Dec 31, 2013

Where Emotions Hit You, Visualized

Nerves make your stomach churn; embarrassment brings a glow to your cheeks. Emotions clearly have a direct physiological effect on our bodies, and now a team of Finnishresearchers has analyzed exactly how—and represented them in this visualization.

To construct the maps, the researchers showed 773 participants different words, stories, movies, and expressions, and had them highlight on a human silhouette the areas of the body in which they felt decreasing or increasing activity. More activity sees the color change from black to red to yellow, while decreasing activity is represented by an increasingly bright shade of blue.

The results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, tally with many of the experiences you've probably had: depression is linked with a deadening in the limbs, while shame induces bright spots on the cheeks. Sadness even features activity in the eyes, presumably representing the tears experienced by participants.

While the authors willingly admit that the results could be influenced by cultural references and stereotypes about emotions, they rightly point out that the responses are clearly culturally universal; it's worth noting that participants were drafted in from both Finland and Taiwan. Indeed, the researchers claim that such universality is likely a result of a biological basis for our response to emotions, rather than a cultural one. Not that it'll help much next time you blush your way through a date. More here.

Beat-Matching Glowing Sunglasses Are Perfect For New Years Eve and Morn

It's New Year's Eve and unless you've got children to tend to you'll probably be partying well into 2014 this evening. And while normally sunglasses aren't required for the middle of the night, these Dropshades are, since they feature a glowing pulsing EQ that stays in sync with whatever music you're listening to. And, the next morning when you're hungover and dodging the sun, you'll be even happier you're wearing them. Powered by a USB-rechargeable battery, the $50 specs use six colored LEDs on each side to light up the pulsing bars, but thankfully the glow isn't visible and won't blind you while you're wearing them. 

A single charge will keep the party going for up to 14 hours, and the animated EQ automatically adjusts itself as the music gets louder and louder. So they're perfect for evening, even though they don't spell out 2014. More here.

Dec 28, 2013

Why do so many galaxies in space look like this?

Flat. Like a streak across space. Thin. Stretched out. How come whenever we see galaxies, they always look like this? NASA has the answerAnd it has something to do with how a ball of dough becomes pizza.

This image of spiral galaxy ESO 373-8 was captured by NASA with the Hubble telescope. It shows a galaxy that's 25 million light years away but its shape already seems so familiar. Why is that? NASA explains:
Try spinning around in your chair with your legs and arms out. Slowly pull your legs and arms inwards, and tuck them in against your body. Notice anything? You should have started spinning faster. This effect is due to conservation of angular momentum, and it's true for galaxies, too.
This galaxy began life as a humungous ball of slowly rotating gas. Collapsing in upon itself, it spun faster and faster until, like pizza dough spinning and stretching in the air, a disc started to form. Anything that bobbed up and down through this disk was pulled back in line with this motion, creating a streamlined shape.
Angular momentum is always conserved — from a spinning galactic disk 25 million light-years away from us, to any astronomer, or astronomer-wannabe, spinning in an office chair.

Scraping Decades of Grime, Car Exhaust, and Mold Off Rome's Colosseum

The Colosseum in Rome is being cleansed of car exhaust that has built up over decades, ever since Mussolini's ill-advised decision to build a major road nearby.

The exhaust, however, is just part of an overall mixture known as "black rust," CBS Newsreports: "Exhaust, pollen, algae and fungus growths form a coating the restorers call 'black rust' which has to be washed with non-chemical solutions and rubbed off gently in order not to damage the stonework."

From the copy of David Gissen's excellent book Subnature, full of interesting examples of how the pollution accumulating on historical monuments around the world offers its own weird form of cultural and industrial history. The idea that buildings, statues, and other structures—even geological features—should be scraped clean of their everyday chemical environments is, of course, obvious from the point of view of wanting to preserve their vulnerable rocks and masonry. But it is also, Gissen suggests, somewhat over-enthusiastic or even misguided to think that we can return something to its "original" state. In fact, he argues that to see these structures in their natural—or, as he puts it, subnatural—context we should see them still dotted with weeds, pollution, dust, even bird crap and gum.

After all, the candle-blackened interiors of churches, or the dusty banisters of private homes, are as revealing of the lifestyles of the people who once lived in or used those buildings as are the carefully polished surfaces we might encounter on the old knick-knacks in a museum. Even centuries of wood smoke and other layers of urban pollution that accumulated on, say, Notre Dame in Paris before it was cleaned in the 1990s are not without their historical insights. Spotlessly white stone exteriors are not necessarily historically accurate, in other words, at least not in the sense that any city—except perhaps Singapore—can boast of a truly sterile condition for its major public and private structures.

Gissen points out that perhaps there is an unexpected interpretive value in the grime now coating parts of the urban world, and, even if that grim shouldn't be saved, there is value in taking a closer look at it before rushing to wash it away.

This is not to suggest that we shouldn't clean the Colosseum, as this toxic mixture of contaminants would eventually eat the building away, like a tooth disappearing in a glass of Pepsi. But it is to say that it might be worth saving a small section of the building—even just a disconnected stone that poses no risk of structural decay—to remind future visitors of what the urban context can really do to even its most monumental inhabitants.

Think of the small patch of smoke-stained ceiling in New York's Grand Central Station. Unbeknownst to most commuters, there is a tiny spot on the ceiling where restorers left a small, secret historical reminder:
Look up at the ceiling: In the northwest corner, you'll see a little square black patch. Now imagine extending that color across the entire constellation that's painted on the ceiling. That's what was there before Grand Central Terminal was dramatically restored in the 1990s. That little black patch was left as a reminder of the bad old days. And what exactly does that black patch consist of? Decades of dirt? Try again. It was the result of decades of smoking in the terminal. That's old nicotine and tobacco residue that was preserved, and it's a testament to how dramatic this restoration was.
Perhaps something similar could be left on the Colosseum, to remind us of the blackening presence of roads and the bad decisions of earlier urban planners. More here.

Dec 27, 2013

The Naked Metal Core of a Dead Planet Is Circling the Sun

You know about those plans to visit an asteroid in the next few years? Well, a select group of astronauts would like to sweeten the deal. Why visit a regular asteroid, when there's a planet's solid metal floating up there and it's likely magnetic?

Asteroid 16 Psyche is the intriguing candidate in question. Linda Elkins-Tanton of the Carnegie Institute recently proposed a mission to Psyche at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The composition of the asteroid is very much like Earth's core, but its soft outer layers have been stripped away by other incoming asteroids.

If, indeed, the metal core currently in orbit used to be molten, it's also probably highly magnetic; Elkins-Tanton even refers to the asteroid as "a little refrigerator magnet in space." This could likely have an effect on how we design the spacecraft or satellite that will visit it, and the bizarre landscapes that might be found on the asteroid also sound spectacular. Simulations of how the asteroid might have lost its outer layers suggest, for example, "that Psyche's craters could have dramatic rims that froze in splash-like patterns." The scientists studying it describe it as a "metal world."

"A mission there is the only way that humankind will ever visit the core of any body," Elkins-Tanton said, adding that Psyche could teach us a lot about how planets work. "We can learn about the building blocks of the planets in the first million years of the solar system in a way that we can't do any other way."

That is, if the metal spaceship doesn't get stuck to the magnetic asteroid in the process. More here.

Dec 26, 2013

Here Is a Video of Tiny Mice Decorating a Tiny Christmas Tree

Dec 24, 2013

Pop-up Ports Keep this Backup Battery Slim and Svelte

What's the point of carrying around a backup battery that's larger than the smartphone it's designed to boost? It defeats the purpose of carrying a pocketable device in the first place. When it comes to backup batteries, slim is the only way to go, and with a set of pop-ports that keep its USB ports free of dust and crap, Paick's Noble will easily slip into a bag or pocket.
The Noble's 6,000mAh battery is large enough to bring three iPhones back from the dead, or completely recharge an iPad or other larger tablet. At half an inch thick it's not the slimmest battery you can buy, but with two USB and a microUSB port, it could be one of the more useful tools in your bag. And, with an introductory price of just $50 it's a ridiculously affordable way to ensure you never find yourself with a dead phone. More here.

Dec 23, 2013

Mikhail Kalashnikov Has Died

Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47 assault rifle, passed away this morning at the age of 94, according to the BBC.

Kalashnikov's contributions to small arms design cannot be overstated. His AK-47, developed in 1946, is the embodiment of the Soviet virtues of simplicity and reliability. Rugged and easily maintained, AKs are capable of operating in extreme conditions that would disable other weapons. They're the most widely produced assault rifle on the planet for good reason. As their creator told Reuters in 2009, "When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed' ... So this has been my lifetime motto – I have been creating weapons to defend the borders of my fatherland, to be simple and reliable."

Kalashnikov's military career began 1938, when he was conscripted into the Red Army as a tank mechanic. He quickly rose to a command position in the 24th Tank Regiment, 108th Tank Division stationed in Stryi. The injuries he sustained there during the Battle of Brody in 1941 would change the course of his life.

During his rehabilitation, Kalashnikov overheard other wounded soldiers complaining about the sub-par performance of their rifles, inspiring him to design a more effective weapon. His first outing, a sub-machine gun, was passed over, but it both served as the foundation for the later AK-47 and demonstrated his engineering talents, earning him a position at the Red Army's Central Scientific-developmental Firing Range for Rifle Firearms of the Chief Artillery Directorate.

While he's best known for his signature assault rifle, Kalashnikov has been credited with more than 150 small arm designs over the course of his illustrious career, including the AK-47, AK-74, AKM, and PKR light machine gun. These weapons have revolutionized warfare, and are now employed by more than 50 nations around the world. More here.

Finally, a Real-Life Memory-Erasing Technique for Humans

Get your Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind references ready, because scientists have just figured out a way to erase bad memories using—you guessed it—electroshock therapy. Get ready for on-demand forgetting. It's a real thing now.

A team of Dutch neuroscientists recently devised an electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to "target and disrupt patients' memory of a disturbing episode." Nature explains how patients were showed two traumatic narratives in a slideshow and then subjected to the new technique:
The team later prompted patients to recall only one of the stories by replaying part of that slide show. Immediately afterwards, when the reactivated memory is thought to be vulnerable, the patients received electroconvulsive therapy.
One day later, when given a multiple-choice memory test, patients were significantly worse at remembering details from the reactivated story, performing near chance. Patients' memory of the other story, however, remained largely unscathed.
The test was conducted on 42 patients with severe depression, so there's a chance it could work differently on normal patients. It's also worth pointing out that ECT is no fun. It induces seizures and, well, doctors are shocking patients' brains with electricity.

A breakthrough like this was due, though. For years, scientists have been saying we're on the cusp of developing a way to erase memories, and last year, they successfully erased the memories of sleeping mice. Then, just a few months ago, they managed to identify the gene that helps us forget. But a point-and-click method for erasing particular memories, that's proved elusive. Until now.

As is often the case with groundbreaking research, the next step is more research. But the scientists involved in the field of memory erasure hold out hope that advances like these will lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of conditions like severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. After all, sometimes, ignorance really is bliss. More here.

Dec 21, 2013

Snapchat's Update Lets You Replay One Snap Per Day

Snapchat just rolled out a big update with a bunch of new features, the most important being Replay. Now, every day brings a one-time chance to review the most recent message in your stream.

The Replay option is opt-in for recipients, not senders, and only gives you one extra look at the message — it's still deleted from Snapchat's server after the first view. The rest of the app's updates include color and black-and-white visual filters, a larger Helvetica caption font, front-facing flash (using your phone's screen as a flash), and an option for up to 7 "best friends." And a little puzzlingly, smart filters, which overlay the time, temperature, or speed you were traveling when you took your snap. More here.

Crazy Hacker Wants to Save Bitcoin by Blasting a CubeSat into Space

Jeff Garzik is a dreamer. You know, the kind of guy who probably thought that he could fly with his red cape when he was younger. (Note: As a toddler, I unsuccessfully tried to fly several times.) But now Jeff Garzik is looking higher. He's looking to space, and he wants Bitcoin to live there.

No, seriously. Garzik recently proposed a plan to send a Bitcoin computer into space with an inexpensive CubeSat, so that there would always be a node in the network that hackers couldn't crack. The CubeSat would be able to communicate with Bitcoin computers on Earth by radio.

It sounds crazy, but it's actually not a bad idea. As Wired's Robert McMillan points out, Bitcoin computers are vulnerable to so-called Sibyl attacks. "It could give criminals a way of spending their bitcoins more than once," he explained in a recent blog post, "and it's also part of the so-called selfish miner scenario that Cornell University researchers described last month, saying it could bring down the entire system." Bring down the entire system? That can't be good.

Garzik is serious, and he's already raised 37 Bitcoins—about $37,000 at current exchange rates. Trips to space are more expensive than that, of course, but the dreamer thinks he can get everything together and have a Bitcoin computer in space in only three to five years. It's not the first such plan, either. More here.

Dec 20, 2013

Stone-Tipped Spears Pre-date the Human Race

Spears feel very much like a human weapon of war—so it's surprising to find out that, in fact, the stone-tipped projectiles pre-date our species by a bewildering 85,000 years.

A team of archaeologists from University of California at Berkeley have uncovered remains of the oldest known stone-tipped throwing spears, and their analysis suggests they're 280,000 years old. They were found at an Ethiopian Stone Age site known as Gademotta, and are reported in PLoS One.

But that age means that they're far older than Homo sapiens—which either suggests we're wrong about how long our race has existed, or that our predecessor species were smart enough to make weapons. Yonatan Sahle, one of the researchers, explains:
"Technological advances were not necessarily associated with anatomical changes.. The advances might have started earlier... High-quality raw materials were nearby, so those could have allowed for the full expression of technological skills... [and there] was a mega lake at the site. It might have attracted stable occupations there, further fueling technological advances."
It seems most likely, then, that intelligence existed before us that was enough to assemble some crude, stone-tipped weapons. Most likely, say the researchers, they were put together by Homo heidelbergensis—Heidelberg Men to their friends—who lived in Africa, Europe and western Asia from at least 600,000 years ago. And clearly had a little bit of an aggressive streak. More here.

Dec 18, 2013

Make Yourself Known With a Bike Light That's As Loud As a Car Horn

If the ringing of your bicycle's bell isn't getting the response you're after from motorists—namely, please don't hit me—it might be time for an upgrade. Sixty-five bucks will get you the Orp, an LED headlight that easily lashes and unlashes from your handlebars and emits a loud shriek that can be heard inside a running car—even with the windows rolled up.

The Orp actually has two different horns to choose from. A polite and subdued 76-decibel chime to alert pedestrians of your approach, and a more obnoxious—though effective—96-decibel shriek to let drivers know you're nearby.

It's completely waterproof, and of course rechargeable—the 87-lumen LED headlights run for a solid three hours on a charge (and even longer if set to flash). It's a little on the expensive side—no doubt there—but can you really put a value on not getting creamed by a distracted driver who didn't know you were there? More here.

Dec 17, 2013

An Accordion Shelf That Grows With Your Knick-Knack Collection

You can forget about allen wrenches and magnets altogether—at least if you're in the market for a new shelf—because Meike Harde has come up with a pre-assembled storage unit that unfolds like an accordion to accommodate whatever you need to store.

The hinged zig-zag design of the Stockwerk Shelf's walls allow it to collapse for easy portability. But it also gives the shelf support and stability when unfolded, without the need for extra braces or assembly. It can be as tall or as short as you require, and as your collection of knick-knacks and tchotchkes grows and demands more space, the shelf can easily grow with them. More here.

Dec 16, 2013

McLaren Is Using Fighter Jet Technology for Wiper-free Windshields

Anyone who's ever driven in a southern thunderstorm knows that windshield wipers suck. They smear water more than they remove it, and, my God, is that "whip-flick" sound annoying.

Well, worry no more. McLaren says it's doing away with wipers altogether in favor of fighter jet technology that keeps windshields clean. The British supercar company isn't revealing too many details, but experts have a pretty good idea of how the new system will work. The fighter jet technology to which McLaren is referring is likely a high-frequency electronic system that pumps sound waves through the windshield, effectively creating a vibrating ultrasonic force field that deflects water, mud, and even bugs.

If that sounds wildly futuristic and out of your reach, don't be too hasty. The same system that will go on McLaren's $250,000 sports cars by 2015 could be available for the rest of us for as little as $15 on mass market vehicles within a few years. And just think of all the money you'll save on wiper blades. More here.

NASA-Developed Moonglow Material Keeps This Watch Glowing All Night

A built-in battery-powered light is the easiest way to check the time on your watch in the middle of the night. But what if your watch doesn't have a battery? Schofield's newBlacklamp Carbon features a hand-wound movement, but still manages to stay visible in the dark of night thanks to a material developed by NASA called Moonglow that glows much longer than the stickers you decorated your ceiling with as a kid.

The watch also features a small Tritium gas light—a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that gives off a faint glow as it decays—but it's the strip of long lasting Moonglow, running all the way around the rim of the dial, that will have night owls enthusiastic for the timepiece.
And as the watch's name and that telltale pattern on the bezel allude, the Blacklamp Carbon is actually made of a newly developed material called Morta that's based on carbon fiber. So it's strong, lightweight, and of course, incredibly expensive. The watch, limited to 101 pieces, sells for just over $16,000. More here.

Dec 15, 2013

China's Rover Has Reportedly Landed On the Moon

China's state-run television network is reporting that the unmanned Yutu lunar rover has successfully soft-landed on the moon.

The Chang'e-3 landing craft carried the rover to the smooth Bay of Rainbows region of the moon after a voyage launched December 1st. The rover, named Yutu (Jade Rabbit in English), is a 260lb six-wheeled solar powered explorer with a top speed of 660 feet per hour. For the next three months, it will conduct tests on the lunar surface and set up a telescope to study earth's plasmasphere.

An earlier Chinese spacecraft successfully orbited the moon, collecting data before being intentionally crashed into the moon's surface. The next mission in the Chang'e program is intended to bring back rock and soil samples from the moon some time before 2020. More here.

Dec 14, 2013

This Magical Table's Electromagnetic Field Turns On Nearby Light Bulbs

The table was designed by Florian Dussopt, a French product designer who describes it as Here's how The Guardian once explained what's going on inside the bulbs:
A fluorescent tube glows when an electrical voltage is set up across it. The electric field set up inside the tube excites atoms of mercury gas, making them emit ultraviolet light. This invisible light strikes the phosphor coating on the glass tube, making it glow.
In other words, the table is harnessing the power of wireless energy—a feat that has proved so elusive to those who would harness it on a larger scale, like Nikola Tesla, whose doomed Wardenclyffe Tower was an attempt to transmit electrical power across great distances.

In fact, the base of the table looks remarkably similar to the structural framework of Tesla's 1900 tower, making it a kind of tribute.

Dec 13, 2013

How To Make a Terrifying, Spinning, Ferrofluid Buzzsaw

There are almost as many fascinating ferrofluid videos on YouTube as there are clips of kittens being cute. So it's rare to come across one that offers anything new and interesting. But CrazyRussianHacker has done just that with this simple trick that turns ferrofluid into some kind of nightmarish liquid metal spinning saw blade.

The secret here is to magnetize a large bolt stood on its end, and then gently pour a bit of ferrofluid on top of it. Gravity will pull the liquid down the bolt along its spiral thread, and the magnetic field will create those terrifying spinning spikes you see. Simple, but no less wonderful once you know how it's done.

Dec 12, 2013

The Awesomely Weird Biological Shoes That we will Wear in 2050

London-based designer and researcher Shamees Aden has a vision for the future of footwear. It's a future where shoes are 3D printed out of synthetic biological material that responds to your every step and can regenerate overnight. She's even made a prototype.

Behold the Protocell sneaker. The shoes are customized for the wearers foot so that they fit like a second skin, and in its own way, the protocell technology that they're made of works like skin. Protocells aren't alive, but they act like they are which is how the shoes get their responsive and self-healing qualities.

"The cells have the capability to inflate and deflate and to respond to pressure," Aden told Dezeen. But they special material requires a little extra care, as you have to store them in a jar full of protocell liquid. Aden explained, "You would take the trainers home and you would have to care for it as if it was a plant, making sure it has the natural resources needed to rejuvenate the cells."

Who wouldn't want half-living shoes that make it look like you have alien feet? Unfortunately, the project is only in the concept stage now, and Aden thinks it could be nearly four decades before we see this kind of technology on the market. More here.