Tag Archives: tech

Futurology ~ Super Earth, Planet 9, NASA space pooh, exploration bots, Spanner, AI’s killer instinct, Trump crazinesses, ancient Chinese beer, Woolly Mammoth


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60 new planets include a Super Earth — An international team of astronomers has found 60 new planets orbiting stars close to Earth’s solar system, including a rocky “super Earth.” The experts also found evidence of an additional 54 planets, bringing the potential discovery of new worlds to 114. One, called Gliese 411b (that’s an artist’s impression, above), has been generating plenty of attention. Described as a “hot super Earth with a rocky surface,” Gliese 411b is located in the fourth-nearest star system to the Sun, making it the third-nearest planetary system to the Sun.
~ But Gliese411b is actually too hot for us to live on. 

Planet 9 has a new team — Since Pluto was infamously demoted to a dwarf planet in 2006, some astronomers have turned their attention to finding the true Planet 9, a hypothetical, Neptune-sized world that orbits the Sun at least a few hundred times further out than Earth. While there’s no shortage of ideas about what Planet 9 could look like – or what it may have experienced throughout its life – so far, no one has been able to spot this elusive world.
~ Go Team 9!

NASA’s space pooh competition — NASA needs a new method that can handle an emergency situation in which an astronaut may have to go longer periods in a poop-filled suit. Crowdsourcing site HeroX handled the duties of pulling together all of the submissions for NASA’s judges and it was a record-setting campaign. Since October, more than 5000 ideas were floated by 20,000 people working as individuals or teams.
~ I can think of many other human problems massed teams could be focussing on. 

Exploration robot competition — Nearly two dozen teams are racing to develop robots that can investigate, map, and conduct science at extreme depths, and under serious time constraints. They’re also competing for $7 million in prize money.
~ And am I the only one bothered by the competition sponsor being Shell? 

Google’s remarkable Spanner is now open — Before Spanner, machines couldn’t keep databases consistent without constant and heavy communication, and communication across the globe took much too long. But Google’s Spanner works because those engineers found a way to harness time. And now Google is offering this technology to the rest of the world as a cloud computing service.
~ And once Trump’s minions find out how to harness this, we’re really screwed. 

AI proves to have a killer instinct — And before you get too comfortable, researchers at DeepMind have been working with two games to test whether neural networks are more likely to understand motivations to compete or cooperate. But the dueling agents were, at times, likely to light each other up with ray gun blasts to get ahead.
~ This is true binary, surely: on or off …

And in Trump crazinesses — Some voting errors and glitches may be coming from outer space, according to scientists who discussed this cosmic conundrum today at the annual meeting of American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences in Boston. Although this does not mean that aliens influenced the US 2016 election. which I’d welcome as an explanation, at this point.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signalled he wanted to help avoid the nuclear apocalypse during his first phone call with President Donald Trump, and Trump fumbled it because he had no idea what the most important treaty between America and Russia was.
But at least IBM backs him: IBM CEO Ginni Rometty has taken some major heat from her employees for continuing to advise President Trump, and that seems likely to continue in the near future. Rometty just sent out a new internal memo defending her collaboration with the Trump regime, and like every IBM statement to come before it, the whole thing is pretty weak. Well, hey, this is the company that controlled the information flow for the Holocaust after all.
And the White House has blocked the listing of US bumble bees as endangered species …
~ Remember, actual human beings voted for this living US parody of a Banana Republic despot.

5000-year-old Chinese beer brought back to life — Stanford University students have recreated a Chinese beer using a recipe that dates back 5000 years. The beer “looked like porridge and tasted sweeter and fruitier than the clear, bitter beers of today,” said Li Liu, a professor in Chinese archaeology.
~ Sounds yum.

Wooly mammoth may yet return — The woolly mammoth vanished from the Earth 4000 years ago, but now scientists say they are on the brink of resurrecting the ancient beast in a revised form, through an ambitious feat of genetic engineering.
~ I’m imagining a future of very big woollen jumpers. 

Futurology ~ Sun hunch, NASA side mission, space junk, losing freeways, mind-boggling maths, bee drones, US genes


(Image from Nine Planets)
(Image from Nine Planets)

Scientists have a weird hunch about why the Sun spins too slowly — Physicists have long known that the Sun spins, like the Earth. But a few decades ago, they realized the surface of the Sun spins more slowly than their models predicted – not by a lot, but enough to signal that something they didn’t understand was going on. This kicked off a solar mystery.
A team of astronomers has stared into the Sun long enough that they think they’ve found the source of the slowdown.
~ I’d suspect tiredness.

NASA’s Trojan side mission —OSIRIS-REx is one of the busiest spacecrafts in the solar system. It blasted off in September 2016, and has been getting ready to rendezvous with the object of its mission, an asteroid called Bennu, to bring back samples to Earth. But before the spacecraft links up with Bennu in 2018, it’s been assigned a side project: for 10 days this month, OSIRIS-REx will investigate whether or not Trojan asteroids exist at certain points in Earth’s orbit called Lagrange points.

Space junk — An experimental Japanese mission to remove dangerous debris from orbit has ended in failure. It’s a frustrating setback given the mounting risks posed by the nearly two million bits of junk currently swirling around our planet.
~ Here’s my idea: stick a powerful magnet on one, and when it’s collected a few others, deal with them together. 

Losing freeways — Rip out eight lanes of freeway through the middle of your metropolis and you’ll be rewarded with not only less traffic, but safer, more efficient cities … it’s true, and it’s happening in places all over the world.
~ This is apt, as I feel like a loser every time I get trapped on Auckland’s. 

Maths is beautiful in theory, miraculous when applied, and awe-inspiring at every turn — Appreciate the diversity and implications of math. While an artistic temperament is often considered the exact opposite of the kind of personality that loves complicated equations, pure mathematicians are really just a bunch of lunatics endlessly working with abstraction and beauty. And folks who work in fields of applied mathematics often end up finding a use for those abstract ideas.
~ I used to use a calculator, but now Siri does all my maths. 

Bees are dying but … tiny bee drones — We rely heavily on bees and other species to pollinate our plants, and though there isn’t global data, there have been enough local die-offs to spark widespread concern, according to a report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Now, a team of scientists from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan has engineered drones featuring a specially-engineered adhesive to pick up and deposit pollen.
~ I already saw this on Black Mirror

Huge US diversity thanks to 770,000 vials of spit — Genetics have been used to track historical migration before, but this new study gives us a look at recent history. Where the data is most remarkable is in its granularity: the ability to point not just to France but to specific regions of France, and track the migration of those groups of people over time.
~ And surprise! Despite Trump’s henchmen’s ideas, the US is very, very diverse. All that spit seems most appropriate.

Futurology ~ Our ancient meteors, Sagan knew, super-laser, Australian biometric passport, 3D-printed human skin, seawater lamp, coffee genetics


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466-million-year-old meteors raining down on Earth — When the solar system was in its rebellious stage about 466 million years ago, two massive asteroids collided in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, sending tiny pieces of shrapnel flying all over the solar system.
After examining bits of crystals that fell to Earth just before the collision, an international team of scientists has learned that space rocks that only enter our atmosphere rarely now were much more prevalent back in the day. And stuff from that big breakup is still raining down on us.
~ So we’re still seeing the effects of an event that took place almost 500 million years ago.

 In 1995, Carl Sagan predicted manufacturing jobs gone & no control over our political lives — Did Carl Sagan really warn about a time in the future when manufacturing jobs would slip away, when the average person would have virtually no control over their political lives, and when we would all cling to superstitions? Yes, Sagan did. And plenty of people are worried that Carl was talking about our era. The passage comes from Sagan’s book Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, first published in 1995.
~ Go him. I just wish he’d been wrong. 

Super-powerful laser — A Czech and British research team says their ‘super laser’ is capable of an average power output of over 1000 watts, making it ‘10 times as powerful‘ as other lasers of its type.
~ There have been more powerful, but that’s peak pulses. This has a powerful average output, which is the important bit. Bzzt. 

Australian biometric passports — Australia has begun the search for technology companies that could provide biometric systems, such as facial, iris and fingerprint recognition for border control. Head of border security John Coyne said it could be a “world first.” But critics have questioned the privacy implications of such a system.
~ Surely it’s not that hard to figure out who desperately needs asylum and safety and therefore should be turned back? 

Spanish scientists developed a prototype 3D printer capable of printing functional human skin — It could be used for transplant patients, as well as an ethical alternative to animal testing. The so-called bioprinter uses special ‘ink’ consisting of human cells and other biological components to reproduce the natural structure of the skin, including the external epidermis and the deeper dermis layer.
~ Surely it could add tattoos?

Lamp glows 80 hours on seawater — There are plenty of legitimate reasons to prepare for the end of civilisation as we know it (and now many of them have Trump in the title), and if the world’s supply of batteries ever runs out, you’ll be glad you had this emergency LED lamp tucked away in your doomsday shelter.
Hitachi Maxell’s Mizusion lamp for goes for about three days on a mix of salt and water. The ingredients work alongside oxygen in the air and a replaceable magnesium ‘power bar’ to create positive and negative electrodes, which in turn generates electricity.
~ Just make sure you have a seaside apocalypse.

Coffee’s gene-fueled future — This just drew nearer, now that scientists have sequenced the genome of the Coffea arabica coffee plant – the species that makes up the vast majority of global production – and made the data public. That means the world is in for a coffee renaissance, as breeders use the information to develop new plant varieties.
~ Banana with that?

Futurology ~ Galaxy killer, wave maker moon, Venus commotion, NASA on climate, flying car, Zebra stripes


Airbus promises a flying car prototype by the end of this year. Yay!
Airbus promises a flying car prototype by the end of this year. Yay!

Silent but deadly galaxy killer — Across the universe, galaxies are literally getting the life sucked out of them. A team of researchers at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in Western Australia has examined 11,000 galaxies using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and Arecibo Legacy Fast ALFA survey. The team concluded that a process called ram-pressure stripping — which forces gas out of galaxies — is more common than previously imagined. It’s a quick death, because without gas, galaxies are unable to produce more stars. The group’s findings were published on January 17th in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
~ I get that from eating chickpeas. 

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Cassini gets a look at Saturn’s wavemaker moon — Saturn’s tiny moon friend, Daphnis, is finally getting its close-up. In a stunning new image [in detail, above] from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, the elusive moon can be seen peeking out from within the Keeler gap of Saturn’s rings. According to NASA, the image was taken in visible (green) light by Cassini’s narrow-angle camera.
~ It creates waves, unlike the other 61 moons of Saturn. 

Venus’ atmospheric commotion — An infrared camera aboard the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Venus-orbiting Akatsuki spacecraft spotted lazy pockets of atmosphere on Venus in December 2015. Akatsuki’s camera brought the first hard evidence: an enormous, 6000-mile bow-shaped region hanging over a mountainous region of Venus.
~ It’s refusing to budge despite the 225 mile-per-hour winds that surround it.

NASA director explains what 2016’s temperature changes mean — To understand where we are – and more importantly, where we’re headed – Gavin Schmidt, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said we should be focusing on data that shows how much the Earth has warmed since the Industrial Revolution. According to NASA, the global temperature has increased 1.7 degrees F since 1880.
Over that same time frame, carbon dioxide levels have dramatically increased, from roughly 280 to 405.25 parts per million: the highest they’ve been in 650,000 years.
Meanwhile, ‘rogue’ scientists have been struggling to save climate data from that supreme idiot Trump, who has just become the most powerful idiot in the world.
Gizmodo reckon’s Trump’s Age of Ignorance threatens humanity.
~ A former friend of mine was still insisting, a year ago, that global warming was a ‘left wing plot’. I asked him what he thought the left would gain from such a plot. His answer was …. he didn’t have an answer, of course. But the fact remains that people’s wish that this wouldn’t be happening seems to be enough for them to decide it isn’t. It’s not about the causes, really, but what we can do to slow it, for all our futures. 

Airbus promises flying car — Airbus last year formed a division called Urban Air Mobility to explore concepts such as a vehicle to transport individuals or a helicopter-style vehicle that can carry multiple riders. The aim would be for people to book the vehicle using an app, similar to car-sharing schemes. (Meanwhile, look at Wired’s outstanding cars of the last year.)
~ Finally!

Scientist finally figures out why zebras are striped — Camouflage? No; social recognition? no; lion’s eye shapes? No …
~ It’s a long article, and you’ll never believe the answer!

Futurology ~ Alien Megastructure, we are star dust, Milky Way thief, star collision, Saturn’s Death Star, mind-controlled zombie mice, 28¢ health care, Algorithm concert hall


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Another month, another Alien Megastructure theory — New research suggests that Tabby’s star (the celestial object voted most likely to host an alien megastructure) is acting weirdly because it recently annihilated an entire planet, and the shattered remains of that planet are now producing strange flickering effects. It’s probably the best theory we’ve heard so far.
~ I’d be acting a bit weirdly too-, with indigestion.

We’re made of sawdust — New research confirms what science popularisers like Carl Sagan have said all along: humans truly are made of ‘star stuff‘ – and there are maps to prove it.
In the largest undertaking of its kind, a group of astronomers at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey in New Mexico has used the APOGEE (Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment) spectrograph to analyze the composition of 150,000 stars across the Milky Way. The team has catalogued the amount of CHNOPS elements ( carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and sulphur) in each of the stars, and mapped out the prevalence of these ‘building blocks of life’ across the galaxy.
Go ahead and check out the team’s maps on SDSS.
~ Baby, you’re  star.

Our galaxy has been stealing planets — New research from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) suggests some of the 11 farthest stars in our galaxy, approximately 300,000 lightyears from Earth, were probably snatched from the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy. It’s the second-closest galaxy to our own, making it the perfect victim for this celestial crime.
~ And not humans’ fault, for a change. 

Scientists predict that a pair of stars in the constellation Cygnus will collide in 2022 — The  explosion in the night sky should be so bright that it will be visible to the naked eye. From a report on NPR:
If it happens, it would be the first time such an event was predicted by scientists.
~ Better dust off that manger. 

mimasMimas, a moon of Saturn, looks like the Death Star — This is easily one of the best pictures ever captured of Mimas, revealing intricate surface features and shadows cast across its iconic impact crater.
The Cassini spacecraft captured this image on October 22, 2016 at a distance of 185,000 kms (115,000 miles). Each pixel represents one full kilometre (3,300 feet). Mimas is just barely 400kms (248 miles) across, and it’s notable in that it’s the smallest body in the solar system to have a rounded shape, the result of its own gravity. Smaller satellites in the solar system, like Hyperion and Phoebe, are irregular, potato-shaped objects.
~ Big deal: an old golf ball also looks like the Death Star.

Our moon is older than we thought — The Moon is much older than previously estimated—up to 140 million years older. After analysing uranium decay in minerals called zircons, which can be found in Moon rocks brought back from the Apollo 14 mission in 1971, researchers concluded the Moon probably formed about 60 million years after our solar system was born. So now researchers have concluded the Moon is at least 4.51 billion years old.
~ Well, it is quite wrinkly.

Scientists have created mind-controlled zombie mice — Flash one light, and the mouse goes on the prowl, zombielike, stalking any prey in its path. Flash another, and it delivers a killing blow with its teeth. The mouse doesn’t hunt out of hunger — scientists are in control.
~ So, anyone else think scientists might use their time a bit better?

28¢worth of paper could transform health care — A loose assemblage of paper and string that Manu Prakash pulls from his pocket doesn’t look like much. And in a way, it’s not — just US20 cents’ worth (NZ28¢) of materials you can buy at an art supply store. But in another way, the Stanford bioengineer’s tangle of stuff is a minor miracle.
Prakash calls it a Paperfuge, and like the piece of lab equipment it’s named for, the centrifuge, it can spin biological samples at thousands of revolutions per minute. That’s a critical step in the diagnosis of infections like malaria and HIV. But unlike a centrifuge, the Paperfuge doesn’t need electricity, complicated machinery, expensive replacement parts, or even much money to operate.
~ Pure genius.

Algorithms design concert all — The most interesting thing about Herzog and De Meuron’s newly opened concert hall in Hamburg, Germany, isn’t the the Elbphilharmonie’s wave-like facade, which rises above the city. It’s not the gently curved elevator at the base of the lobby that deposits you into the belly of the Swiss architects’ alien landscape, and it’s not the Escher-esque stairways that guide you from one floor to the next.
For the Elbphilharmonie, Herzog and De Meuron used algorithms to generate a unique shape for each of the 10,000 gypsum fibre acoustic panels that line the auditorium’s walls like the interlocking pieces of a giant, undulating puzzle (main picture, above).
~ Each panel helps shape sound thanks to their individually crafted ‘cells’. But hey, what does it actually sound like?

Futurology ~ 2017 in space, massive Antarctica object, Avatar robot, 2016 as horror film, Ebola vaccine, Vera Rubin and Dark Matters


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Next year in space — Wired has a story about all the great space stuff the magazine’s writers are expecting in 2017. One is that NASA needs to get to Mars, and is just about ready for liftoff: the SLS is still deep in its testing stages, and those will continue right up to the rocket’s projected 2018 launch date, when it’s set to carry the Orion spacecraft on an unmanned mission. In 2017, the rocket will enter its Green Run phase at NASA’s Stennis Space Center: a bunch of static booster-firing, resonance-checking test runs.
~ Pah! Mars is so 2016, don’t you think?

Satellite spots massive object hidden under the frozen wastes of Antarctica — Scientists believe a massive object which could change our understanding of history is hidden beneath the Antarctic ice. The huge and mysterious “anomaly” is thought to be lurking beneath the frozen wastes of an area called Wilkes Land. It stretches for a distance of 243 kms (151 miles) across and has a maximum depth of about 848 meters. Some researchers believe it is the remains of a truly massive asteroid which was more than twice the size of the Chicxulub space rock which wiped out the dinosaurs.
~ Well, that’s more likely than Nazi flying saucer bases. 

South Korean Avatar-styled robot — A robot which bears a striking resemblance to the military robots seen in the movie Avatar has taken its first baby steps. The robot standing in a room on the outskirts of Seoul, South Korea stands four meters (13 feet) tall and weighs 1.5 tons.
~ Designer Vitaly Bulgarov’s work experience includes work on Transformers, Terminator and Robocop.

2016 as a horror movie — This year has been pretty horrifying. Dozens of our favorite celebrities died, a gorilla was shot dead in front of children at the zoo and a former professional wrestling star was elected president. Not to mention America being taken over by a fatuous big-mouthed idiot.
So it makes perfect sense that 2016 should be made into a horror film: YouTube channel Friend Dog Studios published a fictional movie trailer based on the year’s events.
~ Hey, at least it was a good year for architecture

Obama wrote the most popular science journal of 2016 — The hottest scientific journal article of 2016 wasn’t on black holes or dinosaur-killing asteroids: it was on the Affordable Care Act, and it was penned by sitting President Barack Obama. Imagine that ever happening again.
~ Indeed.

Ebola vaccine 100% effective — A new Ebola vaccine provides 100% protection against one of the two most common strains of the Ebola virus. The results of this trial were released in The Lancet. Although the vaccine, known as rVSV-ZEBOV, has yet to be approved by regulators, the New York Times reports that scientists have already created an emergency supply of 300,000 doses, should another Ebola outbreak occur.
~ This is definitely very good news. 

The woman who convinced us that Dark Matter existed was never awarded a Nobel Prize — Vera Rubin, one of the most important astronomers of the 20th century, died on December 25th in Princeton, NJ at age 88. She played a seminal role in our understanding of dark matter, and should have been awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics … but never was.
~ Yet another very smart, overlooked woman scientist. Actually, 2016 cemented science’s sexual inequality problems

Futurology ~ Rosetta’s mish, Trump’s idiocy, humanoid undersea robot, solar road, imperilled water, hot Pole


roseetta

Watch Rosetta’s entire mission in four minutes — With the historic Rosetta mission now over, the ESA has compiled a four-minute simulation showing the spacecraft’s complete journey as it weaved around Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.
~ Certainly saves some time. 

Trumps idiocy may drive some science — President-elect Donald Trump is tweeting again about the F-35 fighter jet. Last week, he said the F-35 program costs have gone “out of control,” and he was right, sort of. Except now his proposed solution appears to be a physically impossible fantasy plane. He has also decided what the world needs now is a new nuclear arms race.
~ Democracy has failed us. 

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Stanford built a humanoid submarine robot to explore a 17th-century shipwreck — Back in April, Stanford University professor Oussama Khatib led a team of researchers on an underwater archaeological expedition, 30 kilometres off the southern coast of France, to La Lune, King Louis XIV’s sunken 17th-century flagship. Rather than dive to the site of the wreck 100 metres below the surface, which is a very bad idea for almost everyone, Khatib’s team brought along a custom-made humanoid submarine robot called Ocean One.
~ Wel, that’s what I’d do. If I had a Stanford. 

The world’s first solar road has officially opened in the small village of Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy, France — The solar road is 1 kilometre long and can generate enough electricity to power the street lights. The panels have been covered in a silicon-based resin that allows them to withstand the weight of passing big rigs, and if the road performs as expected, Royal wants to see solar panels installed across 1000 kilometers of French highway. There are numerous issues, however.
~ No parking. 

Stunning images show Earth’s imperilled water — Throughout Earth’s 4.37 billion year history, water has been a constant—and in constant flux. During some periods, it’s covered the planet in glaciers. During other, warmer periods, it saturates the atmosphere into a planetary greenhouse. These days, the planet is thawing off from it’s last ice cycle — and being warmed at an unprecedented rate by industrialised civilisation. DigitalGlobe wanted to know what the state of Earth’s water currently looked like, so deployed an army of high-definition drones to snap pictures over four billion square kilometers of water-formed landscapes.
~ At least its photogenic.

North Pole’s alarming warming — So far 2016 is the hottest year on record (the only thing that could pull 12 months of above-average temperatures down now is if our sun suddenly vanished, and in that case we’ve got bigger problems). And if the north pole is any indicator, freak hot weather isn’t going away. In fact, it seems to be getting freakier.
~ As Gizmodo’s scribe puts it, “Santa’s elves must be sweating their pants off up there.”

Futurology ~ jewelled planet, Ceres, space junk collector, futuristic predictions, quantum gravity time, disturbing carbon dioxide, energy turning point, holiday


NASA has created visualisations of the problematic greenhouse gas carbon dioxide
NASA has created visualisations of the problematic greenhouse gas carbon dioxide

Jupiter-like planet rains rubies and sapphires — A Jupiter-like planet located 1000 light-years from Earth is exhibiting some rather strange meteorological behavior. The clouds on this planet appear to be made from corundum — the same mineral that produces rubies and sapphires.
~ I predict a glut on the market once we reach that one. 

Dwarf planet Ceres has a dark secret — If you thought those bright spots on dwarf planet Ceres were cool, that was only the half of it. Ceres is also covered in dark spots, craters that — because of their position — never see the light of day. Now, astronomers have discovered that at least one and perhaps many of these shadowy regions are filled with water ice.
~ Well, there goes that secret.

Japan sends its new space junk-fighting technology to the ISS — What floats 400 kms (249 miles) high in the sky, stretches over 700 metres (2300 feet) and took over 10 years to develop? Japan launched a cargo ship Friday bound for the International Space Station, carrying a space junk collector that was made with the help of a fishnet company.
~ The by-catch could be interesting. 

Futuristic predictions that came true in 2016 — Another year has passed, which means we’re another step closer to the tomorrow of our dreams. Here are the most futuristic developments of 2016 from Gizmodo.
~ I still think a  jet pack could lead to embarrassing bottom burns.

Quantum gravity research could unearth the true nature of time — Theoretical physicists striving to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity into an all-encompassing theory of quantum gravity face what’s called the ‘problem of time.’
~ I thought the true nature of time was that there’s loads of it, but there always seems to never be enough. 

Disturbing visualisations of carbon dioxide and earth — Scientists at NASA have created a stunning high-resolution 3D visualization showing the complex ebbs and flows of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere over the course of an entire year. It’s a unique perspective that’s sure to change the way you think about this problematic greenhouse gas.
~ The new video, thanks to its 3D view, is eye opening.

World energy hits a turning point with solar that’s cheaper than wind — A transformation is happening in global energy markets that’s worth noting as 2016 comes to an end: solar power, for the first time, is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity.
~ Hoorah! Take that, power companies!

I’m out of here — That’s right, I’m taking a pre-Christmas break to a wonderful New Zealand beach with no internet. That means no updates till Friday 23rd December, sorry, and MagBytes will be delayed a week, so will appear between Christmas and New Years!  But that’s my only holiday this southern summer.
Thank you for following Mac NZ, and drive safely, eat well and be nice!All the best for 2017.

Futurology ~ Space, Mars, old efficient engines, Bees and Trump, browser, poo and diamond power, survival apps, human insignificance


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Space and all that … supermassive — A stunning new image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope shows a galaxy that’s being strangled by tentacles of gas and dust. The strange and intricate shape of this celestial object is caused by a supermassive black hole (above) at its core — and it’s killing the host.
~ For myself, I’m quite relieved it’s 150 million light years away.

More Mars pictures — Two European Space Agency spacecrafts arrived at Mars on October 19th, right on schedule. One crash-landed on the red planet’s surface (ESA scientists are still trying to figure out what happened to poor ol’ Schiaparelli), but the other safely inserted itself into orbit and last week, the ExoMars orbiter sent home its first images.
~ CaSSIS is looking for gases.

Car engines get ever more efficient, but a 70-year-old invention could make them 30% more efficient — Achates Power in San Diego believes it has a better way: Ditch the design that has dominated engine design for the past 130 years in favour of an idea abandoned in the 1940s and see a 30% bump in efficiency. Most modern engines use a four-stroke, reciprocating single-piston design while the old tech Achates wants to reintroduce is two pistons in each cylinder.
~ Swings, roundabouts and cycles. 

Bees and Trump’s election — Animal groups often make extraordinary collective decisions that go far beyond the abilities of any single individual. The idea that groups can make collective decisions more successfully than individuals is known as the “wisdom of the crowd” and is arguably why we vote, have juries, and fill boardrooms. Today, it’s not clear if social media is pushing humanity into a death spiral or pulling us out of one.
~ ‘Animal groups’ …

How to see all your browser knows about you — Point your browser towards this website experiment called Click to get started. A cascade of information will begin to stream down on the page, from the number of cores your computer has to the movements your mouse makes. But there’s hope – two Swedish developers have created a site offering a way to wipe your entire existence off the internet in a few clicks, although there are caveats.
~ Click. But …

Cures and more buried online — Last month, a company named Iris launched a first version of an online engine that can read the abstract of papers, map out their key concepts and find papers relevant to those concepts. It provides a quick way to get a sense of the scientific landscape for a given topic, something especially useful when you don’t know the exact keywords for the type of research you are looking for.
~ Fantastic!

Ravenous bacteria eats poo, makes power — Researchers at Ghent University in Belgium have hit on a method of harvesting energy from raw sewage that treats the wastewater without using external electricity. It’s all thanks to starving bacteria. This method is still in its lab testing stage, but industry leaders are already interested in utilising it.
~ Well, if it’s one thing any human can create …

Nuclear diamond power — Scientists at the University of Bristol have found a way to convert thousands of tons of nuclear waste into man-made diamond batteries that can generate a small electric current for thousands of years.

Survivalist apps — Here’s a list of apps to help you get through.
~ Wait, the battery is dying …

Humans very insignificant when history is laid out on a football field — Humanity gets served up a nice slice of humble pie in this NPR video that lays out the history of our planet on a football field.
~ Humans only show up about an eighth-of-an-inch from the end zone. But it’s what you do with that inch …

Futurology ~ Humanity to space, Mars traces, weather satellite, strange numbers, tall modular building, fast-charger, plastic muscles, climate strains


Brroklyn now has 363 pre-fab apartments stacked into a 32-stroey block: the world's tallest modular building
Brroklyn now has 363 pre-fab apartments stacked into a 32-storey block: the world’s tallest modular building sits at 461 Dean.

Humanity’s space future — Getting out of Earth’s gravity well is hard. Conventional rockets are expensive, wasteful, and as we’re frequently reminded, very dangerous. Thankfully, there are alternative ways of getting ourselves and all our stuff off this rock. Here’s how we’ll get from Earth to space in the future.
~ The alternative is make room, make room!

No life on Mars, but possible traces there was once — If we ever get proof of past life on Mars, it’ll come in the form of biosignatures, fingerprints that could only have been left by living organisms. We’re a long way from finding that smoking gun evidence, but an analysis of silica minerals discovered by NASA’s Spirit rover pushes us one step closer. Because of their similarity to silica deposits shaped by microbial life on Earth, these intriguing Martian minerals are now being called a “potential biosignature.”
~ ‘Potential biosignature’ sounds like a description of Trump’s appointees.  Further examination required. 

Better weather analysis — NASA and NOAA have launched the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R), the United States’ most advanced weather satellite yet, to study extreme storms, tornadoes, fires, lightning, and solar activity at unparalleled resolution.
GOES-R is on its way to a geostationary orbit 35,888kms (22,300 miles) above the Earth. When it reaches its destination, it becomes the first of a new generation of Earth-observing spacecraft that will extend NOAA’s ability to monitor weather in the western hemisphere until 2036.
~ So, how GOES-R it?

Strange number collisions — At the Hadron Collider in Geneva, physicists shoot protons around a 27-kilometre track and smash them together at nearly the speed of light. It’s one of the most finely tuned scientific experiments in the world, but when trying to make sense of the quantum debris, physicists begin with a strikingly simple tool called a Feynman diagram that’s not that different from how a child would depict the situation. But at a certain point, the logic starts to diverge
~ I do like the term ‘perturbative expansion’. 

World’s tallest modular building points to the future — 461 Dean has become the world’s tallest modular building. Designed by New York architecture firm SHoP, the Brooklyn residential tower consists of 363 pre-fab apartments that stack like Tetris blocks into a 32-story building. It’s an impressive architectural feat, to be sure—but 461 Dean is also an important test of modular design’s potential to make cities more affordable.
~ ‘I’m leaving, and taking my apartment with me!’

Battery charges in seconds, lasts a week — A new type of battery that lasts for days after a few seconds’ charge has been created by researchers at the University of Central Florida. The high-powered battery is packed with supercapacitors that can store a large amount of energy. It looks like a thin piece of flexible metal that is about the size of a finger nail and could be used in phones, electric vehicles and wearables, according to the researchers.
~ Path. Beat. Door.

New plastic muscles — Researchers at MIT have found a way to use cheap, nylon plastic as an artificial muscle, we’re now one step closer to creating artificial humans—and opulent fantasy theme parks.
~ So don’t throw away those shopping bags just yet.

Will human evolution be shaped by climate change? Probably not, as it’s happening too quickly, but these eminents all have interesting takes on the concept.
~ There’ll be some tech fixes while the super-rich build dream bio-homes and the poor suffer unimaginably, that’s my take.