Switching off Frequency Modulation, we’ve gone all digital

Monday, 27 April, 2015

I seldom listen to the radio on a radio, I’m streaming it on the same device I’m also writing these words. It suits me… at least I don’t need a radio anymore, but it may not be for everyone.

Unless you live in Norway, that is. In 2017 the Scandinavian nation will close down its FM, or Frequency Modulation radio network, in favour of Digital Audio Broadcasting, or DAB.

Frequency modulation, or FM, radio was patented in 1933 and has been recording and sharing the human story for nearly a century. But its days are clearly waning. According to a 2012 Pew Study, while over 90% of Americans still listen to AM/FM radio at least weekly, more people are choosing to forgo analog radio for Internet-only services each year.

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WOW! signals radio telescopes detect from nearby microwave ovens

Tuesday, 21 April, 2015

Image by Katie Mack

So, a series of mysterious radio signals, or fast radio bursts, from beyond the galaxy, that some radio telescopes have been detecting since 2001, that appeared to be adhering to a pattern of some sort, may not be artificial after all (but who knows, the universe is one weird place), if the above image is anything to go by.

This coming to light after certain other strange signals, referred to as perytons, being radio pulses suspected of being terrestrial in origin, were finally identified by Emily Petroff, of the Swinburne University of Technology, as being energy discharges from microwave ovens in a kitchen at the radio telescope facility:

One clue Petroff had was that all recorded perytons were observed during daylight, and indeed during business hours. When the observatory at Parkes installed a radio frequency interference (RFI) monitor, it picked up signals coinciding with some perytons detected by the famous dish. This confirmed the local nature of the events and indicated the signal was also occurring at frequencies beyond what the radio telescope can detect.

(Above image by Katie Mack)

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Motion sickness, a side effect of travelling by driverless car?

Monday, 20 April, 2015

Most of us travelling by way of driverless cars, when the day arrives that is, will have to be content with looking out the window, watching the world go by, rather than reading, working, or watching movies, as motion sickness may be more pronounced in autonomous vehicles:

“Motion sickness is expected to be more of an issue in self-driving vehicles than in conventional vehicles,” Sivak said. “The reason is that the three main factors contributing to motion sickness – conflict between vestibular (balance) and visual inputs, inability to anticipate the direction of motion and lack of control over the direction of motion – are elevated in self-driving vehicles.

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Look up Moon phases for the next eight thousand years

Thursday, 16 April, 2015

Moon Phases installation

Here’s an interactive installation that allows you look up the phases of the Moon, as seen in the northern hemisphere, for any date from the beginning of the first millennium, right on through almost to the end of the tenth millennium. Cool, or what?

Talking of the tenth millennium, here are a few astronomical events, perhaps the only things we can be sure may happen, that are scheduled to take place. Regulus, a star in what is still the constellation of Leo, will feature prominently, assuming it is still around in eight thousand years:

  • 5 November 9106, Venus occults Regulus
  • 16 November 9682, Mercury occults Regulus
  • 21 November 9847, Mars occults Regulus

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Might ants one day be helping us fight off spam?

Monday, 13 April, 2015

Is there anything ants cannot do? They make great street cleaners, have shown us how to quickly exit buildings during an emergency, know a thing or two about easing traffic congestion, and have even created sculptures based on their colonies. Now the way they go about defending these colonies may even help us to deal with spam email messages:

Deborah M. Gordon, a biology professor at Stanford, has worked with a computer scientist, Fernando Esponda, and produced a model that suggests that ant colony defense behavior follows the same distributed network rules as the human immune system. The work suggests that evolution has twice produced a simple security protocol for social insects that, installed in email servers, could make them far more difficult for spammers to hack.

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Imagine if you could leap to work, rather than catch a bus

Wednesday, 8 April, 2015

Spacious, clean, wifi enabled buses, with, in addition to the driver, an attendant serving refreshments and answering any questions commuters may have, just might lure more people onto public transport. Too bad then the Leap buses only service a small area of San Francisco at the moment.

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Go time travelling by way of your old email messages

Wednesday, 8 April, 2015

I have emails, sent and received, going back almost thirteen years. That figure would be closer to eighteen, had I have not lost messages from the first computers I owned, lumbering desktop affairs, due to the backup discs they’d been stored on corrupting.

So if I wished to time travel as it were, by revisiting my earliest emails, to glean insights into the way my thought processes, and the way I communicated, may have changed over time, I may not draw quite the same conclusions, as Brooklyn based programmer Paul Ford, who did have access to eighteen years worth of correspondence.

It’s strange to see the conversations because we’re all still obsessed over the same things we were ten or fifteen years ago. We’ve gotten older, gotten married and divorced. Some of us are rich, some are poor, some like comic books, some are writing poems, some are writing novels, some are still wearing the same T-shirts. Children change us, and keep changing us. Divorce changes us, often for a while. We cling to life and resolve to do better and then just drift back to ourselves and the regular flow of life. Like a pile of rocks in a stream, time running around us. Occasionally it rains and a stone is knocked around. Change comes from without.

The thing is, it was the messages from those lost years, the late 1990s, that would make such a comparison meaningful, all the more pertinent.

I was making my first forays into web design, had become involved with the Australian Infront, a local web design community, and was contemplating the meaning of a certain chance meeting at a bar, of all things. Followed up by an equally (maybe) contingent… encounter, mere metres from said locale, just weeks ago, it should be added.

I expect I would cringe, a lot, if I could see those messages again, so I guess the test will come, if I’m able to review the emails I’m sending now, in eighteen years time. I may recoil a little, but maybe not so much.

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Double spacing in punctuation belongs to the typewriter age

Monday, 6 April, 2015

This is interesting, I don’t know of anyone who uses double spacing at the end of a written sentence, although I’ve seen the practice occur on some websites I occasionally stumble upon.

As far as I understood, it’s something that harks back to days of typewriters, when writers would add the extra gap to their manuscripts for whatever reason.

That some people today still choose to use typewriters – and each to their own, I say – is beside the point. It was my impression that the convention had long since been deprecated, along with, say, any use whatsoever of the word “whom”.

What galls me about two-spacers isn’t just their numbers. It’s their certainty that they’re right. Over Thanksgiving dinner last year, I asked people what they considered to be the “correct” number of spaces between sentences. The diners included doctors, computer programmers, and other highly accomplished professionals. Everyone – everyone! – said it was proper to use two spaces.

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Might the “shut in” lifestyle give new lift to the economy?

Thursday, 2 April, 2015

As if working online from home/base as a writer wasn’t enough, the proliferation of web based services that delivers just about anything I care to think of to my door, now means I never have to leave the house at all. If I don’t want to, that is.

But there you have it, the rise of what is becoming known as the shut-in economy, or barista economy, a whole new services industry that just might power economic growth for decades.

Katherine van Ekert isn’t a shut-in, exactly, but there are only two things she ever has to run errands for any more: trash bags and saline solution. For those, she must leave her San Francisco apartment and walk two blocks to the drug store, “so woe is my life,” she tells me. (She realizes her dry humor about #firstworldproblems may not translate, and clarifies later: “Honestly, this is all tongue in cheek. We’re not spoiled brats.”) Everything else is done by app. Her husband’s office contracts with Washio. Groceries come from Instacart. “I live on Amazon,” she says, buying everything from curry leaves to a jogging suit for her dog, complete with hoodie.

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Pop it in the oven for a few minutes, one way to repair laptops

Tuesday, 31 March, 2015

I’d say your mileage would vary to say the least, but in certain circumstances, placing the motherboard of your laptop computer in a heated oven, may be one way to effect certain repairs, in this case a graphics chip that would run so hot, it’d detach from the motherboard when the solder holding it in place melted.

Believe it or not, baking the laptop was actually the easy part. Successful reports from internet forums all said pretty much the same thing: set your oven to 320-350 degrees, prop the mobo up on a casserole dish (or a few carefully placed balls of aluminum foil) and cook each side for 2-4 minutes each. Allow it to cool and serve in its original chassis for best results.

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