Tag Archives: news

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. 

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The Apocalypticon ~ It’s all about phones, data breaches, Facebook hate, maps, move more, sheltering with Kristen Bell


Trump administration sued over phone searches at US borders — The Trump administration has engaged in an unconstitutional practice of searching without a warrant the phones and laptops of Americans who are stopped at the border, a lawsuit filed last week alleged. From a report:Ten US citizens and one lawful permanent resident sued the Department of Homeland Security in federal court, saying the searches and prolonged confiscation of their electronic devices violate privacy and free speech protections of the US Constitution. DHS could not be immediately reached for comment. The lawsuit comes as the number of searches of electronic devices has surged in recent years, alarming civil rights advocates. One approach is to encrypt your phone data, of course, and it’s not that hard (but proceed cautiously as I have heard of people locking themselves out of their own devices irretrievably).
And what do do about ‘mega-breaches‘ like the Equifax debacle? This put 143 million US consumers’ personal data at risk, including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and even some drivers license and credit card numbers. For safer email, maybe the only answer is to write text-only messages.

Facebook enabled hard of Jews — ProPublica is reporting that Facebook “enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2300 people who expressed interest in the topics of ‘Jew hater,’ ‘How to burn jews,’ or, ‘History of why jews ruin the world.'” The organization even went so far as to test these ad categories by paying $30 to target those groups with three “promoted posts” – in which a ProPublica article or post was displayed in their news feeds. Facebook reportedly approved all three ads within 15 minutes.

Mapping errors — the mountains of Kong form a magnificent, impassable mountain range in West Africa. Luckily it’s not real. But that didn’t stop 19th-century writers from waxing poetic about its formidable, snow-capped peaks, or illustrious cartographers from including it in historical maps. Old maps, though, also show how humans have wrecked the Florida reefs.

Aliens might save us yet — A fascinating new paper theorises that alien civilizations could reshape their homeworlds in predictable and potentially detectable ways like we have. The authors are proposing a new classification scheme that measures the degree to which planets been modified by intelligent hosts.

Spilled salmon — Last month, a pen in Washington State holding hundreds of thousands of fish broke, sending swarms of silver Atlantic salmon swimming to the south and north. As you’re no doubt aware, Washington State is not on the Atlantic. Now, these invasive fish have been reported as far as 240km away in Canada.

An alarming study indicates why some bacteria is more resistant to antibiotics in space — To learn more about why some germs seem harder to kill in near-weightless conditions, scientists aboard the ISS recently doused a batch of bacteria with antibiotics – an experiment which resulted in a series of startling physical changes that may be helping the bacteria to survive and thrive in space.

But wait, this is moving! Well, it should be. Moving your body at least every half hour could help to limit the harmful effects of desk jobs and other sedentary lifestyles, research has revealed. The study found that both greater overall time spent inactive in a day, and longer periods of inactivity were linked to an increased risk of death. So t’s relatively easy for most of us to stave that off.

And finally, if that’s not good enough news, actor Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, Scream 4,  FrozenBad Moms etc) songs from Frozen to people sheltering from Hurricane Irma in Orlando. Among those sheltering was actor Kristen Bell, who helped cheer up gathered Floridians by performing Frozen hits at a shelter.
Cool, or what?

Futurology ~ Goth Jupiter, future tech, lasers, fertile bacteria, supercomputer engineering, hydrogen buses, Voynich manuscript


The Voynich Manuscript has finally been deciphered. No clues from the drawing, then…

Hubble observes ‘Goth Jupiter’ — Over a thousand light years away, there’s a planet that isn’t conforming to your so-called rules. The planet reflects at most 6.4% of the light that hits it. WASP-12b is already a highly-studied planet, according to a Hubble release. The planet has a radius twice Jupiter’s and is incredibly close to WASP-12a, with a year lasting around a single Earth day. Its 2600°C surface stretches like an egg from its nearby sun.
~ Bit hard to get real science from it, surely, at that distance. 

What future tech do you think we’ll actually have in the future? A recent survey conducted by IT training firm CBT Nuggets revealed a little about what we think will and won’t happen in the future. For example, nearly a third of those surveyed didn’t think printable food would ever be possible – but a company managed to do just that by using edible ingredients instead of traditional plastics in 2014.
~ Indeed, even Kitchen Things in NZ sells a pancake printer.

Speaking of which, I always thought we’d have more lasers in this era — This clip from Pete’s Shredder shows an engraver at work, carving out Roy Lichtenstein’s 1964 piece “Ohhh…Alright…” onto anodised aluminium. The speed at which the beams work tricks your brain into thinking the video is sped up. It’s not. You’re watching the engraving in real-time.
~ Gatling-laser-art.

Designer bacteria could fertile itself — Peanuts, peas, and many types of beans are climate-friendly because they basically make their own fertiliser. But most of the world’s biggest food crops – corn, wheat, rice – aren’t so hospitable to nitrogen-fixers. Which is why they require so much artificial fertiliser to grow. So if we could redesign those to fertilise themselves
~ It should be a logical next step. After all, most plants already root themselves. [LOL –Antipodean-only joke,]

Astonishing engineering behind supercomputer — Summit, a supercomputer nearing completion at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, opens for business next year. Then it will be the United States’ most powerful supercomputer and perhaps the most powerful in the world. Modelling the astounding number of variables that affect climate change, for instance, is no task for desktop computers in labs. Some goes for genomics work and drug discovery and materials science. If it’s wildly complex, it’ll soon course through Summit’s water-cooled circuits.
~ It sounds like it will generate so much heat, it will be contributing to global warming while it tries to solve it. 

The OneStep 2 is the first camera from Polaroid Originals — This new brand under the Polaroid umbrella is dedicated to revamping the company’s classic cameras for the digital age. The US$99 OneStep 2 takes after the original in plenty of ways, with a compact, molded plastic body in black or white. The viewfinder is tucked into the left-hand corner just above the exposure knob; the red shutter button is on the right. A redesigned rainbow logo runs across the bottom of the camera, paying homage to the original’s striped decal.
~ It even has a film-pack!

Tesla remotely extended the range of its cars for Hurricane Irma — Tesla unlocked its range-limited vehicles for Florida customers, extending the range of their vehicles to facilitate an easier evacuation from the storm.
As a Tesla spokesperson confirmed to Electrek, Florida owners of Model S and Model X 60 and 60D vehicles temporarily received the full mileage capability of the vehicles’ 75 kWh battery packs. The estimated 338km range of the 60 and 60D has been unlocked to achieve approximately 30 more miles.
~ Sounds like an invitation to hack your own Tesla to improve it, if you ask me. 

Australian hydrogen buses — South Australia’s always been on the front foot when it comes to renewable energy – even Tesla has given it the thumbs-up. On Friday, the state government revealed its Hydrogen Roadmap, which “sets out clear pathways to capitalise on South Australia’s competitive advantages” and will “accelerate the State’s transition to a clean, safe and sustainable producer, consumer and exporter of hydrogen”.
One of the key objectives is to get a small fleet of six buses sorted for Adelaide Metro, which will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The government is currently asking for tenders for production and delivery of the vehicles.
~ Hydrogen vehicles have been promised sine the 1950s. 

Last week, the cryptic Voynich manuscript, filled with strange glyphs and diagrams, has left the halls of head-scratchers — Yes folks, thanks to historian Nicholas Gibbs, we finally have a pretty definitive explanation of the purpose of the former literary enigma. Gibbs’ explanation is the first to explain nearly all aspects. In some ways, it was written in an ancient code – if you consider abbreviations and shorthand a form of encryption. Turns out the Voynich manuscript isn’t a reference for magic spells, alien communication or an ancient tabletop role-playing game. In fact, it’s mostly plagiarised medical knowledge, much of it related to herbs.
~ Oh. Boring! Dang.

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock, Safari Extensions now in Mac App Store


Hey, there’s actually some other news, too! OWC ships the Thunderbolt 3 Dock — Other World Computing is now shipping new orders of the US$299 Thunderbolt 3 Dock, which sports 13 ports. It provides connectivity through an included Thunderbolt 3 cable, delivering power to laptops and other devices.
The dock takes full advantage of Thunderbolt 3 technology with throughput up to 40Gb/s of bandwidth. The 13 ports offer the capability to charge mobile devices, connect the newest displays, add external storage (including legacy devices such as FireWire drives), import photos and videos from SD cards, access wired networks via Gigabit Ethernet, and connect audio accessories.if you order from NZ, it comes with an NZ power supply.
The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock can be the foundation of a custom display setup, providing the ability to drive a latest-generation 5K display, two ultra HD 4K displays or a combination of 4K, HD and other displays with the Mini DisplayPort (mDP) with DisplayPort++ support, and additional Thunderbolt 3 port.
For professionals working in the creative industries, there’s a detailed workflow complete with specialized and legacy ports such as FireWire and digital audio. The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock supports FireWire 800 and S/PDIF digital audio, as well as an SD card reader and analog stereo audio.
[Meanwhile, I have finally got my hands on Belkin and Kensington Thunderbolt 3 Docks and will be reviewing them soon.]

Safari Extensions now appear in the Mac App Store — Safari Extensions are add-ons that work within Apple’s Safari browser to add functionality. In the past, selecting Safari > Safari Extensions pointed you to a web page where you could browse and select extensions. While that still happens, there’s now a link (seen in the screenshot above) that points you to the Mac App Store.
In the Mac App Store is a nicely designed page showing the available extensions. Not all of the extensions that are available are listed on this page; it’s my speculation that Apple is working with extension developers to improve the quality and marketability of extensions. While most extensions were free in the past, there are a number of for-purchase extensions in the Mac App Store as well as some that can be tried and then activated with an in-app purchase.

MagBytes 90 ~news, views, tips and tricks


Yes, I have a full-time regular  job now, but I’m still (so far) managing to get this done. MagBytes 90 looks like this, at left, (that’s a thumbnail picture; the download is from the text link below).

 

Please remember that feedback is always welcome. I like to feel MagBytes is useful to people, and if you can think of any way I can improve MagBytes, I’m all ears.
MagBytes 90 —>>Issue90August17

Futurology ~ Einstein’s test, Trappist music, big Dawn, moon cellphone, accelerator gold mine, ancient deep, Sahara Solar for EU, app injects AR, NZ Tesla salt power, squishy robot future, ancient skull


Another Einstein theory passes another test — A team of scientists used 20 years of data from several telescopes to watch how three stars orbited the centre of our own Milky Way Galaxy, Sagittarius A*. They have created a general relativity theory test in a mass regime that isn’t well-tested today. The theory checks out, yet again, for Albert Einstein’s expanded theory of motion and gravity, the theory of general relativity.
~ For now.

Program allows you to make songs with the sounds of planets orbiting the ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 — The player is part of a bigger program, aptly called System Sounds, which is the brainchild of a group of astronomers who have been studying the “resonant chain” of the TRAPPIST-1 star’s seven Earth-sized exoplanets, which were announced to the world back in February. A resonant chain describes how the alien planets’ gravitational tugs work together to keep them all in stable and circular orbits around each other and their host star.
TRAPPIST-1 represents the longest resonant chain “that has ever been discovered in a planetary system“.
~ Team with Belgian beer. Mmm. 

Massive spacecraft reporting back on asteroids — Dawn is 19.8 metres (65 feet) from tip to tip and it has an ion drive! But Dawn also has a serious job to do. Launched in 2007, it has been investigating Ceres and Vesta, two mysterious protoplanets in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. These are smallish, truly ancient bodies, remnants of the early solar system (protoplanets are bodies that formed early on, some of which turned into actual planets like Earth) with plenty of secrets to tell – secrets that Dawn has been unravelling.
~ Ion drives start slow, but after 10 years Dawn is travelling at 40,233kph (25,000 miles per hour). 

Cellphone tower for the moon — The German company Part Time Scientists, which originally competed for the Google Lunar X Prize race to the moon, plans to send a lander with a rover in late 2018 to visit the landing site of Apollo 17 (NASA’s final Apollo mission to the moon, in 1972.) Instead of using a complex dedicated telecommunication system to relay data from the rover to Earth, the company plans to rely on LTE technology – the same system used on Earth for mobile phone communications – because the German startup is preparing to set up the first telecommunication infrastructure on the lunar surface.
~ Boy, aliens are going to love this. 

Particle accelerator in gold mine searches the stars — It took more than the 10 minutes to get down, the accelerator was sent so deep,  with the elevator slowed to a crawl to protect Caspar’s delicate, antique belt and pulley as it descended from the ground floor to the “4850 Level”— this is 1478 metres (4850 feet) underground, where the dirt floors are studded with metal tracks and a light breeze blows. The Caspar team wants to learn how stars a little older than the sun synthesize heavy elements.
~ Well, isn’t that the burning question on everybody’s lips?

Ancient deep-sea creature discoveries — Last month, scientists aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer visited a poorly-explored deep sea area about 1500km west of Hawaii. From giant sea spiders and rare snailfish through to comb jellies and glass-like corals, these are some of the weirdest critters we’ve seen in a while.
~ Clearly they haven’t watched the New Zealand parliament live feed. 

Sahara solar could help power the EU — In the global race to ditch fossil fuel reliance for more renewable energy sources, Europe is already making some impressive strides. That is likely to ramp up considerably thanks to a new European Union plan to build a large solar plant in the Sahara desert with the ability to generate enough power to keep much of Europe juiced up.
~ Endangering 12 lizards and three scorpions. 

Gaming company turning Starcraft into an AI lab — The new release of the StarCraft II API on the Blizzard side includes a Linux package made to run in the cloud, and with support for Mac (and that other platform). It also has support for offline AI vs. AI matches, and those anonymized game replays from actual human players for training up agents, which is starting out at 65,000 complete matches, and will grow to over 500,000 over the course of the next few weeks. StarCraft II is such a useful environment for AI research basically because of how complex and varied the games can be, with multiple open routes to victory for each individual match.
~ So one day, super intelligence can win a pointless game of something. 

iOS app injects the internet internet into real life — Mirage is an iOS app that’s the first to marry augmented reality’s hidden-world appeal with social media’s shareable, re-mixable content. And in doing so, it’s making AR not simply a technology of curiosity, but one of connection.
~ You know, it’s ‘augmenting’ reality. 

New Zealand salt gets Tesla power — A 250kW Tesla Powerpack system has been integrated with a a 660kW wind turbine at a a salt manufacturing factory at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. The first project of its kind in Australasia, it’s about to be switched on.
Vector Energy Solutions is the company working with Dominion Salt to integrate the battery storage system, which aims to meet 75% of the site’s energy needs on-site, rather than from the national grid. The system will be fully functional before the end of the year, Vector reckons.
~ Sustainable salt …

Squishy robot future — Many researchers advancing the field of robotics are actually engineering simpler bots designed to reliably perform very basic tasks. So instead of one day facing a terrifying future filled with terminators, these squishy rolling doughnuts might be our biggest threat. Yoichi Masuda and Masato Ishikawa detail their work on these bots in a paper, Development of a Deformation-driven Rolling Robot with a Soft Outer Shell, published for the 2017 IEEE International Conference on Advanced Intelligent Mechatronics. The researchers have designed this robot to function like the simplest of machines: the wheel, in this case made from a soft material that’s squished and stretched by a set of four wires connected to an inner core.
~ Easy to pack and carry, as well. 

13-million-year old skull tantalises — The unexpected discovery of a 13 million-year-old infant ape skull in Kenya is offering a tantalising glimpse of a new species that lived well before humans and apes embarked upon their very different evolutionary paths.
~ It’s a remarkable discovery as a complete skull this old has never been found before. 

Futurology ~ Titan/fluke life, space mining, neutrino smack, 330TB tape, 3D metal printing, waste-gobbling maggots, robo-time, Tardigrades continue to mystify, toothy-mass extinction


Potential building block of lie life discovered in Titan’s atmosphere — Saturn’s moon Titan is a world of contrast; both eerily familiar and strikingly alien. Its calm seas and enormous sand dunes might remind you of Earth, until you learn that what’s flowing across Titan’s surface is not water, but liquid hydrocarbons. Titan’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere seems to have some of the ingredients for biology, but any life forms evolved to thrive at temperatures of -178°C would be practically unrecognisable.
~ What if they introduce themselves in a civil manner? 

New theory suggest life wasn’t a fluke — Biophysicist Jeremy England made waves in 2013 with a new theory that cast the origin of life as an inevitable outcome of thermodynamics. His equations suggested that under certain conditions, groups of atoms will naturally restructure themselves so as to burn more and more energy, facilitating the incessant dispersal of energy and the rise of entropy or disorder in the universe. Now he’s testing his theory in computer simulations.
~ The rise of exceptional structures sure seems understandable.

Luxembourg passed space mining law — Last week Luxembourg’s parliament unanimously passed an asteroid mining law (which goes into effect Tuesday) that gives companies ownership of what they extract from the celestial bodies…
~ Well, if you can’t be a world power …

Gnarlier space junk — There’s plenty out there already, but thousands and thousands of satellites are set to launch to low-Earth orbit before 2025, adding greatly to the problem.
~ Smallsat revolution indeed …

Neutrino smacks into atom — In a study published last week in Science, Juan Collar’s group observed a new type of neutrino interaction: a neutrino bumping into an atomic nucleus, a process known as coherent elastic scattering.
~ An important matter. 

330TB on a tiny tape cartridge — Sony developed a new type of tape that has a higher density of magnetic recording sites, and IBM Research worked on new heads and signal processing tech to actually read and extract data from those nanometre-long patches of magnetism. Sony’s new tape is underpinned by two novel technologies: an improved built-in lubricant layer, which keeps it running smoothly through the machine, and a new type of magnetic layer.
The new cartridges, when they’re eventually commercialised, will be significantly more expensive because of the tape’s complex manufacturing process.
~ ‘Data is king’, Sony sputters. 

New microbe thanks to beer — In May 2014, a group of scientists took a field trip to a small brewery in an old warehouse in Seattle, Washington – and came away with a microbe scientists have never seen before. In so-called wild beer, the team identified a yeast belonging to the genus Pichia, which turned out to be a hybrid of a known species called P. membranifaciens and another Pichia species completely new to science. Other Pichia species are known to spoil a beer, but the new hybrid seems to smell better.
~ Well if I patented it, it would be microbe, but if you did: yorcrobe.

Australian electric highway — Australia is taking the electric car revolution one step further by announcing an A$4 million super-long electric highway, or a series of fast-charging electric vehicle stations. Queensland’s Electric Super Highway will be almost 2000 kilometres long, stretching from the Gold Coast on the state’s southern border to Cairns in the far north. 18 charging stations will span the highway, and all will allow vehicles charge in 30 minutes.
~ And there’s an entrepreneurial opportunity right there, as what will you do in the 30 minutes?

3D metal printing is about to go mainstream — Massachussetts company Desktop Metal is preparing to turn manufacturing on its head, with a 3D metal printing system that’s so much faster, safer and cheaper than existing systems that it’s going to compete with traditional mass manufacturing processes… Plenty of design studios and even home users run desktop printers, but the only affordable printing materials are cheap ABS plastics. And at the other end of the market, while organizations like NASA and Boeing are getting valuable use out of laser-melted metal printing, it’s a very slow and expensive process that doesn’t seem to scale well.
Desktop Metal is an engineering-driven startup whose founders include several MIT professors, and Emanuel Sachs, who has patents in 3D printing dating back to the dawn of the field in 1989.
~ Exciting!

Waste-gobling maggots — Aiming to reinvent the toilet, sanitation company The BioCycle is using black soldier maggots to convert waste into products like biodiesel. Meanwhile, ­EnviroFlightfeeds leftovers from brewing and ethanol production to larvae, whose poop makes a lovely food for prawns.
~ ‘Black soldier maggots’? Good lord!

Men to lose the most jobs to robots — They’re coming, in ever increasing numbers, for a certain kind of work. For farm and factory labor. For construction. For haulage. In other words, blue-collar jobs traditionally done by men.
~ Hobby time!

Companion robots — Kuri’s creators call it a “companion robot,” but this is no Furby. Kuri belongs to a new class of machines that actually are intelligent, and actually make useful assistants at home. They help disabled people with routine daily tasks, and soon they’ll remind the elderly to take their medication. Kuri’s more of an all-purpose companion, a member of your family that also happens to play music and take video.

Lake robot fights toxic algae bloom —  The Environmental Sample Processor ESPniagara sits on the floor of Lake Erie’s western basin, where it collects algae from the surrounding water, analyzes microcystin (a small, circular liver-toxic protein), and uploads results for researchers at the end of every test.

Tardigrade still fascinates — You’re probably aware that nature’s most badass animal is undoubtedly the tiny tardigrade, or water bear. They might be small, but unlike your weak butt, they can live a life without water, withstand temperatures from -328 to 304 degrees Fahrenheit, and even survive the depths of space. How did evolution make such a strange creature, and who are its relatives?
~ But the name that sounds like something issued to me at high school. 

Terrifying ocean predator changes the history of mass extinction — Two hundred and fifty-two million years ago, the Earth was in a really bad place. At the boundary of the Permian and Triassic periods, our biosphere experienced its most dramatic mass extinction event (so far), one so utterly complete that it has been solemnly termed the Great Dying. Precious little was spared, and it’s generally been thought that it took many millions of years for life to stand back up again. But a recently-discovered fossil dating to just after the Great Dying is helping to erode our vision of a slow post-extinction recovery, showing that ecosystems recovered very quickly, were thriving – and were full of teeth.
Rows upon rows of razor-edged teeth.
~ And you were wondering why our human antecedents left the oceans …

 

Futurology ~ lil Interstellar, origami robots, NASA flight times, embryo edits, age of anti-age, Zika drones, med-maggots, Woolly Mammoth comeback, what we expected in ’87


Humanity’s first ‘interstellar’ spacecraft — Last year, extraterrestrial exploration venture Breakthrough Initiatives announced an ambitious plan to send lots of tiny spacecraft to our nearest neighbouring star system, Alpha Centauri. The project ‘Breakthrough Starshot’ is focused on launching lightweight ‘nanocraft’ to the stars at rip-roaring speeds. Recently, the project took a big leap toward, having achieved its ultimate goal by successfully sending six test craft into Low Earth Orbit.
~ Or, it’s that bit that fell out of my toaster.

Inspired by the traditional Japanese art of origami, self-folding robots can go places and do things traditional robots cannot — A major drawback to these devices, however, has been the need to equip them with batteries or wires. Researchers from Harvard have found a new way to overcome this problem, by designing folding robots that can be controlled using a wireless magnetic field.
~ I just imagine a medical one of these in my body, and some brat hacking it … eek!

NASA to cut flight time in half — For almost a half-century there’s been a clear speed limit on most commercial air travel: 1062kph/660 miles per hour, the rate at which a typical-size plane traveling at 9144 metres/30,000 feet breaks the sound barrier and creates a 48km (30-mile) wide, continuous sonic boom.
That may be changing. NASA says it will soon begin taking bids for construction of a demo model of a plane able to reduce the sonic boom to something like the hum you’d hear inside a Mercedes-Benz on the interstate. The agency’s researchers say their design, a smaller-scale model of which was successfully tested in a wind tunnel at the end of June, could cut the six-hour flight time from New York to Los Angeles in half.
~ Of course, landing in Wichita would achieve the same time reduction.

Embryo edit — The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon. The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR. Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.
~ And you thought it was for potatoes. 

Tech to end faux SOS calls — A researcher at Carnegie Mellon University has developed an intelligent system that is helping the US Coast Guard to distinguish and weed out prank mayday calls that cost it up to millions of dollars a year when it leads to flying or motoring out for pointless rescue missions. The program, created by Carnegie Mellon’s Rita Singh, creates a barcode of a person’s voice, deciphering whether the caller really is on a boat or actually in a house somewhere. It can unmask repeat pranksters since it can pick up telltale markers and match them up.
~ AI will get you. 

Scientists working on anti-aging — Implants of stem cells that make fresh neurons in the brain were found to put the brakes on aging in older mice, keeping them more physically and mentally fit for months, and extending their lives by 10-15% compared to untreated animals.
Another effort involves advanced machine learning, a horde of lab mice, and the blood of 600 especially long-lived Estonians. And there’s always a mysterious emu gene
~ Now I am picturing long-lived Estonian emus with brain implants. 

Anti-Zika mosquito factory — A  white Mercedes Sprinter van began a delivery route along the streets of Fancher Creek, a residential neighborhood on the southeastern edge of Fresno, California. Its cargo was 100,000 live mosquitoes, all male, all incapable of producing offspring. As it crisscrossed Fancher Creek’s 200 acres, it released its payload, piping out swarms of sterile Aedes aegypti into the air. It’ll do the same thing every day until the end of December.
~ And eventually, if they still have libidos anyway, the mosquito problem will literally die out. 

Maggot med-bots — Tiny cylinders of hydrogel, a synthetic material that sucks up or spits out water depending on its temperature, have been developed by Franck Vernerey, whose lab is at the University of Colorado Boulder, to induce these makeshift medicinal maggots to creep through tubes by cycling them through warm, then cool water.
~ Yuck! How about a nice laser-curtain thing that looks cool instead? 

Wooly mammoth recreation may now actually be possible — Dr George Church is the inventor of CRISPR and one of the minds behind the Human Genome Project. He’s no longer content just reading and editing DNA; now he wants to make new life. In Ben Mezrich’s latest book, Wooly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures, Church and his Harvard lab try to do the impossible, and clone an extinct Woolly mammoth back into existence.
~ And then they’ll turn out to be friendly and cuddly, and then what will Spielberg do? 

What we thought we’d have now, 30 years ago — Fifty years ago the first Consumer Electronics Show was held in New York City, giving local nerds a sneak peek at all the electronic toys arriving in 1967. Twenty years later, Art Vuolo attended the Summer edition of the trade show with a giant camera on his shoulder, giving us a wonderful time capsule of what was drool-worthy 30 years ago.
~ Smart people,  please. If only. 

Futurology ~ Jupiter’s spot close up, laser-sat, moon rocks, teleportation, battery and staircase power, Multi elevator, DNA storage, Living Drug, Ötzi’s axe


Jupiter’s red spot — It’s actually a storm with a diameter larger than Earth’s. It has been the planet’s most conspicuous feature for centuries, yet scientists don’t fully understand what created the storm, or how it’s been swirling around for so long.
And while they haven’t figured that part out yet, NASA’s Juno spacecraft has brought them closer than they’ve ever been before – literally. Last Monday, Juno skimmed just 9012 kilometres (5600 miles) above the storm clouds, and snapped some pictures as it went. It’s taken the data a few days to get back to Juno’s Earthbound science team, but the images are finally here.
~ Edvard Munch, anyone?

Laser-beaming satellites could enable space communications — A  laser beam of infrared light and invisible to the human eye has been beamed from Tokyo. By the time it had traveled through hundreds of miles of outer space and atmosphere, the light was harmless: it had spread out like a spotlight, about as wide as 10 soccer fields. Some of that light made its way into the end of a telescope, where it bounced off mirrors and flew through lenses and filters onto a photon-measuring detector. Some day Masahide Sasaki hopes, that light could be more than invisible wavelengths hitting a telescope—it could be encoded with information, leading to communication with Mars.
~ Yeah … I still don’t want to go to Mars. You can’t even grow spuds there

Wanna buy a Moon rock? Moon Express, founded in 2010 to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, says it is self-funded to begin bringing kilograms of lunar rocks back to Earth within about three years. The privately held company released plans for a single, modular spacecraft that can be combined to form successively larger and more capable vehicles. Ultimately the company plans to establish a lunar outpost in 2020 and set up commercial operations on the Moon.
~ Gosh, yes, everyone wants one of those. 

Object actually teleported — The Micius team has created the first satellite-to-ground quantum network, in the process smashing the record for the longest distance over which entanglement has been measured. And they’ve used this quantum network to teleport the first object from the ground to orbit. Teleportation has become a standard operation in quantum optics labs around the world. The technique relies on the strange phenomenon of entanglement. This occurs when two quantum objects, such as photons, form at the same instant and point in space and so share the same existence. In technical terms, they are described by the same wave function.
~ Work needed. Nothing like expecting Captain Kirk and just getting his fingernail. 

Hyperloop tested and it worked — Hyperloop One announced last week that it successfully tested a full hyperloop. The step into the future occurred in May at the company’s Nevada test track, where engineers watched a magnetically levitating test sled fire through a tube in near-vacuum, reaching 112kph (70mph) in just over five seconds.
That is but a fraction of the 1126kph (700mph) or so Hyperloop One promises, but what matters here is all the elements required to make hyperloop work, worked: propulsion, braking, and the levitation and vacuum systems that all but eliminate friction and air resistance so that pod shoots through the tube at maximum speed with minimal energy.
~ Hyperscoop!

Big Australian battery — The awarding of a 129 MWh battery contract to Tesla is big news for South Australia, as it will be able to instantly provide power to the grid when needed, as well as taking out any fluctuations in generating capacity from surrounding wind farms and PV installations. The battery will be able to supply close to 10% of the state’s energy needs for almost an hour. Why? Storage has long been the missing link for renewable energy.
~ What’s next, Tesla battery hens?

Brilliant staircase design stores extra energy to make it easier to climb later — Thanks to engineers at Georgia Tech and Emory University, stairs might one day do all the hard work for you. These energy-recycling stairs store energy when you descend, and then release it to make the ascent easier on the way back up.
~ Or, you know, just do some work you lazy so-and-sos. 

Sideways elevator — After three years of work, ThyssenKrupp is testing the Multi elevator in a German tower and finalising the safety certification. This crazy contraption zooms up, down, left, right, and diagonally. ThyssenKrupp just sold the first Multi to a residential building under construction in Berlin, and expects to sell them to other developers soon.
~ The best comment goes to the company’s CEO Patrick Bass: “There were some doubts”. 

DNA storage — E. coli might best be known for giving street food connoisseurs occasional bouts of gastric regret. But the humble microbial workhorse, with its easy-to-edit genome, has given humankind so much more — insulin, antibiotics, cancer drugs, biofuels, synthetic rubber, and now: a place to keep your selfies safe for the next millennium.
~ Sorry, grandchildren, I could have passed on my cold sore immunity but instead, check out this picture of me and Nanna by the Eifel Tower!

‘Living drug’ fights cancer — A new kind of cancer treatment uses genetically engineered cells from a patient’s immune system to attack their cancer. It has easily cleared a crucial hurdle  when a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee unanimously recommended that the agency approve this ‘living drug’ approach for children and young adults who are fighting a common form of leukaemia.
~ Something we can use so soon? Awesome. 

New York’s genetically engineered insects — Diamondback moths may be a mere half-inch in length, but their voracious appetite for Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower make them a major pain for farmers. This week, the US Department of Agriculture approved moths genetically engineered to contain a special gene that makes them gradually die off. A field trial slated to take place in a small area of upstate New York will become the first wild release of an insect modified using genetic engineering in the US.
~ Let there be rejoicing in the kale fields. 

Ötzi the Iceman ‘s long-distance axe — A recent analysis of the metal found in the Neolithic hunter’s copper axe suggests a point of origin in Southern Tuscany, which is far from where Ötzi’s frozen body was found. This suggests a long-distance trade route might have existed between central Italy and the Alps some 5300 years ago.
~ This Copper Age corpse is the gift that keeps on giving.

Futurology ~ Betelgeuse, gecko space gripper, urine and algae power, vegan mayo meat, cool pavements, probiotic beer, bad bitumen bottles


This orange blob shows the nearby star Betelgeuse, as seen by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimetre Array (ALMA)

Orion’s second biggest star in (sort of) detail — Pretty much everyone has heard of the Orion constellation and has probably seen it (you can even see it from New York, despite the light pollution). It’s hard not to like it. And if you spend some time studying its behaviour and meaning, you’ll only appreciate its intricacies even more.  Orion’s second brightest and biggest star, Betelgeuse, has been photographed by the Atacama Large Millimetre Array in Northern Chile. Not only is it one of the crispest images of a stellar surface yet, but it can tell scientists a lot about the massive star’s future.
~ Or is it just an out-of-focus lemon? 

Gecko-inspired space-junk gripper — Up in space, gripping objects takes on a whole new absurdity. Suction cups are right out, given they don’t work in a vacuum. And extreme temperature fluctuations rule out any sort of sticky adhesive. Then there’s geckos and their clever tiny feet – a new kind of robotic gripper for space emulates them, Stanford University and NASA JPL researchers report.
~ Or, we just train real geckos and put them in cute little space suits. 

Urine-generated power can kill salmonella — Scientists have understood that microbial fuel cells (MFC) can generate electricity from urine and other forms of waste for a while now. But new research shows the process can also kill bacteria and a new approach to sewage could be the result. The researchers imagine a self-sustaining system that would be of huge benefit to the developing world.
~ Your’e in with urine, because you can get hydrogen easily from it, you see. 

And then there’s the fattened algae — Because fat is essentially oil, fatty algae could be the world’s most successful fuel crop. Ajjawi and his colleagues spent nearly a decade tweaking an algae genome so it produces more than twice as much fat than wild versions of the same species, and they recently described their efforts in an article.
~ But will it smell like fish? 

Vegan mayonnaise company to grow ‘meat’ — The maker of vegan mayonnaise has been working on getting lab-made meat onto dinner tables everywhere. Hampton Creek, which built its name on plant-based condiments and vegan-friendly cookie doughs, has revealed that, for the last year, it has been secretly developing the technology necessary for producing lab-made meat and seafood, or as the industry likes to call it, ‘clean meat.’
~ I prefer to think of it as protein – as a vegetarian for nearly 30 years, I don’t need ‘pretend’ meat.

Cool pavements reflect well for Los Angeles — During the recent heatwave various officials swooped down on streets coated with an experimental light-gray sealer that makes old asphalt into “cool street”. And it works, with average temperature differences between coated streets and adjacent old asphalt around 10F (about 12°C). At a large parking lot, the temperature reduction was over 20F. If the material holds up and continues to meet other criteria, LA plans to use it on more pavement rehab projects, which could eventually make a difference in the heat island effect. The CoolSeal coating costs US$25-40K/mile, and lasts 5-7 years.
~ Not exactly a long-term or cost effective solution, then. 

New probiotic beer boosts immunity — A new patent has been filed for an innovative brewing technique that incorporates a live strain of good bacteria into the brewing process. Researchers at NUS (National University of Singapore) have created a probiotic sour beer that may boost immunity and improve gut health.
~ Ah yeah, we’re all dying to drink boozy yogurt, right? 

Disposable bottles may have curtailed ancient American populations — Pitch black water bottles were made by indigenous tribes who coated large, woven bulbs with the tar-like substance bitumen. Scientists have known about these bottles for years, but what they hadn’t considered was whether these plastic bottles contributed to the declining health in some old societies, like the Native American tribes that once lived off the coast of California. Skeletons dating back thousands of years evidence a mysterious physical decline. A new study, published today in the journal Environmental Health, measured the toxicity of making plastic from oily bitumen, and of storing liquid in the bottles.
~ Gosh, and it looks and sounds so delicious …

MagBytes 88 is available to download


MagBytes 88 looks at Apple’s new products, has news, tips and tricks and more. It’s available to download now from the link on this page.
Here’s the link: ——>MagBytes Issue 88 June 2017

(As always, other issues of MagBytes are available from the MagByes Newsletter link over there on the right.)

Futurology ~ 10 more Earths, Mars-sized mystery, visit Uranus, Bright Nights, human Genome rethink, long bog sword, ancient prosthetic toe


Lovely, lopsided Uranus …”

10 more planets humans may be able to ruin — Researchers from NASA’s Kepler space telescope team announced we might get to bring our garbage party to another planet — OK, a bunch of them.  The Kepler team has apparently identified 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are roughly Earth-size and within their star’s habitable zone, the orbit zone around a star that could support liquid water and possibly life. This latest update to the Kepler catalogue brings the total number of planet candidates identified by the space-based telescope to 4034.
~ Well gosh, that’s heartening. Maybe they should have Keplered them to themselves? 

Mystery Mars-sized planet — It’s been about 11 years since Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status, leaving a 2370km-sized void in our hearts. Since then, the hunt for Planet X – aptly renamed Planet 9 – has grown into an international movement to find such an object in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune’s orbit. Now, scientists Kat Volk and Renu Malhotra from the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory are upping the ante: they suggest a completely different, tenth planetary-mass object is hiding somewhere in the Kuiper Belt as well.
~ Sigh. Or, you know, they’re just making suff up. It’s pretty dark out there. 

Uranus is the loneliest thing in the solar system — It hasn’t had contact with anyone in over 30 years, since NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft whizzed by it on 24th January 1986. Thankfully, some good folks at NASA and elsewhere are advocating for missions to Uranus and its Ice Giant companion, Neptune, which could take place at some point in the next few decades.
~ If only I could think of a pun. 

Satellites solve ‘bright nights’ — When Roman philosophers such as Pliny the Elder witnessed moonless nights glow bright like the day, it made an impression. Others since then have been awestruck by these ‘bright nights’ too.
Scientists from York University in Toronto have since observed what they call “enhanced airglow events” where elements in the night sky release photons. They know what’s causing airglow in their satellite data. But now they think they have figured out what enhances the glow, which may have caused the brighter nights documented throughout history.
~ Let me guess: was it light?

Study forces scientists to rethink human genome — As genetic sequencing has gotten cheaper and computerised data analysis has gotten better, more and more researchers have turned to what are known as genome-wide association studies in hopes of sussing out which individual genes are associated with particular disorders. If you have a whole lot of people with a disease, you should be able to tell what genetic traits those people have in common that might be responsible. This thinking has resulted in an entire catalogue of hundreds of research studies that has shed light on the genetic origins of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease and prostate cancer, while helping fuel the rise of personalised medicine.
But now, a group of Stanford University geneticists writing in the journal Cell posit that such large studies are actually likely to produce genetic variants with little bearing on the disease in question — essentially false positives that confuse the results.
~ ‘False positives’ really is cruel irony. 

Stunning medieval longsword discovered in Polish bog — Late last month, an excavator operator was working at a peat bog in the Polish municipality of Mircze when he accidentally stumbled upon a glorious specimen of 14th century craftsmanship. The remarkably well-preserved longsword is a unique find for the area, and its discovery has prompted an archaeological expedition hoping to find more artefacts in the (location undisclosed) bog.
~ For the love of peat!

Study sheds new light on incredible 3000-year-old prosthetic toe — It’s called the Greville Chester Great Toe, and it’s one of the earliest prosthetic devices known to scientists. The Iron Age prosthetic was discovered by archaeologists 17 years ago in a plundered tomb that was carved into an older burial chamber known as Sheikh ´Abd el-Qurna, an acropolis just west of Luxor, Egypt. A team of researchers from the University of Basel and the University of Zurich are currently reexamining the device, and the archaeological site itself, using state-of-the-art techniques — and they’re learning some extraordinary new things about it.
~ Come on, if they could make a massive pyramid, a toe doesn’t seem that much of a stretch.