12/30/2009 9:38:20 AM
The new issue of Technology Review features a most excellent hack: step-by-step instructions for an inexpensive contraption that allows you to photograph Earth from the upper reaches of the atmosphere. It’s not space, but it’s as close as any photographer will get for $150!
MIT students Oliver Yeh and Justin Lee snagged some 4,000 photos when they launched their first near-space camera in September; since then, they’ve posted a guide with detailed directions—and vital tips, like remembering to contact the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before the camera’s takeoff—to help you build, launch, and land your own traveling camera.
If you’ve already got a point-and-shoot, you’re one-sixth of the way there—you’ll just need a weather balloon, something to serve as a parachute, styrofoam cooler, prepaid cell phone, and some hardcore cold weather–resistant batteries.
Technology Review has its own helpful photographic guide to the components of the device, and a cool short video in which Yeh walks through the construction and launch process.
Source: Technology Review
12/21/2009 4:57:43 PM
After looking at photos of very cute animals, people are more careful than if they look at just slightly cute animals. In a study highlighted by The Neurocritic, researchers showed one group of people pictures of puppies and kittens, another group saw photos of dogs and cats. All of them then played the board game Operation. The people who looked at cuter animals performed better at the game than people who looked at dogs and cats. The researchers concluded:
This is the first investigation to document that immediate shifts in carefulness—indexed here by fine-motor performance—can be elicited by cuteness cues. This suggests that two factors—the importance of physical contact in early mammalian development and the extremely delicate nature of human young—may have exerted evolutionary pressures favoring those who could respond to the presence of cues colloquially described as “cute” with increased carefulness.
To increase your carefulness and fine-motor performances, you can always visit PuppyWar or Zooborns.
Source: The Neurocritic
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12/18/2009 3:18:51 PM
Mark Graham digs into Wikipedia’s geotags and emerges with a map, published in The Guardian, demonstrating the online encyclopedia’s “highly uneven geography of information”—articles about places and events from Europe and the United States are disproportionately represented, while articles about places and events in developing countries are written in far fewer numbers.
Almost the entire continent of Africa is geographically poorly represented in Wikipedia. Remarkably, there are more Wikipedia articles written about Antarctica than all but one of the 53 countries in Africa (or perhaps more amazingly, there are more Wikipedia articles written about the fictional places of Middle Earth and Discworld than about many countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas).
There are some countries that are crammed with a dense amount of floating virtual information, such as Germany (with an average of one article tagged for every 65 square km), while others remain as virtual deserts, such as Chad (with an average of one tagged article every 17,000 square km).
It’s possible, Graham writes, that as technology improves in developing countries, new Internet access will mean new editors for Wikipedia—and a lot fewer blank spots on the website’s information map. But, he argues, “it is equally conceivable that as peer-produced projects such as Wikipedia become our primary sources of knowledge, we could begin to see permanent information inequalities between different parts of the world.” Either way, “it is clear that we are far from running out of topics to write about.”
Source: The Guardian
Image by fdecomite, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/17/2009 11:22:20 AM
Anne Trubek didn't make any friends when she suggested that schools stop teaching handwriting in a column for Good. The online essay left a trail of 1,400 comments in its wake, many of them angry. Now she's at it again, with an essay called Handwriting is History, published in the latest issue of Miller-McCune.
"For many," she writes, "the prospect of handwriting dying out would signal the end of individualism and the entree to some robotic techno-future... But when we worry about losing our individuality, we are likely misremembering our schooling, which included rote, rigid lessons in handwriting. We have long been taught the 'right' way to form letters."
Good lord, if anything was robotic, it was learning proper handwriting. What anybody with good handwriting may be oblivious to is the shame of bad handwriting. Ridding classrooms of that shame makes room for other things, like ideas. "Typing in school has a democratizing effect," Trubek writes, "as did the typewriter. It levels the look of prose to allow expression of ideas, not the rendering of letters, to take center stage."
Want more of this? You'll find nearly 4,000 words of it at Miller-McCune. Enjoy!
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12/16/2009 2:02:22 PM
Every December, people walk into office holiday parties or family gatherings and say exactly the wrong thing. Concentrating on not mentioning an embarrassing fact—say an infidelity or family secret—makes it more likely that you’ll mention the very thing you wish to avoid. The more taboo a thought is, the more difficult it is not to mention it, according to the New Scientist. That’s because some part of your brain has to concentrate on the thing you don’t want to think about.
Here’s an example from the New Scientist: “Think of the word ‘aunt’ for a moment. You now have 10 seconds to name me 10 other sorts of familial relationship. Go!”
When a person’s brain is under stress, say at an awkward social function, the part of the brain tasked with avoiding a topic is more likely to error. This can create a serious social faux pas.
If you want to avoid foot-in-mouth disease, the New Scientist offers a few pieces of advice. Practice the situation beforehand, making yourself comfortable with situations where you’re likely to slip up. Focus on the positive: Instead of saying, “don’t mention the war” think instead, “mention the food.” And finally, lay off the booze. Alcohol makes it more difficult to keep your brain functioning correctly.
The key is to try (but not too hard) not to be like Basil Fawlty:
Source: The New Scientist
Image by Mel B., licensed under Creative Commons.
12/15/2009 10:01:50 AM
"José Gómez-Márquez’s laboratory at MIT seems to be part toy store, part machine shop, and part medical center," writes Emily Singer in the January-February issue of Utne Reader. "Plastic toys are scattered about, along with a disassembled drugstore pregnancy test, all manner of syringes, and a slew of fake body parts. Coffee filters have been transformed into paper-based diagnostics; a dime-store helicopter provides the design for a new asthma inhaler; even a toilet plunger has been put to use, rigged with tubes and glue to form a makeshift centrifuge."
“Centrifuges break down all the time,” says Gómez-Márquez, spinning the plunger’s wooden handle in his hands. That’s a problem for health care workers, because even simple medical tests rely on them to separate molecules in a blood or urine sample. In rich countries, the broken equipment is quickly repaired or replaced; in the poor countries where Gómez-Márquez works, finding replacement parts can be impossible, rendering the equipment useless. So he has tried to use readily available materials to make simple versions that are either easy to fiddle with, disposable, or unlikely to break in the first place. “This one could work even without power,” he says of the plunger-cum-centrifuge.
Read more about how José Gómez-Márquez is inventing a better world, or just have a look at his revolutionary inventions:
Using origami and local manufacturing methods, D-Lab Health student Paul Hlebowitsh and his team designed paper spacers for asthma inhalers, replacing a $40 device.
This hand-powered helicopter toy inspired a new mechanism to aerosolize medication.
An Aerovax inhalable vaccine cartridge, originally inspired by ink-jet printer cartridges, combines low-cost storage and deployment with simple vaccine delivery.
Take your pills, get free cell phone minutes. XoutTB diagnostic strips combine economic incentive algorithms and smart paper microfluidics to keep tuberculosis patients on track with their medicine.
The simple elements in this MEDIK kit enable many creative combinations and user-driven prototype medical device designs.
Device images by Steve Moors, originally shot for Technology Review. MEDIK image by José Gómez-Márquez.
12/11/2009 4:25:43 PM
When I saw amateur astronomer Ralf Vandebergh's photos of astronaut Joe Acaba on a spacewalk, I did the only natural thing: I cursed. I'm guessing that's what Ralf did too. It was a welcome reminder of a great piece we reprinted in the magazine a few issues back about sidewalk astronomy. The piece was penned by a sidewalk astronomer for the zine Geneva13. It was all about cursing the heavens:
One evening I was showing some college students the planet Saturn through the telescope. Suprita, a sophisticated and polite student from India, took one look, breathed in audibly, and came down the stepladder. “Can I curse?” she asked. I shrugged. Suprita stepped back up to the eyepiece and let out a string of obscenities in a discordantly lovely accent.
Ready for some cussing? Here's what Ralf saw:
Source: Wired, Geneva13
12/11/2009 2:49:56 PM
Some 158 million people in the world can’t see clearly and don’t have access to glasses, but the problem doesn’t just affect their quality of life—it impacts the global economy as well.
According to Johns Hopkins Public Health, economist Kevin Frick and his colleagues studied the effect of poor vision on productivity and the economy, and concluded the global economy loses between $121 and $269 billion each year as a result of people not having corrective eyewear. Frick boils it down further for the magazine, adding: “For every person who doesn’t have glasses around the world we’re talking about $1000 worth of productivity lost every year.”
The problem is most prevalent in the developing world, where people don’t even have access to an optometrist. Physicist and social entrepreneur Joshua Silver tells Ode “in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa there is one optometrist for every eight million people. Silver is attempting to solve the vision crisis with his invention of “adspecs” or adaptive spectacles. He explains that with simple training “people can make their own glasses. Using adaptive lenses, people can change the focus of the lens themselves. There are several ways to do this. The one I have developed involves spectacles that have chambers filled with silicon oil. If you fill the chamber with oil, the lens curves out; if you let the oil out of the chamber, the lens curves in. In this way, people can adapt the lens to their own vision needs.”
So far he’s distributed 30,000 adspecs, and he hopes to reach a billion people by 2020.
Sources: Johns Hopkins Public Health, Ode (article not available online)
Image by P/\UL, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/8/2009 1:49:28 PM
Atkins, Hallelujah, and Grapefruit diets may be making people fat. Chris Hawkey, president of the British Society of Gastroenterology said that fad diets are contributing to obesity, and that people need to focus on eating healthy, rather than simply losing weight. According to Hawkey, “The problem facing society is not the content of our diet but it’s the quantity we are consuming and the consequential impact of obesity.” It’s something to think about as families begin to gather for holiday meals.
(Thanks, Food Politics.)
Image by Photos O'Randomness, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/8/2009 1:28:31 PM
Researchers at Stanford University have created the smallest writing ever, spelling out the university’s initials in sub-atomic particles. The letters were created using electrons organized on a copper chip. It may seem like a simple vanity project, but the researchers say it points the way toward vast new frontiers of how much information can be coded onto computer chips.
You can watch the video below:
(Thanks, Open Culture.)
12/3/2009 1:53:12 PM
After years of media coverage, including an article in Utne Reader, scientists have finally grown meat in a laboratory. Animal rights advocates are cautiously optimistic, because the proposed food source wouldn’t involve killing animals. According to the British Times, the concoction currently resembles “a soggy form of pork," and the scientists are working to improve the texture. The taste, however, remains in question, since rules currently bar scientists from tasting the In-Vitro meat.
Leaving the scientific and ethical questions behind, Hank Hyena, writing for h+ magazine, envisions a world where In-Vitro meat is already wildly popular. According to Hyena, “In-Vitro Meat will be socially transformative, like automobiles, cinema, vaccines.” Ranches will disappear, urbanization will accelerate, and the price of rural land will plummet. Economies that rely heavily on animal meat for trade, like Argentina and New Zealand, will have to figure out a new source of income or risk collapse. The world will get healthier and more environmentally friendly, according to Hyena, but the meat itself will be a lot more strange.
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