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.
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 …
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.
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?
9.7-inch iPad Pro — “Breakthrough Pro Features & Advanced Display Technologies Come to the Most Popular iPad Size” (verbatim from Apple’s press release)
CUPERTINO, California — 22 March 2016 — Apple® today introduced the all-new 9.7-inch iPad Pro™ — at less than 500 grams it features a new pro Retina® display with greater brightness, wider colour gamut, lower reflectivity, Night Shift™ mode and introduces new True Tone® display technology to dynamically adjust white balance. The new iPad Pro delivers incredible performance with the 64-bit A9X chip that rivals most portable PCs, along with a four-speaker audio system that is twice as powerful,¹ new 12-megapixel iSight® camera for shooting Live Photos™ and 4K video, 5-megapixel FaceTime® HD camera, and faster wireless technologies. And iPad Pro includes support for the breakthrough Apple Pencil™ and a new Smart Keyboard™ cover designed to fit the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro.
“iPad Pro is a new generation of iPad that is indispensable and immersive, enabling people to be more productive and more creative. It’s incredibly fast, extremely portable, and completely natural to use with your fingers, Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. And now it comes in two sizes,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has a new Retina display with True Tone technology, four-speaker audio system, blazing fast A9X chip, 12-megapixel iSight camera, 5-megapixel FaceTime HD camera, faster wireless, and support for Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. It is the ultimate upgrade for existing iPad users and replacement for PC users.”
Designers, illustrators and businesses have quickly adopted iPad Pro and it’s changing the way they work:
“People don’t realise how much hand drawing is needed to produce computer animation,” said John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer, Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. “iPad Pro and Apple Pencil are the closest we’ve ever been able to get in the digital world to actually drawing on paper.”
“I’ve done everything including designing the latest cycling collection on iPad Pro,” said Alex Valdman, Head of Design for Rapha. “It goes with me everywhere, and has not only replaced my laptop, but my paper notebook as well. For the Rapha design team, iPad Pro will become standard issue.”
“At Citi, iPad Pro is truly transforming how we work,” said Stephen Gates, US Head of Design for Citi Global Consumer Banking. “iPad Pro and Apple Pencil have played a huge part in the new Citi Design team’s work to create new innovative customer experiences. We use iPad Pro for sketching out new design concepts, presenting our work, answering our emails, working with our design files on Adobe Creative Cloud and participating in FaceTime meetings with our other design teams all over the world.”
Pro display — The 9.7-inch iPad Pro features advanced display technologies, including a True Tone display, which uses new four-channel sensors to dynamically adjust the white balance of the display to match the light around you for a more natural and accurate, paper-white viewing experience. The advanced Retina display is 25 per cent brighter and 40 per cent less reflective than iPad Air® 2, making content even easier to see indoors and out. It uses the same wider colour gamut as the iMac® with Retina 5K display, delivering 25 per cent greater colour saturation¹ for more vivid colours. A custom timing controller, photo alignment and oxide TFT deliver incredible colour, contrast and clarity. Night Shift in iOS 9.3 uses iPad Pro’s clock and geolocation to automatically adjust the colours in the display to the warmer end of the spectrum after dark and may even help you get a better night’s sleep.
Pro performance — The new iPad Pro is just 6.1-mm thin and weighs less than 500 grams, yet delivers groundbreaking performance, connectivity and versatility so you can tackle the most demanding tasks wherever you go. The powerful A9X chip with third-generation 64-bit architecture provides performance that rivals many laptops and console-class graphics, while also delivering all-day battery life.² Ultrafast wireless connectivity keeps you connected wherever you go with 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO technology, support for even faster LTE Advanced with up to 50 per cent faster cellular connectivity³ and the most LTE bands supported by any tablet.⁴ Now with Apple SIM embedded directly in the new iPad Pro, it’s even easier to connect to wireless data plans right from your device when traveling in more than 100 countries and territories.5
iPad Pro has an advanced 12-megapixel iSight camera sensor featuring Focus Pixels for fast focusing, an Apple-designed image signal processor, advanced noise reduction, third-generation local tone mapping and better face detection, all resulting in sharp, detailed images, 63-megapixel panoramas and Live Photos. A True Tone flash improves low light shots and document scanning. The new iSight camera shoots 4K video, making the new iPad Pro the perfect device to shoot, edit and share pro-quality video. The improved 5-megapixel, front-facing FaceTime HD camera makes the new iPad Pro perfect for videoconferencing or connecting with loved ones.
Pro audio — The four-speaker audio system provides powerful, clear and rich stereo sound for more than twice the audio output.¹ Built-in sensors automatically adjust and optimise the audio no matter which way you’re using it. iOS 9.3 also adds support for playing video encoded with Dolby Digital Plus audio streams with support for multichannel output using the Apple Lightning® Digital AV Adapter.
Pro accessories — Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, available for purchase separately, bring breakthrough levels of precision and utility to iPad Pro. Advanced sensors in Apple Pencil measure both pressure and tilt for a natural drawing, annotating and note-taking experience. A new Smart Keyboard is custom-designed for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, offering a thin yet durable keyboard that never needs to be charged or paired over Bluetooth and is easily foldable into a protective Smart Cover®. The new Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader and Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter make it easy to download photos and videos from a digital camera to iPad Pro, while a new Lightning to USB-C Cable and Apple’s 29W USB-C Power Adapter enable faster charging.
Pricing & Availability — The 9.7-inch iPad Pro comes in silver, space grey, gold and a new rose gold metallic finish, and starts at a recommended retail price of NZ$1,049 inc. GST for the 32GB with Wi-Fi model and starts at a recommended retail price of NZ$1,269 inc. GST for the 32GB Wi-Fi + Cellular model. Both iPad Pro sizes are available in offerings of 32GB, 128GB and a new 256GB capacity, the highest of any iOS device. For more information, please visit http://www.apple.com/nz/ipad.
– The 9.7-inch iPad Pro will be available to order beginning Thursday, 24 March PDT, from apple.com/nz, and through select carriers and Apple Authorised Resellers on Thursday, 31 March, in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, China (Wi-Fi models only), France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Puerto Rico, Singapore, the UK, US Virgin Islands and the US.
– Apple Pencil is available for a recommended retail price of NZ$189 inc. GST and Smart Keyboard in charcoal grey for NZ$279 inc. GST. The Polyurethane iPad Pro Smart Cover and Silicone Cases for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro are available for a recommended retail price of NZ$95 inc. GST and NZ$129 inc. GST, respectively, in a range of new vibrant colours.
– The Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader is available for a recommended retail price of NZ$55 inc. GST, Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter for NZ$75 inc. GST, Apple 29W USB-C Power Adapter for NZ$95 inc.GST, Lightning to USB-C Cable (1 m.) for NZ$45 inc. GST and Lightning to USB-C Cable (2 m.) for NZ$65 inc. GST.
– Every customer who buys an iPad Pro from apple.com/nz will be offered free Personal Setup online to help them customise their iPad Pro by setting up email, showing them new apps from the App Store® and more.
Apple has released two new products for iDevices — One is a faster USB 3.0 Lightning to SD card reader for iPad Pro, since the Pro has a faster USB 3.0 port hidden within in. This is its first official accessory: a new Lightning to SD card reader that takes advantage of the next-generation port exclusive to Apple’s jumbo-sized iPad.
The second is an Apple iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case. The US$99 iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case in charcoal or white costs NZ$189 in New Zealand. With it you can reportedly charge your iPhone and battery case simultaneously for increased talk time up to 25 hours, Internet use up to 18 hours on LTE, and even longer audio and video playback.
Apple Maps gets more than five billion map-related requests each week — Apple tells the Associated Press that its Maps app is now used more than three times as often as its next leading competitor (that would be Google Maps) on iPhones and iPads, with more than five billion map-related requests each week. comScore says Maps has a “modest lead” over Google on iPhones in the US, though the research group measures how many people use a service in a given month rather than how often. [I haven’t used Google Maps in years.]