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.