Aug 31, 2013

Hubble Captured a Huge, Light-Year-Long Flaming Space Monster

This beautifully bright, light-year-long heap of gas and dust particles was caught by the Hubble telescope hurtling through space on its way to becoming a star some 4,500-odd light years away. And this little cosmic caterpillar-that-could is all the more incredible when you know what it's fighting against.

Located in what's called the Cygnus OB2 association, the pummeling streak of celestial goodness (named IRAS 20324+4057—catchy) is still very much in the process of collection the debris and gas around so that, one day, it can grow up to be a big, strong star—a star potentially 10 times the size of our own sun, at that. Unfortunately for our fetal friend, the other residents of Cygnus OB2 include 65 radiation-blasting, dust-corroding O-type stars, the hottest and brightest stars known to man, in addition to 500 smaller, though also highly luminous B-type stars. These bright stars send out massive amounts of radiation that erodes protostars like the one above and sculpt it into that long, lovely shape.

So once good ol' IRAS 20324+4057 actually does finish forming, there's a decent chance we'll have a light-weight star on our hands. As of now, though, this particular flaming space monster is still very young and could go either way. More here.

Google Bought a Smartwatch Company

According to GigaOM, Google bought WIMM Labs last year to help develop its upcoming Android smartwatch. WIMM Labs was the maker of the WIMM One, a smart watch released a few years ago that ran a modified version of Android.

Makes sense for the company behind Android to snatch up an Android smart watch maker for its own Android smart watch, right? The WIMM One, which was released in late 2011, also had its own micro app store with apps like a calculator, compass, photo gallery and an app that could act as a remote control of sorts for your Android phone. More here.

Aug 29, 2013

This Titanium Watch Can Tell You When It's Losing Accuracy

To watch collectors and aficionados, mechanical movements are particularly desirable since they best represent the fine craftsmanship and precise engineering that has gone into watch and clock making for centuries. But ironically, even with today's technology, mechanical movements don't keep perfect time. They gain and lose seconds as they lose power, soUrwerk has created a watch that's smart enough to know when it's not accurate, letting you make adjustments as needed.

The titanium and steel EMC is a sight to behold, but as usual it's what's inside that will appeal to most collectors. Watchmakers use a tool known as a Witschi that listens to a mechanical watch's internal movements and calculates how much time it gains or loses in 24 hours. And the EMC—or Electro Mechanical Control—has a Witschi built in so at any point the wearer can determine how accurate the piece keeps time.

What's unique about the design is that the EMC's Witschi runs on power that's produced by a tiny hand-cranked generator that folds out from the side of the watch. A few slow cranks generates enough juice for a three-second reading of how the watch's internals are performing, and the results are displayed by a series of gauges on the EMC's face.

If the timing is found to be off, there's a tiny screw on the back of the watch that can be used to adjust its rate so the EMC stays as accurate as possible. At this point Urwerk hasn't disclosed pricing or availability, but the watch is expected to eventually makes its way into the hands of lucky—and presumably very wealthy—collectors in the coming months. More here.

A Laid-Back Lounger That Transforms To Sleep One

They're a cheap and easy way to add some extra sleeping space to your apartment, but futons are a sure sign that you're either in college, just graduated from college, or can't stop reliving college. If you're looking for a slightly more sophisticated way to accommodate guests, like an adult, this incredibly comfy-looking Figo lounger transforms into a bed for one—in style.

You don't even need to sacrifice one of the pillows from your bed, because the Figo has one built-in that doubles as a headrest when it's not prepped for sleeping. At $550 it's nowhere near as cheap as an air mattress, but buying nicer things is all part of that whole growing up thing. More here.

Which Americans Have the Longest Drive to the Grocery Store?

How far away is your nearest grocery store? If you live out west, probably much further than the rest of the country, as shown by this visualization of America's "food deserts," where the closest grocery is miles away.

Flowing Data put together this look at the kind of access Americans have to food, using data from Google Maps. When you look at the map, you see a series of red lines of varying lengths. They start at towns and end at the nearest grocery stores. In places like the population-dense metropolitan area stretching from Washington, D.C. to New York City, where there are grocery stores every couple of blocks, the lines are just about undetectable. However in rural West Texas, where stores are few and far between, the lines resemble miniature explosions.

And long distances to Kroger or Publix seem to be pretty normal for a huge chunk of Americans. Flowing Data shows that for 36 percent of the country, the closest store is more than ten miles away, and the median distance is seven miles. The map looks about like what you'd expect—in rural areas there are fewer stores, whereas in urban areas there are a lot of choices. Of course, easy access to food is an important thing to have. So next time you complain about how hard it is for you to drive five minutes or walk a few blocks to get some milk, think about how the other half lives. More here.

Skype Says It Can Support Holographic Video Calls

For decades, we've been waiting for oh-so-futuristic hologram technology to make the leap from Star Wars movies to our living rooms, and it hasn't. It sounds like it's right around the corner, though, after Skype announced that it had developed 3D video chat technology in the lab.

The Microsoft executive responsible for Skype recently disclosed the milestone in an interview with the BBC, but he did so with a healthy dose of realism. Indeed, Skype is making progress in its stated mission to project a "realistic physical 'body double'" during a Skype call. Despite the fact that many top-of-the-line displays now offer 3D capabilities, however, it will take a few years before Skype can offer the feature to the mass market due to limitations in widely available capturing tools.

"The capture devices are not yet there," Microsoft's corporate vice president for Skype Mark Gillett told the BBC. "As we work with that kind of technology you have to add multiple cameras to your computer, precisely calibrate them and point them at the right angle." He added, "We have it in the lab, we know how to make it work and we're looking at the ecosystem of devices and their capability to support it in order to make a decision when we might think about bringing something like that to market."

Skype isn't the only one working on making holographic video chats a reality. Earlier this year, holographic technology startup Provision 3D Media launched a Kickstarter projectaimed at making the Princess Leia effect a reality for the average consumer. However, after Provision's Kickstarter page got taken down over a copyright dispute, it's become increasingly clear that this might be a job for the pros—more specifically, their deep corporate coffers.

Speed bumps and skepticism aside, all signs point to progress in the realm of futuristic video chats. Researchers recently developed a way to reorient faces in Skype calls so that you're always looking at the camera, and an IBM survey found that most researchers believed the capability for full-on 3D video chats would arrive by 2015. Well, it's already here. The only question now is when Skype will let us have it. More here.

An Intelligent Indoor Grill That Knows Well-Done From Rare

The end of summer usually means the end of grilling and scorched steaks for dinner. But T-fal has come up with a solution to both those problems. Its new OptiGrill can not only be used indoors, all year round, it's also smart enough to let you know when a steak is perfectly done—whether rare, medium, or charred.

So how is the OptiGrill the perfect grillmaster right out of the box when you've been unsuccessfully honing your BBQ skills for years? Well first of all it lets you specify what exact you're grilling, with settings for steak, hamburger, fish, sausages, and more. And that info, combined with a built-in sensor that detects how thick a cut of meat is, allows the grill to report back the level of doneness via a glowing color-changing indicator.

And if you don't feel like standing there and waiting for the grill to do its thing, an audible alarm sounds at each level so you can pull the meat off when it's cooked to your liking. So for $180 when it's available in October, you never need to worry about propane, charcoal, or lumps of black carbon that started life as a juicy steak. More here.

Aug 27, 2013

New Drug Could Save Migraine Sufferers From Horrors of Bright Light

If you've ever had a migraine, you've probably experienced photophobia, the painful sensitivity to light that sends you scurrying, eyes closed, to the darkest dungeon you can find. In that moment, you're probably wishing for a way to (temporarily) unplug your eyeballs and put an end to the agony. Researchers at The Salk Institute could have a potential answer: A compound that switches off light sensitivity without affecting vision.

Scientists have known for a century that the ability to sense light is separate from vision. Blind humans still tend to wake in daylight and sleep at night, and newborn mice scurry away from bright light before their eyes are developed enough to see. This light-sensing mechanism uses melanopsin receptors in the eye, which also control how the pupil reacts to different light levels. Research biologist Dr. Satchin Panda and his team discovered that chemicals called opsinamides could knock out melanopsin's activity, removing the pupil's reaction to bright light, without disturbing vision in mice.

While clinical use is still far off, these light sensitivity blocking compounds could be a boon for migraine sufferers dealing with light sensitivity, as well as night shift workers who have difficulty sleeping when the sun's out. Then again, since we're all messing up our sleep cycles by staring at glowing screens all night and day, maybe this stuff will have a much broader impact. More here.

Aug 26, 2013

Finally, Someone Made a Visor For Your Car's Side Mirrors

Most cars have wipers on the front and back windshields, and some even on the the headlights. But you'll be hard pressed to find a vehicle with wiper blades on the side mirrors which get just as wet and obscured when it's raining. So instead of just crossing your fingers and hoping you're not cutting someone off when switching lanes, try a set of these cheap $9side mirror visors to keep them dry.

They're flexible enough to conform to the shape and contours of most mirrors, and they attach with a simple strip of 3M adhesive so you can easily apply them in a parking lot, even from the inside of your vehicle. There's no tools or custom installation required, just a basic level of hand-eye coordination. More here.

An LED Lamp That Recognizes Your Gestures: No Jedi Powers Required

Good news Star Wars fans. The automatic sliding doors at the grocery store are no longer your only opportunity to experience what life as a Jedi must be like. Dresden, Germany-based design shop Dreiplus has a new under-the-cabinet lamp called the AREA that lets you selectively illuminate and extinguish its LEDs with just a wave of your fingers. Who's living in a fantasy world now?

The long strip of LEDs can be individually activated depending on how much illumination you need, or you can just easily wave your hand along its length to activate them all. Their warm white glow is energy efficient, and for those times when you want a secret midnight snack without waking anyone up, you can just turn on a single dot of light. After all, your make-believe Jedi powers only work on lamps, not memories. More here.

This Database Lets You 3D Print and Explore Thousands of Fossils

Fossils are three-dimensional objects, but you aren't really supposed to touch them, and you can't see their depth and detail very easily over the internet. But a new database of fossilsfrom the British Geological Survey actually has the necessary files for you to 3D print fossils yourself.

The searchable database has thousands of images of fossils you can zoom in on, rotate, and interact with on your screen. And you can bring these old bones and artifacts into the physical realm too, thanks to downloadable .ply and .obj files you can use to 3D print them. You can search by period of time, type of fossil, species, genus, etc. to find all kinds of fossils. For example, here's a Pectinatites (a type of mollusk). And here's an interactive trilobite.

The British Geological Survey has an estimated three million specimens in its collection, so they haven't all made it online yet. But the group is adding more images every day, so if you don't see what you're looking for, be patient. This is great for anyone who's ever had trouble in the self-control department when it comes to touching things in a museum. Besides, it's not like they're ever going to get around putting all three million fossils on display. At least, though, you can 3D print the ones you want to know more about from your own computer and 3D printer. More here.

Aug 25, 2013

The First Antarctic Sunrise After Months of Night Is Breathtaking

The sun just rose in Antarctica. And that's kind of a big deal since it set back in May. It's beautiful, sure, but it must also be a huge relief.

The photo comes by way of the European Space Agency, and features the Antarctic base Concordia. During that long, –112°F winter, its inhabitants are totally isolated. There are no supplies delivered, and there's no way to leave. It's like a alien planet but on Earth, which is why scientists from France and Italy are using it to test the stresses of interplanetary travel.

Now, with the sun up, it's just a little bit more like being back on the good old blue planet. And sunrise is like that is sure to warm your heart, even if everything else is still pretty cold. More here.

Glow-in-the-Dark Snails Make Boring Research Beautiful

A group of researchers from the ecology department at the U.K.'s University of Exeter have been spending time studying how snails transmit a parasite called lungworm to dogs in Great Britain. Ah, my god, how boring. But they made something beautiful out of the project when they attached LEDs to the slow-moving slugs to track their movements at night.
Watching snails crawling around a British garden at night sounds like the most mind numbing take on a rave ever. Until you throw in a little neon and some video editing.

The research is actually pretty important because lungworm is potentially fatal to dogs. It's not very clear how dogs contract lungworm in the first place, but it is certain they catch it from snails. So we we know a little bit more about what snails are up to (how hard can it be? They're slow ass snails!), we could save our pup pals from an awful ailment, and see something really lovely. More here.

Aug 23, 2013

Why Your Next Smartphone Might Be Full of Wax

It might not just be your ears that are stuffed with wax for long—because researchers from the University of Michigan want to pack your phone full of the stuff, too.

In the process of trying to make processors more efficient, they've hit on an intriguing idea:cover the chip in a mesh of wax which, when the processor is pushed, can melt and absorb some of that excess heat. It may sounds kinda bonkers, but the researchers believe it should allow chip manufacturers to run mobile processors faster, for longer.

Currently mobile chips tend to use a sub-set of their transistors most of the time to avoid overheating, just using a small central CPU most of the time and farming out other tasks to more specific processing units when they need to. The wax idea could provide a way of using more transistors, more of the time—and hopefully provide a massive speed bump, too.

The idea of "computational sprinting"—making use of all those transistors at once—has been floated for a few years, and the wax idea could make it a reality in mobile situations. In fact, the researchers believe they could run a chip at upto 100 watts for a short period, as long as their wax cooling system was their to absorb the heat.

Of course, it only buys short snatches of high performance: once the wax melts, its cooling efficiency is lost, and it needs to solidify again before the next sprint. But, hey, maybe that's enough. More here.

Simple Optics Make This Clever Mirror Much Easier to Share

If everyone in your home is constantly jockeying for position at the bathroom mirror as they get ready for the day, you might want to consider an upgrade to this clever alternative dubbed the mirror #180 by its creators at halb/halb. What makes it special is a split down the middle with each side angled slightly away from each other, giving two people standing next to each other private views of their own reflections.

The mirror's as clever as it is simple, which is great because it also comes with a hefty $280price tag. So find yourself a glass cutter, a strip of wood for mounting at the proper angle, and perform the same upgrade on the mirror you've already got in your bathroom. More here.

A USB-Powered BB Sniper Rifle Keeps All Work Distractions At Bay

With this USB-powered desktop sniper rifle you'll never miss another deadline again because of idle chit-chat and other distractions from your co-workers. Ideal for cubicle-type setups where you're protected on three sides, this tiny gun fires plastic BBs perfect for annoying, harassing, or intimidating your office neighbors.

The sniper rifle is powered and aimed via a USB connection to your computer, and it comes equipped with a small camera above the barrel letting you see your targets on-screen instead of having to get up and expose yourself to retaliation. And despite what appears to be a fairly awkward on-screen UI and minimal power, at $100 it's worth every last penny if it ensures your co-workers are too scared to come by and sing Happy Birthday every year. More here.

Aug 22, 2013

Is This the Gold iPhone 5S?

With all this talk of a golden iPhone you may have been expecting something terribly bling. But this leaked image, published by Japanese website Weekly Ascii, claims to show off the new "champagne" iPhone and it... it doesn’t look that bad.

As ever, the usual rumour disclaimer applies: take with a massive pinch of salt until Tim Cook pulls this one out of his pocket. But in its favor, the claimed leak comes from a Japanese site via serial iPhone leaker Sonny Dickson, and it looks kinda legit. The images certainly tally with previous iPhone 5S leaks. Maybe a golden iPhone 5S does make sense after all. More here.

Aug 21, 2013

A Soft Squishy Lamp You Can Cram Anywhere

No one wants to be told what they can and cannot do in their home, even when it comes to lamps. So someone has finally found a way to stick it to 'big lighting' with a lamp that you can install almost anywhere. Our deliverer of illumination freedom is an artist named Simon Frambach who created the Soft Light from squishy polyurethane foam, allowing you to cram and squeeze it into any spot.

It's sadly not for sale, at least yet, and that's either because Frambach created it as a one-off piece of art, or because the giants of the lighting industry—GE, Sylvania, etc.—have stymied his commercial dreams. Either way, it's a humorous take on the bedside lamp since you can use it as both an actual pillow and the ultimate night time reading lamp. More here.

Aug 20, 2013

Turn Your Bike Into a Cargo-Hauler In Minutes With This Clever Fork

The traditional handlebar bike basket can only carry so much, and while panniers over each tire can boost your bicycle's cargo capacity, they're useless for toting larger packages. What you really need to turn your bike into a capable hauler is the Spanish-designed Noomad which replaces your front wheel and fork with a pair of tilting wheels supporting a carrying platform.

Installation is fairly straightforward if you're already familiar with tinkering on your bike, and since removing the front fork also means you're down one set of brakes, the Noomad comes with its own including a lever that easily attaches to your handlebars. And since both wheels tilt as you lean into corners, it shouldn't take too long to get comfortable riding with the Noomad attached.

You're also not limited to just carrying boxes or suitcases. The Noomad kit—which starts at around $600—includes several mounting options meaning you could even toss a child seat on the front as well. Or just don't bother with cargo at all. The pair of wheels up front makes it easier for someone who never really learned to balance to enjoy a bike ride. More here.

Anti-Wrinkle Cream Might Be the Key to Treating Parkinson's Disease

A new study suggests that kinetin, a chemical frequently used in anti-aging creams, could be used to develop a treatment for Parkinson's Disease. Forget regenerating your youthful skin—this chemical could be used to reverse the cell-death that causes, the deadly disorder which afflicts more than a half-million people in the United States.

According to the study published Cell, researchers used kinetin to boost the activity of an enzyme called PINK1. This enzyme has been linked to brain cell death in patients with early-onset Parkinson's, and specifically, with the disorder's hallmark symptoms.

To simplify things a bit, overwhelming evidence shows that Parkinson's is at least partially caused by a mutation in PINK1, which causes the enzyme to malfunction. This malfunction, in turn, affects the cell's mitochondria, organelles which turn the energy you eat into the energy that powers your cells. From there everything goes to hell, according to UCSF, which had a scientist on the study:
In Parkinson’s disease, poorly performing mitochondria have been associated with the death of dopamine-producing nerve cells in a region of the brain called the substantia nigra, which plays a major role in control of movement. Loss of these cells is a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease and the cause of prominent symptoms including rigidity and tremor.
The study was the first to show that kinetin could be used to boost PINK1 activity to near-normal levels. To keep an EXTREMELY long explanation short, kinetin (In a slightly different form) can be used as replacement for one of the chemicals PINK1 usually works with. If you go back to your high-school biology, you'll remember that enzymes are molecules, which serve as catalysts for chemical reactions inside cells. kinetin can speed up the process, so that a cell with mutated enzymes can actually work at normal levels. (We can go into more detail in the Kinja below, if you like. I'd love to hear from some biologists!)

That's all that's all a mouthful, but what's important is that scientists have figured out how to make one of the enzymes that breaks and causes Parkinson's Disease work like it should. This is isn't a treatment yet, but it certainly is an encouraging first step firmly planted on solid science. More here.

A Tiny Flexible Tripod For Perching Your Smartphone Anywhere

No one makes a more flexible, more adaptable, more articulated camera tripod than Joby with its Gorillapod line. But the latest addition, the incredibly compact MPod Mini, is actually specifically designed to hold your smartphone for hands-free skyping, movie watching, reading, or other prolonged activities.

The MPod Mini's stubbier legs means you can't quite wrap them around everything, but it still shines on uneven surfaces where it lets you position your device perfectly level at the optimal viewing angle. And what's particularly great about the MPod Mini is the rubber jaws and flexible elastic strap it uses to hold almost any phone securely in place. It's also just $15, which is loads cheaper than hiring a small child to hold your phone for hours on end.  More here.

Aug 17, 2013

A Beautiful Analog Clock for Dummies Who Are Bad at Telling Time

I have a confession to make, and I'm sure I'm not alone: I'm really bad at reading analog clocks. I learned how to when I was a kid, but some 15 years of digital crutches in between has made reading old-school clocks kind of a drag. You too? Well here's a clock for the both of us.

Created by industrial designer Sabrina Fossi, the "FreakishCLOCK" conveniently has but one hand. And while that traditional red stick traces progress through any given hour, a slotted cover turns behind it, blocking everything but the current hour. Who can't handle one hand and one number, right? Yeah, maybe you can't read the exact minutes but who cares. Quarter-hours are close enough.

Aside from the comparative ease of use—which you may or may not need—the FreakishCLOCK is also prettily simple. It's almost like one of those fancy minimalist clocks with no numbers on it, except it lends a helping hand. The clock is available for about $100on Fossi's website and comes in six different flavors. More here.

Aug 15, 2013

Your Smartphone Can Now Be Your Eye Doctor

It was only a matter of time before smartphones made the transition from communication device to full blown Star Trek tricorder. And with the development of Peek (an acronym for Portable Eye Examination Kit), that transition is nearly complete.

Peek is a project spearheaded by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in partnership with several other medical organizations that hopes to bring better medical care to the third world. It's currently being tested on 5,o00 people in Kenya who might not otherwise have access to an eye doctor, and it's damn close to providing all of the same service. The app uses the smartphone's camera to scan the eye for cataracts and activates the camera flash to scan the back of the eye for disease. It also employs a shrinking letter on the screen to conduct eye exams in the field. Examiners keep track of the patients by storing their records on the phone, where the GPS chip also logs their location.

The product is still in the trial stages, but things look promising. The research team says that results of an on-going study on the efficacy of Peek's eye test have been encouraging, and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness calls the app "a huge game changer." You can try it yourself by contacting the Peek team directly. Or if you're really interested you could probably join the small army they hope to deploy around the developing world.

The smartphone-driven medicine doesn't stop with the eyes, though. In recent years, we've seen apps come out that can do everything from scan your body for skin cancer to monitor your heart rate to check your ears for infections. Don't get carried away. Even though your phone now does a lot of things that your doctor does, your phone is not your doctor. But in many parts of the world, it's the next-best thing. More here.

Aug 14, 2013

This Could Be a Yellow iPhone 5c Next to an iPhone 5

The video is further pushing the rumors that the next-gen iPhone might come in all colors of the rainbow, showing a yellow back. Compared with earlier iPhones, the housing of the new device is a little bit taller and very slightly thicker. It looks to have the same lightning connector, but for the most part it has a similar design to the iPhone 5. More here.

An Amazingly Simple Way To Test If a Battery Is Dead

It turns out that when the alkaline in a battery wears down, it produces a gas that fills the inside. So if you've got a box of random batteries you want to test, and don't have access to a voltmeter or any other device, you can simply drop them vertically a short distance onto a hard surface. A charged battery will make a solid thump sound and often remain standing, while a dead battery makes a muffled sound, bounces repeatedly, and then topples over.

What could be easier? (That doesn't involve your tongue or mild electric shocks.)

These 3D-Printed Titanium Watches Will Probably Outlive You

Titanium is one of those rare wonder materials that sounds like it could only exist in the movies as a fanciful plot device. It's real, though, and stronger and lighter than steel, which makes it a little tricky to work with. That is, unless you grind it into a powder and recombobulate it into any shape you want with a 3D laser printer—like the folks at rvnDSGN did for this lovely collection of titanium wristpieces.

Using a 3D printing process called laser sintering where the layers of titanium dust are burned into place and built up into a detailed shape over time, the tick marks indicating the minutes and seconds on these pieces are built into the actual case. Elsewhere you'll find a Swiss ETA 980.106 movement keeping time behind the scenes, a similarly durable sapphire crystal lens, and a one piece leather strap keeping it tethered to your wrist.

Not surprisingly, the watches will set you back just shy of $600, but if titanium is really as strong and durable as it's claimed to be, this might be passed down in your family for years to come. More here.

Aug 13, 2013

There are almost as many external battery pack options for your smartphone as there are cases, and given the multitude of options there are probably two important factors to seriously consider: capacity and design. And a leading contender for both these considerations is the new Jackery Air. The battery measures in at just slightly thicker than the iPhone 5, but its contoured housing and similary-sized dimensions means it can slip in your pocket as easily as your phone. And while the Jackery Air's 5600mAh isn't the largest you can buy, it's certainly capacious enough given the back battery's slim form factor. Charging it from dead takes about six hours, but it promises to then boost the battery life of your iPhone or smartphone up to 200 percent and it can be used with larger devices like iPads and other tablets. It's on sale now for $80 for a limited time, making it a pretty reasonable way to never have to deal with a low battery warning ever again.

There are almost as many external battery pack options for your smartphone as there are cases, and given the multitude of options there are probably two important factors to seriously consider: capacity and design. And a leading contender for both these considerations is the new Jackery Air.

The battery measures in at just slightly thicker than the iPhone 5, but its contoured housing and similary-sized dimensions means it can slip in your pocket as easily as your phone. And while the Jackery Air's 5600mAh isn't the largest you can buy, it's certainly capacious enough given the back battery's slim form factor.

Charging it from dead takes about six hours, but it promises to then boost the battery life of your iPhone or smartphone up to 200 percent and it can be used with larger devices like iPads and other tablets. It's on sale now for $80 for a limited time, making it a pretty reasonable way to never have to deal with a low battery warning ever again. More here.

Optically Levitated, Glowing Diamond Particles

See that tiny green pinprick of light? That's a speck of diamond dust trapped in the grip of a laser beam. And with its help, researchers hope to better understand the border-world between macro and quantum physics.

The team, led by University of Rochester assistant professor of optics, Nick Vamivakas, has submitted a paper for publication to the journal Optics Letters describing how they were able to successfully capture, levitate, and hold diamond nanoparticles as small as 100 nm indefinitely as well as incite the crystals to emit photons at varying wavelengths.

Researchers used laser trapping techniques wherein a highly concentrated laser beam exerts an attractive or repulsive force against a dielectric nanoparticle. And while science has been using so-called optical tweezers for some time, this is the first experiment to successfully pick up diamonds. And according to the U of Rochester press release:
The light emitted by the nanodiamonds is due to photoluminescence. The defects inside the nanodiamonds absorb photons from the second laser – not the one that is trapping the diamonds – which excites the system and changes the spin. The system then relaxes and other photons are emitted. This process is also known as optical pumping.
Getting the diamonds into position was no easy feat. The team had to spray an aerosolized nanodiamond dust solution into a 10-inch cubic box housing the lasers. Some of the nanodiamonds are attracted to the beam and will eventually become trapped though as graduate student Levi Neukirch explains: "it takes a couple of squirts and in a few minutes we have a trapped nanodiamond; other times I can be here for half an hour before any diamond gets caught. Once a diamond wanders into the trap we can hold it for hours."

Building upon this success, Vamivakas' team hopes to apply the technology towards nano sensory equipment that may help science explain some of physic's most fundamental conundrums. More here.

Aug 12, 2013

Kim Dotcom Is Creating a 'Cutting Edge' Encrypted Email Service

According to RT, the man behind Mega plans to start running a "highly-secure email service to run on a non-US-based server." In a blog post, Mega’s Chief Executive Vikram Kumar explained the thinking behind the new initiative:
“These [recent closures] are acts of ‘Privacy Seppuku’ – honorably and publicly shutting down (“suicide”) rather than being forced to comply with laws and courts intent on violating people’s privacy.”
So, apparently Mega is working on an email system with an "exceptional level of encryption," a project which is “exciting” but “very hard.” He explains:
“The biggest tech hurdle is providing email functionality that people expect, such as searching emails, that are trivial to provide if emails are stored in plain text (or available in plain text) on the server side. If all the server can see is encrypted text, as is the case with true end-to-end encryption, then all the functionality has to be built client side... On this and other fronts, Mega is doing some hugely cutting-edge stuff. There is probably no one in the world who takes the Mega approach of making true crypto work for the masses, our core proposition."
For his part, Dotcom insists that Mega never holds any decryption keys so customer email can never be read, even if someone wants it to be. Looks like secure email might not be dead just yet. More here.

45 Seconds Is All This Kettle Needs To Boil Water

When the craving for Ramen noodles hits, no one wants to have to wait for minutes on end before they can enjoy a bowl of salty goodness. So Tiger, maker of some of the most advanced rice cookers on the planet, has used its expertise in heating things up to create a steam-free kettle that can boil a cup of water in just 45 seconds. That's even faster than a microwave.

The secret to the kettle's high-speed boiling capabilities is a re-designed heating element inside, as well as a steamless design that traps water vapor before it can escape, condensing it back into droplets of hot water to further the heating process. And since the kettle produces piping hot water in less than a minute, it also means it's more energy efficient than other models using about 22 percent less power to boil a cup of water.

The only downside? A $130 price tag when the kettle's available starting in December. Like with most things in life, if you want it fast you'll have to pay a premium, but in this instance it may be worth it for a pot that actually does boil when you watch it. More here.

Brain Teaser Table Is More Complicated Than Ikea, But Also More Fun

Do you like a challenge when it comes to assembling flat-pack furniture? And we're not talking about deciphering the illustrations and hieroglyphs in an Ikea manual. We mean real Mensa-level stuff. If blank crossword puzzles and unsolved Sudoku grids get you really excited, you'll love the incredibly complicated furniture from Bulgaria's Praktrik.

One of its most challenging pieces is this coffee table/stool simply called the 4x6. Inspired by what's known as a Burr Puzzle, it comes as a collection of 24 pieces that requires a very specific methodology to assemble. Do it wrong, and you'll be spending hours on end trying to figure it out. But that's all part of the fun, right? More here.

Aug 11, 2013

This Stunning Spiral Galaxy Is Out There Right Now

M74 is an Sc galaxy, meaning that it has "loosely wound spiral arms, clearly resolved into individual stellar clusters and nebulae." This image was created with data recorded in 2003 and 2005 by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, and depicts the galaxy in all its 30,000 light-years-across glory. A major component of the data is hydrogen emissions, which create the patches of red glow. It's kind of hard to contextualize or grasp, but M74 is really out in the universe right now, just chillin'. More here.

Aug 10, 2013

The Pirate Bay Celebrates 10 Years With a New Blockade-Busting Browser

File sharing site The Pirate Bay set sail ten years ago. While the site and its founders have had plenty of legal trouble along the way, like Keith Richards, they refuse to abandon ship. They're marking a decade of file plundering with a typically typo-laden decree and a new way to circumnavigate torrent blockades.

On their blog, TPB marked the occasion by reassuring fans that they aren't going anywhere:
Oh look, we made it.
A decade of agression, repression and lulz.
We really didn't think we'd make it this far. Not because of cops, mafiaa or corrupt politicians. But because we thought that we'd eventually be to old for this shit. But hey, running this ship makes us feel young.
And we're gonna stay young til we die.
They also unveiled a new browser (well, a souped-up version of Firefox for Windows) that promises to bust any torrent-blocking shenanigans your ISP might attempt. While PirateBrowser utilizes some Tor functions, it doesn't make browsing anonymous the way Tor does. Still, if you were looking for a fitting way to celebrate ten years of information freedom, opening up PirateBrowser and torrenting a few files would seem appropriate. More here.

Aug 9, 2013

This Is What an Undersea Data Cable Actually Looks Like

When they're not being tapped by the NSA or severed by criminals, undersea cables have to cope with some pretty traumatic conditions. High pressure salt water isn't the friend of any communication link, and that's before you even think about geological shifts and other undersea activity.

So the deep-sea lines that let you watch cat videos from the other side of the world are heavily reinforced to ensure that internet outages are the exception rather than the rule. Essentially that means a lot of steel reinforcing, a whole heap of polymer shrouding, and a dash of copper shielding. Get through all of that and lurking there, just in the middle, are a few precious glass fibers that carry your data.

It might seem like overkill, but it really is worth it: When one was damaged in Myanmar earlier this year, the country's bandwidth instantly plummeted. More here.

Aug 8, 2013

Scientists Have Created a Malaria Vaccine That's 100% Effective

For the first time in history, scientists have completed successful human trials of a malaria vaccine that provides 100% protection against the often fatal disease.

Currently, we have no truly effective method of protecting against malaria. Even the World Health Organization had only set their sights on a vaccine with an 80% efficacy rate—and they weren't planning to have that until 2025. Because before today, according to Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, "we have not even gotten anywhere near that level of efficacy." But this newest incarnation has surpassed everything we thought possible.

Called PfSPZ, the vaccine is made from weakened sporozoites (SPZ), the form of the malarial parasitePlasmodium falciparum (Pf) when it's in its initial infectious state. Even though the parasite is weakened, it's in its whole form, thus invoking an immune response. The six human subjects that were given five intravenous doses of PfSPZ were 100% protected when they were later bitten by infectious mosquitoes—five of the six unvaccinated control participants and three of the nine people only given four doses went on to develop malaria.

Previously, most of the malaria vaccines being experimented with only used a few of the parasite's proteins. Stephen Hoffman, head of the Maryland developing firm Sanaria, decided to test a vaccine using the whole sporozoite after researching past experiments going back to the 1970s in which strong, long-lived protection from malaria resulted from volunteers being exposed to thousands of bites from irradiated infected mosquitoes. Stefan Kappe, a malaria researcher at the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute in Washington, tells Nature:
The trial results constitute the most important advance in malaria vaccine development since the first demonstration of protection with radiation attenuated sporozoite immunization by mosquito bite in the 70s. This is a pivotal success.

But part of the reason it's taken so long to get to this point is that the process of actually making the vaccine is incredibly difficult and complex. First Sanaria had to raise mosquitoes in sterile conditions "on an industrial scale." He would feed them blood that had been infected with the malaria parasite and then exposed to radiation to so that the parasite would weaken. That way, the body would recognize its presence without being infected with the actual disease.

Next, billions of these parasites were harvested from the mosquitoes' salivary glands, purified, and cryopreserved. And while all this was happening, most researchers in the field were expecting him to fail. They didn't think it would be possible to mass-produce this parasite in a way that passed the highly strict quality and safety standards that human medicine must undergo. And now, as Fauci mentioned to Nature,"To my amazement, Hoffman did it."

Now, the trial is going to need to be repeated and over a much wider range of participants in the regions where malaria is most rampant. This way, scientists will be able to determine if it's actually effective against strains different from that used in the vaccine, as well as how its effects might vary according to age, gender, etc. From what we've seen so far, though, we have every reason to hope that we may be on our way to making malaria a thing of the past. More here.

The Kindle Fire HD Is Cheaper Than It's Ever Been

In case you haven't noticed yet, Amazon's been hitting its Kindle Fire HD 7-inch with sale after sale, and right now, you can pick one up for the lowest price ever in its relatively short history—a cool $160 compared to the usual $200.

The sale's being offered for a limited time only, so if you've been making plans to get one for yourself, now's the time. Especially since all these sales would seem to hint at a good ol' fashioned inventory exodus. Amazon's inevitably going to unveil a new line of Kindles in a few months, so it's going to need to clear out the last of the Kindle Fire HDs one way or another.

Of course, you could always wait and hope that they're going to go even lower, but with how cheap these things are now, if you're serious, might not want to risk it. More here.

Groundbreaking New Particle Could Make Hard Drives 20 Times Smaller

There are many reasons why we still have size limitations on technology, but when it comes to data storage, one thing really stands out. You can only squeeze particles so close together before they start bumping into each other and screwing up the data. That's all about to change.

Scientists have finally created a long-theorized particle called the skyrmion. The best way to imagine a skyrmion is to think of a magnetic field that resembles a twisted vortex of atoms. In a normal particle, the charges of the atoms all line up in the same direction, but in a skyrmion, they're arranged in these little twister shapes that also happen to be quite stable. You can move them around and shake them up, but they won't come untwisted.

This is where they come in handy for data storage. Information is burned onto a hard disk by turning the magnetic north poles of normal clusters of atoms up or down to denote a "one" or a "zero," a digital bit. But if you push these particles too closely together, the magnetic fields begin to interfere with each other and scramble the data. This doesn't happen with skyrmions. Because of that unique vortex shape, you can squeeze the particles super close together, and the magnetic state of each bit will remain stable.

The really exciting news is that scientists think that they can make devices like optical hard drives up to 20 percent smaller using this technique. The bad news is that we're a ways away from making such devices. The idea of skyrmions has been around since the 1960s, but only in this latest study have scientists proven that they were able to actually use them to write data. Even then, they were only able to do it about 60 percent of the time.

But you know what? We used to burn data onto CDs that used to skip, like, 80 percent of the time, and look at us now. You probably can't even remember the last time you heard something skip. More here.

Aug 7, 2013

Facebook Is Getting Trending Topics

Want some Twitter in your Facebook? No? Too bad. According to a report by All Things D, Facebook is getting trending topics and they're rolling out today. Oh, and yes, they are literally going to be called "Trending Topics."

The new feature will take the form of a banner on the mobile site that displays across the top of a user's newsfeed, displaying information that the unwashed Facebook-masses are keen to chat about, whether or not they are friends of the user. If they click it, they'll see how their own personal friends are reacting to the trend, but they'll see content from a bunch of total strangers too.  More here.

Aug 6, 2013

Latest Trailer for Jobs Is Eminently Watchable

Why read the Steve Jobs biography when you can just watch Ashton Kutcher play the part in the new trailer for Jobs?

From that memorable moment when the founder himself switches on the very first Apple I to that sort of creepy bit towards the end when he's bearded and grey, you pretty much get the man's whole life story in 90 seconds. And 90 completely captivating seconds, they are.

Aug 5, 2013

The First 3D Printed Rifle Now Fires Multiple Rounds Without Breaking

The Canadian sucessor to the Liberator's attempt at bringing plastic firearms to the masses has apparently just gotten one step closer to his goal. After firing one semi-successful, barrel-cracking shot from his newly designed 3D-printed rifle, the Grizzly, a YouTube user going only by "Matthew" was able to fire a full 14 shots before the gun gave way. More here.

Aug 4, 2013

Refoldable Cardboard Furniture Makes It Cheap And Easy To Mosey On

When you're moving and you have a lot of IKEA furniture, you know what you should do. You should take it apart, transport it and then put it back together on the other end. You know this. You consider this. And then you create a last minute flash sale on Craig's List, get whatever money you can from all that MALM, and re-buy down the line. Chairigami is trying to end this cycle.

Founded by Zach Rotholz, Chairigami produces furniture made entirely out of triple-wall cardboard that is easy to unpack and repack. Flat. The company grew out of Rotholz's senior project at Yale, and started on $5,000 he had saved from his bar mitzvah. After all, seed funding is the whole reason to come of age.RELATED

Currently Chairigami is working on large orders, including one for 2,000 stools for summer camps. And Chairigami isn't the only company that makes cardboard furniture, but it's one of the first in the U.S.. Shelving starts at $65 and the couch is $100. More here.

Aug 3, 2013

Disposable Spy Computers Are Disturbingly Easy and Cheap to Make

Be honest, how often do you use unsecured Wi-Fi for something you shouldn't? You know, just a quick Facebook login at Starbucks. If you've done it even once, that's too much, because making a secret spy computer that can steal all that data is dumb easy. And cheap to boot.RELATED

Brendan O’Connor, security researcher, founder of the consulting firm Malice Afterthought, and mind behind the F-BOMB, has been showing off his newest toy at DEF CON. It's called creepyDOL, and it's like a budget PRISM-box for DIY hackers.

With a $25 Raspberry Pi and a handful of adapters—including Wi-Fi—each creepyDOL box costs a mere $57 in parts, and is worth its weight in stolen data. But the really scary stuff is what O'Connor can rig up the units to do as a network once they've got enough data to identify your specific gadgets.

The New York Times explains some of the creepy possibilities:
You could spy on your ex-lover, by placing the sensor boxes near the places the person frequents, or your teenage child, or the residents of a particular neighborhood. You could keep tabs on people who gather at a certain house of worship or take part in a protest demonstration in a town square. Their phones and tablets, Mr. O’Connor argued, would surely leak some information about them – and certainly if they then connected to an unsecured Wi-Fi. The boxes are small enough to be tucked under a cafe table or dropped from a hobby drone. They can be scattered around a city and go unnoticed.
Granted, O'Connor isn't doing any of this stuff, but if he could, so could just about anyone else. This kind of surveillance preys on insecurity that's pretty inherent to digital world as it is today, so it's hard to hide from. You can read more about O'Connors little toy over at The Times. And you thought it was enough to just worry about the NSA. More here.

Aug 2, 2013

Earth Is Just a Pale Blue Dot From Saturn

The image above is what Earth looks like from Saturn, a stunning reminder from NASA's Cassini spacecraft that we're nothing but a small speck of dust. All respect to Carl Sagan, but it's definitely hard sometimes to tell a dot from a pixel. And maybe that's even more to the point. More here.

People Are Literally Getting Palm Line Surgery for Better Fortunes

There's fate, and then there's science. But sometimes—just sometimes—the two will join in an unholy union, spawning a monster bearing the worst qualities of both. And that is where cosmetic, surgical palm line adjustment comes in. Because occasionally destiny needs a little shove in the right direction. With a scalpel.

In Japan, palm reading is still one of the most prominent methods of predicting the future. But this isn't the dark ages any more, and what with the iPhones and the virtual reality and the immediate access to hot singles in your area, we have the technology now to do practically anything. So naturally, one woman figured if you want to change your future (and your palm lines determine that future) might as well take it straight to the source.

She went to plastic surgeon Takaaki Matsuoka, who after reading about a similar surgery being done in Korea, decided to go with an electric scalpel. And as Matsuoka told the Daily Beast, this is far from hocus pocus kind of stuff:
If you try to create a palm line with a laser, it heals, and it won’t leave a clear mark. You have to use the electric scalpel and make a shaky incision on purpose, because palm lines are never completely straight. If you don’t burn the skin and just use a plain scalpel, the lines don’t form. It’s not a difficult surgery, but it has to be done right.
As for whether or not it works, Matsuoka is a bit less certain, noting that "it's not like the palm lines are really written in stone... They do change with time." Yeah, especially when you take a searing hot knife to your hand.

So far no analysis has been done on its effectiveness, but Matsuoka believes any success can probably be chalked up to the placebo effect. You'll never really know unless you find out for yourself, though, and a brand new future can be yours for the low, one-time payment of $1,000. More here.

Aug 1, 2013

Apple's Shiny New Chipmaker Could Give It a Major Battery Boost

Apple's just acquired Passif, a wireless chipmaker that specializes in making tiny chips that require very low amounts of energy. The deal, it seems, happened sometime in the last few months, reports Jessica Lessin.

What's that mean for Apple? Well, it could indicate that Apple is, in fact, making some type of wearable device. Or, it just means that future versions of its own Ax chips will be even more energy efficient. Battery technology clearly stinks these days and mobile devices are only going to require even more battery power. If the rumors of a wearable from Apple are true, then this shows just how serious the company is about entering the wearables market.

This marks the fourth acquisition for Apple in recent weeks. Last month it was announced that Apple had acquired both HopStop and Locationary to boost its mapping efforts. And in March Apple acquired WifiSLAM, a company that specializes in indoor location mapping via Wi-Fi signals. More here.

Apple Has Fixed the Number 1 in iOS 7's Calendar

Rejoice, humans of the Earth, for the ugly off-center 1 in Apple iOS 7's Calendar app icon has been at last, FIXED! It took almost two entire years of design rants after every update, but someone in Cupertino has at last listened and corrected what was a horrible design decision made by someone else who is no longer in Cupertino. iOS 7 beta 4 has a perfectly centered 1.