Tag Archives: technology

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 ~ A word about the future, strange in the Solar System, NZ AI baby, cars and wheels, molecular robots, tooth vaccine, Aboriginal migration

A New Zealand company has constructed an artificial intelligence baby that plays the piano

A note about this once-a-weekend blogpost, which I call Futurology (another entry in a succession of words I have tried to invent over the last three decades). I started this as there was a lack of Apple news on weekends and I’d discover all sorts of non-Apple-related links in my week of web crawling. I start out in space, but I don’t stay there: the column moves on to interesting inventions, and when theres revelatory news about the past, back in time, so don’t be put off by a picture of an asteroid or something, glance down to see if there’s anything else that interests you!

Is it an asteroid? A comet? Both? Observations by the Hubble Space Telescope are revealing new details about a strange binary asteroid that’s performing double-duty as a comet. It’s the first time scientists have ever seen such a thing.
Back in 2006, Spacewatch discovered an asteroid named 300163 (2006 VW139). Astronomers using the Pan-STARRS telescope detected some comet-like activity coming from the object in 2011, so it was also given a comet designation of 288P. But things have changed again. When the object made its closest approach to the Sun last year, a German-led team of scientists used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to make observations, revealing not one but two asteroids. Which means it’s a binary system.
~ Well, I’ve committed that catchy name to memory!

Disturbing New Zealand AI baby plays the piano — A New Zealand company called Soul Machines has built a disturbingly lifelike virtual baby powered by artificial intelligence software. BabyX, the virtual creation of Mark Sagar and his researchers, looks impossibly real.. The work is built off the research of Mark Sagar, the company’s CEO, who is on a quest to mimic human consciousness in a machine. Sagar used to work at Weta creating lifelike faces for films like King Kong and Avatar and is now building these very realistic looking virtual avatars and pumping them full of code that not only handles things like speech but that also replicates the nervous system and brain function.
~ And your AI baby future is Aryan … 

Electric cars of the future — This year’s Frankfurt show, the largest of its kind in the world, was packed with designs that preview all those new models coming over the next few years. If you want to see where the auto industry’s headed over the next decade and beyond, just take a whirl through the gallery above, and get ready for a real shock.
~ EVs still aren’t making an impact, but they all soon. 

3-wheeler retro-futurist car — The proposed specs on the NOBE, with a design is clearly based on a late ’50s to early ’60s-era European automotive design vocabulary, are that its electric, making a maximum 45kW, or 60 horsepower –  pretty substantial for something like this. That 60hp seems to be spread over three motors each making 20hp.
~ It has a novel charging method, too. 

Wheels and tyres that adjust to conditions — Continental has a tyre concept that can adjust itself to suit the weather conditions and your driving intentions. The Continental ContiAdapt is a smart wheel which can change between four different pre-set widths to suit wet, uneven, slippery and normal road conditions. “Micro-compressors” in each wheel expand or contract the variable width rim to suit the driving conditions – normal road conditions call for a small contact patch and high tyre pressure, where a larger contact patch and lower pressure means more grip for slippery conditions.
~ So rich people in the best cars can feel even safer, no doubt.

Molecular robot builds molecules — Scientists at The University of Manchester in the UK have created the world’s first “molecular robot” that is capable of performing basic tasks including building other molecules. The tiny robots, which are a millionth of a millimeter in size, can be programmed to move and build molecular cargo, using a tiny robotic arm. Each individual robot is capable of manipulating a single molecule and is made up of just 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms.
~ Anyone seen that molecular robot? 

Chinese vaccine against tooth cavities — Scientists at Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences developed low side effects and high protective efficiency using flagellin-rPAc fusion protein KFD2-rPAc, a promising vaccine candidate to banish tooth decay. In rat challenge models, KFD2-rPAc induces a robust rPAc-specific IgA response, and confers efficient prophylactic and therapeutic efficiency as does KF-rPAc, while the flagellin-specific inflammatory antibody responses are highly reduced.
~ Hope it fixes rat-breath at the same time!

Australian migrations via Aboriginal artefacts — Decades after collection, hair samples long filed away in small manila envelopes have become a source of DNA for Ray Tobler and Alan Cooper. Specialists in ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide, they wanted to know how humans first migrated across this continent, thousands of years ago.
~ Yes, thousands of years before white invaders ‘discovered’ Australia. 

Futurology ~ Dwarf Planet Club, Jupiter, solar storm, big asteroid, solar moisture sucker, 3D-printed Boeing, landmine bacteria

2014 JO25 will whizz by Earth from roughly 1.8 million km away

New dwarf in our Solar System — When we think of dwarf planets, the first thing that comes to mind is obviously the injustice of Pluto getting demoted to one. But the truth is, these little guys (there are six currently recognised within our solar system) deserve just as much love as their mightier planetary cousins. And a new study suggests the dwarf planet club could get another member, in the form of a very small, distant object located roughly 92 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun called Planetary body 2014 UZ224, also known as DeeDee (for ‘distant dwarf’).
~ SevenDwarfs …

Huge cold spot on Jupiter — Using the Very Large Telescope array, an international team of astronomers has discovered a previously undetected cold spot on Jupiter. Measuring 14,000km wide and 12,000km across, the mysterious spot is bigger than the Earth itself. Intriguingly, the weather anomaly is likely being generated by Jupiter’s spectacular Northern Lights.
~ And it keeps regenerating itself. 

Every once in a while our Sun gives off a tremendous belch of high energy particles — Called a coronal mass ejection (CME), these episodes can vary in intensity, but they can produce bursts of electrical charge when they interact with our upper atmosphere in a geomagnetic storm. In a strange twist, new research shows that geomagnetic storms can produce the opposite effect, stripping the upper atmosphere of electrons for hundreds of kilometres. Which, if you like electronic gadgets, may be a problem.
~ Apparently, a tin-foil hat does not help. 

Massive asteroid passing soon — Later this month, a huge asteroid (main picture, above) that’s about 650m in length will get close enough to Earth for our viewing pleasure. Even though it won’t do any damage, this is a damn big slice of space garbage.
~ And it looks like a huge potato. 

Wringing water from the desert sky — A new spongelike device uses sunlight to suck water vapor from air, even in low humidity. The device can produce nearly 3 liters of water daily for every kilogram of water-absorbing material thanks to metal organic frameworks, or MOFs. Researchers say future versions will be even better.
~ The crucial part, to do any good, will be price and ability to deploy. 

3D printed parts save Boeing money — Boeing has hired Norsk Titanium AS to print titanium parts for its 787 Dreamliner, paving the way to cost savings of $2 million to $3 million for each plane. The 3D-printed metal parts will replace pieces made with more expensive traditional manufacturing, thus making the 787 more profitable.
~ One day maybe they’ll carry printers for literally on-the-fly parts manufacture.

Glowing bacteria finds landmines — More than 100 million landmines lay hidden in the ground around the world, but glowing bacteria may help us find them, according to a new study. The approach relies on small quantities of vapor released from the common explosive TNT, then a laser to remotely detect and quantify fluorescing bacteria from 20 meters away, mapping the location of the landmines.
~ A real glow of satisfaction. 

Futurology ~ EVE Online exoplanets, genetic hacksaw, 3D laser display, biodegradable med-drone, maths improvement, catastrophic equality


The hunt for the next exoplanet could be in the hands of EVE Online Players — NASA confirmed it has spotted seven exoplanets that have Earth-like qualities orbiting TRAPPIST-1, and the makers of the popular massively multiplayer game EVE Online announced a crowdsourcing effort to get players to identify exoplanets while they explore virtual space.
~ Virtually virtuous. 

Scientists create genetic hacksaw — When folks talk about the gene-editing tool CRISPR, they’re usually talking about CRISPR-Cas9, a combination of DNA and enzymes that together act like scissors to cut and paste genes. CRISPR-Cas9 has already been hailed a potential game changer in the fight against cancer, crop pathogens, and environmental problems.
But some researchers think a lesser-known flavour of the technology might be the answer to the world’s growing superbug problem. Meet CRISPR-Cas3.
~ It’s actually a small enzyme really good at precisely targeting specific sequences of DNA.

A new 3D display uses lasers and bubbles to create images you can walk around — Researchers really want to make good three-dimensional displays but it’s so much harder than you might think—most attempts so far have been literally smoke (light projected and scattered on some medium) and mirrors (optical illusions).
But a Japanese team has released an interesting but rudimentary proof-of-concept for their own so-called ‘volumetric display’, using lasers projected in a liquid column. Ultimately, the team hopes to create an updatable 3D projection visible from all angles to put on display in a museum or aquarium.
~ Or, how about this … Beer! 


Drone delivers medicine then biodegrades — The idea behind the Aerial Platform Supporting Autonomous Resupply Actions drone is a cardboard glider that carries almost a kilogram (about two pounds) of cargo.
Star Simpson’s team designed and built Apsara with funding from Darpa, which challenged them to develop a single-use delivery vehicle for emergency scenarios. But with a twist: the drones had to not only carry a small payload and land where you told them, once on the ground, they had to disappear.
~ It’s made from cardboard and paper tape. Now, imagine if you could eat it as well …

Ten tips to improve your maths — Mental maths isn’t as difficult as it might sound, and you may be surprised at how easy it is to make seemingly impossible calculations using nothing but your beautiful brain. You just need to remember a few simple rules.
~ The writer clearly hasn’t met me.

Catastrophes improve equality —  Throughout history, only massive, violent shocks that upended the established order proved powerful enough to flatten disparities in income and wealth. They appeared in four different guises: mass-mobilization warfare, violent and transformative revolutions, state collapse and catastrophic epidemics. Hundreds of millions perished in their wake, and by the time these crises had passed, the gap between rich and poor had shrunk.
~ Call me old fashioned, but it seems wildly unfair to me that the greedy rich alone don’t suffer from the catastrophes largely caused by their own greed. Why do the poor have to suffer so dramatically to get some kind of equality back? 

Futurology ~ Life on Europa, odd astronaut DNA results, 2nd Life VR Social world, entry into physics, concrete

After four years' work, Sansar the VR world should arrive this year
After four years’ work, Sansar the VR world should arrive this year

Promising new tool may help find life on Europa — Scientists have tailored an old-school chemistry technique to analyse amino acid patterns, creating a tool for sniffing out alien biosignatures in just a few grams of seawater.
The method, 10,000 times more sensitive than similar techniques used by NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover, is ideally suited for a life-hunting mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, or Saturn’s Enceladus, lead study author Peter Willis told Gizmodo.
~ Not so good for dry planets, then. 

Odd DNA results for Scott Kelly — Astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly volunteered themselves as test subjects for NASA, which has been studying the pair since they’ve returned from their respective voyages in space: the identical twin brothers are subjects of a 10-part investigation to understand the impact of space travel on the body.
As identical twins, the brothers are genetically very similar. However, researchers found that while he was in orbit, Scott’s telomeres — the caps on the ends of chromosomes — grew longer than his twin brother’s. Though Scott’s telomeres returned to their pre-flight lengths shortly after he returned to Earth, these results were totally unexpected, since telomeres naturally shrink over the course of one’s life, and the stresses of spaceflight are supposed to accelerate this.
~ Must be a pain being born as an Identical Test Subject. 

Sansar, the new virtual reality world from Second Life’s creators — after four years work, will arrive later this year on Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets. “It is trying to solve some of the big problems that plagued Second Life for years,” reports MIT Technology Review, “such as that most users come in through what is essentially a front door and have a hard time finding things to do once they get in… In the demos I tried, I navigated via an atlas that shows a simple clickable thumbnail image of each destination along with its name.”
~ Let me in! Reality has become so freakin’ crazy!

Want to get into physics? Wired has some tips for you.
~ No, I want to get into Sansar! Meanwhile, Siri is the maths master for converting units easily. 

Concrete … what is it? we invented it, we lost it, we reinvented it — Here’s how we discovered concrete, forgot it, and then finally cracked the mystery of what makes it so strong. For concrete, we usually picture white pavements, swimming pools and building foundations. Most of us aren’t aware of concrete’s fiery volcanic origin story, or that concrete is a $100 billion dollar industry. In fact, it’s the most widely-used material on our planet after water. Ton for ton, humans use more concrete today than steel, wood, plastics, and aluminum combined.
~ “We are all Romans, unconscious collective…”

Futurology ~ new galaxy class, more mystery signals, planet farts, Chilean UFO, next food, Tsunami size, Moore’s Law and Intel, coal vs solar

The Chilean government has released 2014 footage of a 'UFO'
The Chilean government has released 2014 footage of a ‘UFO’

A new class of galaxy — Astronomers at the University of Minnesota Duluth and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences have identified a new class of ring galaxy. Named PGC 1000714, it features an elliptical core with not one, but two outer rings. It’s the only known galaxy of its kind in the known universe.
~ So far. 

Astronomers detect mysterious radio signals coming from outside our galaxy — Powerful radio signals have been detected repeatedly in the same exact location in space,  generating as much energy as the sun does in a whole day.
The most likely hypothesis so far for these outer-galactic FRB is that they’re coming from an exotic object such as a young neutron star, that’s rotating with enough power to regularly emit the extremely bright pulses.
~ Dang. I was hoping for some new beats. 

Black Hole farts out planet-sized gas balls — At the centre of our galaxy sits Sagittarius A, a supermassive black hole around four million times the mass of the Sun. If an unlucky star ventures too close, the black hole’s gravity tears it to shreds. But rather than leaving the gassy star corpse to die, Sagittarius A might ball up the entrails into masses bigger than planet Neptune, and fart 95% of them out of the galaxy at 20 million miles per hour
~ Crikey! (And please note that was Gizmodo’s nomenclature, not mine.) 

Chile’s unexplained UFO footage — The report from an alleged UFO sighting by the Chilean military over two years ago has just been declassified, leaving experts completely stumped. The Chilean government agency which investigates UFOs, the CEFAA, reports that a naval helicopter was carrying out a routine daylight coastal patrol in November 2014 when the camera operator noticed an unidentified flying object ahead, flying horizontally and at a steady speed similar to that of the helicopter. The mysterious object could be seen with the naked eye but couldn’t be detected with the helicopter’s radar, ground radar stations or air traffic controllers.
~ Well, it looks like it was burning fuel (main picture, above) and could do with a tune-up.

The next foods — A person born in the year 1000 AD definitely wouldn’t comprehend a Dorito, and if you showed them a Twinkie … But our food is bound to get a lot weirder.
Scientific research doesn’t just bring us more convenient and cheaper food options, but the hope of overcoming sustainability issues, too. The meat industry plays a huge role in climate change— around 10% of America’s total greenhouse gas emissions came from the agriculture sector in 2014, with almost a third of that climate-warming carbon attributed to methane from cattle. So many are fretting about how to feed the 9 billion people who will be inhabiting the planet in 2050.
~ Hanging out for that 3D-printed biscuit made of insect flour, are you?

How big can tsunamis actually get? Tsunamis are very probably the scariest natural disaster out there because they ravage everything in their path. But learning about how big they can actually get makes tsunamis even scarier. The tsunami disasters we know, like the 2011 Japan tsunami, are classified as just ‘regular’ tsunamis. There’s a whole other category of mega tsunamis that dwarf regular tsunamis in height. Back in 1958, a tsunami in Alaska generated waves as tall as 525 metres (1722 feet), which is considerably higher than the Empire State Building. (The new One World Trade Center is 541 metres (1776 feet) tall, and that’s the tallest building in New York City…)
~ I firmly believe that any tsunami over 3cms is already too big. 

Moore’s Law’s next step — Sometime in 2017, Intel will ship the first processors built using the company’s new, 10-nanometer chip-manufacturing technology. Intel says transistors produced in this way will be cheaper than those that came before, continuing the decades-long trend at the heart of Moore’s Law – and contradicting widespread talk that transistor-production costs have already sunk as low as they will go.
~ This revs the chip industry more than it’s managed to jump over the last few years. 

In 1917, they thought coal would not be used for power in 2017 — The November 12, 1917 edition of the Lincoln Evening Journal in Nebraska which ran under the headline Looking Ahead. The piece was reprinted from the Chicago News and ridiculed the idea of worrying about whether people of the future would have enough coal. They needed coal now, and there’s absolutely no way that people of the year 2017 would still be using coal as energy. But But in 2015, roughly 67% of America’s energy needs were still met by fossil fuels.
~ Well, it’s not all bad news: solar could be the cheapest energy source in less than a decade

Futurology ~ Space and all that, massive lenticular print, flexible 3D prints, dogs understand, AI-made trailer, design collection online

(Image from Gizmodo)
(Image from Gizmodo)

Space and all that — Last week, astronomers announced our nearest neighbouring star hosts an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone—an exciting prospect for alien life, and a possible second home for humanity. But before we assemble the interstellar welcoming party to greet our cosmic neighbours, we need to figure out whether Proxima b is capable of supporting life at all. That question could be answered in less than three years.
The hunt for the 9th planet has led to the discovery of many other objects in the outer Solar System, we finally know what caused those weird craters on Phobos [they’re self-inflicted!], there’s a giant ice volcano on Ceres, Juno’s latest images shows a barely recognisable gas giant, and astronauts have finally tested an alien-detecting DNA sequencer in space, and it has been announced NASA’s new lander will head to Mars in 2018.
~ A veritable space opera for you. 


Schiphol shows off the world’s biggest Lenticular Print Wall —  Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, and you’ll pass a long wall of drifting clouds. It looks like a very big LED screen but it isn’t. There’s dimension to this cloudscape. There’s parallax. And when you stop moving, the clouds do, too. Daan Roosegaarde created the mural: a 112-metre shapeshifting panorama that used lenticular technology (little lenses over ink, basically).
~ Far canal, Amsterdam!

3D prints remember their shapes — MIT researchers are using a new 3D-printing process to create tiny structures that change shape at specific temperatures – opening the door for a new drug delivery system that only medicates patients if they have a fever.
~ Medi-dimensional.

Dogs understand what you’re saying, not just the sound of your voice — New research reveals that canines understand more subtleties in speech than we thought, thanks to similarities in brain regions to those of humans. A study by a team at Eötvös Loránd University found that dogs understand both words and intonation to degrees.
~ Dog, leave me alone …

IBM’s AI-made trailer — Morgan, staring Kate Mara and Paul Giamatti, is a sci-fi thriller about scientists who’ve created a synthetic humanoid whose potential has grown dangerously beyond their control. Fitting, then, that they’d employ the help of America’s AI sweetheart IBM Watson to build the film’s trailer, which you can see here.
~ Yay! So even the creative trades will soon be replaced…

Museum collection goes online — Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Design Museum spans 3000 years of history. The oldest object in the collection is the Egyptian ‘lotus-shaped cup. Some of the newest artifacts, like architectural drawings acquired in recent years, are of structures that haven’t even been built yet. Ancient history, the future, and all the years in between — that’s a lot of stuff. And now you can see it all online.
~ 92% of the collection is viewable. It’s a brilliant resource for students of design

Venus surface, Dark Matter, record ice melt, atomic hard drive, 10x future techs, drought crops, tasting a time capsule


Clouds reveal the surface of Venus — Venus’s unusually thick atmosphere is typically regarded as a barrier that prevents us from gazing upon its tortured surface. But by studying subtle shifts in weather patterns, scientists have learned that these clouds also offer important clues as to what lies beneath.
~ I’m way ahead of them, because I had already worked out what lies beneath: the planet Venus. OK, I’m being facetious – naturally – but actually the surface is pretty weird, like very hot at 450°C for a start. 

Dark Matter remains maddeningly elusive — The hunt for the elusive dark matter received yet another blow at an international conference in Sheffield, England. Scientists with the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) dark matter experiment announced that they found no hints of dark matter particles in their latest analysis, despite increasing the sensitivity of the experiment fourfold for its final run.
~ Does Dark Matter matter if it’s not really there? 

Record Arctic ice melt — By late September, Arctic sea ice may reach its lowest extent since satellite record-keeping began.
And that has scientists in a tiz, because if there’s one thing geologic history has taught us, it’s that sudden drops in Arctic ice cover are often the tip of the proverbial iceberg for a whole slew of planetary feedbacks.
~ And we all dread that slew. Except those with their heads still in the sand. 

Dutch atomic hard drive — Researchers in the Netherlands have created a microscopic storage system that encodes every bit with a single atom, allowing them to fit a kilobyte in a space under 100 nanometers across. That translates to a storage density of about 500 terabits per square inch. A 4-terabyte hard drive you can buy today are about 1 terabit per square inch.
~ Dense.

10 future technologies by the 2030s — Owing to accelerating change we can expect to see the emergence of some fairly disruptive technological innovations in the coming years. Here are 10 mindblowingly futuristic technologies that should appear by the 2030s.
~ What about a Microsoft Word dictionary that stays on British English? No, I didn’t think so … 

Australian drought crop breakthrough — Researchers at the Australian National University have just identified the enzyme — phosphatase SAL1 — responsible in a new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Now, they want to use it to push plants into drought-mode early.
~ They’re going to really need this breakthrough. 

Librarians find time capsule, taste contents — Librarians at the University of Montana recently discovered a hidden closet at the school, filled with hundreds of Cold War-era boxes. The boxes contained food rations from cans of blackberries and peaches to graham crackers. And for some reason they decided to taste some of the foods.
~ Librarians are stale lovers?

Ceres, nightmare entry, entropy life, root canal alternative, Day After Tomorrow

[Image: NASA]
Ocean currents created a northern ice age long ago [Image: NASA]
Ceres’ bright spots get weirder — After months of rampant speculation, scientists announced late last year that the bright spots on dwarf planet Ceres are giant deposits of salt. Case closed, right? No. We’ve since managed a better look at the spots, and the craters they reside in, and Ceres is shaping up to be a much weirder place than we imagined. One theory says the bright material in Ceres’ craters is sodium carbonate, an ocean mineral best known for its use in household cleaning products. That would make Ceres the most carbonate-rich world aside from Earth
~ My theory is dance parties. 

Nightmare sound of a spacecraft entering Jupiter’s magnetic field — As NASA’s Juno mission continues to hurl itself toward Jupiter, the terrifying reality of flying close to the biggest and baddest planet in our solar system is starting to set in. Now the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has posted recordings the spacecraft created based on data collected as it crossed Jupiter’s ‘bow shock’ and entered the magnetosphere.
~ Good band name: Upstream Plasma Oscillators.

Strange in the sands of Mars — Researchers looking at images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Curiosity rover spotted a strange combination of almost wave-like ripples forming in the sands of Mars. Over time, these formations often even solidified into rock, resulting in strange landscape photos you can view at Gizmodo.
~ Odder and odder in an odd place. 

Entropy explains how life can come from randomness — Physicist David Kaplan explains how life came to be on Earth in the latest instalment of Quanta‘s In Theory video series, and it’s all because of increasing entropy. MIT professor named Jeremy England has come up with an actual mathematical formula for how this might happen.
~ Because compost …

New kind of filling nixes root canals — root canals, even the milder variety, are no fun, and it would be awesome if we never had to deal with them again. So three cheers for a team of scientists from Harvard and the University of Nottingham, who’ve come up with a new type of synthetic biomaterial for fillings that is regenerative.
~ Something we can all cheer about. 

The day after tomorrow happened many yesterdays back — Toward the end of the last ice age, Earth’s climate was a turbulent beast, warming up and chilling out again every 1500 years. Research published in Science links these abrupt temperature swings to changes in ocean circulation, filling an important gap in our understanding of past climate change.
~ And even without human industry to make it worse. 

Futurology ~ Laser space travel, rock science, data storage, faster Bluetooth, MS breakthrough, Hobbit hominids

Tiny quartz discs store their data as laser-etched nanostructures in the crystal

Flying to Alpha Centauri on a laser beam — In the 1960s, the physicist and space futurist Robert Forward proposed a radical method of sending a spacecraft to the stars. Roughly speaking, the idea was to attach the spacecraft to a large light sail, and then push it by illuminating the sail with an enormous laser. Forward suggested a powerful laser could accelerate a spacecraft to a large fraction of the speed of light, allowing it to reach some of our nearest stellar neighbors within just a few decades. And now … In April, the physicist-turned-internet-billionaire Yuri Milner, together with Stephen Hawking and other notable scientists and engineers, announced that the Breakthrough Foundation would begin funding work on the concept of a laser-propelled starship, with the long-term goal of reaching the closest neighboring star system to our own, Alpha Centauri.
~ Just a few decades …

Gravitational wave hunt in space — This basic vision for a space-based gravitational wave observatory, which those planning a European mission generally call the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), is about 30 years old. And it could be 20 years more before we see it in action. But results released today by the European Space Agency’s LISA Pathfinder team suggest it’s possible to achieve the sensitivity needed to build it.
~ Surf’s up. 

Rocks could help solve global warming — A new study out today in Science details the protocol followed by a team of researchers at the University of Southampton to turn carbon emissions into rocks. The team took carbon emissions from the atmosphere, dissolved them in water and sealed them in an underground well in Iceland with basalt rocks. Over the course of two years, the carbon solution reacted with the basalt, eventually crystallising into carbon storage rocks.
~ But there are risks. 

That long-lived bit — Researchers in the UK have prototyped an ultimate data backup technology — a monocle-sized transparent disc that stores 360 terabytes, withstands fires and heat up to 1000ºC and retains its data even over billions of years. As IEEE Spectrum reported in 2013, the tiny quartz discs store their data as laser-etched nanostructures in the crystal. The nanostructures change the polarization of light passing through it. These changes are read off by an automated microscope algorithm that translates polarization signals back into the stream of stored data.
~ Just keep your players up to date for millennium, and all’s well. 

Living bacteria storing data — CRISPR/Cas9 is turning into an incredibly versatile tool. The cheap and easy-to-use molecular editing system that burst onto the biotech scene only a few years ago is being used for a host of applications, including genetic engineering, RNA editing, disease modelling and fighting retroviruses like HIV. And now, as described in a new Science paper, it can also be used to turn lowly microorganisms into veritable hard drives.
~ Just be careful what you ingest. 

Bluetooth is about to get more powerful — Mark Powell, executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, noted in a newsletter that Bluetooth 5 will debut June 16. The new incarnation of wireless standard offers “double the range and quadruple the speed of low energy Bluetooth transmissions.”
~ Use your mouse from next door!

Multiple sclerosis patients who were severely disabled are walking, working and even downhill skiing again — This follows a breakthrough therapy which completely destroys, then rebuilds, the immune system. The trial, which is the first in the world to show complete long-term remission from the debilitating disease, has been hailed by experts as “exciting” “unprecedented,” and “close to curative.”
~ Yay!

More ‘Hobbit’ skeletons discovered on Flores — Researchers from Australia’s University of Wollongong describe the fossilised remains of three small-bodied hominids thought to be the distant ancestors of Homo floresiensis, an extinct species of ancient human popularly known as the “Hobbits”. The fossils, which include an adult mandible and several teeth, are the first skeletal remains to be discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores outside of Liang Bua (the cave in which paleoanthropologists discovered the original Hobbit remains).
~ They had tiny brains, much like those of Trump supporters. 

Futurology ~ Rosetta weirder, nanosatellites, Pluto’s weird glow, Musk alien, synthesised human genome, free Chilean solar, origin of dogs

A photo of Pluto revealed an odd glowing patch
A photo of Pluto revealed an odd glowing patch

Rosetta’s comet is even weirder than we thought — If you thought a comet that contains the building blocks of life and creates its own weather couldn’t get any more interesting, think again. Scientists finally have a theory as to why comet 67P — also known as Rosetta’s comet — has two distinct lobes. It’s actually two distinct comets, which break up, orbit one another and smash together again and again for all of cometary eternity. And despite how strange this relationship sounds, it may be a lot more common than we thought.
~ Break up to make up.

Autonomous nano satellites make up their now minds — Nanosatellites are small satellites with sizes ranging from a shoe box to a small suitcase are popular because they are cheap: just some communication gear and a few instruments. Also, they can piggyback onto other space missions. NASA is now preparing to launch in orbit around Mars two CubeSats, small satellites that will piggyback on InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), NASA’s mission to understand the interior structure of Mars, now likely to be launched in 2018.
~ Now we can shotgun hundreds of little satellites instead of putting all the eggs into one basket. 

What is this weird glowing spot hovering over Pluto? Strange, glowing patches over Pluto are actually something else (almost) as mysterious. As researchers looked closer at a photo of sunlight streaming through Pluto’s haze (main picture, above), a question emerged: what’s that weird glowing patch in the upper right hand corner?
~ Researchers now think it’s probably just a cloud reflecting sunlight. Boring.

Elon Musk an alien? It’s easy to get a kick out of Musk’s quirky quotables. But the closer you look at his words and actions, the more you’ll start to see: he’s an alien who came from another galaxy to help save humanity. Here’s proof
~ I think you could level this charge at many public figures. 

Plans to synthesise the human genome — After it was reported three weeks ago that scientists have held a secret meeting to consider creating a synthetic human genome, the participants of that meeting have officially published their plans.
~ This can’t end well. Only the rich can afford it, and they’re ruining everything for the rest of us already. 

Chile giving away free solar energy — Chile’s solar industry has expanded so quickly it’s giving electricity away for free. Spot prices reached zero in parts of the country on 113 days through April, a number that’s on track to beat last year’s total of 192 days, according to Chile’s central grid operator. While that may be good for consumers, it’s bad news for companies that own power plants struggling to generate revenue and developers seeking financing for new facilities.
~ Here’s a thought: give it to struggling families instead of copper miners. 

Exoskin is  a programmable hybrid shape-changing material — Programmable matter isn’t a thing that we have a lot of experience with yet. It’s still very much a technology that’s slowly emerging from research labs. MIT is one of those research centres, and Basheer Tome, a masters student at the MIT Tangible Media Group, has been working on “membrane-backed rigid material,” called Exoskin, made up of tessellated triangles of firm silicone mounted on top of a stack of flexible silicone bladders. By selectively inflating these air bladders, the Exoskin can dynamically change its shape to react to your touch, communicate information, change functionality, and more.
~ Fire up the compressor out, we’re adding an extension!

We were wrong about the origin of dogs — The precise origin of domesticated dogs is mired in controversy. But a new study suggests dogs emerged from two different populations of ancient wolves. What’s more, this dual domestication happened on opposite sides of the Eurasian continent.
~ Meanwhile, humans have evolved to walk behind them picking up their poo.


Futurology ~ Mystery object, Mars tsunamis, Europa, better Aussie solar, chemical weapons, 3D in the air, dirt/paper, IBM beats flash, in-ear translator

Europa’s strange surface (Image:NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)
Europa’s strange surface (Image:NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

Mystery object coming into focus past Pluto — Pluto may be long past, but NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is by no means finished with the outer solar system. For the second time, New Horizons has observed 1994 JR1, a 145km-wide Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) that orbits over 3 billion miles from the sun.
The latest observations, made on April 7th and 8th by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager and composited in the gif at this link, smash the spacecraft’s own record for our closest encounter with a KBO.
~ I have identified it – it’s a blob. 

Mega-tsunamis on Mars — Mars once featured a vast ocean that covered its northern hemisphere. New evidence suggests this Martian sea experienced at least two mega-tsunamis triggered by meteor impacts. Traces of these cataclysmic events can still be seen on the Martian surface, and they could still contain traces of ancient life.
~ It just sounds more and more attractive, doesn’t it?

Jupiter’s Europa more Earth-like — Europa, Jupiter’s watery ice-moon, has long attracted attention as a possible site for someday finding life. A new analysis shows its oceans may be even closer to our own. Oxygen production in both Earth and Europan oceans exceeds hydrogen production by almost exactly 10 times. This similarity in the proportions already has researchers pointing out that it could mean oceans on Europa could play a similar role to Earth’s oceans in spawning life.
~ But colder. 

Australian-invented solar panels most efficient — Most commercially available solar panels only are able to convert between 15 and 22% of the sunlight they’re exposed to into electricity. As part of an ongoing effort to improve the efficiency of increasingly important solar technology, a team from UNSW has created a solar cell module that boasts a world record efficiency rate of 34.5%.
~ The sun shines on Australia.

DARPA’s scheme to destroy chemical weapons — Agnostic Compact Demilitarization of Chemical Agents (or ACDC) yields no toxic waste products, and all of the tools are portable. One of McQuade’s set ups, a waste-to-energy engine, could run its electrical systems entirely off the power generated during combustion.
~ But it’s a long way to the top. 

3D printer works its magic in the air — Lasers and metal were part of 3D printing for decades before the machines became affordable for personal use. But researchers at Harvard are demonstrating a new technique by which 3D metal structures can be printed in midair, without the need for anything supporting them.
~ Magic! Alchemy!

IBM’s new storage is 50 times faster than Flash, and also cheaper — Flash storage is not as fast as RAM; but RAM can’t be used to store your regular files because of its volatile nature – ie that when the powers off it’s no longer holding data – and also RAM is expensive. It appears we may soon have the perfect middle ground: scientists at IBM have demonstrated reliably storing 3 bits of data per cell using a relatively new memory technology known as phase-change memory (PCM).
~ IBM, still in the game. 

A few scraps of paper can turn dirt into a super strong building material — As far as building materials go, they don’t come much cheaper than dirt, which is literally everywhere and mostly free. But soil isn’t terribly strong and has a habit of forming a shallow pile rather than more structurally-beneficial shapes. Luckily, making dirt super strong is incredibly easy.
~ Dirt. Cheap. 

Groundbreaking gadget claims to fit in your ear and translate foreign languages in real-time — A tiny gadget lets two people who speak a different language to each other yet understand each other. The gadget, called Pilot, translates English, French, Spanish and Italian. Pilot, which has yet to be launched, is priced at US$129.
It works by being connected to two different people, speaking two different languages, and translates what they are saying in your ear.But they have not said how it works except for that it uses ‘translation technology’ embedded in an app.
~ Roger, amigo. 

Futurology ~ Kepler’s trove, X-ray Binary neighbours, naked Black Hole, star cluster life, 12-metre wide telescope, future work-drones, Replicants, Kodak Super 8, 1600s anatomy flip-book

NuSTAR picked up over 40 different instances of a mysterious space object called an X-ray binary thanks to its X-ray view
NuSTAR picked up over 40 different instances of a mysterious space object called an X-ray binary thanks to its X-ray view

Kepler finds a trove of planets — At the 227th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, astronomers announced a whopping 234 new exoplanet candidates discovered by Kepler in 2014. The best part? All of them are just tens of light years away.
The deluge of planetary candidates are distributed among 208 star systems, which means we have the honor of welcoming many new multi-planet systems to our cosmic neighborhood.
~ Kepler strove and found a trove.

Closest neighbour galaxy harbours something odd — The Andromeda galaxy, our own Milky Way’s next-door neighbour, just served up the best look we’ve ever managed to get and there’s something very strange hidden in this picture (above).
Taken with NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, an X-Ray telescope designed especially for getting unusually deep-space views – captured over 40 different instances of a mysterious space object called an X-ray binary, which are the results of dead or exploded stars that suck in huge amounts of nearby (living) stars and space debris, while throwing off a steady stream of X-ray radiation..
~ Well, I find all of space odd. 

The Naked Black Hole — Most galaxies have supermassive black holes at their centres surrounded by dense clouds of stars. Now, researchers have found one that seems to have lost almost its entire entourage. The team reported its find at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society. It  says it doesn’t know what stripped the stars away but has put forward a tantalising possibility: The object could be an extremely rare medium-sized black hole, which theorists have predicted but observers have never seen.
~ I predict many more inexplicables that will one dale become explicables.

Life in star clusters … maybe — Globular clusters are ancient, gravitationally-bound regions of space that can pack a whopping million stars per hundred cubic light years. Once thought to be uninhabitable, new research by Rosanne Di Stefano of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Alak Ray of the Tata Institute in Mumbai suggests that globular clusters may, in fact, be the ideal places for advanced civilisations to flourish.
~ I thought the ideal places were ‘anywhere with internet’.

Astronomers want to build a 12-metre wide telescope to find the next Earth — Representatives from the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) shared their hopes and dreams at the American Astronomical Society meeting for the next flagship, space-based observatory —  the successor to the JWST scheduled to launch in 2018 and to run for up to a decade.It wouldn’t  launch until the 2030s, but would seek answers to two profound questions: whether or not we’re alone in the universe and how the building blocks of our universe have evolved over cosmic time.
~ The race is on to find the next ‘Earth’ by the time we’ve totally trashed this one. 

Microsoft, Google, Apple identifying what 1st graders should know  — K12CS.org has announced a New Framework to Define K-12 Computer Science Education, the collaboration of participants from a number of states plus technology companies (Microsoft, Google, Apple) and organisations and individuals want to define what kids should be learning, because …
~ … we’d like to define our future workforces now!

Molecules observed self replicating — Researchers at the University of Groningen (Netherlands) have developed a self-replicating system able to not only pass hereditary information from one generation to another, but also mutate. It is a crucial step towards Darwinian evolution of abiotic species and artificial life.
~ Let’s call them Replicants – after all, Ray Batty just got activated …


Kodak launches film video cameras … really! Kodak chief Jeff Clarke told the Wall Street Journal that film for new ‘Super 8’ cameras will cost $US50 ($71) to $US75 ($106) a cartridge, and the camera itself will set you back $US400 ($567) to $US750 ($1059). After processing, you’ll also have two options for media: either digital copies of your home movies or 8mm film you can put in a projector.

Columbia has digitised a bestselling anatomy flipbook from the 1600s — In 1613 Johann Remmelin published Catoptrum Microcosmicum, which became a best-seller for about 150 years. Columbia University has just published it online. The work, originally in Latin, was translated into several languages and explained the human body using movable flaps to take people down through successive layers.
~ It’s here in all it’s monotone gory glory