Jul 31, 2013

The Insides of Meteorites Are Nature's Stained Glass

On the outside meteorites look like volcanic rocks. But astronomy photographer Jeff Bartoncracks them open to reveal the glittering geodes inside.

Barton—who is the director of Sciences at Cowell, Texas's Three Rivers Foundation—calls the innards of space debris "natural stained glass." He's been collecting these gems since 2004. The photos from this set are from the Allende Meteorites, which rained on the Mexican state of Chihuahua in 1969.

To capture the stunning shots of meteorite guts, Barton cuts the rocks open with a rock saw with a diamond-coated blade. He'll then grind down a stamp-sized piece so thin light can pass through it, like sun through the windows of a cathedral. Photos are subsequently taken with polarizing filters and a DSLR attached to a petrographic microscope. Aren't they just beautiful? I wish I could wear one on a necklace. More here.

Jul 30, 2013

Commercial Drones Are Now Approved for Aerial Surveillance

Creepy drone spying is no longer just the purview of the military in the United States. The Federal Aviation Administration recently cleared two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for commercial use surveilling the Alaskan coast, marking a sharp turn for the future of domestic drone use.

One of the drones, an Insitu Scan Eagle 200, will be used by a "major energy company" for monitoring migrating whales and icebergs off the Alaskan coast, while the other one, an AeroVironment PUMA, will monitor oil spills up in the Beaufort Sea. These are the first of what will surely be a significant number of commercial drones use for aerial surveillance around the country.

The arrival of certified commercial surveillance drones comes as a first step to measures in the FAA Reauthorization Act that President Obama renewed last year calling for new regulations to govern the use of commercial drones by 2015. Until now, drones could only fly with an experimental airworthiness and not for commercial purposes. Although that didn't stop photographers or journalists from using the machines for specialized purposes. Itdid kickstart an entire industry of commercial drone manufacturing to make sure there are UAVs ready for purchase when the FAA gives the go ahead. More here.

This Fixie Uses Two Frames to Make One Bike

This incredible looking bicycle, known as Viks, is a fixed-gear commuter bike with a twist: it actually uses two identically shaped frames to form its body.

Made from sweeping tubes of stainless steel, the two frames flank the wheels and come together at the bottom bracket and head tube to create what—from the side (see below)—looks like a (relatively) normal bicycle. The lack of seat tube adds to the quirky look, and the single-piece fork and handlebar—also made out of stainless steel tubing—look cool if not entirely practical.

Developed by Estonian engineer Indrek Narusk , the design apparently draws on "styling cues from cafe racer-style motorcycles and classic streamlined aesthetics". The bikes are built to order, and pricing depends on customization. They ain't gonna be cheap, though. More here.

Jul 28, 2013

A Plastic iPhone Called The 5C May Really Be On Its Way

This image from Chinese blog WeiPhone looks like a bunch of Apple packaging in a bin. But folks it's so much more! Oh, no, actually that's exactly what it is. No one has been able to legitimize the photo yet, and it could just show some knockoff packaging, but the nomenclature makes sense at least. If the aluminum body upgrade that seems probable for September/October is called the 5S, a cheaper plastic model (also heavily rumored) could be called the 5C where C stands for "color". . . or something.

WeiPhone doesn't really have a track record for directly reporting rumors, but 9to5Macpoints out that the plastic packaging does look similar to the plastic trays in the current iPod Touch boxes. The hamster wheel that is iPhone rumors spins on. More here and here.

Jul 27, 2013

Someone Finally Invented 3D-Printed Inkjet Printer Cartridges

Jul 26, 2013

Here's Every Emoji Being Used on Twitter in Real-Time

Gosh! I wonder which emoji is trending on Twitter right now! I wish there was some sort of online tool that tracked such a thing! Oh, there is! Praise jeebus for!

Why anyone would want to know which emoji is trending in real-time on Twitter is beyond any normal human being's comprehension. But here it is. According to the about page, emojitracker is "an experiment in realtime tracking of all emoji used on twitter." Also, it comes with an epilepsy warning because better safe than sorry. Right? Right.

You Can Build This Boat in Under a Minute

Foldable boats were invented to be convenient — a boat when you want one, a strangely-shaped lump in your garage when you don't. But the convenience is lost when you have to spend the best part of a perfect fishing day trying to assemble the dumb thing. Enter the aptly named Quickboat, which goes from scattered to seaworthy in three minutes if you're working by yourself, and under a minute with a helper.

Disassembled, the boat comes in two carrying bags that should fit on the roof of your family truckster. Fully clicked together, it forms a 12-foot boat with room for four. There's no motor in the bag, but the Quickboat is rated for up to 10 horsepower, for those who don't have kids who need to learn the character-building nature of rowing. And unlike other collapsible boats, the Quickboat's composite Kevlar construction makes for a rigid backbone on the water.

The boat will officially launch (that's boatin' humor, son) at the Sydney International Boat Show on August 1st, at a price just over $4,000. The company hopes to have them sailing our way in summer 2014. More here.

Jul 25, 2013

This Is What Photosynthesis Looks Like From Space

Google Can Now Translate Handwritten Notes

Say you have some scribbles in an unfamiliar language you want to translate. Better find a native speaker. Or you could just turn to Google Translate, which now supports handwritten translation in 45 different languages.

It's insanely simple. Go to the Google Translate page, select the language you're working with, and go to the menu on the bottom left of the input window and select the pencil icon. You can then write out what you're trying to translate, and Google will interpret. You could definitely see this being useful for translating notes or symbols from character-based languages if you don't know how to actually type the word on your keyboard.  More here.

Scientists Just Discovered a New Force That's Stronger Than Gravity

Scientists have long known that blackbodies produce radiation and that radiation creates a repulsive effect. However, according to a new study there's another force at play, one that acts a bit like gravity and attracts objects to the blackbody. They're calling it "blackbody force."

Blackbodies, celestial objects that are perfectly non-reflective, shift the atomic energy of molecules around them in what's known as the Stark effect. This occurs when the electric field created by the blackbody radiation sends photons into surrounding molecules and atoms that often create the repulsive energy we're used to seeing around blackbodies. However, if the energy level of the photon is just right and the radiating blackbody is less than about 6,000-degrees Kelvin, it creates an attractive force that's greater than the radiation pressure and, in some cases, greater than the force of gravity.

This new blackbody force only affects the smallest particles in the universe, though it has an effect on basic astrophysical scenarios. The Austrian team of scientists that discovered the force are particularly interested in how it affects cosmic dust. "These sub-micron-sized grains play an important role in the formation of planets and stars or in astro-chemistry," M. Sonnleitner at the University of Innsbruck told PhysOrg. "Apparently there are some open questions on how they interact with surrounding hydrogen gas or with each other. Right now we are exploring how this additional attractive force affects the dynamics of atoms and dust."

Scientists have so far had a hard time replicating the effect in a laboratory, but when they do, they hope it will shed light on some fundamental questions of astrophysics. At the very least, it will be pretty cool to see a new force at work, even if it only works on tiny things. More here.

Jul 24, 2013

This $200 Brute Force Bot Will Bust Your Phone's Pin in Hours

Your Android phone is not safe. This 3D-printed robot systematically tries all of the possible lock screen PINs for your phone until it gets in. With your standard four-digit number, your phone is compromised in under a day. If only you'd had an iPhone!

The Robotic Reconfigurable Button Basher will be presented by researchers at the Black Hat conference next week in Las Vegas. Besides being able to crack an Android device's lock screen PIN, Forbes reports that the researchers behind the open-source bot are working on adapting the technology to work on any security system that requires a PIN—say a hotel safe or an ATM.

Now, of course, there is a very simple way to counter the assault of this robot, which is to employ security systems that prevent brute force attacks by simply blocking excessive attempts at busting the code. iOS, for example, will lock you out to the point where you need outside help to get into your phone after three fails. Android, however, only locks you out for a short period before you can try again—by default, anyway. Regardless, the bot is a sobering reminder that the PIN on your phone is no match for someone who really wants to get past it. More here.

Google Android 4.3 Update: Bluetooth, Profiles, and Other Minor Stuff

Google is continuing the Jelly Bean reign with today's Android 4.3 update. It's shipping with the new Nexus 7, and is for the most part, very incremental.

Here's what's up: Google is adding restricted profiles, which are basically just more comprehensive parental controls. It forces an app to behave differently, based on what a parent has set up. So if a child is playing a game, you can say he or she can only see a couple of levels, for example.Restricted profiles also let you set limits on transactions, or web browsing, or other things you're using your device for.

Android 4.3 also features some Bluetooth updates that let you pair an Android device with low-power gadgets like fitness trackers. Got a FitBit? You can hook it up to your Nexus 7 to monitor your performance.

Additionally, Android 4.3 is getting a refresh on something called Open GL:ES 3.0. It's a big boost for graphics that mostly applies for gamers. It'll make everything on screen look better, more detailed, and render quickly in native 1080p resolution. More here.

Jul 23, 2013

A New Kind of Microchip Mimics the Human Brain in Real Time

A team of scientists in Switzerland has managed to cram 11,011 electrodes onto a single two-millimeter-by-two-millimeter piece of silicon to create a microchip that works just like an actual brain. The best part about this so-called neuromorphic chips? They can feel.

Don't over interpret the word "feel" though. The brain-like microchips built by scientists at the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich are not a sentient beings, but they can carry out complex sensorimoter tasks that show off the network's cognitive abilities. And what's more impressive is that all of this happens in real time. Previous brain-like computer systems have been slower and larger, whereas the Swiss system is comparable to an actual brain in both speed and size. That's exactly what the team was trying to do. "Our goal is to emulate the properties of biological neurons and synapses directly on microchips," says University of Zurich professor Giacomo Indiveri.

The next step for these neuromorphic chips is to take on more and more complex tasks. In a paper published this week by the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers who built the chips suggest that they could connect the neuromorphic chips to sensory systems like an artificial retina. This is somewhat of a fascination for the community of scientists trying to build a brain-like computer. Stanford professor Kwabena Boahen rose to prominence after developing a silicon retina that behaved like a biological retina, and since then, he's been working on ways to mimic the brain using artificial circuits. More here.

This Is What Gravity Looks Like

You can't see gravity, right? It's just an invisible, natural force of attraction, created by mass, yeah? Well, almost—but in this image you can see its effects in still and breathtaking glory.

The ripples in the clouds of this images are known as gravity waves. NASA explains exactly what they are:
Offshore and to the west and southwest of Pukaskwa National Park, several distinct sets of parallel cloud bands are visible. Gravity waves are produced when moisture-laden air encounters imbalances in air density, such as might be expected when cool air flows over warmer air. This can cause the flowing air to oscillate up and down as it moves, causing clouds to condense as the air rises and cools and to evaporate away as the air sinks and warms. This produces parallel bands of clouds oriented perpendicular to the wind direction. The orientation of the cloud bands in this image, parallel to the coastlines, suggests that air flowing off of the land surfaces to the north is interacting with moist, stable air over the lake surface, creating gravity waves.
Thanks, gravity: as well as keeping us on the ground, you make the world a prettier place, too. More here.

Jul 22, 2013

This Might Be Your Home Security System of The Future

So what's inside? All of this:
  • HD Camera w/ Night Vision and 170 degree wide angle lens

  • Wi-Fi

  • High quality microphone speaker
  • Siren 

  • RGB LEDs
3-axis accelerometer

  • Motion detection (Passive Infrared)
  • Temperature sensor
  • Humidity sensor 

  • Air quality sensor
Not a bad mix but where Canary has the potential to really shine is in its software offering. By tapping into all the aforementioned sensors, the Canary app will be able to relay a plethora of information in real-time and learn a thing or two about you. More here.

Jul 20, 2013

There's a Beautiful Chair Hiding in Your Washing Machine

You can sit on a washing machine, but that doesn't make it a chair. A transformation like the one industrial designer Antonina pulled off does make it a chair, though. And there are even DIY instructions so you can try too, if you're into that sort of thing.

As part of a project with the incredibly appropriate title "I used to be a washing machine," Antonina carefully dissected and old washer to make not one, not two, but three different flavors of chair, each a wonderfully stark piece of furniture in its finished form.

While all washers are going to have different innards, it stands to reason most of them would be kinda-sorta similar enough to pull something like this off. It also stands to reason that none of us will really bother trying. You can hop over to Designboom to look at the plans and see what it would be like if you did, though. 

Jul 19, 2013

You Can Download VLC for iPhone and iPad Now

Hey now! VLC, the bestest fastest sweetest codec-iest easiest to usiest and every positive -est adjectie there is video player around, is now available (again) on iOS. If you're looking to play videos on your iPhone and iPad, VLC is probably going to be your best bet.

MacStories spent some time with the new VLC app and though it looks pretty much the same, it's supposed to be improved:
VLC has been completely rewritten to use modern audio and video output modules, multi-core decoding, and support for any file type supported by VLC on the desktop. In my tests, the app was able to quickly start playing any video file that I threw at it, such as .mp4 and .mkv files.
The app also lets you adjust playback speed, tweak brightness, contrast, saturation, etc. and supports subtitles. It's a welcome return to VLC which was kicked out of the App Store in the beginning of 2011. More here.

A Private Venture Wants to Build a Telescope on the Moon

There might not be a man on the moon right now—but there may soon be a gazing eye. A new private venture aims to build a long-range telescope on our planet's little satellite, and it could happen as soon 2016.

A partnership between Moon Express, Inc. and the International Lunar Observatory Association is all set to install the telescope on the humble lump of rock. The plan is to position the 2-meter dish antenna, known as the International Lunar Observatory, on the rim of a crater near the moon’s South pole.

The first step will be a proof-of-concept mission, which will see the partnership take a shoebox-sized device called ILO-X to the moon in 2015. If that's successful, the full-size telescope will follow early the next year.

The aim of the project is to provide new views of the universe—but the plan is to democratize star gazing, too. Data from the telescopes will be made freely available online for use by citizen scientists. But don't be entirely taken in by the good vibes—Moon Express admits that it's going to explore the area around the South pole for minerals and water while it's at it, too. More here.

How Retail Stores Track You Using Your Smartphone

A Mechanical Wooden Pencil That Will Never Go Dull

As low-tech as it may be, the pencil has managed to still keep itself relevant—despite the endless graphite-free ways we can communicate these days. That being said, it doesn't mean it couldn't use an upgrade, and Tous Les Jours has managed to combine the convenience of a mechanical pencil with the feel of a traditional wooden writing instrument.

You never have to sharpen it, and as long as you keep feeding it shafts of graphite it will never go dull. And for an added bit of whimsy, the days of the week are printed on the sides of the $7 pencil with suggestions on how to best seize the day. More here.