Tag Archives: future

Futurology ~ Trappist, Juno Jupiter, cell detail, computer metal, hypersonic military plane, obesity microbiome


Now that TRAPPIST-1 is the trendiest star system in the galaxy — astronomers and nerds alike are clamouring to learn more about it. The seven-planet system contains three planets in the habitable zone, which means they could hypothetically support liquid water, and even life. The TRAPPIST-1 planets orbit around their ultracool dwarf star very closely, which could be good or bad for finding life, depending on who you ask.
By using data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, a team of researchers was able to ascertain the predictable frequency at which the innermost six planets orbit their star, a pattern called resonance. The planets’ gravitational tugs on each other keeps the entire system stable.
~ And what about that great beer, hey?

Juno’s flight to Jupiter has been about as dramatic as a sci-fi thriller can get — Last October, Juno’s engine system malfunctioned, causing NASA to delay the orbiter’s planned approach into a 14-day “science orbit”. This February, NASA decided to forego the science orbit engine burn entirely, keeping the spacecraft in its much longer 53.5 day orbit. But we’re finally getting some detailed news, because Juno has a suite of instruments for measuring microwaves, infrared waves, radio waves, visible light, Jupiter’s magnetic field and other particles.
~ Juno Jupiter like NASA? No. 

Cell detail — A team of American scientists made what might be the most complex video of a cell in action yet. It’s all based on a real monkey cell, analyzed with a series of proteins, dyes and a special kind of microscope. Oother microscopes have made videos of cells moving, or pairs of cell parts, called organelles, interacting, but this is the first time so many compartments in live cells have been analysed.
~ Easy sell. 

RATT, Poison and Mötley Crüe no more — Slick, sweaty men licking their guitars while wearing tight leather pants and acid washed jeans, wagging their hair-sprayed manes and rocking out harder than any of us so-called millennials could even imagine. But lately metal band names have been lame.
Luckily (or not) optics researcher Janelle Shane, who has created new paint colours, recipes and even Pokemon using artificial intelligence, has once again solved one of our biggest problems using neural networks. HellBlazer from Metal-Archives.com supplied her with a list of 100,000 existing metal bands names to train an artificial intelligence network with.
~ What frightens me more is the fact there are 100,000 existing metal bands. 

Boing to make hypersonic plane for  military — The Department of Defense has selected Boeing to make a new hypersonic spaceplane that can be reused frequently over a short period of time to deliver multiple satellites into orbit.  Boeing’s design concept is called the Phantom Express and will move forward as part of the agency’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program.
~ The main aim is something cheap to run, at only US$5 million per mission. Hey, how’s about that bicycle drive, then? Those astronauts are pretty fit. 

New obesity surgery about the gut microbiomes — A mounting body of evidence suggests that it may be possible to get all the weight-dropping effects of the procedure without going under the knife at all. It turns out gastric bypass not only restructures the topology of the human gut, but profoundly changes which microbes can survive and thrive in it.
It turns out the procedure doesn’t merely shift a patient’s microbial profile from an obese to a healthy one, it actually creates an entirely new ecosystem.
~ So, how to do that without heavy invasive surgery? 

Futurology ~ Space walk, radio cocoon, AI power, smart t-shirt, flexible speaker, old recording tech renewed, 3D-printed ovaries


Amazing space-walk footage — On March 24, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet was joined by NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough on a spacewalk outside the International Space Station. The outing was fairly routine, but this footage captured by Pesquet gives all of us stuck here on Earth an amazing first-person look of what it’s like to be an astronaut looking down on our planet.
~ And if it doesn’t leave you speechless, you can’ talk. 

Humans accidentally created a protective bubble around Earth  — This is by using very low frequency (VLF) radio transmissions to contact submarines in the ocean. It sounds nuts, but according to recent research published in Space Science Reviews, underwater communication through VLF channels has an outer space dimension. This video explainer, released by NASA on Wednesday, visualizes how radio waves wafting into space interact with the particles surrounding Earth, and influence their motion.
~ Yes. Nuts. 

Games show off the power of AI — The Artificial Intelligence Experiments Program is a collection of interactive AI projects designed to show off the creative capacity of machines – like AI Duet, a piano that automatically harmonises with notes the user plays, and Bird Sounds, a visual map that groups bird calls based on their frequency. Some are fun, even absurd, while others explain machine learning. Ultimately, each strives to make AI more accessible to all.
~ Impressive.

T-shirt monitors breathing — The smart T shirt works without any wires, electrodes, or sensors attached to the user’s body, explains Younes Messaddeq, the professor who led the team that developed the technology. “The T shirt is really comfortable and doesn’t inhibit the subject’s natural movements. Our tests show that the data captured by the shirt is reliable, whether the user is lying down, sitting, standing, or moving around.”
~ I also monitor my breathing in real time while wearing a t-shirt without sensors or electrodes. 

Flexible speaker breakthrough — Following the development of a heat-powered graphene chip that could replace the speaker in your phone, scientists at Michigan State University have developed a paper-thin, flexible electronic panel that could turn fabrics into speakers, among other applications.
~ But how’s the bass? Speaking or which …

Rebuilding and using old recording tech — Portable machines toured the country in the 1920s, visiting rural communities like Poor Valley, West Virginia, and introducing musicians like the Carter Family to new audiences. This remarkable technology forever changed how people discover and share music, yet it was almost lost to history until music legend T Bone Burnett and a few friends decided to bring it back.
~ Awesome!

3D-printed ovaries — A team of bioengineers has reported a possible fix: 3-D printed ovaries. Their proof of concept, published in Nature Communications, only works on mice so far, but they could end up replacing the uterus-flanking, chestnut-sized organs in humans, too.
~ And watch your child grow. 

Futurology ~ Cassini, NASA chainmail, artificial womb, iWalk, plastic-eatin’ bug, speeding cheap drives, DNA treatment, mass-producing organs, seniors’ VR future, mastodon threatens history


NASA’s 3D-printed chainmail — The biggest improvement NASA has made in its 21st century version of chain mail, developed by a team led by Raul Polit Casillas at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is how it’s manufactured. Instead of a medieval blacksmith spending weeks painstakingly connecting tiny loops of metal, one by one, the material shown above and below is 3D printed by a machine, which means it could be produced as needed on the space station, or on other off-Earth habitats, depending on where we travel in the coming decades.
~ Have at you, space varlet!

Cassini’s latter images — A Deep Space Network receiver picked up a signal from NASA’s Cassini orbiter as it emerged from its first trip through the gap between Saturn and the gas giant’s rings. In the ensuing data came pictures of the planet’s north pole and cloud tops from only 3000 kilometres away, our closest look yet at the upper part of Saturn’s atmosphere, where the pressure is about the same as it is at sea level on Earth, revealing ‘stringy’ clouds and odd lights. So what were we seeing?
~ In September, Cassini’s ‘final’ descent’ – let’s hope its crash isn’t seen as an act of war. 

Artificial womb birthed sheep, humans next? Inside what look like oversized ziplock bags strewn with tubes of blood and fluid, eight fetal lambs continued to develop much like they would have inside their mothers. Over four weeks, their lungs and brains grew, they sprouted wool, opened their eyes, wriggled around, and learned to swallow, according to a new study that takes the first step toward an artificial womb. One day, this device could help to bring premature human babies to term outside the uterus.
~ Can you keep them in the freezer till you want them? 

The iWalk2.0 hands-free crutch is a ‘high-tech peg-leg’ — The single ‘leg crutch’ straps to your leg and provides a built-in shelf upon which you rest your injured foot. It promised a way to walk around normally, arms completely unencumbered.
~ Basically, this is a high-tech peg-leg which gets you mobile again.

Plastic-munching caterpillar — In a chance discovery, a research team from Europe has learned a common insect larva is capable of breaking down the plastic found in shopping bags and other polyethylene-based products. This trash-munching caterpillar could inspire scientists to develop a new chemical process to tackle the growing problem of plastic waste.
~ So is its poo non-biodegradable? 

Optane memory speeds cheap hard drives — The primary reason your cheap laptop loudly chugs along at glacial speeds is because of the hard drive. Cheap laptops use cheap hard disk drives, which are much slower than the solid state drives found in better computers. But Intel’s new Optane Memory changes that. This little US$70 chip makes a cheap hard disk drive run as fast as a solid state drive by using a brand new type of memory.
~ Finally, something usefully revolutionary in the tech world!

DNA-based test much quicker at finding cancer — In the latest trial, reported in the journal Nature, 100 patients with non-small cell lung cancer were followed from diagnosis through surgery and chemotherapy, having blood tests every six to eight weeks. By analysing the patchwork of genetic faults in cells across each tumor, scientists created personalized genomic templates for each patient. This was then compared to the DNA floating in their blood, to assess whether a fraction of it matched that seen in their tumour.
~ Promising. 

Medical researchers have been able to create certain kinds of living cells with 3D printers for more than a decade — Some companies are getting closer to mass production of higher-order tissues (bone, cartilage, organs) and other individually tailored items, including implants.
~ I still want that small, three-fingered, two-thumbed hand in the middle of my chest so I can eat  a sandwich while holding a large iPad with both hands. 

Seniors’ future in VR — A four-years home-bound 78-year-old senior just made a transatlantic voyage while seated upright in his bed. He visited Stonehenge, a favorite vacation site of his; the streets of London’s Russell Square, near his old apartment and the stretch of Broadway where he lived and worked for so many years. Back and forth the man moved his head, his eyes obscured by the Gear VR headset he wore.
~ The bedridden man represents a population that has been forgotten by the VR industry: seniors.

US mastodon find threatens human history narrative — Workers building a new freeway in San Diego in 1993 made a fantastic discovery: a  backhoe operator scraped up a fossil, and scientists soon unearthed a full collection of bones, teeth, and tusks from a mastodon. The mastodons died out some 11,000 years ago.
But the dig site turned out to be even more revelatory and soon had archaeologists swooping in to study a number of stone tools scattered around the bones, evidence of human activity. After years of debate over the dating technology used on the mastodon, a group of researchers now believes that they can date it and the human tools to 130,000 years ago – more than 100,000 years earlier than the earliest humans are supposed to have made it to North America.
~ I would expect this idea could be confirmed with DNA studies. 

Futurology ~ Life planet, Enceladus life, 3D printed Mars dust, airless tyres, sound dryer, Wozniak future, car-jet, frog flu, Wilma Flintstone


If we could 3D-print tools from Martian dust, it might help colony plans

Another new planet that might favour life — t seems like every week, there’s a new contender for Coolest Planet Where There Are Definitely Aliens. For those of us who want to believe, this is an emotionally exhausting cycle, as we’re built up and let down time and again. At the risk of screwing with our fragile hearts even more, it’s worth mentioning that a recently discovered exoplanet 39 light-years from Earth might actually give the current favourites Proxima b and the TRAPPIST-1 system a run for their money.
~ Not that long ago, we thought Earth was pretty good. 

Life on Enceladus — According to NASA, molecular hydrogen has been found in Enceladus’ subterranean ocean, which bolsters the idea that the icy moon could host extraterrestrial microbes. Despite Enceladus’ frigid exterior, this ocean is thought to be extremely warm at the bottom – roughly 90C.
~ This is exciting because it makes fairly-close-to-us aliens possible. 

3D-printed Mars dust — We’ve had a hard time coming up with reasons as to why everyone needs a 3D printer here on Earth, but on Mars the machines could be used to manufacture tools, spare parts, even entire structures, habitats and vehicles, given there’s no hardware stores for astronauts to visit if we eventually send humans on the 54.6 million km journey.
But 3D printers don’t make things out of thin air. so scientists at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering have developed a way to turn extraterrestrial materials, like Lunar and Martian dust, into a 3D printing material.
~ Besides, Mars doesn’t even have thin air. 

Bridgestone’s airless tyres — They use a series of rigid plastic resin spokes (above) to help a wheel keep its shape as it rolls, instead of an inflatable inner tube that can puncture and leak. Military vehicles and ATVs have been some of the first vehicles to adopt the unorthodox design, but Bridgestone will soon be making a version of its airless tyres for use on bicycles.
~ And if they take off, airless-tyred cars could become more fuel efficient too because they don’t change shape. 

Clothes dryers uses sound — Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have developed a dryer that could make doing laundry much quicker. The ultrasonic dryer is expected to be up to five times more energy-efficient than most conventional dryers and able dry a large load of clothes in about half the time. Instead of using heat the way most dryers do, the ultrasonic dryer relies on high-frequency vibrations. Devices called green transducers convert electricity into vibrations, shaking the water from clothes.
~ But will you need ear muffs?

Wozniak on the future — Woz predicted portable laptops back in 1982, and now says that by 2075, we could also see new cities built from scratch in the deserts, with people wearing special suits to protect them from the heat. AI will be ubiquitous in all cities, as consumers interact with smart walls to communicate, and to shop, while home medical devices will allow self-diagnosis and doctor-free prescriptions. Now he projects further ahead …
~ Yeah, Woz, but only for the very rich like you. 

Lilium the Flying Car — You wouldn’t think the Lilium Jet could fly. It looks more like a computer mouse than an aircraft, and its 36 small propellers run on electricity, not jet fuel. But this funky airplane (above) just proved it can take to the sky, and might finally be the flying car we’ve been waiting for. There will be years of flight testing, but the German startup has backing from the European Space Agency and millions in funding.
~ I like it. 

South Indian frog flu cure — From the slimy backs of a South Indian frog comes a new way to blast influenza viruses. A compound in the frog’s mucus, long known to have germ-killing properties, can latch onto flu virus particles and cause them to burst apart, researchers report in Immunity.
~ Let’s hope those Immunity reporters carry on reporting with impunity. 

Wilma Flintstone and the Palaeolithic — Recreations of Palaeolithic people at the museum usually look like the typical pop culture caveman. Famed Otzi the Iceman, for example, has the face of someone who’d be fun to disembowel a moose with, but whose conversation might be just a little gauche. A new facial reconstruction of a Stone Age woman who lived in Thailand roughly 13,600 years presents the pleasant and probably more accurate visage.
~ Certainly pretty good for someone 13,600 years old. 

Futurology ~ ancient blob, little exoplanet, Google AI, brain bleeds, rooms as screens, NZ stoat editing, seawater sieve, Berners-Lee on the DubDubDub


Little 55 Cancri e may have an atmosphere, but is not very Earth-like at all

Ancient stellar blob could change our understanding of how galaxies form — Only a billion or so years after the universe formed, a galaxy far more massive than our own blazed into existence. Just half a billion years later – less than the amount of time it took life to emerge and evolve into humans on Earth – the galaxy was a dead disc, no longer forming stars. No one quite believed it really existed because it’s a challenge to formation ideas.
~ Not to mine, as I have yet to form my formation ideas. 

Little exoplanet still has atmosphere — An international team of astronomers has detected traces of an atmosphere using a ground-based telescope around an exoplanet located 39 light-years away. This exoplanet is not much larger than our own, making it the most Earth-like planet known to harbour an atmosphere.
~ Although it’s way to hot for humans. 

Google Ai chip ameliorated data centres — Google has what is surely the largest computer network on Earth, a system that comprises custom-built, warehouse-sized data centers spanning 15 locations in four continents. But about six years ago, as the company embraced a new form of voice recognition on Android phones, its engineers worried this network wasn’t nearly big enough. If each of the world’s Android phones used the new Google voice search for just three minutes a day, these engineers realized, the company would need twice as many data centres. So Google built its own computer chip specifically for running deep neural networks.
~ Smart.

Headset can tell if your brain is bleeding — A new head-worn device that scans the brain’s electrical patterns to uncover bleeding after head injuries has shown tremendous promise in clinical trials, presenting an inexpensive way for physicians to make a potentially life-saving diagnosis.
~ Plus it’s appealing to Star Trek geeks. 

Lightform transforms whole rooms into screens — Projection mapping, also known as projected augmented reality, uses video projectors to cast light onto irregular surfaces like buildings, faces, and, yes, living rooms. For decades, this technology was too expensive and technically complex for the average person to use, but with Lightform, the company’s eponymous first product, Sodhi and his partners are automating the entire process. The company plans to begin taking preorders on the device this summer, price TBD.
~ Rich people rejoice. Again. 

Repurposing old equipment for physics experiments — An old MRI machine took a several-week boat journey around the world last week. Scientists are going to gut it, replace the bed, and try to understand the secrets of the universe with it as when some physicists at the CERN experiment ISOLDE realised they’d have to drop a million and a quarter just to build their own magnet, they started to look for alternatives.
~ CERN runs more than just the Large Haydron Collider. 

New Zealand to gene-edit stoats — The stoat was brought here on purpose, introduced in the 19th century to control another pest introduced by settlers, the rabbit. It was, in essence, a Russian nesting doll of ecological disasters – one bad decision supplanting yet another. But using a gene drive, scientists may be able to override natural selection during reproduction, which could alter the genetic makeup of large populations of animals in a relatively short period of time.
~ ‘Tiny island nation’!? New Zealand is bigger than England, Scotland and Wales combined, so if New Zealand is what Gizmodo calls a ‘tiny island nation, then so is the UK. Hah!

Graphene sieve can filter the salt out of seawater — A UK-based team of researchers has created a graphene-based sieve capable of removing salt from seawater. The sought-after development could aid the millions of people without ready access to clean drinking water.
~ I wonder if it would work on KFC?

Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the internet, wants to overhaul it — Lee just got the Turing Prize. On the better web Berners-Lee envisions, users control where their data is stored and how it’s accessed.
~ I want him to overhaul it as well. (I interviewed him once: nice bloke.)

Futurology ~ Physics turducken, Saturn’s weirdness, sunspots, transmitting taste, faster memory, human cell computing


Saturn’s north pole as never seen before

A year for new theories, so why not combine them? It’s been a year of it, so why not combine all of the craziest physics ideas into one: a physics turducken? What if we, say, try to spot the dark matter radiating off of black holes through their gravitational waves? It’s all about axions.
~ And I thought that was an insurance company.

Saturn’s crazy north pole — Some incredible new shots of the atmospheric vortex at the center of Saturn’s north polar hexagon were captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft last week. The images were snapped during the latest of Cassini’s ring-grazing orbits, which have so far yielded stunning glimpses of Saturn’s rings, and its delightfully pasta-shaped moons.
~ Saturn is our system’s chameleon. And Saturn’s weirdest moon is full of electric sand!

New observations improve sunspot forecasting — From 2010 to 2013, McIntosh and his team used a trio of satellites to observe the entire solar surface at once for the first time. They watched as bright magnetic spots moved around the Sun, making the first real observation of a behaviour lots of scientists have expected to see its surface. The so-called Rossby waves the team observed will hopefully give us a useful new tool to predict solar weather — energetic particles blasting the Earth from magnetic events on the Sun — with several days or more advance notice.
~ Sunspot spotters …

Transmitting lemonade over the internet — In an experiment that involved 13 tasters, the subjects’ taste buds were stimulated using electricity from receiving electrodes; LED lights mimicked a lemony color. Some were convinced that the water they were drinking was, in fact, almost as sour as lemonade.
~ The amazing thing about the internet is how mush it can convince people of insane things. Just look at Trump, Marine Le Pen and Brexit. 

Magical new memory — Computer memory, that is. Intel is hoping to eradicate the speed vs price compromise with its new Intel Optane Memory. According to Intel, installing this single memory stick in your computer could supercharge even the slowest hard drive and give you the SSD’s best feature: Speed.
~ I’m ready. 

Human cells to compute — Cellular computing is more than just a convenient metaphor. In the last couple of decades, biologists have been working to hack the cells’ algorithm in an effort to control their processes. They’ve upended nature’s role as life’s software engineer, incrementally editing a cell’s algorithm – its DNA – over generations. In a paper published in Nature Biotechnology, researchers programmed human cells to obey 109 different sets of logical instructions …
~ I imagine hacking that process!

Futurology ~ Black Hole speedster, Indian Mars success, Quantum chemistry, artificial sun, robot solves uncertainty


India sent a spaceship to Mars for much less than it cost to make the movie The Martian

Enormous black hole streaking through space — Astronomers have spotted quasar 3C 186 thirty six thousand light years away from the center of its galaxy, seemingly trying to escape.
This quasar seems to be rushing away at around 2000 kilometers per second (4.5 million miles per hour) instead.
~ That’s inconceivably fast. Let’s hope it’s trajectory is mathematically away

A rocket to Mars cost less to get there than making the film The Martian — Ipsita Agarwal via Backchannel retells the story of how India’s underfunded space organization, ISRO, managed to send a rocket to Mars for much less than it cost to make the movie The Martian, starring Matt Damon. “While NASA’s Mars probe, Maven, cost US$651 million, the budget for this mission was US$74 million,” Agarwal writes.
~ Well if you think that’s bad, imagine how much it would cost to send Matt Damon to Mars.

Quantum Computing might finally have a use: chemistry — Simulations of molecules and chemical reactions to aid research into things like new materials, drugs, or industrial catalysts are not new, and account for a significant proportion of the workload of the world’s supercomputers. Yet the payoffs are limited because even the most powerful supercomputers cannot perfectly re-create all the complex quantum behaviors of atoms and electrons in even relatively small molecules, says Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a chemistry professor at Harvard. He’s looking forward to the day simulations on quantum computers can accelerate his research group’s efforts to find new light-emitting molecules for displays, for example, and batteries suitable for grid-scale energy storage.
~ And even less lab explosions. 

AI is better at lip reading — Scientists at Oxford say they’ve invented an artificial intelligence system that can lip-read better than humans. The system, which has been trained on thousands of hours of BBC News programs, has been developed in collaboration with Google’s DeepMind AI division.
Watch, Attend and Spell, as the system has been called, can now watch silent speech and get about 50% of the words correct. That may not sound too impressive — but when the researchers supplied the same clips to professional lip-readers, they got only 12% of words right.
~ Well, I still reckon it’s going to be hard to get people to write words on their lips. 

Massive artificial sun — An enormous machine looks like an insect’s eye uses 149 lamps to simulate sunlight, making it a handy tool for testing things like solar panels or generating clean energy. Scientists threw the switch on the world’s largest artificial sun on Thursday, which happened to be the birthday of the fellow who designed it, who had tears in his eyes.
~ Please point it at England. Oh, wait, Brexit …

Robot solves uncertainty — A human wearing a headset stands in front of a Brown University robot, which sits on a table with six objects in front of it. The human points at, say, a bowl, and asks, “Can I have that bowl?” A Microsoft Kinect atop the robot’s head tracks the movement of the hand to determine which object the subject means and combines that data with the vocal command. But two bowls are sitting right next to each other, and Iorek can’t differentiate which one the human wants. So it hovers an arm over the bowl it thinks the human wants and asks: “This one?” If the subject says no, the robot determines that its master seeks the other. That may seem like a simple interaction, something a child could do. But this is huge for a robot because the system solves a nasty problem: uncertainty.
~ OK, it can have my damn job, then. 

Futurology ~ Speedster star, Black Hole origins, TRAPPIST system, iPhone 8 AR, AI suicides, crazy-tough water bear


Scientists have a new theory as to how Black Holes might form

Star orbits Black Hole at 1% the speed of light — Astronomers have spotted a star whizzing around a vast black hole at about 2.5 times the distance between Earth and the Moon, and it takes only half an hour to complete one orbit. To put that into perspective, it takes roughly 28 days for our Moon to do a single lap around our relatively tiny planet at speeds of 3683 km (2288 miles) per hour.
~ Now that’s one cosmic Mazurka!

Wild new hypothesis for Black Hole formation — New research from an international team of scientists might have some answers to at least one of the critical questions, like how supermassive black holes, which range in size from millions to billions of solar masses, apparently formed very quickly in the early universe.
~ Looks like a massive Vape.

TRAPPIST 1 view — Last month, the solar system lost its collective chill when NASA announced the discovery of a seven-planet system called TRAPPIST-1, just 39 light-years from our Sun. The system is particularly exciting, not only because of its proximity to our planet, but because it has three planets within the habitable zone, where liquid water (and potentially life) could be supported. And on Wednesday, March 8th, NASA finally released its first-ever glimpse at the TRAPPIST-1 system (above left)…
~ Er, anyone else wishing for a few more pixels? 

Alien life jumping between Trappist planets — A new study from Manasvi Lingam and Avi Loeb at Harvard University makes the question of life in TRAPPIST-1 even more compelling: the researchers suggest that the TRAPPIST-1 planets are close enough to each other that microbes could travel from one world to another, via rocks.
~ I’ve jumped – or at least stumbled – between Trappists before. And rock was involved, so it sounds plausible to my finely-honed scientific sensibilities!

‘iPhone 8’ could herald start of Apple’s augmented reality ambitions — Computer simulations, and the means to visualize them, could be in the palm of your hand in new and potentially revolutionary ways later this year, if rumours about Apple’s forthcoming “iPhone 8” bear fruit.
~ Well, I dunno, if you start listening to that Tim Cook fellow, you can come up with almost any theory as to what Apple might produce. 

Facebook fighting suicides — Earlier this month, Facebook began turning some of those AI tools to a more noble goal: stopping people from taking their own lives. Admittedly, this isn’t entirely altruistic. Having people broadcast their suicides from Facebook Live isn’t good for the brand.
~ Well, here’s a tip: stop those bloody ads appearing!

Secret of the tcrazy-tough water bear is a protein — There’s no toughness like that of the water bear (or tardigrade), which looks like a cannon wearing a pair of wrinkled khakis. This microscopic critter can survive boiling water, alcohol, some of the lowest temperatures in the universe and blasts of radiation that would kill a human. Now researchers claim they’ve found an exclusively tardigradean protein that the creature produces, forming it into a glass bead.
~ Ah, well, now that you say it, it seems obvious!

Tuesday Talk ~ Where to for the Mac? Still …


This discussion is still unresolved. As Daniel Iran Dilger points out on Apple Insider, Apple’s mix of products, and therefore revenues, has changed a lot over the last two decades. In 1997, it was a mix of Macs that Apple sold; nowadays Macs form less than a fifth of Apple’s products with iPhone responsible for well over a half.
It’s easy to think Apple doesn’t care too much about the Mac, and yet it’s the Mac that made Apple what it is, and it’s the Mac users who form Apple’s most loyal, and longest standing, customer base. But some of Apple’s Mac hardware hasn’t been updated for years. It’s easy to see why, going by the sales mix, but this has created uncertainty about whether Apple still values some of its smaller niche businesses. As Dilger points out, these were once considered strategically important to Apple and included audio, video, graphics and publishing professionals.
On Apple’s current Compare Mac Models page, which lists a dozen Mac products, seven are notebooks, three are iMacs and two haven’t been materially updated in years: Mac mini and Mac Pro. It’s clear the Mac Pro was designed for professional users, and really made waves when it appeared in 2013 but that’s a very long time ago in computing terms, but the little mini has done sterling duty in many pro environments as a file server. Sure, the MacBook Pro had a refresh last year, and this was significant, although not significant enough for some, but even that seemed tardy.

Meanwhile we have the uncertainty about the little Air line, which now seems like an iPad with a keyboard and ports, and the confusing MacBook, an overpriced machine (over NZ$2000!) with limited options aimed at … who, exactly? And why?
John Martellero reckons Apple has it’s eye on the ball, but it’s not the same ball everyone else has their eye on. This is Jobsian, anyway.

Where does all this leave pro users? Tim Cook has made vague promises that Apple is not forgetting its pro users but … it’s been forgetting them for a while, starting with the thoroughly mishandled launch of Final Cut Pro X that turned so many pro users against Apple. And that situation still exists, despite major efforts to redress those issues with what is now superb video editing software.
The proof is in the pudding. And we want that pudding this year, please. Because ordinary Mac users are starting to be affected by all this, too.

Futurology ~ Trappist, turbulent Jupiter, Venus probe, new Supersolid, DNA storage, robots to enrich the rich


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Trappist looking more attractive — A few days ago,  the citizens of Earth were introduced (technically, re-introduced) to a star system 39 light years away hosting seven Earth-sized exoplanets, three of which lie squarely in the habitable zone. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, researchers are now suggesting that a fourth of the TRAPPIST-1 planets might be habitable, too. Although we might have to stretch our imaginations a bit.
~ Every time Trump opens his mouth, it looks more attractive to me. Besides, Trappists make great beer. 

Turbulent Jupiter — Things may be pretty whacky here on Earth, but they’re nothing compared to the gigantic storm twice as wide as our own planet raging on Jupiter. The area just west of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is both dazzling and chaotic, filled with swirling clouds of mystery. Now, thanks to NASA’s Juno spacecraft – and a very skilled citizen scientist – we have the most high-res image of this region ever.
~ Get ready for more dramatic photos thanks to Juno. 

Venus probe cameras — Following an unexpected energy surge, Japan’s space agency has hit the pause button on two of the five cameras aboard its Venus-orbiting Akatsuki spacecraft. It’s a bad sign for the troubled orbiter, which has been exposed to more radiation than anticipated.
~ Just don’t tell the energy industry. 

New Supersolid — American and Swiss researchers have created a strange new ‘supersolid‘ in two different ways. It’s not something you can hold in your hand: these are highly-engineered materials that exist in ultracold vacuum chambers. But there’s been a sort of race to create supersolids, which will help us understand the nature of matter itself.
~ I thought there were only two states of matter: Does and Doesn’t. 

Researchers have now encoded an 1895 French film, a computer virus and a $50 Amazon gift card in DNA —  In 2011, Harvard University geneticist George Church pioneered the use of DNA for electronic data storage, encoding his own book, some images, and a Javascript program in the molecules. A year later, researchers European Bioinformatics Institute improved the method, and uploaded all of Shakespeare’s sonnets, a clip of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, a PDF of the paper from James Watson and Francis Crick that detailed the structure of DNA, and a photo of their institute into a tiny speck of DNA. In July, a team from Microsoft and University of Washington also managed to store a record 200 megabytes of data in DNA.
Yaniv Erlich and Dina Zielinski from the New York Genome Center and Columbia University respectively have a new method, dubbed ‘DNA Fountain‘.
~ But where the hell do you plug it in? 

Robots to enrich the rich — Despite a steady stream of alarming headlines about clever computers gobbling up our jobs, the economic data suggests that automation isn’t happening on a large scale. The bad news is that if it does, it will produce a level of inequality that will make present-day America look like an egalitarian utopia by comparison. The real threat posed by robots isn’t that they will become evil and kill us all, which is what keeps Elon Musk up at night – it’s that they will amplify economic disparities to such an extreme that life will become, quite literally, unlivable for the vast majority.
~ Hardly a surprise, surely?