto’s ice shards, low-tech for Venus, EVs, bot builders, McLaren body armour


NASA is going low-tech for an attempt at a usable rover for the inhospitable surface of Venus. It has built in wind turbines that distributes power to the treads

A fourth gravitational wave has been detected  — Astronomers have made a new detection of gravitational waves and for the first time have been able to trace the shape of ripples sent through spacetime when black holes collide. The announcement, made at a meeting of the G7 science ministers in Turin, marks the fourth cataclysmic black-hole merger that astronomers have spotted using Ligo, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.
The latest detection is the first to have also been picked up by the Virgo detector, located near Pisa, Italy, providing a new layer of detail on the three dimensional pattern of warping that occurs during some of the most violent and energetic events in the universe.
~ Can’t think of a smart-arse thing to say about this, so I will leave that up to the researchers: “Overall, the volume of universe that is likely to contain the source shrinks by more than a factor of 20 when moving from a two-detector network to a three-detector network.” So there. 

Pluto’s skyscraper ice shards — When NASA’s New Horizons space probe zipped past Pluto in 2015, it revealed portions of the dwarf planet’s surface were strewn with what could only be described as gigantic blades of ice, many of which extended into the Plutonian sky for hundreds of metres. Finally, after nearly two years of research, a team of scientists think they have figured out the nature of these odd features and how they came to appear on the surface.
~ I would have picked something to do with temperature …

Low-tech rover destined for Venus — The surface of Venus is, at approximately 450°C (850° Fahrenheit), hot enough for paper to spontaneously combust. Its atmosphere, an oppressive mix of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and sulfur dioxide, is dense enough to crush a submarine. While certainly inhospitable to humans, is almost just as rough for robots. The last time a bot visited the surface of Venus was in the mid-’80s, when the Soviet Union sent its Vega lander to capture data about the planet’s soil. It lasted for less than an hour.
So NASA is going low-tech and is working on a boxy, tank-like bot that rolls around on treads (main picture, above), making it impervious to Venus’ rough terrain. Those treads are powered via a wind turbine that captures the planet’s whipping wind gusts and stores that power inside springs before distributing to the various systems on the rover.
~ It’s also using light refectors rather than fragile radio. 

Chinese researchers carry out Base Editing  to correct  mutation — Chinese researchers have taken tissue from a beta-thallasemia patient, created cloned embryos from that patient’s cells, and used a genetic editing technique known as Base Editing to correct the gene mutation that causes beta-thallasemia. The embryos were not implanted in a womb, so no actual babies were created during the procedure.
~ “Precise chemical surgery” indeed. 

Toyota, Mazda and, ah, Denso collaborate for electric cars — With governments around the world increasingly mandating some percentage of their countries’ car companies’ sales be of electric vehicles, the onus is on those brands to find more efficient and cost-effective ways to develop new models. Toyota is spearheading a new enterprise with the help of Japanese partner Mazda [which gives Ford a look-in, with it’s 33% stake in Mazda] and electronics powerhouse Denso to create standardised technology for EVs that the car brands can share in the future.
~ One suggestion: Denso should maybe consider changing its name to Clevero. 

Vacuum company Dyson aims to build a radically different electric car — The billionaire who revolutionized the vacuum cleaner said 400 engineers in Wiltshire had been working since 2015 on the £2.5 billion project.  Dyson says the car’s electric motor is ready, while two different battery types were under development that he claimed were already more efficient than in existing electric cars. Dyson said consumers would have to “wait and see” what the car would look like.
~ Going by Dyson’s other products, the mind boggles. And unlike most of their other products, they’ll hope it doesn’t suck. 

Bot armies that build things — At SRI International in Silicon Valley, researchers have developed perhaps the most impressive microbot army yet: the MicroFactory. It’s an ant colony made robotic, with half-millimeter machines zipping around to construct truly impressive structures. It could well be a glimpse at a future where 3-D printers give way to swarms of robots that cooperatively build stronger, more complex structures. The setup of the MicroFactory is fairly straightforward. The foundation is a circuit board that generates a magnetic field. The little robots themselves are magnets
~ I will really start to worry when their evolution passes from human direction. 

McLaren body armour — Developed by McLaren Applied Technologies for a “client X”, the armour is designed to “help protect vital organs after surgery”. The fully wearable composite shield does the job of the rib cage — protecting vital organs including the heart and the lungs, with the garment providing further protection from unexpected low energy impact.
According to McLaren, it’s designed to conform precisely to the client’s physique and is manufactured from a combination of materials, including carbon, Zylon and Dyneemafibres, as well as “highly-toughened resin”.
~ I guess this is really throwing down the Zylon and Dyneemafibre gauntlet to the other supercar companies …

Futurology ~ A word about the future, strange in the Solar System, NZ AI baby, cars and wheels, molecular robots, tooth vaccine, Aboriginal migration


A New Zealand company has constructed an artificial intelligence baby that plays the piano

A note about this once-a-weekend blogpost, which I call Futurology (another entry in a succession of words I have tried to invent over the last three decades). I started this as there was a lack of Apple news on weekends and I’d discover all sorts of non-Apple-related links in my week of web crawling. I start out in space, but I don’t stay there: the column moves on to interesting inventions, and when theres revelatory news about the past, back in time, so don’t be put off by a picture of an asteroid or something, glance down to see if there’s anything else that interests you!

Is it an asteroid? A comet? Both? Observations by the Hubble Space Telescope are revealing new details about a strange binary asteroid that’s performing double-duty as a comet. It’s the first time scientists have ever seen such a thing.
Back in 2006, Spacewatch discovered an asteroid named 300163 (2006 VW139). Astronomers using the Pan-STARRS telescope detected some comet-like activity coming from the object in 2011, so it was also given a comet designation of 288P. But things have changed again. When the object made its closest approach to the Sun last year, a German-led team of scientists used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to make observations, revealing not one but two asteroids. Which means it’s a binary system.
~ Well, I’ve committed that catchy name to memory!

Disturbing New Zealand AI baby plays the piano — A New Zealand company called Soul Machines has built a disturbingly lifelike virtual baby powered by artificial intelligence software. BabyX, the virtual creation of Mark Sagar and his researchers, looks impossibly real.. The work is built off the research of Mark Sagar, the company’s CEO, who is on a quest to mimic human consciousness in a machine. Sagar used to work at Weta creating lifelike faces for films like King Kong and Avatar and is now building these very realistic looking virtual avatars and pumping them full of code that not only handles things like speech but that also replicates the nervous system and brain function.
~ And your AI baby future is Aryan … 

Electric cars of the future — This year’s Frankfurt show, the largest of its kind in the world, was packed with designs that preview all those new models coming over the next few years. If you want to see where the auto industry’s headed over the next decade and beyond, just take a whirl through the gallery above, and get ready for a real shock.
~ EVs still aren’t making an impact, but they all soon. 

3-wheeler retro-futurist car — The proposed specs on the NOBE, with a design is clearly based on a late ’50s to early ’60s-era European automotive design vocabulary, are that its electric, making a maximum 45kW, or 60 horsepower –  pretty substantial for something like this. That 60hp seems to be spread over three motors each making 20hp.
~ It has a novel charging method, too. 

Wheels and tyres that adjust to conditions — Continental has a tyre concept that can adjust itself to suit the weather conditions and your driving intentions. The Continental ContiAdapt is a smart wheel which can change between four different pre-set widths to suit wet, uneven, slippery and normal road conditions. “Micro-compressors” in each wheel expand or contract the variable width rim to suit the driving conditions – normal road conditions call for a small contact patch and high tyre pressure, where a larger contact patch and lower pressure means more grip for slippery conditions.
~ So rich people in the best cars can feel even safer, no doubt.

Molecular robot builds molecules — Scientists at The University of Manchester in the UK have created the world’s first “molecular robot” that is capable of performing basic tasks including building other molecules. The tiny robots, which are a millionth of a millimeter in size, can be programmed to move and build molecular cargo, using a tiny robotic arm. Each individual robot is capable of manipulating a single molecule and is made up of just 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms.
~ Anyone seen that molecular robot? 

Chinese vaccine against tooth cavities — Scientists at Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences developed low side effects and high protective efficiency using flagellin-rPAc fusion protein KFD2-rPAc, a promising vaccine candidate to banish tooth decay. In rat challenge models, KFD2-rPAc induces a robust rPAc-specific IgA response, and confers efficient prophylactic and therapeutic efficiency as does KF-rPAc, while the flagellin-specific inflammatory antibody responses are highly reduced.
~ Hope it fixes rat-breath at the same time!

Australian migrations via Aboriginal artefacts — Decades after collection, hair samples long filed away in small manila envelopes have become a source of DNA for Ray Tobler and Alan Cooper. Specialists in ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide, they wanted to know how humans first migrated across this continent, thousands of years ago.
~ Yes, thousands of years before white invaders ‘discovered’ Australia.