What might be our last working device if we suddenly vanished?

Thursday, 21 May, 2015

Now here’s a question. If people were to completely vanish, just like that, for whatever reason, what electric/electronic device would continue functioning for the longest time?

Something robust, low maintenance, and with access to a consistent source of energy. Nuclear power plants on naval vessels? Space probes, such as the Voyager craft? A solar powered yard light? Those are a few of the suggestions at this Slashdot discussion on the question.

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Distracted for enlightenment’s sake, thanks to our smartphones

Thursday, 21 May, 2015

So all those people on buses, trains, at cafes, walking in the park, and in queues at the supermarket, gazing at the screens of their smartphones, are not so much doing so because their device makes for a distraction, but because they are seeking information, or knowledge, of some sort at least.

Others may prefer to call it the pursuit of enlightenment, and it’s something we can only do when we’re by ourselves, usually, or some of the time at least, and that therefore serves as justification enough for choosing to stare at a smartphone screen while supposedly isolated.

Even if we are surrounded by people, some of who may not even be strangers. That’s the persuit of enlightenment, by way of a smartphone. Yes, that sounds pretty good to me.

In The World Beyond Your Head, he explores how we got to what he calls a “crisis of attention”. His starting onslaught is no less challenging a task than an assault on the “Enlightenment self”, because, it seems, it is the isolated self that permits distraction. Immanuel Kant is frequently taken to be the epitome of the 18th-century philosophical Enlightenment, and Crawford blames him for constructing its notion of the self as an isolated being for whom true knowledge can arise only from solo enquiry.

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Drones, taking graffiti and vandalism to new heights

Friday, 8 May, 2015

Drones… they’re going to have their advantages, they’re going to have their disadvantages.

For instance, New York City street artist and vandal, yes, vandal appears to be one of his official titles, KATSU, used one to deface a large billboard attached to the side of a building recently, a “canvas” that might ordinarily be beyond the reach of many would be vandals. A hacked drone at that, with a spray can attached.

As the domestic drone industry grows feverishly, and multicopters like DJI’s Phantom become cheaper and more powerful, artists have been eager to experiment with the technology. It was only a matter of time, then, that people would figure out that the drone has enormous potential for subversive acts on the streets, where defying the laws of gravity is the whole point. Given the enduring privacy, safety, and legal concerns around the technology, conceptually it makes a certain amount of sense that it would find uses at the peripheries of what most people (let alone the law) would consider acceptable.

It has to wondered what other subversive acts some are going to attempt with the technology.

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Where do old computers go? To Agbogbloshie, Ghana, sometimes

Friday, 1 May, 2015

What happens to your disused computers, smartphones, and the like? Do you send them away to a recycling facility, if you can locate such a place, or do they simply end up going into the rubbish bin?

Possibly your old electronics make their way to Agbogbloshie, in Ghana, where locals risk their health to extract materials such as copper, in the hope of selling it, effectively for small change.

They work with bare hands, often in flip-flops, breathing in toxic fumes to earn an average of $2.50 a day. Though most plan to only work for a few weeks, many soon suffer from breathing problems, insomnia, nausea and crushing headaches. Cancer and other illnesses are rumored to kill many e-waste workers by their 20s.

I have several old laptops and mobile phones sitting a box, while I figure out how best to dispose of them. Hopefully they don’t find their way to a place like Agbogbloshie.

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Our digital world illustrated, do you see yourself depicted?

Thursday, 30 April, 2015

Illustration by Jean Jullien

There’s definitely a message being conveyed in the illustration work of London based French graphic designer Jean Jullien. Give me half a tick while I grab my smartphone, and see if I can Google what that might be…

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3D animations of mechanical mechanisms galore

Wednesday, 29 April, 2015

Nguyen Duc Thang, a retired mechanical engineer living in Vietnam, has put together some seventeen hundred 3D animations of all sorts of mechanical mechanisms… transmissions, gear shafts, pentographs, you name it.

Via Kottke.

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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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