Your particle accelerator, don’t leave home without it

Friday, 20 June, 2014

Particle accelerators, think the Large Hadron Collider, aren’t entirely about solving the mysteries of the universe… they also have a number of day to day applications:

Accelerators use electromagnetic force to accelerate charged particles. The resulting particle beams can be directed along the desired path, including to the outside of the accelerator walls. When a charged particle moves past an atom, it can interact with the electrons in that atom, knocking them out of their orbits and breaking bonds. That can cause some chemical compounds to fall apart and others to polymerize. The latter ability has been used in one of the earliest industrial applications of accelerators, stretching back at least to the 1980s: sealing potato chip bags and milk cartons. The potato bag is made from two layers of aluminum foil held together by glue. That glue would take too long to dry on industrial conveyor belts. “It would be sticky forever,” says Kephart – but electron beams can make it happen instantly. “With an accelerator you can polymerize that glue and it’s set.”

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Is HP’s “machine” the computer we’ve been waiting for?

Friday, 20 June, 2014

This I look forward to hearing more of, Hewlett-Packard are in the process of developing an all new computer, that they’re calling “the Machine”… I wonder if it’ll turn out to be everything they’re claiming it to be?

That’s what they’re calling it at HP Labs: “the Machine.” It’s basically a brand-new type of computer architecture that HP’s engineers say will serve as a replacement for today’s designs, with a new operating system, a different type of memory, and superfast data transfer. The company says it will bring the Machine to market within the next few years or fall on its face trying. “We think we have no choice,” says Martin Fink, the chief technology officer and head of HP Labs, who is expected to unveil HP’s plans at a conference Wednesday.

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Nothing digital is rare any more, unless you go the Wu-Tang way

Wednesday, 18 June, 2014

There will be – if the powers that be prevail – just one copy only of Wu-Tang Clan’s new album “The Wu – Once Upon A Time In Shaolin”, a gimmick, if I may use that word, that’s piqued my interest in the group recently.

Assuming whoever ends up owning the recording does not destroy it, or make numerous copies for distribution, it will indeed be considered “very rare”.

The same however cannot be said of anything else that has been digitised, or become a digital object, such as a photo, video clip, or sound file. Clearly such objects can be shared, or copied, indefinitely, and referring to such items as rare, or very rare, is a misnomer. It’s pointless in fact:

With access to infinite bytes of media, describing a digital object as “rare” sticks out like a lumbering anachronism. YouTube – the official home of lumbering anachronisms – excels at these extraordinarily contradictory moments. Here, for instance, are the Beatles, performing a “VERY RARE” rendition of “Happy Birthday”. That sonic obscurity has been heard 2.3 million times.

And on subject of Wu-Tang Clan’s enigmatic new recording, listen to a short snippet here.

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Uber drivers and their varied lives

Wednesday, 18 June, 2014

Say what you will about controversial ride sharing app Uber, that is running into some resistance locally at the moment, but the people who are offering up their cars and driving services certainly have stories to tell, as Will Butler, writing for The Awl, discovered after spending a few days trying out the service:

He drove a Lexus. The seats: dark leather. It hummed peacefully, went silent at each stop sign. Geoff said he did two things to make money and stay occupied (Uber, I guess, was a third thing). First he was a day-trader. He woke up early with the market: buy, sell, cash out. He was, second, a web developer. But he wasn’t just spicing up your cousin’s husband’s WordPress theme. He scraped. He “did” SEO. He trawled; he was a fisher-of-content.

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There ain’t no idea that hasn’t been tried before

Monday, 16 June, 2014

Julius Neubronner's pigeon photographers

In 1908, long before Google’s search engine even existed, let alone any other Google product, German inventor, and pioneer of amateur photography, Julius Neubronner devised a miniature camera that could be attached to pigeons for the purposes of taking Google Earth like photos.

That the images collected by Neubronner and his team of pigeons were in fact sold as postcards is irrelevant, there you have the basis of the well known mapping application. In a way.

But the pigeon powered Google Earth variant isn’t the only seemingly modern concept that hasn’t been tried, in some form, before. GPS, FaceTime, Skype, ebook readers, and flat screen televisions, are also among ideas that aren’t quite as recent as they seem.

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If not for old web design mistakes the web wouldn’t be what it is now

Monday, 9 June, 2014

It was the date of this article, or the year it was published, 1999, that caught my eye. To my mind 1999 is possibly a point in time that inherently contains some sort of cosmic significance, almost as if it were the temporal junction point of the entire space-time continuum. Whatever. I thought I’d link to it anyway.

A list of the top ten web design mistakes of 1999, compiled by the much reviled, at the time at least, web usability consultant Jakob Nielsen, who, way back in 1999, was concerned that web designers weren’t giving much thought to the way information was archived on a website:

Old information is often good information and can be useful to readers. Even when new information is more valuable than old information, there is almost always some value to the old stuff, and it is very cheap to keep it online. I estimate that having archives may add about 10% to the cost of running a site but increase its usefulness by about 50%. Archives are also necessary as the only way to eliminate linkrot and thus encourage other sites to link to you.

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Giving the internet a human face, a talk by Maciej Ceglowski

Thursday, 5 June, 2014

The Internet With A Human Face, the transcript of a recent talk given by US computer engineer Maciej Ceglowski. Thought provoking to say the least.

I’d like to start with an analogy. In the 1950’s, the United States tried a collective social experiment. What would happen if every family had a car? Eisenhower had been very impressed with the German Autobahn network during the war. When he was elected President, he pushed for the creation of the Interstate Highway System, a massive network of fast roads that would connect every population center in the country. Over the next 35 years, America built 75,000 kilometers of interstate highways. If you want to be glib about it (and I do!), you can think of the Interstate as an Internet for cars, a nationwide system unifying thousands of local road networks into an overarching whole.

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Is it time to hang up on eavesdropping social networks?

Wednesday, 4 June, 2014

The world’s largest social network wants to tap into what we’re listening to way by of the microphone on our smartphones. If you’re listening to some music, or watching a TV show, the Facebook app will attempt to identify what it is, and use the information as part of a status update that you may wish to post to your network:

When writing a status update – if you choose to turn the feature on – you’ll have the option to use your phone’s microphone to identify what song is playing or what show or movie is on TV. That means if you want to share that you’re listening to your favorite Beyoncé track or watching the season premiere of Game of Thrones, you can do it quickly and easily, without typing.

At the moment this feature is opt-in and optional. While it sounds all very convenient, the prospect has alarmed some civil liberties and privacy advocates who fear the feature may be used to listen into phone calls, and who knows, any other conversations taking place within the range of our phones.

Facebook says the feature will be used for harmless things, like identifying the song or TV show playing in the background, but by using the phone’s microphone every time you write a status update, it has the ability to listen to everything.

It’s great that voice and sound recognition technologies have evolved to the point that a smartphone app can name the song we’re listening to, but this might be a potentially risky misuse of the know how, and by partaking we are, little by little, allowing ourselves to become subject to ever more surveillance.

Maybe this is an over reaction though. Some will say our smartphones already allow anyone with the means to identify our present location. Plus all the places we’ve been to since whenever. What difference therefore does it make then if someone can hear what’s happening around us? What could possibly be wrong with that?

It may be just another brick in the wall – which of course they already knew we were listening to – but all those little bricks are beginning to build up to something all together too imposing.

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Travel through a wormhole looks to be as colourful as is imagined

Wednesday, 4 June, 2014

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that some astronomers think that what is thought to be a massive black hole at the centre of the galaxy may in fact be a wormhole. Wormholes, if they actually exist, allow travel from one point in space to another, far more distant, place.

So if such wormholes are for real, what then might travel through one of them be like? The Wormhole Actualization Machine, as built by Texas based software engineer Alan Watts, might give us an indication

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Hacking the nervous system… a good thing or a bad thing?

Monday, 2 June, 2014

Might it be possible to hack, or take some sort of external control, of the central nervous system? While the prospect sounds perilous, the right sort of manipulation might make the treating of certain disorders a little easier:

Inflammatory afflictions like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease are currently treated with drugs – painkillers, steroids and what are known as biologics, or genetically engineered proteins. But such medicines, Tracey pointed out, are often expensive, hard to administer, variable in their efficacy and sometimes accompanied by lethal side effects. His work seemed to indicate that electricity delivered to the vagus nerve in just the right intensity and at precise intervals could reproduce a drug’s therapeutic – in this case, anti-inflammatory – reaction. His subsequent research would also show that it could do so more effectively and with minimal health risks.

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