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Jan 13, 2014

Blasting the Brain with Ultrasound Enhances Sensory Abilities

In an experiment straight out of a comic book, Virginia Tech scientists have found a way to improve sensory abilities. All it takes is a detailed map of the brain, an ultrasound gun, and a willing patient. What could go wrong?

The experiment was simple enough. The Virginia Tech team directed ultrasound waves at a particular part of the cerebral cortex and then tested subjects' sensory abilities with two tests: one that asked them to distinguish between two different pin pricks and another to determine the difference between puffs of air. Much to their surprise, the ultrasound improved the subjects' performance at both tests. When the ultrasound waves targeted the brain at a slightly different location, the improvement disappeared.

Professor William "Jamie" Tyler, who led the study, explains:
It seems paradoxical, but we suspect that the particular ultrasound waveform we used in the study alters the balance of synaptic inhibition and excitation between neighboring neurons within the cerebral cortex. We believe focused ultrasound changed the balance of ongoing excitation and inhibition processing sensory stimuli in the brain region targeted and that this shift prevented the spatial spread of excitation in response to stimuli resulting in a functional improvement in perception.
The only other studies that have produced similar results required the use of electric shocks administered directly toward the brain, which is less than ideal. That makes ultrasound wave treatment seem like a day at the spa—which is not a bad idea come to think of it. Now we just need to perfect ultrasound-based telepathy and we'll really be on the way to being superheroes. More here.

Jan 12, 2014

These Easy-To-Install Treads Turn Any Car Into a Tank


If you're an off-roading enthusiast you've probably already seen those kits that let you replace your truck's wheels with a set of four tank treads for tackling any terrain. The Track N Go is the same idea, except that you don't need a garage, a lift, or any kind of mechanical know-how to install them. You just drive your vehicle onto the treads, lock them in place, and away you go.

Using a treadmill-like approach, the Track N Go treads are even powered by your vehicle's tires, so you don't need to make any Frankensteinish modifications to your ride to use them. Once you drive up onto them and remove the loading ramps, you can point your vehicle in whatever direction you want to go, and drive.

Together, the four treads have a much larger footprint than your vehicle's tires, which means you're less likely to sink in mud and snow—and it's impossible to get a flat tire when rolling on tank treads. The Track N Go's $25,000 price tag is a bit of an issue if you're only planning to use them on the occasional weekend adventure. But, when you realize you're no longer reliant on congested traffic-filled roads, how could you not justify a set? More here.

Jan 11, 2014

This Super-Tiny Windmill Could Someday Charge Your Phone

Researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington have come up with a way to build a nickel alloy windmill so small, 10 of them could be mounted on a grain of rice. And if all goes as planned, hundreds of the little things could end up in a case that charges up your smartphone.

UT Arlington's Smitha Rao and J.-C. Chiao designed the windmill, which at its broadest is just 1.8mm wide. Built from nickel alloy for rigidity, the little fan is self-assembled using wafer-scale semiconductor electroplating principles and a technique the team likens to origami. Rao and Chiao have partnered with WinMEMS Technologies Co., a Taiwanese company researching ways to build micro electro-mechanical systems, to bring the baby windmill to reality. More here.

Jan 10, 2014

The Sun Is Your Zippo With This Solar-Powered Lighter

Perfect for smokers who live in windy cities, this compact parabolic reflector lets you harness the sun as your own personal lighter—one that's immune to even the strongest winds.

A spring mounted holder ensures your cigarette is always at the focal point of the sun's reflected rays, and the $8 mirror is made of plastic so it won't immediately shatter if dropped. It's also the perfect camping accessory if you've never had much luck rubbing two sticks together to start a fire. More here.

Jan 9, 2014

France Will Pay You $5 Million to Invent an Oil-Drilling Drone


France's equivalent of DARPA has a lofty task for you. The National Research Agency is challenging engineers to design and build an autonomous oil-drilling robot that can operate continuously for six weeks at a time. And they're willing to pay you handsomely.

Well, to be exact, the French oil company Total is offering a €3.5 million (nearly $5 million) budget and a €500,000 (about $680,000) prize for the winning team. The National Research Agency's website describes the so-called ARGOS challenge:
The goal of the ARGOS Challenge is to foster the development of advanced robotic capabilities in oil & gas environments. The programme is based on robot systems which can safely operate in complete or supervised autonomy over the entire onshore or offshore production site, potentially in hazardous explosive atmospheres. The overall objective is to enhance the safety of operators in isolated production sites.
It's actually a pretty brilliant idea. As we've seen time and time again, drilling for oil is a dangerous job—however necessary for keeping our gas guzzling machines running. But just as unmanned aerial vehicles make a fighter pilot's job safer—and just as autonomous trucks are already operating at some mines—these drilling drones will inevitably save some lives. Until they develop minds of their own and turn this beautiful planet into Swiss cheese, that is. More here.

Jan 8, 2014

This Is the World's Fastest Memory Card

Behold, the world's fastest memory card. Lexar's 3333x CFast 2.0 ratchets up the read speed of Compact Flash cards to a dizzying 500MB/s—and that is very, very fast.

Of course, you probably won't be able to take advantage of all that speed just yet, unless you have some insane pro-level kit, but that might change as the next wave of high-spec DSLRs dribble out into the market. When they do, these little guys should be able to cope with whatever ludicrous capture rates you can thrown at them.

When they go on sale, they'll be available in in 32GB, 64GB, 128GB and 256GB sizes. It's worth noting that you could theoretically fill up the smallest one in around a minute if you were so inclined. A minute.

You can probably expect an ever faster card to come along soon—these records don't stand for long—but until then, you'll have to save up for the Lexar. More here.

Jan 7, 2014

Science Makes a Circuit So Thin, It Can Sit On a Contact Lens


Flexible, stretchable, bendable circuits will make futuristic wearable devices and implantable medical sensors possible. Today, a Swiss research team revealed a big new step in that field: a super-thin circuit that can function while wrapped around a human hair or laid on a contact lens.

The team, led by Giovanni Salvatore at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, created a circuit on a parylene film just a single micrometer thick. That's about one sixtieth the thickness of a human hair. The scientists achieved this by building the circuit on a vinyl polymer base that's then dissolved away, leaving the ultra-thin, ultra-flexible circuit intact.

The resulting circuit can be draped over human hair, plastered on human skin, or pasted on a plant leaf, without cracking or losing conductivity, as show in these images from theresearch paper published in Nature Communications:

Applications for such technology sound positively sci-fi: the Swiss research team envisions a transparent circuit on a contact lens to sense the increased pressure in the eye that causes glaucoma. Other applications could include implanted sensors that continually monitor blood pressure in heart patients.

The limiting factor right now: everything you'd want to plug in to that circuit. Batteries, for example. Still, the idea of a circuit you wear on your eyeball makes Google Glass seem positively quaint. More here.

Jan 6, 2014

Wireless Internet Is Coming To Your Next Car

GM is calling it OnStar 4G LTE. What does this mean for drivers or passengers? It means their next Corvette, Impala or Silverado will have a wireless hot spot for their smartphone, tablet, laptop, or Apple Newton. GM says this technology will be on nearly every Chevrolet car, and each vehicle can connect multiple devices.

Yes, plenty of car companies have been doing this a while, particularly on higher end models. But GM says Chevrolet will have the broadest implementation of 4G wireless of any car brand, and it will be across multiple price levels.

The Internet connection will allow for more than just fast Jalopnik browsing on the go. GM says the built-in 4G LTE connection will allow them to update their vehicles with the latest software and apps remotely, so they can continually tweak and improve their infotainment systems. The new technology coincides with the 10th generation of OnStar, which was first released in 1996.

Pricing hasn't been announced, but GM says if you're a current AT&T customer you can add this to your existing data plan.

What else is coming to your next car? Apps! Apps, of course. Apps like The Weather Channel, NPR, Cityseeker and various radio streaming programs. For better or worse, the car is becoming more and more like your smartphone every year.

As The Detroit News notes, in-car wireless Internet is one of the next really big automotive technologies. Both BMW and Audi have announced 4G for their cars. Besides the convenience of a mobile hot spot, it's expected to be a moneymaker for these companies:
Analysts say GM could see a revenue boost from the new 4G Wi-Fi service. IHS Automotive last year estimated 4G LTE could add $400 million in gross profit by mid-decade; it was cited in a Citi Research investment note.
While purists may scoff at the idea of in-car Internet for devices, you have to know that mainstream drivers not only want this, but are fully planning to make use of it. It's probably just a matter of time before this becomes de rigueur on all new cars. More here.

Jan 5, 2014

You'll Happily Swap Your Old Bulbs For This Interactive Party Ball

If you're outraged that the government would dare tell you what kind of lightbulbs you should be able to buy, ION Audio's new Party Ball should help quell your rage. It's designed to screw into a standard ceiling mounted light socket, but instead of just providing a warm glow to illuminate a room, it puts on a dazzling colored light show.

Who could possibly need incandescent bulbs anymore when this thing promises to turn every room in your home into a personal night club? The Party Ball's colored LEDs shine in a 360 degree arc so every corner of a room gets bathed in tinted light. And it's got a built-in microphone so the flashing and pulsing lights react and sync up to whatever music you happen to be playing. Pricing hasn't been announced just yet, but you can rest assure it won't include a cover or a two-drink minimum. More here.

This Connected Bluetooth Toothbrush Will Nag You More Than a Dentist

We all know we should be brushing more diligently several times a day, but without our dentists regularly shaming us into better oral hygiene, that rarely happens. So a Paris-based company called Kolibree has created what it claims to be the world's first app-connected toothbrush that will encourage better brushing habits between dentist visits.

The toothbrush may look like your run-of-the-mill electric model, but it's been enhanced with a wireless Bluetooth connection that lets it report your brushing times and habits to an accompanying app. Not only does this give a user insight into how long they actually brush versus how long they should be brushing, it also allows oral hygiene to be turned into a game to encourage kids to stay on top of tending to their teeth. And the company intends to make the collected data available through an API letting other developers create brushing-based games and other applications.

Depending on the model, Kolibree's connected toothbrush will sell for between $99 and $200 when it becomes available for pre-order this summer. But the accompanying app will be free, and the cavity-free dentist visits that follow (hopefully) will be painless. More here.

Jan 3, 2014

Light Up Spurs For Cowpokes Who Ride Bikes, Not Horses

If you have to ride your bike at night, there's no such thing as wearing too much reflective material—after all, you want to make yourself as visible as possible to those with whom you share the road. But a flashing light can ensure a driver spots you well before the headlights of their car do, and with a pair of these glowing LightSpurs clamped to the back of your shoes, you'll stand out like a sore—but safe—thumb.

Powered by a small CR2032 watch battery, the waterproof LightSpurs will run for about 100 hours in flashing mode before you need to swap in a new one. They can also be set to steadily glow, though that will reduce your battery life. They sell for about $20 each, but in theory, you only need to wear one on the side of your bike that's most visible to traffic. Unless you're going for the whole wild west effect—in that case, a pair of spurs is definitely the way to go. More here.

Jan 1, 2014

This Pickup Truck is Made of ice and you can Actually Drive it


Behold the first self-propelled ice sculpture ever—a truck made of ice that actually works! It's a real truck, using 11,000 pounds of ice over a regular truck chassis complete with engine and electrical system. Check out the videos to see how they built it—and how it melted.

The truck ran for 1.6 kilometers at about 20 km/h on December 12, 2013.

A Fold-Flat Watering Can Designed For Your Cramped Balcony Garden


If you live in an apartment or condo in a big city, and have managed to find a little room on your tiny balcony for a modest garden, you probably don't have much space left for the tools needed to toil over your cramped crops. So inventor Marc R. came up with this rather cleversoft-sided watering can called the Squish that's thin and easy to store when it's empty.
Marc is working with Quirky to make the Squish a reality, but in the meantime we can marvel at its design. Featuring a canvas bladder like ones many canteens are made from, the Squish expands from just one-inch thick when empty and stored to eight-inches across when full of water. It can hold up to a full gallon of water, and features a folding spout that helps minimize the Squish's footprint even further. And now that the design is nearly finalized, hopefully Quirky will get this into production and in stores in time for your Spring planting. More here.

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.

Dec 11, 2013

Sticky Notes On a Roll Let You Decide How Much You Need

You can already get sticky notes in a few different sizes, but for those who want even more control, you can now get them on an endless roll—letting you tear off the perfect size as needed. After all, some days you just need a few groceries, while others you need to completely restock the pantry.

Available in yellow, blue, or pink, the Pensée (French for "thought") includes sixteen feet of sticky notes in a plastic dispenser complete with a perforated cutter. And the entire back of the roll is covered in a low-tack adhesive, which means wherever you stick it, it's going to stay put until you tear it off. They're just $9 a roll—and the handy grid that helps keep your handwritten notes neat and tidy is included at no extra charge. More here.

Dec 10, 2013

World's Thinnest Mechanical Watch Is as Thick as Two Stacked Quarters

You don't think it's only laptop, tablet, and smartphone designers that go the extra mile to make their devices thinner and thinner do you? Watch makers are constantly battling each other for the same notoriety, and now Piaget has reclaimed the title of 'world's thinnest mechanical watch' with its new Altiplano 38mm 900P that measures in at 3.65mm—making it thinner than many digital alternatives.

Snatching the title from Jaeger-LeCoultre, Piaget managed to shave a full 0.4mm off the thickness of the previous record holder. But the company's watchmakers did it in a very clever way. Normally a mechanical watch features a movement—all the gears and mechanisms that make it tick—inside a case. But with the Altiplano 38mm 900P, the movement is built right into the actual watch's body.

So the watch is just as much a technological and engineering achievement as it is comfortable to wear. Every single one of the Altiplano 38mm 900P's 145 components had to be manufactured with extreme levels of precision, which, not surprisingly, contributes to its wallet-thinning price tag. When available, the watch will sell for between $20,000 and $30,000, but eventually you can expect to see the innovations that made it possible trickle down to other more affordable pieces. More here.

Dec 9, 2013

A Full-Size Hybrid Vacuum You Can Charge By USB


When you hear the words 'vacuum' and 'USB' used in the same sentence, you probably picture a tiny keyboard cleaning tool with barely enough power to suck up crumbs. ButPanasonic's hybrid MC-HS700G—now available in Japan—is a full-sized vacuum cleaner strong enough to lift a bowling ball that can also be charged from a USB port giving you up to 20 minutes of suction without a tether to a wall outlet.

For most of your indoor cleaning needs you'll want to keep the MC-HS700G plugged into an AC outlet to take full advantage of its dust sensor, cyclone-action suction, and built-in headlights for spotting dirty areas on your floor. But for cleaning your car, or areas in your home too far from an outlet, the vacuum's rechargeable battery boasts up to 20 minutes of cleaning on a single charge.

Of course, that's with minimal suction. Battery life dwindles to a mere six minutes at full power, so you may want to reinstate that 'no eating in the car' rule. And the vacuum is a hefty $700, making it more expensive than even Dyson's high-end models. But looking over at the tangle of cables on the floor, a rechargeable vacuum that can outperform a dustbuster and share our smartphone's charger is still very, very tempting. More here.

Insane Seattle Bus Crash Captured On Google Street View

Fansite Google Street View World today found that Google Maps has a Street View pictureof a Northwestern Trailways charter bus hanging somewhat precariously over Interstate 5 following a crash.

No, it's not a fake. According to TV station KATU, this happened back in December 2008. They called it a "bizarre incident" in which two charter buses collided while nosing down an icy Seattle hill, sending both of them crashing through a metal railing above the freeway. The bus in the photo hang 30 feet above the Interstate before it was towed to safety.

The Google camera car must have just been in the right place at the right time, I guess. More here.

You'll Actually Be Excited For Snow With This Gorgeous Toboggan

Is there anything more soul crushing than waking up and checking the weather on your phone, only to discover that there are inches of snow outside waiting to complicate your morning commute? Snow in the forecast doesn't always have to be a letdown, though. With this steam-bent wooden toboggan from Lucky Bums, you'll embrace every flake that falls.

Plastic sleds with brakes and steering have come to dominate snow-covered hills over the years, but there's just nothing as thrilling as climbing onto an old-school wooden toboggan, lining up your path of descent, and then hoping you won't hit anything on the way down. If you do, this made-in-the-USA toboggan's padded seat should help you ride out the worst of it.

At $200, it's certainly more expensive that other sledding options you can get your hands on. But remember, like a set of skis, with a little bit of wax a wooden toboggan can send you rocketing down a hill, leaving other higher-tech sledders eating your snowy dust. More here.

Dec 8, 2013

Apparently People Will Buy Cans of French Air for $7.50

Money doesn't grow on trees. You can't get something for nothing. There's no such thing as a free lunch. Except all of these cliches are apparently false, because Antoine Deblay, a student who lives in southwest France is actually making money selling cans of air from his town.

For €5.50, or about $7.50, Deblay is shipping 250ml cans of air called "Air de Montcuq" for his hometown. This summer he raised about $1,000 on KissKissBankBank, a French crowdfunding site, which allowed him to make a website and get the tins/packaging he needed. Deblay told Business Insider that in the first three weeks he received a thousand orders and has already made thousands of dollars with a 60 percent profit margin.

The appeal of the cans comes from a pun that is inherent in the name of Deblay's town. Montcuq can be mispronounced "mon cul" or "my ass," meaning that "Air de Montcuq" can be translated as "the wind of my ass." Novelty gift? Sure, why not.

Because he apparently is not afraid of taking the whole thing too seriously, Deblay is only selling 10 liters of air per week so he doesn't put a strain on his supply, and when he hits that limit he puts a warning on the website that orders are done for the week. Deblay told Business Insider, "Of course I knew it was going to sell, but not so much in so little time!" Of course!  More here.

Dec 7, 2013

Researchers Discover Huge Freshwater Reserves Under Ocean Floors


As earth's population surges, mankind faces an increasingly limited supply of fresh water. Thankfully, Australian scientists report this week that they've found vast new fresh water supplies. Unfortunately, it's in one of earth's least accessible places: under the ocean floor.

Published in this week's Nature, the research compiles mounting evidence that fresh groundwater reserves exist off the shores of Australia, China, North America and Africa. The researchers estimate that 500,000 cubic kilometers of fresh water is trapped in aquifers under the ocean floor — more than 20 times the volume of water in all five Great Lakes.

Getting to the water without contaminating it presents an enormous challenge. But with 40% of the world's population already living in conditions of water scarcity, it may prove to be necessary. More here.

Dec 6, 2013

Mind-Boggling Spherical Gear Made from 3D-Printed Moving Parts


Proxy describes the project as just "the first in a series of kinetic, 3D-printed objects designed to explore the limits of 3D printing as an art form":
Created in a one­-shot fabrication process, Mechaneu #1 features an elaborate network of interlocking gears and support structures. Spin one gear and the entire sphere is catalyzed with the rotation. The effect is mesmerizing, a visualization for the eye and a tactile experience for the hands. The Mechaneu design explores the limit case of commercial 3D printing; all aspect of the design are calibrated to the minimum thicknesses and maximum detail levels.
But it's the insane, nested spherical rotation of this thing—or, rather, the fact that it works, and that it came from a 3D printer—that blows my mind.

Dec 5, 2013

Avoid Injuries With Smart Sneakers That Tell You How To Run Properly

A daily run can be great for your health and fitness, but it can actually be harmful too if not done properly. Of course the right shoes are an important part of the formula, especially thissensor-laden pair developed by the Fraunhofer Institute which provide real-time feedback on your running style, and how to improve it.

So what makes these sneaks so smart? Built into their sole is a biometric sensor working alongside an accelerometer and GPS hardware. Together they collect data on the runner's speed and technique, and transmit it to a smartphone app via Bluetooth which analyzes the information and makes suggestions to improve the wearer's running style or routine.

One day it might suggest you try rolling off your foot differently to improve your stride, while others it might recommend running on a softer surface like grass. The shoes and software can even make intelligent recommendations on when you need to give your feet a break. The only feature that might be lacking is giving you the motivation to get off the couch and out the door to begin with. More here.

The Navy Just Launched a Drone from a Submarine—While Underwater

If you thought launching a drone from an aircraft carrier was impressive, you're going to be blown away by this: After six years of development, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory has successfully launched a drone from a submerged submarine.

That's right. A submerged submarine. Submerged under the ocean. The picture above is real: a composite of time-lapse photos taken during the launch. You can see the wings swing out like a pair of scissors as the drone takes to the sky.

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory really outdid themselves this time. Their Experimental Fuel Cell (XFC) unmanned aerial system was just fired from the torpedo tube of the USS Providence. The so-called Sea Robin launch vehicle system then floated to the surface, where an all-electric, fuel cell-powered drone with foldable wings took to the sky where it performed an hour-long test flight before landing at the Naval Sea Systems Command Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) in the Bahamas. Pretty cool, huh?

Well, this is just the beginning. The XFC launch doesn't come as a huge surprise because we've known for a few months now that DARPA is working on a submarine "mothership"that can launch both unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned underwater vehicles—all kinds of drones. Dubbed as the Hydra program, this initiative will enable sailors to send remotely piloted, and someday perhaps fully autonomous, craft into battle zones virtually undetected. It'll also scare the pants off of unsuspecting fisherman. More here.

Dec 4, 2013

iPhone Anamorphic Lens Lets You Shoot Wider Than Widescreen


Even though 35mm film dominated the film industry for years and years, the majority of movies released to theaters were much wider than the stock's 4:3 aspect ratio. But instead of sacrificing resolution and simply cropping off the top and bottom of a frame to make it widescreen, filmmakers used special lenses that squeezed a wider vista onto the 35mm film stock, and then unsqueezed the images when they were being projected. They were known as anamorphic lenses, and soon you'll be able to get one for your iPhone.

What looks like one of the many external lenses you can get for your smartphone is actually one of the first to do an anamorphic squeeze on your footage, letting you shoot video that's approximately 33 percent wider than the iPhone's standard field of vision.

So if you're shooting video in an old-school 4:3 aspect ratio, when the footage was unsqueezed in your video editor it would have a wider 16:9 vista. And if you're shooting in 16:9 to start with, the resulting footage would have an even wider and more majestic 2.4:1 aspect ratio. For still images the iPhone's panoramic mode easily accomplishes this, but this is currently the only way to pull it off for video.

The anamorphic adapter lens is currently raising funds on Kickstarter, and with a pledge of $85 or more you can claim one of the first production units when they're available sometime closer to March of next year. More here.

Great Gifts You Can 3D Print

The best gifts are the ones that aren't obvious. Oh you're going to get your sister another pair of earrings? Nah. This time you should go for a set that were 3D printed instead. In order to wow your family and everyone on your list this year, here's are some magical presents that came out of a printer.

Now, you may be thinking, but I don't have a 3D printer. But no printer is no problem. You can easily order something that has already been designed and 3D printed for you. So now that you know how easy it is, what are you going to print for your friends and family? Maybe you can find some inspiration here.

Dec 3, 2013

Spin Around a Mountain in Super Speed like Superman


Things that usually spin really, really fast: a top, the wheel of fortune wheel, other wheels, circular objects, knobs and other things of that nature. Not a mountain! Well, unless you're Superman and can fly around it. Newsflash: we're not Superman. However! Kevin Parry and Andrea Nesbitt of Candy Glass Productions might be. They created a mountain spinning flyby effect in a sick hyperlapse of Mt. Hood.

Nesbitt told PetaPixel that creating a hyperlapse of the spinning mountain took a lot of careful planning along with "miles and miles of hiking, and some terrifying driving/exploring". I think it was totally worth it.

Dec 2, 2013

A Tiny Stamp Brands Your Can To Make Sure No One Steals Your Drink

Is there anything worse than being at a party and having someone steal your drink? Sure! Taking a long swigg on a can only to realize it isn't yours. But now you can avoid both situations with this keychain-sized stamp that lets you brand an aluminum can with a permanent message, leaving no debate as to its ownership.

The aptly named CanStamp features a set of raised letters spelling out messages like mine, in use, fuel, and 1 more. And branding your beverage is as easy as pressing that stamp—and its message—it into the ridge just below the top of an aluminum can. Admittedly debates over ownership could flare up if more than one person brings the $8 CanStamp to a party, so you might want to skip this one until they come out with a version you can personalize with your name, or a more specific threat. More here.

Dec 1, 2013

Australia's Using Pop Radio to Track Space Junk


Space junk is a serious problem: it threatens satellites and spacecraft, and can plummet unpredictably to earth. Australia's Murchison Widefield Array is a high-sensitivity radio telescope that tracks space debris as small as 1 meter across, by observing how the objects reflect FM signals from Australian radio stations. It's listening to pop music from space.

The array, part of western Australia's Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory, was built as a precursor to the proposed Square Kilometre Array being jointly undertaken by Australia and South Africa. As it stands right now, the Murchison Widefield Array consists of 2,048 individual antennas arranged in 128 four-by-four tiles. A single tile is pictured above.

When FM broadcast radio signals traveling out into space encounter debris, some of the radio waves are reflected back toward earth. The Murchison Widefield Array can pick up signals from objects as far as 620 miles away. So the next time you hear Gotye or Keith Urban on the radio, just think — in Australia, they're helping monitor space junk. More here.