Category: Geek

FANTASTIC VOYAGE is closer to reality — with scallop microbots

In the 1960s science fiction film Fantastic Voyage, audiences thrilled to the idea of shrinking a submarine and the people inside it to microscopic dimensions and injecting it into a person’s bloodstream. At the time it was just fantasy and as fantastic an idea as its title suggested. Today, however, micro-miniature travelers in your body have come one step closer to reality. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute have been experimenting with real micro-sized robots that literally swim through your bodily fluids and could be used to deliver drugs or other medical relief in a highly-targeted way…

The microrobots being designed by the team literally are swimmers; they are scallop-like devices designed to paddle through non-Newtonian fluids like blood and plasma (even water behaves in this way at a microscopic level). This means that, unlike swimming in water at a macro-level, these microbots need to move through fluid that has a changing viscosity depending on how much force is exerted upon it.

To do this, the microbots need a method of propulsion that can fit in their tiny bodies as well as take advantage of the non-Newtonian fluid in which they are moving. Importantly, the team is using a reciprocal method of movement to propel their microscallops; but generally this doesn’t work in such fluids, which is why organisms that move around in a biological system use non-reciprocating devices like flagella or cilia to get about.

However these robotic microswimmers actually take advantage of this property and use a scallop swimming motion to move around. The researchers call this process “modulation of the fluid viscosity upon varying the shear rate.” In simple terms, the micro scallops open and close their “shells” to compress the fluid and force it out behind them, which then propels them along.

The fact that the microrobot scallop has no motor to drag around contributes to its exceptionally small size – around 800 microns. This makes it miniscule enough to make its way through your bloodstream, around your lymphatic system, or across the slippery goo on the surface of your eyeballs…

The first and most obvious use would be delivery of medication. The authors are otherwise laid back about suggestions for the future. They’re confident today’s medical researchers are technically hip enough that there will be more potential uses for these microbots than any one team might ever invent.

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Sculptor, jeweler, Bonneville record holder with 1952 Buick


Click for larger

Like many properties in Española, Jeff Brock’s yard is filled with old, beat-up cars, many of which haven’t run in decades…But a few do, like Bombshell Betty, a 1952 Buick Super Riviera that holds several U.S. land speed records.

Brock has pushed the souped-up vehicle to an average of 165.7 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, a record for its class.

A jeweler and sculptor, Brock was successful at racing from the start, even though Bombshell Betty was his first car modified for racing.

He hails from Flint, Mich., and ran an electrical contracting business there that he sold to spend a year traveling the country on a motorcycle. During his travels, he found Northern New Mexico and made his home here 12 years ago…

Brock, a tall man with a solid build and tattoo-covered arms, speaks with a faint Midwestern accent. He says he’s funding his racing through the sales of his artwork…He sees racing as an extension of his art. “It’s about the satisfaction of the creation and the ability to power it under extreme speed,” he says…

In late 2008, he decided to build a car. He bought the shell of what would be become Bombshell Betty…The car had been side-swiped and was a crumpled mess, but today the sleek, silver Buick in his garage bears none of its old scars.

It’s also clear from the lack of headlights, lowered chassis and the air-swoop that resembles a rocket that Betty wasn’t built for regular roadways.

The salt flats are hot and unrelentingly bright. Brock had no idea what to expect. He hadn’t yet driven the car and just hoped it would be able to complete some runs without causing serious bodily harm. But in his first race, he broke a land speed record in his division — 129 mph…

Since then, he’s been back almost every year, tweaking Betty’s design every time and breaking more records in the process. He’s pushed Betty to speeds more than 36 mph faster in the intervening years and thinks she still has more in her. Most recently, he installed a back fin that helps reduce the air drag. Brock never knows if his engineering tweaks will work until he gets to Bonneville.

RTFA. More interesting stuff about the car. And about Jeff Brock. A Renaissance man, New Mexico-style.

Did you ever realize how bad a comet smells?

Researchers describe the scent coming off 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as reminiscent of rotten eggs and a horse stable.

They had outfitted Rosetta with a sort of artificial nose — an instrument called ROSINA — that can analyze gas vapors and replicate smell. Among other trace chemicals, Chury offers a powerful punch of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide.

The strong presence of rotten egg (hydrogen sulfide) and horse stable (ammonia) smells are accented by notes of alcohol (methane) and vinegar (sulfur dioxide). In case that wasn’t gross enough, the hyrdogen cyanide and carbon disulfide offer a hint of sugared almonds.

Researchers say it’s the first time they’ve really gotten a good whiff of a comet.

“We’ve never been that close to a comet,” Kathrin Altwegg, the researcher who manages the ROSINA instrument from a lab at the University of Bern in Switzerland…

The comet — which Rosetta tried to anchor to with the exploratory craft called Philae — is 250 million miles from the sun. But it’s getting closer. And that’s bad news for astronomers with a weak stomach.

“The closer the comet gets to the sun, the more of its ice will evaporate, and the gas emissions will get more intense,” Altwegg explained to Deutsche Welle.

Sounds like the next time Earthlings sneak up on a comet and land on it to research its composition – we might include a little gas-powered engine in addition to solar panels to power the research vehicle. Something that runs on horse farts.

[Adapted from an article published just before Philae landed on 67P]

Board your flight – check email – upload paperwork – get billed over $1000!

wifi phone bill

When it comes to offering Wi-Fi in the sky, airlines enjoy a situational monopoly. Still, this takes the cake: a Singapore Airlines passenger stepped off a plane, looked at his phone and discovered this bill for $1,171.46:

As the passenger, Jeremy Gutsche, explains on TrendHunter, the eye-popping total came about as result of ordinary internet use — sending emails, uploading documents and such things. But since the airline’s $28.99 sign-on fee only included a paltry 30 MB of data, the overage charges hit hard.

“I wish I could blame an addiction to Netflix or some intellectual documentary that made me $1200 smarter. However, the Singapore Airlines internet was painfully slow, so videos would be impossible and that means I didn’t get any smarter… except about how to charge a lot of money for stuff. I did learn that,” noted Gutsche…

Meanwhile, the airlines are locked into long-term exclusive contracts with Wi-Fi providers like Gogo, which appears to have settled a recent price-gouging suit but has failed to bring down prices. The hope of future competition doesn’t look great either, as AT&T this week said it would ground plans to build in-flight Wi-Fi.

The article ends with a CYA explanation about startup costs for airplane wifi services. Scant help to consumers who have been shafted.

And a lousy business model – apparently acceptable to some providers.

So, a word of caution. Check what’s included in what you sign up for. You know from the gitgo that airlines aren’t in the business of providing anything at a reasonable cost. They will screw you a bit more for some services than others.

Brave New World is real — only now it’s called “data mining”

google

With their thousands of software engineers, huge resources and myriad databases, the Googles, Amazons and Facebooks may seem to inhabit an alternative IT universe.

But what the big web services firms are doing today with data volumes and data types will soon be the common experience for many businesses, according to Neo Technology CEO Emil Eifrem…

“If you’re interested in seeing the future of how data-oriented architectures are likely to evolve, the future is already here — just unevenly distributed,” Eifrem said.

“What that means is if you look at some of the big web services — the Googles and the Amazons of the world — they are already today dealing with the volume and shape of data that everyone else will be working on in five years from now…”

And our government – courtesy of their pat 3-letter agencies – is even bigger.

“When you receive an email in your Gmail account, that’s going to be chopped up into various forms and stored as a simple log over here in maybe the equivalent of a document database. But then over here all the contacts and the keywords are going to be stored in a graph database. Then they have really awesome systems for keeping all that data in sync,” he said.

“It’s not perfect and it’s a lot of hard work. But it’s the reality that we’re all going to face and a lot of people are already facing it today.”

Eifrem said companies are already past the point where a single database is capable of managing all data workloads — and it’s misleading for any vendor to suggest it has the answer to all an enterprise’s database problems…

“If you don’t go to the pains of choosing that technology and getting that thousand times improvement, then someone else in your vertical will. They’re just going to build a much better product and glean so much better insights that they’re going to outperform you…

“Every single dataset today or tomorrow is going to be big. So the role of the data architect in the future is going to be to look at my big dataset and then identify parts of it that are shaped as tables and say, ‘That fits really well in my trusted old relational database from Oracle or IBM or whatever,'” Eifrem said.

RTFA and keep this fact in the front of your brain: the dataset being discussed is you.

Eifrem sells products which perform best at slicing and dicing all the information available about your life and how you live — to sell you something and make a profit. That’s not what Uncle Sugar does with the same or similar software.

The government we confront – through Congress, through a compliant Supreme Court, led by whoever is in the White House from the Age of Reagan forward – compiles every speck of information on you, me and the dog to assure themselves that we’re going to stay in line. Or be kept in line. Some geeks will revolt! Some will accept a paycheck – and cooperate

Regardless of how often and how loudly they lie, the two qualities our government fears the most are transparency and democracy.

Thanks, Mike

Feds using fake cellphone towers on planes — gathering everyone’s data

An agency of the U.S. Justice Department is gathering data from thousands of cell phones, including both criminal suspects and innocent Americans, by using fake communications towers on airplanes, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

The program run by the U.S. Marshals Service began operations in 2007 and uses Cessna planes flying from at least five major airports and covering most of the U.S. population, the newspaper said…

The planes use devices made by Boeing Co that mimic the cell phone towers used by major telecommunications companies and trick mobile phones into revealing their unique registration data, the report said.

The devices, nicknamed “dirtboxes,” can collect information from tens of thousands of cell phones in a single flight, which occur on a regular basis…

The program is similar to one used by the National Security Agency which collects the phone records of millions of Americans in order to find a single person or a handful of people.

It smells just as bad.

The Journal cited the people familiar with the program as saying that the device used in the program decides which phones belong to suspects and “lets go” of non-suspect phones…

It also bypasses telephone companies, allowing authorities to locate suspects directly, people with knowledge of the program said.

The Journal quoted Christopher Soghoian, chief technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, as calling it “a dragnet surveillance program. It’s inexcusable and it’s likely, to the extent judges are authorizing it, they have no idea of the scale of it.”

The program stinks on ice.

Even if tame judges authorize fishing expeditions involving everyone’s phones – that doesn’t make the procedure any less of an invasion of privacy. Whether authorizing the NSA or US Marshals Service it is simply one more instance of our government corrupting the constitutional standing of our individual rights.

The excuses are the same as ever. Still invalid. Still contemptible.

Thanks, Mike

First landing on comet — photo history


Rosetta selfie with Comet 67/P in the background

History was made yesterday as a spacecraft the size of a fridge executed the first successful landing on a comet. The European Space Agency confirms that at about 16:00 GMT the unmanned Philae space probe touched down on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at the landing site known as Agilkia. The comet and spacecraft are 510 million km from Earth, so the news of the landing took 28 minutes and 20 seconds to reach mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.

The day before the landing, the 100 kg Phiale was turned on and its batteries charged for the first time since leaving Earth. There were some initial glitches as the batteries warmed more slowly than anticipated, but the spacecraft soon warmed up to its operational temperature. As the Rosetta mothership carrying Philae maneuvered into position, mission control carried out flight checks on the two spacecraft, sent command updates to Philae that allowed it to navigate autonomously to the landing site, and cleared the landing maneuver after a series of go/no decisions with the lander declared ready for separation at 02:35 GMT.

Despite a transient fault in the cold gas thruster aboard Philae, at 07:35 GMT Rosetta completed its final maneuver and the final permission was given to proceed with landing. At 09:03 Philae separated from Rosetta. During course correction maneuvers, communications with Earth were interrupted from either spacecraft, so they were programmed to operate autonomously…


First photo from Philae lander

…Since its arrival on August 6, the orbiter has been mapping the comet in search of a suitable landing site for the Philae lander.

…The landing…was based on a window where there would be enough sunlight to power the lander, but not so much as to make the comet dangerously active. Meanwhile, the site was chosen based on a balance between the scientific value of the area against the safety of the lander. Agilkia has very little slope, few boulders, and abundant sunlight, yet contains many features of interest.

ESA says that Philae has begun taking panoramic images as part of a two-and-a-half day science mission using its suite of 10 instruments, which could be extended if its solar panels are able to charge its batteries.

Bravo. Kudos to ESA for having the foresight and dedication to basic science and research required to fund and manage this project.

Click through to the article and more than 2 dozen photos from the history of the Rosetta project.

Thanks, Ursarodinia, Mike – GMTA

Remembering the engineer and mathematician — Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr

Born in Austria in 1914, the mathematically talented Lamarr moved to the US in 1937 to start a Hollywood career. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, she was considered one of cinema’s leading ladies and made numerous films; however, her passion for engineering is far less known today. Her interest in inventing was such that she set up an engineering room in her house complete with a drafting table and wall of engineering reference books.

With the outbreak of World War II, Lamarr wanted to apply her skills to helping the war effort and, motivated by reports of German U-boats sinking ships in the Atlantic, she began investigating ways to improve torpedo technology. After Lamar met composer George Antheil, who had been experimenting with automated control of musical instruments, together they hit on the idea of “frequency hopping.” At the time, radio-controlled torpedoes could easily be detected and jammed by broadcasting interference at the frequency of the control signal, thereby causing the torpedo to go off course. Frequency hopping essentially served to encrypt the control signal because it was impossible for a target to scan and jam all of the frequencies.

Lamarr and Antheil were granted a patent for their invention on August 11, 1942, but the US Navy wasn’t interested in applying their groundbreaking technology until twenty years later when it was used on military ships during a blockade of Cuba in 1962. Lamarr and Antheil’s frequency-hopping concept serves as a basis for the spread-spectrum communication technology used in GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices. Unfortunately, Lamarr’s part in its development has been largely overlooked and her efforts weren’t recognized until 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave her an award for her technological contributions. Hedy Lamarr passed away in 2000 at the age of 85.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Obama finally backs net neutrality — UPDATED

US President Barack Obama voiced support for a new regulatory system for Internet providers aimed at avoiding a two-speed system leaving some services in an online “slow lane.”

Obama endorsed an effort to reclassify the Internet as a public utility to give regulators authority to enforce “net neutrality,” the principle barring Internet service firms from playing favourites or opening up “fast lanes” for those who pay more.

In a statement on Monday, Obama said he wants the independent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”

Obama’s comment comes as the FCC seeks to draft new rules to replace those struck down this year by a US appeals court, which said the agency lacked authority to regulate Internet service firms as it does telephone carriers.

“‘Net neutrality’ has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation – but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted,” Obama said in a statement.

“We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas.” Obama added…

Obama also said he wants the same rules to apply to mobile broadband, which was not covered in the earlier regulations.

Predictable creeps, ranging from profiteers in cable and telecom to absolute ignoranuses like Ted Cruz are lining up according to pay grade to oppose equal access to Web communications. Cruz, of course, is chartered by his owners to oppose anything that contains the word “equal”. The telecom model is simply to lie even more than politicians. Usually about imaginary costs and research.

While we do have some of the most expensive broadband in the world – we’re down to about 18th in the world for the speeds we get for our buck$.

UPDATE: FCC chairman kicks the can down the road – to have backing of rightwing Congress. So much for government agencies dedicated to the good of the whole nation, eh?

207 mph on a bicycle – WTF?

Bravo to François Gissy for continuing to reach truly ridiculous velocities on his rocket-powered bicycle. The amazing Frenchman recently hung on for a series of runs at Circuit Paul Ricard where he bashed through his old record and showed a Ferrari who was boss.

We thought it was crazy enough last year when Nissy hit 163 miles per hour on his rocket bike down a stretch of French highway. Clearly, the cycle’s designer, Arnold Neracher, has kept hard at work on the project, though. In the latest runs, Nissy managed a top speed of 207 mph (333km/h), blowing last year’s results up in a huge puff of smoke.

The speed alone is impressive enough, but seeing how quickly he attains it makes the video truly mind-boggling. The cycle is little more than a white streak going down the track. For sake of comparison, Nissy also lines up for a drag race with the Ferrari to show what quick really looks like – this bike is truly a crotch rocket.

Woo-hoo!