Category: Technology

Kipstr will record the NFL game you’re watching when you fall asleep

If you’ve ever sat down to watch a program on TV only to wake up as the closing credits are rolling, there’s a new wearable device in which you may be interested. Kipstr makes sure you don’t miss your show by dozing off. The wristband recognizes if you fall asleep, and starts recording.

Kipstr was created by Manchester Creative Studio students Ryan Oliver and Jonathan Kingsley, who are 15 and 14 years old respectively. The UK-based pair were taking part in Virgin Media’s Switched on Futures scheme aimed at developing digital skills.

The device uses a pulse-oximeter to monitor the wearer’s heart rate while they are watching TV. When its spark core chip detects that the wearer’s heart rate has fallen, it communicates with their TiVo box to begin recording the remainder of the program that is being watched. The Kipstr can also be used to trigger the program to start playing again when it detects that the wearer has woken up…

 Ryan Oliver [15] and Jonathan Kingsley [14]

Virgin Media suggests that the Kipstr could also be used for monitoring the emotional responses of users to different TV programs, tagging the programs appropriately for future reference. Similarly, it could be used to control other devices in the home when the wearer falls asleep, such as turning off lights or the heating to save money.

Should be no big deal to set this up to communicate with systems other than OTA, e.g., cable boxes, DirecTV DVRs.

Kudos to the kiddos.

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New teaching model may be a game changer

Hundreds of students have just completed new courses in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences’ Active Learning Initiative (ALI), part of a strategic effort by the college to embrace engaged learning models and emerging technologies…

ALI uses a “flipped classroom” approach: Knowledge transfer happens before class, through assigned reading material or videos. Class time is then used for “deliberate practice,” applying the new knowledge via problem-solving and reasoning to give students experience making and testing predictions and solving problems. Studies have shown that the deliberate practice model is the quickest path to expert-level mastery of a given skill set.

“Because the College of Arts and Sciences teaches foundational courses that all undergraduate students throughout the university take, we have the unique opportunity to impact undergraduate education throughout Cornell with this initiative,” says Gretchen Ritter… “We’re harnessing the passion and commitment from both faculty and alumni to institute these initiatives and expand our efforts to other foundational courses throughout the college.”

Physics and biology, the pilot departments for ALI, each converted large course sequences to the new model and reach almost 3,000 students. Jed Sparks, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and ALI project lead for biology, said the initiative is “not fixing bad or broken classes but ones that are well-received – making something that works well work even better.”

Advanced students in ALI courses benefit from the deeper level at which the courses operate beyond basic knowledge transfer; midrange students have more opportunity to develop expert-level skills through greater exposure to more material; and the least prepared students benefit from improved opportunities to engage the course material, develop and practice skills, and close achievement gaps more quickly…

Developing the curricula for the pilot classes requires re-examining lecture objectives and what material should be covered, says Sparks. “For the active learning model to be successful, the teacher must have very clearly in mind what the teaching objectives for the class are. It requires them to teach in a more deliberate and intentional way. It’s transformative.”

The new learning model expects more of students as well as teachers, says Arias. “They must have the discipline to do their preparation before class, but by doing so, we can take them further and deeper than we could before…”

Another benefit of response technologies is direct, frequent pedagogical assessment, says Lisa Sanfilippo, a teaching support specialist for the biology initiative. “Ongoing assessment is a key element of active learning,” she says.

RTFA for notes of methods and tech used not only for assessment of the teaching; but, students to self-evaluate, peer-evaluation. Both ends of the dialectic utilizing not only purpose-designed devices/systems like iClicker; but, with any smart device.

Sounds fascinating. Sounds like something I would have enjoyed BITD – and still may.

As ever, my first concern will be to examine how well any portion of this new system can be translated down to younger age groups, public schools not funded as well as Cornell, students from a broader demographic than folks who end up at one of the primo universities in the country. Every class needs a better education.

Safe housing for the paranoid

Paraguayan home Caja Oscura, by local architects Javier Corvalán and Laboratorio de Arquitectura, consists of a basement structure, with a manually-operated tilting metal box placed atop. With no natural light available when the box is closed, this unusual dwelling is probably not suitable for those who fear being trapped in a small enclosed space, but it is arguably the perfect place to ride out the Apocalypse …

The property measures 914 sq ft and contains a bedroom and bathroom in the crypt-like basement, with a kitchen and living area located in the metal box above (access is offered via a staircase). This latter area is transformed into a semi-outdoor space once raised with a hand-crank, and the metal box itself is constructed from iron tubes, with a galvanized corrugated metal exterior and MDF interior.

When closed, however, the structure appears to be very robust, safe from prying eyes, and more importantly, virtually impenetrable.

To our minds…it’s obviously envisioned as the perfect post-apocalyptic retreat ready for the inevitable zombie rising

The hideaway was built for about $27,000 which should make it perfect for the average cheapskate survivalist. All you need to add is gun ports for the United States. Sturdier is possible – throwing more dollars at the project; but, if you expect nothing more than zombies this should be adequate.

Researchers set new record in solar energy efficiency

UNSW’s solar researchers have converted over 40% of the sunlight hitting a solar system into electricity, the highest efficiency ever reported.

The world-beating efficiency was achieved in outdoor tests in Sydney, before being independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at their outdoor test facility in the United States…

“We used commercial solar cells, but in a new way, so these efficiency improvements are readily accessible to the solar industry,” said Dr Mark Keevers, the UNSW solar scientist who managed the project.

The 40% efficiency milestone is the latest in a long line of achievements by UNSW solar researchers spanning four decades. These include the first photovoltaic system to convert sunlight to electricity with over 20% efficiency in 1989, with the new result doubling this performance.

“The new results are based on the use of focused sunlight, and are particularly relevant to photovoltaic power towers being developed in Australia,” Professor Martin Green said…

A key part of the prototype’s design is the use of a custom optical bandpass filter to capture sunlight that is normally wasted by commercial solar cells on towers and convert it to electricity at a higher efficiency than the solar cells themselves ever could.

Such filters reflect particular wavelengths of light while transmitting others.

When the whole paper is published we will see and hear a lot more about the process. Proof-of-concept is already established. Prototype and pilot plant demonstrations are next.

And, then, if all continues apace, we start to be able to acquire greater output with fewer dollars invested in solar power. Hopefully, at the individual home level as well as commercial solar farms.

Thanks, Mike

There’s only one source for the plastic in our oceans — us!

kelly_pogo_earthday

There are at least 268,000 tonnes of plastic floating around in the oceans, according to new research by a global team of scientists.

The world generates 288m tonnes of plastic worldwide each year, just a little more than the annual vegetable crop, yet using current methods only 0.1% of it is found at sea. The new research illustrates as much as anything, how little we know about the fate of plastic waste in the ocean once we have thrown it “away”.

Most obviously, this discarded plastic exists as the unsightly debris we see washed ashore on our beaches.

These large chunks of plastic are bad news for sea creatures which aren’t used to them. Turtles, for instance, consume plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish. In Hawaii’s outer islands the Laysan albatross feeds material skimmed from the sea surface to its chicks. Although adults can regurgitate ingested plastic, their chicks cannot. Young albatrosses are often found dead with stomachs full of bottle tops, lighters and other plastic debris, having starved to death.

But these big, visible impacts may just be the tip of the iceberg. Smaller plastic chunks less than 2.5mm across – broken down bits of larger debris – are ubiquitous in zooplankton samples from the eastern Pacific. In some regions of the central Pacific there is now six times as much plankton-sized plastic are there is plankton. Plankton-eating birds, fish and whales have a tough time telling the two apart, often mistaking this plastic – especially tan coloured particles – for krill.

However, even this doesn’t quite tell the whole story. For technical reasons Marcus Eriksen and his team weren’t able to consider the very smallest particles – but these may be the most harmful of all.

We’re talking here about tiny lumps of 0.5mm across or considerably less, usually invisible to the naked eye, which often originate in cosmetics or drugs containing nanoparticles or microbeads. Such nanoparticles matter as they are similar size to the smallest forms of plankton (pico and nano plankton) which are the most abundant plankton group and biggest contributors in terms of biomass and contribution to primary production…

Plastic pollution of the marine environment is the Cinderella of global issues, garnering less attention than its ugly sisters climate change, acidification, fisheries, invasive species or food waste but it has links to them all and merits greater attention by the scientific community.

I’ve mentioned many times how – growing up in a southern New England factory town – my family relied on subsistence fishing to get by. That meant we ate fish at least 5 days a week, whatever was running at the time. My poor mom was an inventive workingclass cook; but, there’s a limit to how many ways you can make bluefish appetizing.

If we continue to destroy the greatest natural source of food for our species – and many others – we’re in deep trouble. So deep we may not recover to live long enough to witness all the other disasters those who profit the most from our industrial revolution continue to visit upon the planet.

RTFA. Read the research. Get on board.

Off-grid primary school built using shipping containers


Louver walls of local masonry inserted to encourage natural ventilation

Shipping container-based buildings can suffer – indeed, usually do suffer – from significant insulation issues. But Johannesburg-based firm Architecture for a change (A4AC) recently built a community center and school in Malawi from shipping containers that aims to mitigate this with an open design. The firm also installed rainwater harvesting and solar power to allow the school to operate off-grid.

The Legson Kayira Community Center and Primary School is a simple structure, both inside and out. It measures 4,090 sq ft and comprises two classrooms, a large central courtyard, and some bleachers. The building is primarily used to teach children, but also serves as an adult training center, weekend market, and community center.

The school was manufactured at A4AC’s workshop in South Africa, before being transported to Malawi. During construction, the firm used a number of shipping containers as a basic building material and added a lightweight steel supporting frame and roof. A4AC also removed sections of the containers and installed louvered walls to encourage natural ventilation.

In addition, large sections of the classroom walls can be opened on a hinge in order to turn the interior into a semi-outdoor space, and shade netting helps block out the sun. The roofs are angled to channel rainwater into gutters which then feed water storage tanks. The roofs also sport solar panels which provide power for the interior lighting and a laptop and projector, which is used to show movies and soccer games.

On-site construction took just eight weeks. My favorite building blocks – remaindered, disused shipping containers – served the purpose admirably. Structural steel is durable, needs little more than paint not only to form a lasting structure; but, with a little talent, to be changed and re-purposed.

First Chevy Volt to hit 200,000 miles

One year ago, InsideEVs reported on Erick Belmer, proud owner of a Chevy Volt. Back then, the focus was on how Belmer’s Volt had at least 20,000 miles more than the highest mileage LEAF in the U.S.

Four months later, we updated the Belmer story with a post on how his Volt was celebrating its second birthday with over 146,000 miles on the odometer.

Belmer is once again featured here for a world’s first: 200,000 miles on a Chevy Volt…

As Belmer tells InsideEVs, the Volt was purchased on March 28, 2012. Since then, it’s seen a daily commute of 220 miles there and back, with a single longest trip of 430 miles in a day.

Oil changes come every 38,000 miles and tire rotations every 10,000 miles. That’s basically all the maintenance that’s been required on Belmer’s Volt…

“Volt is holding up flawlessly! No noticeable battery capacity loss. Used 9.7 kw because it’s a 2012. I am so pleased with this vehicle!”

The Volt was always my dream car! To get to drive it everyday is a dream come true! This car is Wonderfully engineered!”

Keep on Rocking in the Free World, Erick.

I can sympathize with the driving. When the first Acuras came out I was still living on the road. Miles weren’t quite as bad as yours; I was averaging ab’t 75,000 miles per year – enough to get me finally changing jobs and getting off the road after 20 years.

Out here in the Southern Rockies ain’t nothin’ next to nothin’.

Michigan rocketeers launch porta-potty

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Click to enlarge

Mission accomplished! A group of rocket enthusiasts launched a porta-potty into the sky Saturday in southwestern Michigan. It made an arc and almost landed on a spectator’s pickup truck, 2,000 feet away.

A group of Michiana Rocketry club members planned the project for more than two years. The club is trying to increase awareness of rocketry as a hobby and prove it’s possible to turn a porta-potty into a rocket and launch it successfully.

…liftoff occurred in a soybean field near Three Oaks in Berrien County. About 30 people worked on the rocket, from engineers to sales people who lined up sponsors.

Rocket enthusiast Bob Bycraft says it was carefully planned. He says it wasn’t “barnyard engineering.

Har!