Tag Archives: science

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


Museum has already published its 2040 edition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bell finally has its tilt-rotor military helicopter replacement ready

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Futurology ~ 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.

Futurology ~ Interstellar unlock, diamonds on Uranus, Aussie probe, Musk spacesuit, tiny Mercedes, China fast train, ‘clean’ meat, DNA encryption, ancient wine, Babylonian trigonometry


The Space-X program has a new space flight suit, unveiled by Elon Musk

Odd interstellar observation could unlock Dark Matter mystery — An international team of astronomers found a series of strange shapes in data coming off of distant sources of radio waves. They hypothesise that the dips come from some mysterious sources passing in front of the light, maybe black holes or the centres of clusters of stars. If their hypothesis is correct, they think they may have found a new way to probe those sources – sources with masses difficult to observe by other means.
~ Blips and dips taking on huge importance. 

Diamonds on Neptune and Uranus — Researchers using the Linac Coherent Light Source at Stanford have demonstrated in the lab, with one of the brightest sources of X-rays on the planet, that the depths of these ice giants are perfect for the formation of diamonds.
~ Ooh, I know, let’s have a space war over the rights to them!

Probe still talks to Australia — For the 40 years since NASA launched the two Voyager space probes on their mission to explore the outer planets of our Solar System, Australia has been helping the US space agency keep track of the probes at every step of their epic journey.
CSIRO operates NASA’s tracking station in Canberra, a set of four radio telescopes (dishes) known as the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC).
Four decades on and the Australian tracking station is now the only one with the right equipment and position to be able to communicate with both of the probes as they continue to push back the boundaries of deep space exploration.
~ I’m amazed Australia even lets any signals in, myself. Shouldn’t they be quarantined in a concentration camp for a few years first? And only released, if they survive, when they’re lives have been completely ruined?

Musk’s new spacesuit — Elon Musk’s new Space-X spacesuit is white, in contrast to the very blue spacesuits unveiled by Boeing in January. These are not, strictly speaking, “space suits.” More properly they are they are flight suits designed to be worn during the ride to space and back again on the ride back down to Earth. They have a limited time in which they can operate in a full vacuum and are not intended for spacewalks. 
~ Wonder if it smells a bit musky inside. 

Big power from tiny Mercedes engine — The forthcoming Mercedes ‘hypercar’  Project One gets most of its oomph from a turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 engine. That may seem minuscule for this sort of use case, but this machine is a close cousin to the one that powered the car Lewis Hamilton drove to an F1 championship in 2015. Changes have to do with how, and how high, the engine revs.
~ Only oligarchs need get excited, and then you’ll be driving it at 10% of it’s potential anyway. Haha, sucks to be you.

China relaunches world’s fastest train — Seven pairs of bullet trains will be operating under the name Fuxing, meaning rejuvenation, according to the South China Morning Post. The trains will once again run at 350kph, with a maximum speed of 400kph (248 mph).
Following a fatal crash in 2011, the high speed train service reduced its upper limit from its then-record holding 350 km/h (217 miles/hour) to 250-300 km/h (155-186 miles/hour). It is reported the train service will use monitoring systems to automatically slow the trains in case of emergency. The Beijing-Shanghai line will begin operating on 21st September and will shorten the nearly 1319km (820 mile) journey by one hour, to four hours thirty minutes. Nearly 600 million people use this route each year, providing a reported $1 billion in profits . The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei route begins operation now.
~ Wonder how the ticket price stacks up to air travel? It’s much less polluting, of course.  

Laptop batteries running homes — DIY Powerwall builders from around the world are harvesting old laptop batteries and turning them into powerful batteries capable of supplying energy to their entire homes. “It’s the future. It’s clean, simple, efficient and powerful,” Jehu Garcia, one of the most popular powerwall builders, told me. He and people like him are deciding for themselves what the future of alternative energy will look like, instead of waiting for technology companies to shape it for them.
~ Yep, it’s all green and clean … and then they die and you need to get rid of them. 

Gates and Branson fund ‘clean’ meat — A large global agricultural company has joined Bill Gates and Richard Branson to invest in a nascent technology to make meat from self-producing animal cells. Memphis Meats produces beef, chicken and duck directly from animal cells without raising and slaughtering livestock or poultry, and raised $17 million from investors including Cargill, Gates and billionaire Richard Branson, according to a statement Tuesday on the San Francisco-based startup’s website.
~ Fake cow, chicken and yuck.

Protect your DNA with encryption — Bejerano and Boneh published a paper in Science about a cryptographic ‘genome cloaking’ method. The scientists were able to do things like identify responsible mutations in groups of patients with rare diseases and compare groups of patients at two medical centres to find shared mutations associated with shared symptoms, all while keeping 97% of each participant’s unique genetic information completely hidden. They accomplished this by converting variations in each genome into a linear series of values. That allowed them to conduct any analyses they needed while only revealing genes relevant to that particular investigation.
~ Honestly, though, you’re just not that important. There are billions of you. Literally.

Italians have been tanking up on wine for ages and ages — In a study published in Microchemical Journal, researchers describe their big find of a jar dating back to the early 4th millennium BCE. After chemically testing the piece of pottery, the team found traces of tartaric acid, which is one of the main acids in wine. Its salts – called tartrates – were also found in the jug.
~ Six thousand years of boozing, wow!

Babylonians may have invented trigonometry — The Plimpton 322 tablet, discovered in the early 1900s in what is now Iraq, has long divided mathematicians confused by its columns and rows of numbers. But researchers from the University of New South Wales now say the 3700-year-old broken clay tablet is a trigonometric table. That would mean the Babylonians were 1000 years ahead of the Greeks, who are credited with creating trig.
~ So generations of school students have been cursing the wrong people. 

Futurology ~ TRAPPIST, self-extinguishing civilisations, NZ Milky Way, bacteria balloons, algae steroids, Wind and solar health, out-tanking EV, Penguin code, forever-glider


Artist’s rendering of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Everyone’s favourite alien system is a cranky old grump — Trappist-1, the ultracool dwarf star system which was first announced back in February, has garnered a lot of interest because it harbours seven Earth-size planets. At least three of those planets are within the habitable zone that can support liquid water and potentially, life. As we’re all clamouring to understand this alien system, a duo of researchers has figured out some pretty salient information about its star’s age. They estimate it’s between 5.4 and 9.8 billion years old. Our Sun, by comparison, is only about 4.5 billion years old.
~ But has it retired yet? Anything living on these might be very ancient and hardy. Besides …

Astrophysicist believes technologically-advanced species extinguish themselves — Why haven’t we heard from intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? Retired astrophysicist Daniel Whitmire explains that using the principle of mediocracy (a statistical notion that says, in the absence of more data, that your one data point is likely to be ‘average’), that not only are we the first intelligent life on Earth but that we will likely be the only (and thus the last) intelligent life on this planet…
Unfortunately that isn’t the worst of it. Coupled with the Great Silence, it implies the reason we haven’t heard from anyone is that intelligent life, when it happens anywhere else in the universe, doesn’t last and when it does it flames out quickly and takes the biosphere with it (preventing any other intelligent life from reappearing. Sorry dolphins!).
~ Luckily, it usually appears that we’re far from ‘advanced’

Unintended experiment tracks a solar flare to the edges of the System — On 14 October 2014, our Sun let out a great big burp, a coronal mass ejection that swept through the Solar System at an incredibly fortuitous angle, because several spacecraft (and one intrepid Martian rover) detected the solar blast, resulting in an unprecedented experiment that stretched all the way from Venus to outer reaches of the Solar System.
~ Data was combined from a  variety of probes and satellites, and even Mars rovers.  

Milky Way from New Zealand — Christchurch’s Paul Wilson constructed a 113-megapixel photograph that captures the galaxy shimmering above a tumbling shoreline and reflected in the dark water of a dark part of the South Island.
~ Wow!

NASA launching bacteria balloons — These enormous balloons are part of a project aptly named the Eclipse Ballooning Project, and will be used to run several experiments, one of which could help researchers preparing for a mission to Mars. Of 75 balloons, over 30 of them will carry small samples of an extremely resilient strain of bacteria called Paenibacillus xerothermodurans over 24,384m above Earth. The P. xerothermodurans samples will be attached to thin, aluminium “coupons” and attached to the outside of the balloons. According to the researchers, Earth’s stratosphere is similar to the surface atmosphere on Mars, so they will be able to get some idea of how bacteria might behave there.
~ Sounds mental. 

Our life came from algae on steroids — What was life really like here on planet Earth before animals were big enough to leave fossils behind? How did living things turn from dinky capsules of genetic material into the intelligent, complex organisms that do things like fart and type curse words into posts on the internet? Scientists think they have found the answer… in algae steroids.
~ This supposition is based on the increasing diversity of organic compounds found in rock samples. Metallica, anyone?

Wind and solar health benefits surpass all subsidies — A paper in Nature Energy suggests the benefits we receive from moving to renewables like wind and solar that reduce air pollution exceed the cost of the subsidies required to make them competitive with traditional fossil fuels. Berkeley environmental engineer Dev Millstein and his colleagues estimate that between 3000 and 12,700 premature deaths have been averted because of air quality benefits over the last decade or so, creating a total economic benefit between $30 billion and $113 billion. The benefits from wind work out to be more than US7 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is more than unsubsidized wind energy generally costs.
~ So, Big Coal and Big Oil, how do you come back to that? Start paying your lobbyists even more immediately, I guess. 

Electric off-roader out-torques a tank — A Utah startup has just released the specs on the Nikola Zero, a four-seat UTV (utility task vehicle, or what you may know as a side-by-side) guaranteed to make you grin like a lunatic if you ever drive one. The less crazy version produces 415 horsepower and 3,675 foot-pounds of torque. But most people will probably take leave of their senses and go for the thoroughly crazy version, good for 555 horsepower and 4,900 foot-pounds of torque.
~ So this begs the question: did Nikola Tesla have a middle name for another electric vehicle startup? 

Scientists crack penguin undersea code — When Gentoo penguins swim into the open ocean to hunt for food, they often produce wierd buzzing sounds that marine biologists assume is a form of communication. By strapping cameras to the backs of these aquatic birds, scientists have finally figured out the purpose of these odd vocalisations.
~ ‘Hey, I have this weird thing strapped to me, can you help me get it off?’

Smart forever-glider — After learning a clever trick from birds, a sailplane featuring run-of-the-mill RC technology includes artificial intelligence that researchers are developing to pilot it. Using data from sensors that monitor air temperature, wind direction, altitude and other metrics (in addition to speed and location data from GPS), the AI pilot can detect when the sailplane is suddenly gaining altitude, indicating it has located a rising thermal, as birds do.
~ And us humans re generating more and more of these, thanks to our generous efforts to warm the planet. 

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.