Friday, February 8, 2008

Birds Give a Lesson to Plane Designers

Posted by Soulskill on Thursday February 07, @11:22PM
from the it's-a-bird-it's-a-plane-no-really dept.
Roland Piquepaille points out a news release from the University of Michigan where researchers are looking to birds and bats for insights into aerospace engineering. Wei Shyy and his colleagues are learning from solutions developed by nature and applying them to the technology of flight. A presentation on this topic was also given at the 2005 TED conference. From the news release: "The roll rate of the aerobatic A-4 Skyhawk plane is about 720 degrees per second. The roll rate of a barn swallow exceeds 5,000 degrees per second. Select military aircraft can withstand gravitational forces of 8-10 G. Many birds routinely experience positive G-forces greater than 10 G and up to 14 G. Flapping flight is inherently unsteady, but that's why it works so well. Birds, bats and insects fly in a messy environment full of gusts traveling at speeds similar to their own. Yet they can react almost instantaneously and adapt with their flexible wings."

Ring-ring-ring Batphone!

So this new AbleComm spinoff RedHotPhones is selling tons and tons of phones -- all red -- including replicas "inspired by Batman". Definitely not the amazing new Christopher Nolan retelling, we're talking original campy-ass 60s Batman. We're not sure what kind of person would spend $112 on a novelty landline-phone with no way to dial out (probably the same people that bought the $300 Shakespeare bust back in the day), but buy it fast, we heard the mayor of Quahog, Rhode Island is filing suit.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Revolving door generates electricity

I've often wondered: what is the advantage of having a revolving door? Aside from the architectural prestige, they mostly just slow you down and make for an awkward moment with a stranger every now and then. Ever tried to carry large boxes through one? Or wheel something in on a dolly? Come to find out, revolving doors can actually be pretty useful. They help heaters and AC systems work more efficiently, preventing outside air from gusting in, but they have other energy-saving potentials as well.

An architectural duo working under the name 'Fluxxlab' has designed a revolving door that captures the kinetic energy that is created as people enter or exit a building. The Revolution Door, as the technology is called, can be implemented on nearly any existing revolving door. By simply replacing the door's central core and adding an output system, the door can begin harvesting electricity with every rotation. Granted, it's not going to take the building off the grid, but it is a really cool concept.

Fluxxlab is a partnership between two intrepid architects -- Jennifer Broutin and Carmen Trudell -- each with a masters degree from Columbia University. They've got a few other cool projects in the works that use the same principle of harvesting energy from our everyday motions. Check out their website.

[via Inhabitat]

Playable Paper Super Mario... no really, he's made of paper

Taking Paper Mario to its logical -- albeit extreme -- conclusion, an artist / DIY'er named Keith Lam has created the first physical, playable implementation of Super Mario Brothers. By emphasizing Mario's movement on the background, and turning the "TV" into the object which moves, the character appears to traverse the familiar landscape of SMB, complete with collision detection, brick movement, and mechanized jumping. The "system" is built using a chain-driven platform, which is shakily directed with an actual NES (well, Famicom) controller, thus allowing for some game play -- though with response times like this, you're better off just watching. Speaking of, check the video after the break and see the system in action.

[Via Wired]

Beijing is swimming green

The new Olympic Aquatics Center is Beijing is touting some fantastic green design and one stunning look. Nicknamed the "Water Cube", the rectangular steel frame is covered by a membrane of brightly lit blue bubbles which reduce energy costs by 30%. The material absorbs solar radiation and reduces thermal loss. The humidity and air-conditioning systems are also more eco-friendly. With the 2008 Olympics coming this summer I can't wait to see the water events in this cool, blue, (green) building.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Video: Jim Dawson's 80-mile range electric Saturn

Jim Dawson gives a great tour of his 1994 Saturn SL1 converted to run on electricity for an Illinois public access cable show (you can watch the video below the fold). Jim shows us the insides of his four-door electric car, pointing out all the changes he made and then takes us for a drive. There is a fuse so Jim does not have to worry about electrocution and everything else - like brakes, air bags, etc. - is basically the same.

Jim could not leave the back suspension alone though because he added a thousand pounds of batteries which gets him up to 80-mile range. Jim has put over 8,000 miles on his electric Saturn and likes paying only 2 cents a mile (30 MPG gas car with $3 a barrel a gas costs 20 cents a mile). Jim thinks more people will be interested in electric cars when gas hits $4 this Summer.

[Source: YouTube]

Former oil bigwig wants tougher mileage requirements

WIred reports that Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, the elegantly named former chairman of oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, wants vehicles which get less than 35 miles per gallon to be banned. Whatever epiphany prompted this decidedly un-oil-company-execish outburst, it's attracted a lot of attention in the UK, with detractors suggesting that such a move would obliterate the luxury segment of the auto market (I can vouch for that; my Jag sucks back more juice than Lindsay Lohan on New Year's Eve and the Green Daily corporate Ferrari is even worse.)

Still, the idea might have some merit. The article observes that legislation has frequently been used to force the auto industry to do the right thing, with seatbelts and catalytic converters being a couple of the more obvious examples. Maybe some external discipline would help car designers apply their creative energies a little more vigorously to reducing fuel consumption.

Incidentally, Moody-Stuart says he's driven a hybrid since 2001, the same year he left his job at Royal Shell. Coincidence?

111 Years Ago, Indiana Almost Legislated Pi

Posted by kdawson on Wednesday February 06, @05:19AM
from the squaring-the-circle dept.
I Don't Believe in Imaginary Property writes "On February 5, 1897, 111 years ago today, the Indiana legislature very nearly passed a bill 'introducing a new mathematical truth,' that would have erroneously established pi as the ratio 'five-fourths to four' or 3.2. The story explaining the rationale behind the bill and how they were prevented from legislating it when a real mathematician intervened is quite interesting, because the man who discovered the 'new mathematical truth' wanted to charge royalties, which could have made pi the first form of irrational property."

Toddlers May Learn Language By Data Mining

Posted by kdawson on Tuesday February 05, @11:47PM
from the network-effects dept.
Ponca City, We Love You writes "Toddlers' brains can effortlessly do what the most powerful computers with the most sophisticated software cannot: learn language simply by hearing it used. A ground-breaking new theory postulates that young children are able to learn large groups of words rapidly by data-mining. Researchers Linda Smith and Chen Yu attempted to teach 28 children, 12 to 14 months old, six words by showing them two objects at a time on a computer monitor while two pre-recorded words were read to them. No information was given regarding which word went with which image. After viewing various combinations of words and images, however, the children were surprisingly successful at figuring out which word went with which picture. Yu and Smith say it's possible that the more words tots hear, and the more information available for any individual word, the better their brains can begin simultaneously ruling out and putting together word-object pairings, thus learning what's what. Yu says if they can identify key factors involved in this form of learning and how it can be manipulated, they might be able to make learning languages easier for children and adults. Understanding children's learning mechanisms could also further machine learning."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Finland's roadside toilets: now accessible only by SMS

While those in London can use SMS to actually find a lavatory, folks passing through Western Finland will be required to bust out their handset in order to relieve themselves in select public restrooms. In an attempt to curb vandalism, the Finnish Road Administration has implemented a system along Highway 1 which requires restroom visitors to text "Open" (in Finnish, of course) in order to let themselves in. The idea is that folks will be less likely to lose their mind and graffiti up the place knowing that their mobile number is (at least temporarily) on file, but it remains to be seen if uprooters will simply take their defacing ways elsewhere or actually excrete in peace.

[Via Switched]

Beetles killing Rocky Mountain trees, so why not use the wood to make ethanol?

There is a huge beetle problem in the Rocky Mountains. The official declaration of what the mountain pine beetles are doing is a "catastrophic" killing off of trees. While foresters and others try to get a handle on the situation, energy companies are thinking that all those fallen trees might make good biofeedstock for ethanol production. According to the Rawlins Daily Time (Wyoming), at least five companies have expressed an interest in "energy conversion" using the wood, with ethanol being one possibility. A pilot cellulosic ethanol plant using the wood might be built in Carbon County, Wyoming, but local officials are still at the "putting out feelers" stage.

Next Generation of Gyroscopic Controllers on the Horizon

Posted by CmdrTaco on Monday February 04, @12:27PM
from the will-it-help-me-collect-more-stars dept.
Jamie found a story about a next gen input device that is functionally similiar to the Wii, but instead of using IR, it gets all location information from gyroscopes and accelerometers. This has the potential to be more accurate and maybe not require me to contort my wrist to bizarre angles in order to successfully collect the stars that are like oxygen to me.

Online Parent-Child Gap Widens

Posted by kdawson on Monday February 04, @11:54PM
from the hable-con-elle dept.
The Secret to Raising Smart Kids writes "A new study by Dafna Lemish from the Department of Communication at Tel Aviv University has found that there is an enormous gap between what parents think their children are doing online and what is really happening. 'The data tell us that parents don't know what their kids are doing,' says Lemish. The study found that 30% of children between the ages of 9 and 18 delete the search history from their browsers in an attempt to protect their privacy from their parents, that 73% of the children reported giving out personal information online while the parents of the same children believed that only 4% of their children did so, and that 36% of the children admitted to meeting with a stranger they had met online while fewer than 9% of the parents knew that their children had been engaging in such risky behavior. Lemish advises that parents should give their children the tools to be literate Internet users and most importantly, to talk to their children. 'The child needs similar tools that teach them to be [wary] of dangers in the park, the mall or wherever. The same rules in the real world apply online as well.'"

Monday, February 4, 2008

MIT Researchers Fight Gridlock with Linux

Posted by Soulskill on Sunday February 03, @10:26AM
from the open-roads-with-open-source dept.
nerdyH brings us a report about a Linux-based device being developed at MIT which aims to reduce traffic congestion as well as assist automotive research projects. "The current focus of the project is in developing algorithms that run on top of the portal application to help drivers plot the best route at a given time. For example, the team's MyRoute project includes applications that model delays observed on road segments as statistical distributions. Various algorithms then use these to compute optimal routes for different times of the day. 'Instead of asking the shortest time or shortest distance from point A to point B, you ask what route should be taken, say, for the highest probability of getting to the airport by a certain time depending on the time selected,' says Madden."

A Look at The RIAA's War Against College Students

Posted by Soulskill on Sunday February 03, @12:21PM
from the tomb-of-the-anonymous-peer dept.
NewYorkCountryLawyer writes " has put together a fascinating retrospective on the RIAA's war against college students, commenced February 28, 2007. The campaign is described as one to 'force "consumers" to buy what they're told to buy — corporate "content," as the Big 4 call their formulaic outpourings.' In a scathing indictment not only of the major record labels, but of those schools, administrators, and educators who have yet to take a stand against it, Jon Newton reviews a number of landmark moments in the 11-month old 'reign of terror'. They include the announcement of the bizarre 'early settlement' sale, the sudden withdrawal of a case in which a 17 year old Texas high school student had been subpoenaed while in class during school hours to attend a deposition the very next day during his taking of a standardized test, the call by Harvard law professors for the university to fight back when and if attacked, and the differing reactions by other schools."

Could We Find a Door To A Parallel Universe?

Posted by Zonk on Sunday February 03, @01:30PM
from the alternate-me-is-posting-this-in-esperanto dept.
p1234 writes "Though no direct evidence for wormholes has been observed, this could be because they are disguised as black holes. Now Alexander Shatskiy of the Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow, Russia, is suggesting a possible way to tell the two kinds of object apart. His idea assumes the existence of a bizarre substance called "phantom matter", which has been proposed to explain how wormholes might stay open. Phantom matter has negative energy and negative mass, so it creates a repulsive effect that prevents the wormhole closing. 'US expert Dr Lawrence Krauss, from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, points out that the idea rests on untested assumptions. He told New Scientist magazine: "It is an interesting attempt to actually think of what a real signature for a wormhole would be, but it is more hypothetical than observational. Without any idea of what phantom matter is and its possible interactions with light, it is not clear one can provide a general argument."'"