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    Avatars Made By Patients

    via BBC

    A recent study showed that schizophrenic patients who put an avatar to the voices they were hearing ended up hearing the voices less.

    This might be an unexpected way to treat schizophrenics hearing a disembodied voice: embodying the voice.

    In the U.K., psychiatrist Julian Leff tried an experiment to treat patients hearing voices. He had a group of patients put a face to the voice by having them create a virtual avatar through custom computer software. Then Leff talked to the patients through the on-screen avatars.

    At first, he told the BBC, he tries to make the patients realize the voices, like the avatars, aren't real: "I encourage the patient saying, 'you mustn't put up with this, you must tell the avatar that what he or she is saying is nonsense, you don't believe these things, he or she must go away, leave you alone, you don't need this kind of torment.'" After that, the voice, through Leff, says he or she will leave the patient be, and asks for ways to help improve the patient's life. This went on through six sessions.

    The group originally had 26 patients: 14 of those got the avatar therapy right from the start, while 12 received anti-psychotics and, later, were offered the virtual therapy. But only 16 made it through the full treatment--the voices told several of them to drop out. The majority of those who made it through, though, heard the voices less. Three of the patients, the researchers reported, even stopped hearing the voices completely.

    That's an intriguing finding (and one that complements other research well), but it's also not a huge sample size. So coming next month is another trial, this time with 142 patients.



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    Funky Feet

    Antònia Font via Wikimedia Commons

    Take to the trees!

    Humans may have moved out of the trees, but some of us are still wandering around with vestiges of our arboreal ancestors: a flexible, chimp-like foot that bends in the middle.

    As many as 1 in 13 people may be walking around with a midtarsal break in their foot characteristic of non-human primates, according to a study in in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology . While everyone has a joint in the middle of their foot, between the ball and the heel, most people have stiff ligaments that keep the joint from bending. In apes, the extra bend allows the foot to grip tree branches. Humans, by contrast, have been thought to have developed more rigid feet to act as a lever to propel us as we walk.

    After observing almost 400 adults walking barefoot around the Boston Museum of Science, researchers found that 8 percent of participants had a flexible midtarsal break in their foot, with a plantar pressure signature (where pressure is put on the foot) as had previously only been found in ape footprints.

    People with a mid-foot break had flatter feet, and were likely to have a higher BMI than participants with rigid feet. Though the break was obvious to the researchers watching people walk, the subjects themselves were unaware of the difference, and it didn't affect their gait.

    It's possible that the flexible joint is a vestige of our tree-climbing primate ancestors, but the study's lead author, Jeremy DeSilva, theorizes that the characteristic could have also popped up more recently due to the way shoes affect our feet. He told New Scientist he plans to test whether or not bendy feet make walking less efficient next.

    [New Scientist]


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    Vitamin Authentication

    Screenshot via AllThingsD

    I hope they make them in the shape of The Flintstones!

    Taking a daily vitamin could do more than give you an extra kick of vitamin D or C in the morning. Soon, it could also boost your online security, becoming an authentication token you could never lose.

    At the D11 conference in California today, Motorola unveiled a "vitamin authentication" tablet powered by the acid in your stomach that turns you into a human authentication token.

    Regina Dugan, Motorola's senior vice president for advanced technology and products and a former director of DARPA, described the little pill as "my first super power," according to Wired UK.

    "Authentication is irritating," she said. "After 40 years of advances in computation, we're still authenticating basically the same way we did years ago."

    The FDA-approved tablet, made by Proteus Digital Health, contains a small chip that can be switched on an off by your stomach acid, creating an 18-bit ECG-like signal that would let you authenticate your identity just by touching your phone, your computer or your car.

    Motorola has successfully completed a demo of the tablet authenticating a phone, but CEO Dennis Woodside said it wouldn't be shipping anytime soon.

    Smart pills have previously been developed as a way to transmit health information straight from your body to your doctor, and to remind patients with chronic diseases to take their medication . And now maybe they can make not getting hacked a little more convenient, too.

    [The Verge]


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    Setting Captives Free App


    Gay-bashing? Psychological abuse? Religious indoctrination? There's an app for that.

    Setting Captives Free identifies as a non-denominational ministry which teaches the biblical principles of freedom in Jesus Christ." Really what it is is a Christian self-help business, which offers solutions to all of the problems the group is sure are plaguing you. Some of these are actual problems, like substance abuse or gambling addiction. And some are extremely, offensively not. Setting Captives Free--the name comes from a Bible verse--gives online "courses" to address these issues (which sometimes aren't issues).

    This week the company expanded its reach by releasing a free app for iOS and Android that covers the same ground, including a course to "cure" homosexuality. Gay rights organizations are beginning to cry foul, noting that the American Psychiatric Association, among other mental health sources, have denounced "gay-curing" courses as psychologically damaging.

    The app has only been available for a week; it has a 2.5-star rating on iOS and a 2.8-star rating on Android (both out of 5), with comments ranging from "you people disgust me" and "superstitious ignorance" to a few supporters who, it must be said, seem to find the app awfully buggy. But it's still up, unlike, say, an app in which you hurl cartoon shoes at a cartoon George W. Bush.

    Hence this petition from All Out, demanding that Apple and Google remove the app from their stores. The petition is more than halfway to the 10,000 signature mark at the time of writing, though the approval and removal processes of Apple and Google are often inscrutable, so who knows how much effect it'll have.


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    Model of an unmanned surface vehicle

    drone boat! Drone boat.

    Kelsey D. Atherton

    Continuing the quest to keep humans and explosions far, far away from each other

    The U.S. Navy has long used MH-53 Sea Dragon helicopters to find and detonate underwater mines, but those helicopters were first tested in the 1970s and are set to retire in 2017. Now, new reports suggest the Navy will pass the task on to small, unmanned boats.

    The robots are officially categorized as "Unmanned Surface Vehicles," USV, and they would tow mine detection sonar and magnetic sensors behind them. Their small size and shallow draft allow the boats to pass over most underwater mines without triggering them. The towed sensors locate mines so that other ships can either avoid or neutralize the threat without exploding.

    How did the military deal with mines before it had robots? In late World War II, volunteer "Guinea Pig Squadrons" in large ships deliberately sailed over pressure mines, setting them off to free up routes for post-war maritime traffic. To protect themselves from the explosions, the crew members wore helmets and lined the ships with padding and mattresses.

    It was a novel solution, but unmanned boats and sophisticated sensors are definitely the better way to go.


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    Mystery Animal: May 29, 2013

    TBA (It's a Mystery!)

    Guess the species (either common or Linnaean) by tweeting at us--we're @PopSci--and get your name listed right here! Plus eternal glory, obviously. Update: We have a winner!

    So, here are the rules: To answer, follow us on Twitter and tweet at us with the hashtag #mysteryanimal. For example:

    Hey @PopSci, is the #mysteryanimal a baboon?

    And then I might say "if you think that's a baboon, perhaps you are the baboon!" But probably not, because this is a positive environment and all guesses are welcome and also this is not a very common animal so guess whatever you want!

    The first person to get it right wins! We'll retweet the answer from @PopSci, and also update this post so your amazing animal knowledge will be permanently etched onto the internet. Show your kids! Your dumb kids who thought that was a baboon!

    Update: And the winner is...Maggie Ryan Sandford, who correctly guessed that this is a caecilian! (And provided us with an unsettling picture of, as she says, "their totally grody egg situation.") Caecilians are the little-known third branch of the amphibian tree, along with frogs and salamanders. (Toads are, taxonomically, just a type of frog.) They evolved differently from the other amphibians: unlike frogs and salamanders, they live almost exclusively underground.

    Some physical attributes became unnecessary when the caecilian moved underground, most obviously the legs and the eyes. The caecilian is completely legless, making it look like an earthworm or a snake, and its eyes are weak and covered with skin. Those rings around the caecilian's body are merely folds of skin, not actual body segments, as in an earthworm. A few species can be found in water; like the other amphibians, the caecilians are friends of water, and the largest species of caecilian lives only in the water, swimming around like an eel. Also like the other amphibians, it breathes through a combination of organs--it has lungs, but also breathes through its skin.

    And that skin is odd indeed. A recent BBC documentary found that shortly after giving birth, mother caecilians shed their skin about once every three days--and the babies eat the nutrient rich skin, peeling it off her body like cheese off a pizza. It is, obviously, super gross.

    The caecilian lives all through South and Central America as well as some parts of coastal equatorial Africa and Southeast Asia. It's not rare, we think, but it is not a well-understood animal; nobody quite knows what it eats or what it does all day. But sometimes it looks really cheerful. Hi caecilian!


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    Space Stethoscope

    Will Kirk/

    It works over the din of a space ship, even if it's not placed correctly on the patient's body.

    In space, no one can hear your heart scream. Though the vacuous final frontier is soundless, the interior of a spacecraft is replete with the white noise of computers, electronic instruments and fans. All that buzzing and whirring and clicking makes it difficult to listen to the relatively faint sounds of an astronaut's heartbeat or breathing.

    In order to make sure we can diagnose our beloved space wanderers easily in the cacophonous ISS, a group of undergraduate engineers at John Hopkins designed a stethoscope that can filter out the background noise to hone in on the sounds inside the body.

    It even works pretty well if it isn't placed in exactly the right place. "Considering that during long space missions, there is a pretty good chance an actual doctor won't be on board, we thought it was important that the stethoscope did its job well, even when an amateur was the one using it," explained Noah Dennis, one of the inventors, in a press statement.

    The seemingly idiot-proof stethoscope works through what is described simply as "electronic and mechanical strategies," and also comes with a suction cup to keep it in place on a patient's chest and rechargeable batteries. James West, the Hopkins professor who oversaw the student project, hopes it can also be used in locations closer to home where medical care isn't super advanced, to help medics identify the sounds associated with common diseases in infants.

    [via Medgadget]


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    Of those who report their rapes, around 4 to 5 percent also describe experiencing orgasm.


    Yes, orgasms can happen to a rape victim.

    Rape. Most of us don't like to talk about it. We don't like to think about it. But when we do think about it, or at least when I do, it is always violent. I am struggling and overpowered. I am screaming. And I am certainly not getting off.

    Although in the United States, where I live, rape survivors are now more common than smokers, I am not currently among the nearly 20% of women or 3% of men (or more) who are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. I am not one of the 1 in 3 Native Americans who are raped. My mother has never felt the need to tell a doctor, as one Native American mother did, "I need to learn more about Plan B for when my daughter gets raped."

    And my lack of first-hand experience might be why my narrow definition of rape was completely wrong.

    Rape is not always violent. Some survivors surrender to protect themselves or their loved ones. Some are intoxicated, drugged, physically or mentally incapacitated, or in a position without power. Some (doubly horribly) are children. Rape does not always include penile penetration. Some rapists are married to their victims. Some rapists are women. Some women rape men. And sometimes, in the middle of an act that is always a violation, a rape survivor will experience increasingly intense physical sensations leading to climax - an orgasm.

    Yes, it really happens.

    Of those who report their rapes, around 4-5% also describe experiencing orgasm. But the true numbers are likely much higher. In a 2004 review paper, a clinician reports, "I (have) met quite a lot of victims (males) who had the full sexual response during sexual abuse…I (have) met several female victims of incest and rape who had lubrication and orgasm."

    In February of this year, Reddit featured a child therapist in an ‘I Am A' discussion to address orgasm during rape. She had previously participated in an ‘ask me anything' (AMA) on the topic. It was so popular that she was invited to engage again. In the first post the therapist states,

    "I've assisted more young women than I can count with this very issue…There have been very few studies on orgasm during rape, but the research so far shows numbers from 10% to over 50% having this experience. In my experience as a therapist, it has been somewhat less than half of the girls/women I've worked with. (For the record, I have worked with very few boys/men who reported this.) In professional discussions, colleagues report similar numbers."

    And though most of the half-dozen or so therapists and sex educators I spoke with said that they believed the phenomenon was uncommon, all of them had heard from or heard of at least a few rape victims who experienced sexual arousal.

    Matthew Atkinson, a domestic and sexual violence-response professional and author of "Resurrection After Rape," wrote to me that, "Of the 500-600 clients I ever saw, only a couple of dozen disclosed [it] to me. However, when the topic is brought up on internet discussion forums, there seems to be a great deal of interest in it. That suggests to me that it's more common than we may be aware…"

    Rape and arousal can happen simultaneously, and one does not exclude the other.The voices of the internet suggest he's right. Read through the Reddit thread or blogsor comments to articles that discuss orgasm during rape and you find storyafter story: "I was sexually abused at a young age and had an orgasm." "…although I never stopped resisting I was horrified to find myself having a series of multiple orgasms…" "I thought I would never be able to tell - except here." "Reading your post made me feel like maybe I am not such a freak." One woman describes a violent and painful gang rape and recalls, "One of the most disturbing things that happened that night is that I had an orgasm. Despite years of marriage, it was my first orgasm ever."

    But how can this be? How can a victim's experience of rape, especially violent rape, include an orgasm? If you are a blogger on one website (which I refuse to honor with a link) the explanation is simple: "You've suddenly realized that actually, in spite of what you thought before it happened, in reality you wanted to be raped and you're fucking loving every minute of it… that fact alone makes ‘rape' an act of consensual sex."

    No. This is not the explanation. Rape and arousal can happen simultaneously, and one does not exclude the other. As disgusting as they are, that blogger's words illustrate a common error of conflating arousal and conscious intention. An orgasm, at least in popular understanding, represents a peak of sexual pleasure, a state of euphoria. In that perception, if someone is experiencing rape, shouldn't pleasure be absent? Shouldn't the body, you know, shut that whole thing down?

    We really need a better understanding of human sexuality and human physiology. Just as Todd Akin (and hundreds of years of science) was so wrong in thinking that rape can't lead to pregnancy, I and many others were entirely wrong about arousal and climax during rape. Despite what many rapists would like to believe, arousal does not mean that an assault was enjoyable or that a victim was asking for it. So what does it mean?

    Quite simply, our bodies respond to sex. And our bodies respond to fear. Our bodies respond. They do so uniquely and often entirely without our permission or intention. Orgasm during rape isn't an example of an expression of pleasure. It's an example of a physical response whether the mind's on board or not, like breathing, sweating, or an adrenaline rush. Therapists commonly use the analogy of tickling. While tickling can be pleasurable, when it is done against someone's wishes it can be very unpleasant experience. And during that unpleasant experience, amid calls to stop, the one being tickled will continue laughing. They just can't help it.

    As the review paper referenced earlier states:

    …the induction of arousal and orgasm does not indicate that the subjects consented to the stimulation. A perpetrator's defense simply built upon the fact that evidence of genital arousal or orgasm proves consent has no intrinsic validity and should be disregarded…Human sexual arousal occurs as a mental state and a physical state; in normal sexual arousal both occur simultaneously. However, it is possible to be mentally sexually aroused without showing any genital manifestations of arousal…Contrarily, it is possible to exhibit these genital manifestations of arousal but not feel mentally aroused. Indeed, it is even possible to feel disgusted by the genital manifestations of arousal if it is thought to be a highly inappropriate response to the inducing sexual stimuli [such as] getting an erection to the naked body of one's mother or sister or by a violent scenario.

    In other words, the mental and physical components of human sexuality often run in parallel and in agreement - but not always. In fact, sexual arousal and other forms of heightened sensation are so closely intertwined that as of 2010, psychologists were still arguing in the scientific journals about "the exact meaning of sexual arousal," or what, exactly, we should call it. Super.

    Examples of the mental/physical disconnect in sexual arousal:

    -Some people can be brought to orgasm by having their eyebrows stroked. Others can orgasm when pressure is applied to their teeth.
    -Some people can "think" themselves into orgasm without any physical stimulus at all. One woman has even done this inside an MRI.
    -People with spinal cord injuries (a physical brain-body disconnection) can still experience orgasm. In an MRI.
    -Women can become sexually aroused without their knowledge. By measuring changes in blood flow to female genitals, several studies have found that subliminal images, images of copulation in other species, and those that women report as disgusting, boring, or not arousing can cause physical arousal.
    -This happens in men too, though men usually have a more … obvious … yardstick.
    -Consciousness is not required for orgasm. Both men and women can experience orgasm during sleep.

    Arousal during rape is an example of a physical response whether the mind's on board or not, like breathing.
    Adding to the issue is that sexual arousal and orgasm appear to originate from the autonomic nervous system-- the same reflex-driven system that underlies heart rate, digestion, and perspiration. Our control over sexual arousal is no better than our control over the dilation of our pupils or how much we sweat. The presence of sexual arousal during rape is about as relevant to consent as any of these other responses. In violent assaults, intense physical arousal from fear can heighten sexual sensations in a process called ‘excitation transfer.' In one laboratory study, anxiety from threat of electric shock enhanced male erectile responses to erotic images. The men in this study were not looking forward to the shock. They did not enjoy the shock. Their body's heightened state of physical arousal - anxiety about the threat of pain - heightened sexual arousal as well. Sexual arousal is just one more component of the ‘fight or flight' state.

    Some rape victims report 'going somewhere else' mentally, and then being pulled back into the moment by orgasm. Clearly these victims have no mental connection to their physical state. One woman who was drugged and then raped, recalls waking up during climax only to pass out again as the sensation abated. Recent experiments suggest that vaginal lubrication in women may be an adaptive response designed to reduce injury from penetration. The body is not enjoying itself - it is trying to protect itself.

    Finally, horribly, some rapists enjoy making their victims' bodies respond to the assault as a sign of dominance. These rapists work to get a physical response from their victims. They have learned how fear and anxiety can correspond to other forms of heightened arousal, and they exploit the connection.

    Unsurprisingly, rape survivors who experience arousal and rape report confusion and shame thanks to this conflation of the physical response of arousal and its usual association with enjoyment. A survivor may ask, "Was this something I subconsciously wanted? Am I in some way guilty? If my body responded this way, does it mean I'm mentally disturbed?" The reality is that the body's arousal response is no more an indication of guilt or mental illness than an elevated heart rate or adrenaline flood would be under the same circumstances.

    Often, sexual pleasure and sexual aggression become psychologically intertwined when a rape survivor experiences arousal during rape. In Matt Atkinson's words, "Sex, which is supposed to be healthy, harmless, pleasurable, and mutual, has been disfigured by rape or abuse." One woman exclaims, "The word ‘no' doesn't seem to count. My own body didn't listen to it. So it's as if I never said it." Though it might feel this way to a victim, the word ‘no' stands on its own. To paraphrase the woman's therapist: The sensation is not an expression of pleasure or consent - it is simply a physical sensation.

    Men, too, experience frustration and guilt that can be heightened by a bewildering physical response. In many instances, this confusion prevents victims from reporting the assault. One study from the 1980s found that approximately 90-95% of men who are raped never report the incident. It's not unreasonable to think that these numbers must be even greater for men whose rape stimulates arousal and ejaculation.

    Police and courtrooms may confuse orgasm and arousal with evidence that the interaction was consensual.Another worry is that police and courtrooms may confuse orgasm and arousal with evidence that the interaction was consensual. Though the law has progressed much since the days in which pregnancy, which was once believed to be proof of orgasm, could acquit an accused rapist, we have far to go. Still, most courtrooms recognize that legal consent must be freely given and that consent can be withdrawn at any time (even the FBI now recognizes non-forcible rape as of, get this, 2012). If the supreme court of Georgia in 1976 could find that orgasm is "legally irrelevant to the issue of consent," there may be some hope for a better understanding of the mind-body disconnect when it comes to these autonomic responses during rape.

    Arousal and orgasm during rape happen. Probably much more often than we know. It is not a sign of guilt or pleasure. It in no way indicates consent. It is a sign that our bodies react, just as they do with a rapid heartbeat or an adrenaline rush. We react. And then we try to heal.

    If you have more questions about sexual assault, or if you or a loved one are suffering from sexual assault, these links can provide you with more information:

    -More information on arousal during assault
    -Sexual assault myths
    -Search page for rape crisis center in your area
    -Page with links for help

    Jenny Morber is a freelance science writer and editor. This article was republished with permission from Double X Science.


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    Radiation Assessment Detector


    Data collected during Curiosity's journey to Mars shows radiation exposure will present a major challenge for manned interplanetary missions.

    Bad news for those of you who want to go to Mars in the next few years: Without better shielding technology, you'll probably get fried by radiation, as new data from Mars rover Curiosity shows.

    Data taken by the Mars Science Laboratory's Radiation Assessment Detector, or RAD, during Curiosity's interplanetary journey to Mars and published in the May 31 issue of Science provides experimental confirmation for the radiation prediction models NASA already uses.

    With current propulsion systems, the leisurely, 560-million-kilometer cruise to the red planet clocks in at 253 days, a length of time that based on the amount of radiation RAD registered from its shielded perch inside the spacecraft, would put astronauts above the threshold for career radiation exposure.

    "In terms of accumulated dose, it's like getting a whole-body CT scan once every five or six days," lead author Cary Zeitlin said in a press statement.

    Over the course of its journey, the Curiosity rover was exposed to 1.8 milliSieverts per day of radiation from galactic cosmic rays, particles that comes from outside the solar system and provide a chronic low-dose of radiation. Astronauts making interplanetary journeys would also be exposed to short bursts of low-energy solar energetic particles from solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

    "We need to get there faster to reduce the impact of the galactic cosmic rays," Eddie Semones, a spaceflight radiation health officer with NASA, said in a press conference. Even if NASA cut the travel time to Mars down to 180 days each way, people on board would be exposed to an estimated total of 662 milliSieverts in transit, plus any radiation they might encounter on the surface.

    Curiosity's journey also occurred during a weak solar maximum, and it's possible the solar energetic particle exposure could be greater at a different period in time, the researchers write.

    Exposure to 1 Sievert of radiation over a lifetime has been associated with a 5 percent increase in a person's risk of developing fatal cancer. NASA's current career limit for astronauts is a 3 percent increase in fatal cancer risk.

    RAD has continued to operate since Curiosity's August landing, and will provide data on the radiation levels on the surface of Mars in the future. In 2015, NASA will launch a modified version of RAD to study the radiation environment in the International Space Station.


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    Delicious Bananas

    How many calories are in a banana? Google will tell you--but you'll have to stay on a Google site for the answer.

    Wikimedia Commons

    Google's plan to become your entire web experience does, improbably, involve bananas.

    Today Google unveiled a new element of Google Search: you can ask it questions about nutrition, like "how many calories are in an avocado," and the answer will pop right up. No need to click on a link from the search results; the answer you wanted is right there in a big white box at the top of the page.

    Google says there are about 1,000 foods currently catalogued, and you can ask (by text or voice search, though, judging from the demonstrations, Google really wants you to use voice search) for lots of different kinds of information. How much potassium is in a banana? What's a serving size of brown rice? How many carbs are in a baked potato? All those can be answered easily, while never leaving a Google site. Tap on the answer and it'll expand to reveal more nutritional information that you didn't ask for.

    For the last few years, Google has been quietly changing its focus. Instead of providing a portal to the rest of the internet, as in traditional search results, Google now wants you to stay inside the Google womb. Want to chat? Use Hangouts. Want answers to a question? They're right here. Want to watch a video or edit a document or find a location or read restaurant reviews or check your calendar or share photos? Want to make phone calls or listen to music or read a book or watch a movie? You can, and Google would prefer you to, stay within Google boundaries while doing all of that.

    It's a marked change from Google's prior reputation as the biggest best friend of open-source. Google's change from the wildly popular Gchat to Hangouts wasn't just a name change; Google also ditched XMPP, the standard that allowed you to use any chat client you wanted (Trillian, Pidgin, Adium, whatever). Now it's proprietary, which makes it harder to use multiple instant-messaging services simultaneously. Who wants to have one program for AIM and one for Hangouts? You'll probably just choose Hangouts--exactly what Google wants. Similar is Google's plan to drop CalDAV, the standard for calendar apps, with a proprietary protocol.

    That said, this is a shrewd and not unforeseen development. Google makes its money from ads. It makes more money from ads if it can make better, more specific ads. It can make better, more specific ads if you stay on Google property and feed Google information on what kind of ad might appeal to you. And Google can sell the ad for even more money than that if you're sticking around on its sites for longer, because your eyeballs will encounter ads for a longer period of time.

    But that comes with growing pains. Not from this nutritional info--that, like lots of things that Google does, is actually very useful! Google will tell you that the nutritional info initiative is to save the user time and to provide verified information (Google gets this data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture) that you may not get from a Yahoo Answers page. And that's true; like most companies, Google wants its customers to enjoy using its products.

    Sometimes the desire to keep people within the walled Google compound isn't so seamless. Google+, the social network that, depending on who you talk to, is either thriving (Google's perspective) or annoying and best ignored (everyone else's perspective), is an essential part of Google's strategy. Can't have users bouncing off to Twitter or Instagram or Facebook! All that browsing data, all those connections and preferences, all that time spent on those sites--it makes Google's mouth water. But people don't much like Google+, as you can tell from a quick visit to your mostly abandoned Google+ page.

    This past weekend, I went to the park. I took pictures at the park, and I wanted to share them with my mom. I can't, offhand, think of a single more typical use case for photo management than sharing Memorial Day barbecue photos with one's mom. And here's what I saw when I tried to share them:

    Clicking on the "share" button gives you the option to share with just about anyone, but what you see is Google+. Which circles do I want to share with? I don't know, I don't use these dumb circles, I just want to send it as an email to my mom. There's no indication that you can enter an email address in that box, since all of Google is pushing you to use Google+. (You can, by the way, enter an email address, but the system doesn't catalogue your contacts well so you'll have to know the email addresses offhand.)

    Google wants your entire internet to be the Google internet. Eventually, it even wants to be your internet service provider--it's already got high-speed Google Fiber in a few locations in the U.S., and now it's eyeing developing markets. It's a top-down strategy, and Google is further along that path than any company has ever been.

    Google providing services that people like isn't a trick, any more than any other company that makes things for people to use. But those services are just pixels in a much larger picture--and do you want to trust a private company with your entire internet experience?


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    The Popular Science #CrowdGrant Challenge
    There's still time to submit a kick-butt crowdfunding project to Popular Science's #CrowdGrant Challenge. The last day to enter is June 15.

    In April, Popular Science launched the #CrowdGrant Challenge to help scientists, thinkers, and makers turn their amazing project ideas into a reality with the power of crowdfunding.

    The response has been incredible. We've received more than 200 submissions from readers like you-project ideas such as space station experiments, electric cars, algae bioreactors, a new way to clean up oil spills, reimagined guitar pickups, and even a fully functional Iron Man costume.

    Keep filing these great proposals with, our partner and premiere crowdfunding platform that's handling #CrowdGrant submissions (note: you must use this link to submit a project).

    The June 15 deadline is closing in, so don't delay! Submit your idea soon. If you've already sent in a project, or started a submission but haven't finished, it's time to refine, polish, and perfect.

    We made a short video with three simple yet hugely important tips for crafting a kick-butt #CrowdGrant pitch, or for any crowdfunding project in general. Watch it below. Once you're done, check out's Success School. (You don't want to miss this wealth of free, great advice for succeeding at crowdfunded projects.)

    If this is the first you've heard about #CrowdGrant, please read our original announcement. For questions related to, their detailed FAQ is a great place to start.

    Complete submissions are due by Saturday, June 15, by 11:59 p.m. EDT, and you must use to submit. For the "Set Your Time Limit" section of the submission, enter today's date.

    Editors at Popular Science and experts at RocketHub will review, vet, and select all #CrowdGrant finalists. Winning submissions will attempt to make the world a better place while embodying the innovative spirit that Popular Science greatly values. Submissions should be related to science, technology, mathematics, or engineering.

    Follow the conversation or spread the word about projects on Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and more.

    Still have questions? Email us at


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    Electric motorbike concept

    Olegs Zabelins and Pavels Sevcenko

    The futuristic motorbike features six honeycomb-like, quick-swapping battery modules.

    From designers Olegs Zabelins and Pavels Sevcenko, this concept for a streetfighter-style electric motorcycle is based around six easy-to-replace batteries. Rather than waiting for the vehicle to charge between trips, riders of this motorbike would simply flip up a side covering and swap fresh battery modules into the honeycomb-like storage compartment (see rendering below.)

    According to the concept's creators, a recharge should take no more than 10 minutes. Another benefit of this design: Replaceable batteries could make the motorcycle cheaper to produce and easier to repair.


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    DIY: Phone Mount

    Son of Alan

    Become the envy of fellow passengers on TV-free airplanes

    On the streets of Manila, Flynn Jason Siy entertains himself with urban gymnastics. On airplanes, he avenges boredom with barf bags. During a budget flight to the resort island of Boracay-on a plane lacking TVs-Siy made a cradle for his smartphone from the metal closure tabs of several bags, allowing him to comfortably watch movies on the device. Here's how to engineer your own seat-back screen in a few minutes.


    Take three barf bags from nearby seat pockets, and remove their pliable closure tabs.


    Bend two tabs into Z shapes. Work one end of each tab into gaps above the tray table lock. The other ends cradle the bottom of your phone.


    Fashion the third tab into an inverted J, and wedge it between the lock and the upholstered seat to secure the top of the phone.


    Plug in your headphones, sit back, relax, and (actually) enjoy the flight.


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    Nokia 1100

    Rugged and efficient, this phone has been called "the AK-47 of the Cell-Phone World."

    Wikimedia Commons

    A recent study found statistically significant evidence, but there is still more research to be done.

    The great promise of cell phone networks is easier, cheaper, more direct communication between more people. There's no way to tell, once people have a new, easier means of coordination, the kinds of activities people will then use it for. A recent study looks at violent conflict facilitated by the spread of cell phone communication, and concludes "the availability of cell phone coverage significantly and substantially increases the probability of violent conflict."

    The study appears in the print edition of this month's the American Political Science Review, and it makes a bold claim. The authors, Jan H. Pierskalla of German Institute of Global and Area Studies and Florian M. Hollenbach of Duke University, narrowed their focus to conflicts and cell phone use in Africa. Africa offered an ideal juxtaposition of circumstances: a rapidly expanding cell phone network that connects areas previously not reached by any form of long-distance communication and ongoing civil conflicts.

    To plot the conflict, the authors first used a map that divides the continent into squares approximately 21 miles by 21 miles. They then ignored all squares where there wasn't any violence in 2008, leaving only 3.3 percent left. Accounting for other factors, such as proximity to a border or capitol (either of which can increase conflict) and terrain (such as mountains or jungle favored by insurgents and guerrillas), the researchers plotted increases in cell phone coverage from a baseline of coverage in 2007.

    They found:

    Thus, holding everything constant and extending cell phone coverage to a grid cell is estimated to increase the probability of a conflict event occurring by 50% for the standard logit model and up to nearly 300% for the fixed effects model.


    Compared to the baseline probability with no cell phone coverage, areas with cell phones are much more likely to experience violent events.

    There are reasons to be skeptical. First, the study cannot prove a causal relationship. The researchers themselves acknowledge this, writing:

    Our results only imply an association at the aggregate level of the spatial unit and do not reveal the exact causal mechanism in operation or the role of individual-level behavior.

    Also, there is an unclear relationship between documenting and coordinating violence. Writing at The Smoke-Filled Room, political scientist Chris Clary argues that the the same data used to claim cell phone coverage increases the probability of violence could be used to say that cell phones enable better reporting on violence--something the researchers didn't adequately control for. It's likely that the truth lies somewhere between great incidents of violence and greater reporting.


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    Game The System

    Brian Klutch

    Gaming the system


    Android might have started off as a smartphone operating system (OS), but in the five years since its launch, companies have adapted it to run everything from robots to TVs to home appliances. The latest version (4.2 or Jelly Bean) includes graphics upgrades that allow hardware manufacturers to build the first videogame consoles around the OS. Most important, processors can now load and cue up chunks of data faster because of a feature called triple buffering.


    Because most Android games, such as the graphics-heavy Blood and Glory: Legend, can run on mobile processors and don't require a lot of memory, console makers can build devices with mostly off-the-shelf parts, reducing the final price. Without heavy hard drives and cooling fans, the consoles are small enough to toss in a backpack. And because developers can publish games themselves, they avoid licensing fees typically owed to console makers, so most titles will likely remain under $10.

    At launch, Project Shield will have one of the largest game libraries of any console. The device can connect to either the Google Play store, which has tens of thousands of titles, or STEAM, a PC-based service that can deliver more than 1,950 games from the cloud. The clamshell device has its own five-inch, 720p display, so gamers can play on the road. They can also connect to a TV over HDMI. Price not set (available summer)

    The GameStick is the smallest complete console available-Android or otherwise. The system includes a two-inch HDMI dongle and a controller. Gamers download titles over Wi-Fi, and all the processing and rendering happens in the dongle, which has a 1.5GHz processor and one gig of RAM. The controller syncs with the dongle over Bluetooth. $79

    3. OUYA
    Designers at Ouya encourage hackers to fiddle with their consoles. The box, which currently supports more than 100 games, also has a developer kit, so anyone can design programs to do things like run emulations of classic Nintendo games. Tinkerers can also crack open the shell with a screwdriver to upgrade the processor and memory to run more demanding titles. $99


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    How to protect your house from an EF-5 tornado--and why FEMA doesn't recommend you even try.

    As with so many "is it possible" type questions, the answer of whether you can have a tornado-proof house is a resounding "well, yes, but." In this case, that sentence goes: "Well, yes, but it would be prohibitively expensive and ugly, and nobody really recommends you even bother."

    What is tornado-proofing? According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), for a structure to be "tornado-proof" it must be, literally, missile-proof. The most damaging and unpredictable destructive force of a tornado isn't the swirling winds, it's the debris that the tornado picks up and hurls around, often at speeds in excess of 200mph. "Missile" is the right word when you're talking about a refrigerator flying through the air at 200mph.

    The weak points in your house are windows and doors, obviously, but the most dangerous entry point may come as a surprise: it's your garage door. Garage doors aren't usually very sturdy, and if they blow down, the rush of wind can cause your house to become pressurized, like a can of soda. In extreme cases, wind can explode into the main house and blow down walls or even the ceiling. The other possible danger is in traditional insulation: air at this speed can cause serious damage, and if air can get between your walls at tornado-level speeds, they don't stand much of a chance.

    Can you tornado-proof a whole house? Sure. You can live in a house made of solid concrete, with a steel door and no windows. You'd probably have to build it from scratch, though.

    Uhhhh... Well, yeah, that doesn't sound like a real pleasant home to me, either. That's why nobody really tornado-proofs an entire house; it's expensive and for the 99 percent of the time that you're not being bombarded with a tornado, you'll hate it. But that's really the only way to fully tornado-proof a home: thick concrete, properly anchored in the ground, will withstand pretty much anything. There are lots of products that call themselves tornado-proof, from Pittsburgh Corning glass to reinforced concrete-and-styrofoam insulation blocks, and they're not bad ideas, but they're expensive and don't address many of the weakest points of a home. If you've got a garage, all the wildly expensive tornado-proof glazed glass in the world won't make your home impenetrable.

    So what should you do FEMA does not recommend attempting to tornado-proof your home. Instead, it recommends a safe room: an internal room, like a bathroom or office or large closet, which can be modified to meet the International Code Council (ICC)-500 standard. ICC-500 is the product of a joint, decades-long effort by FEMA and Texas Tech University's Wind Science and Engineering department, known as WISE, to figure out exactly how best to protect a home from out-of-control winds.

    You can view the complete document here, but in short, it requires that this room be fortified to withstand a 5 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, typically referred to as EF-5 level winds. EF-5 level winds are in excess of 200mph, so the FEMA code stipulates that the room must be reinforced, typically with concrete but sometimes with steel or even a combination of steel and wood.

    Safe rooms can be retrofitted, but that can be very expensive, having to tear out walls and such. FEMA suggests, for a lower-priced option, to build an entirely new structure within the house, preferably in the basement or garage. It's not really the kind of project you want to do yourself; they have to be anchored in the ground, and the materials are necessarily difficult to manipulate. FEMA estimates that a family-sized safe room, which could double as storage or a closet, should cost around $6,600 to $8,700. There are theoretically programs to assist homeowners with this cost, although they won't cover the entire project.

    Underground structures are generally preferable, but have distinct downsides: they may not be accessible to disabled people, and they can be flooded much more easily than above-ground shelters.

    What about all that tornado-proof tech? There's a lot of interesting stuff out there that claims to be tornado-proof, from steel-reinforced hollow doors (which cost as much as an entire safe room) to a cabling system that anchors your home to the ground. Tornado-proof windows, like those from Pittsburgh Corning, are similar to bulletproof glass: it's usually laminated with a film and multiple kinds of glass, so it can stretch without shattering. Other materials, like polycarbonate, are sometimes used, though visibility is not usually quite as good as regular glass.

    Tornado-proof glass isn't a prohibitively expensive retrofit, unlike many of these other improvements. But we have to go back to what FEMA recommends as the safest option: an aftermarket safe room.


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    Volkswagen Sphere

    Artist Ichwan Noor made this sculpture: yes, it's a real 1953 Volkswagen Beetle, combined with aluminum and polyester, and rolled up into a sphere. It's also an awesome series, which includes cube cars, too.

    Ichwan Noor via Colossal

    Plus software that sees faces in clouds, a human cocoon, and more


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    Google Doodle honoring birthday of Julius Richard Petri


    To celebrate the birthday of German microbiologist Julius Richard Petri, inventor of the eponymous dish, Google has created a very germ-y, somewhat unsettling Doodle. The animation shows a gloved hand smearing samples into six Google-colored Petri dishes. Over the next few seconds, some pretty gnarly looking bacterial cultures grow in each dish, spelling out G-O-O-G-L-E (of course). Mouse over each culture and a bubble pops up displaying the origin of each type of bacteria. The germs from a dog's mouth are the grossest, with the keyboard bacteria a close second (hold on, need to grab some Clorox wipes stat.)

    Petri lived from May 31, 1852 to December 20, 1921. He invented the dish when he was an assistant to Robert Koch, the founder of modern bacteriology who helped develop the concept of infectious disease.

    See the Google Doodle!


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    Tennis Ball Trajectories

    Corona Perspectives

    It's so pretty!

    Tennis is already one of the most high-tech, closely monitored sports in the world, from high-speed cameras that swoop around the court to digital refereeing that can see if a ball traveling at 150 miles per hour glanced a line by a millimeter. But this visualization is something we haven't seen before.

    Corona Perspectives--yeah, this is a semi-advertising tactic from a mediocre beer manufacturer--took three professional male singles matches and mapped the complete trajectory of every shot, from racquet to racquet. This is a ton of data--there are thousands of shots per match, moving very quickly. But that quantity of data makes it easier to see larger patterns, like where shots tend to land or where they had the most impact.

    Check out a video of how the visualization was made below:

    [via Infosthetics]


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    A Yellow Oyster 800 Wave Machine in Orkney, Scotland

    Aquamarine Power

    Some major wave energy installations are planned for the U.K. and the U.S.

    Plans for the world's biggest wave farm got the go-ahead from the Scottish government, the BBC reported last week. Exactly how big is the farm? It will create more than twice as much energy as nearby homes will be able to use.

    Wave farms are made up of enormous buoys that turn the up-and-down movements of the ocean into electricity that homes and business are able to use. There are many designs being tested all over the world. All promise clean, endless energy, but as a newer technology, they're still working out issues such as financial viability, durability and how to transport the energy from buoy to land.

    We'll let the numbers tell the story of the Scotland project, which uses devices from the homegrown company Aquamarine Power, plus other wave energy projects planned for the U.K. and the U.S.

    30,000: the number of homes Aquamarine Power's 40-megawatt farm will be able to power

    13,200: the number of homes there actually are in the Western Isles, where Aquamarine Power plans to install its Oyster 800 wave energy machines

    40 to 50: the number of Oyster 800s that will go into the water

    2017: the earliest estimated date when the firm SSE could build the undersea cable required to export excess wave power from the Western Isles to mainland Scotland. The BBC reported this cable could delay Scotland's larger plans for generating wave and tidal power from the rough, energy-filled ocean off the country's northwest coast.

    10: the number of other wave and tide energy devices Scotland is testing. Scotland and England both have wave energy parks for companies and universities to test their wares.

    1.6: gigawatts of wave energy Scotland wants to generate by 2020

    70,000: the number of homes 1.6 gigawatts are able to power

    What about the U.S.? Oregon, which also has big ocean waves, has hosted several wave energy tests over the past few years. However, regulatory and financial hurdles have delayed an installation from one of Oregon's-and the U.S.'-most advanced projects, the Associated Press reported in March. A look at the Department of Energy's marine energy device database shows most U.S. installations are currently inactive.

    The installations may be getting held up by lawmakers. In Oregon, at least, politicians took years to hammer out a draft agreement for where companies will be allowed to float their devices once they're ready for commercial use, The Oregonian reported. Fishermen, coastal homeowners and companies all want different restrictions on where the machines appear.


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