"We are planning to establish a Swedish embassy in Second Life primarily as an information portal for Sweden," Swedish Institute (SI) director Olle Wästberg told AFP.(Via Metafilter.)
The embassy would not provide passports or visas but would instruct visitors how to obtain such documents in the real world and act as a link to web-based information about the Scandinavian country.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
"Sweden is to become the first country to establish diplomatic representation in the virtual reality world of Second Life..."
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Robot housebuilders threaten bricklaying profession:
By building almost an entire house from just two materials -- concrete and gypsum -- the robots will eliminate the need for dozens of traditional components, including floorboards, wooden window frames and possibly even wallpaper. It may eventually be possible to use specially treated gypsum instead of glass window panes.(Via Michael Williams.)
Engineers on both projects say the robots will not only cut costs and avoid human delays but liberate the normal family homes from the conventional designs of pitched roofs, right-angled walls and rectangular windows.
"The architectural options will explode," predicted Dr Behrokh Khoshnevis at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who will soon unleash his $1.5m robot. "We will be able to build curves and domes as easily as straight walls."
Monday, January 29, 2007
"Has there ever been a mutiny aboard a U.S. naval vessel?"
The Caine Mutiny opens with the words, "There has never been a mutiny in a ship of the United States Navy." This may be narrowly true -- so far as I can determine, nobody has ever been formally charged with committing mutiny aboard a commissioned U.S. naval vessel. But let's not bandy words. There have been mutinies in the U.S. Navy, including one conspiracy aboard a ship at sea; U.S. Navy personnel have been formally charged with mutiny and punished for it; and a few poor sods hanged. We've just never had a case where all these things applied at the same time. Here's how it all sorts out...
Friday, January 26, 2007
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Interesting article on the psychology of magical thinking. One excerpt:
...Children exhibit a form of magical thinking by about 18 months, when they begin to create imaginary worlds while playing. By age 3, most know the difference between fantasy and reality, though they usually still believe (with adult encouragement) in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. By age 8, and sometimes earlier, they have mostly pruned away these beliefs, and the line between magic and reality is about as clear to them as it is for adults.(Via Boing Boing.)
It is no coincidence, some social scientists believe, that youngsters begin learning about faith around the time they begin to give up on wishing. "The point at which the culture withdraws support for belief in Santa and the Tooth Fairy is about the same time it introduces children to prayer," said Jacqueline Woolley, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas. "The mechanism is already there, kids have already spent time believing that wishing can make things come true, and they're just losing faith in the efficacy of that."
..."The question is why do people create this illusion of magical power?" said the lead author, Emily Pronin, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton. "I think in part it's because we are constantly exposed to our own thoughts, they are most salient to us" -- and thus we are likely to overestimate their connection to outside events.
The brain, moreover, has evolved to make snap judgments about causation, and will leap to conclusions well before logic can be applied.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
"Ultra-Dense Optical Storage On One Photon: Researchers at the University of Rochester have made an optics breakthrough that allows them to encode an entire image's worth of data into a photon, slow the image down for storage, and then retrieve the image intact."
Monday, January 22, 2007
"Neural 'extension cord' developed for brain implants":
A "data cable" made from stretched nerve cells could someday help connect computers to the human nervous system. The modified cells should form better connections with human tissue than the metal electrodes currently used for purposes such as remotely controlling prosthetics...
"The nervous system doesn't like nasty hard metal or plastic," says Doug Smith, who is developing the cell-based cable at the University of Pennsylvania, US. Nerve tissue can develop scarring or shrink away from contact with metal and other non-biological materials, he says.
"Nerve cells will happily grow to form new connections with new nerve cells though," Smith adds, "we want to try that as an alternative to ramming something into a nerve or the brain. The idea is to make a kind of extension cord." Prototype cables developed by his team have already been shown to transmit simple signals effectively.
Friday, January 19, 2007
"Researchers directly imaged the motion of charge carriers in a semiconductor junction, the basic element of a transistor." Link includes representative pictures.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
"How far can bullets travel when fired into water?" Their conclusion:
So the general rule is that most ordinary guns and bullets aren't tremendously effective when fired into the water, and if you can dive below eight feet, you're probably safe from your run-of-the mill assassins. But if you've incurred the wrath of the Bundeswehr, all bets are off. You may as well stay dry and meet your fate like a man.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
"A group of high school and college teachers and students has transmitted sound pulses faster than light travels..." Of course, when reading articles like this, one must always remember to distinguish between group velocity and phase velocity.
Monday, January 15, 2007
"Being colorblind can be a good thing":
Researchers studying capuchin monkeys in the forests of Costa Rica have shown that colorblind individuals are better at detecting camouflaged insects than are those that see a wider spectrum of colors. The finding is the first evidence from the wild that colorblindness confers advantages during foraging.One of my partners is an excellent mammographer, and he also happens to be color-blind. I would love to know whether this was correlated with his ability to detect subtle breast cancers on the often-challenging grey-scale mammogram images. (Via SciTech Daily.)
...The findings make sense, says Nathaniel Dominy, a primatologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz: "If you reduce the amount of color information coming into the brain, your brain may be better able to detect shapes, contours, and contrasts." That may be why these color-challenged monkeys have managed to stick around in the gene pool, he says.
William Shatner has leaked a few details of the upcoming Star Trek 11 movie, to be directed by JJ Abrams (who also produced Lost and Alias):
William Shatner revealed to SCI FI Wire that the upcoming 11th Star Trek movie will indeed, as rumored, deal with the early years of Capt. James T. Kirk and Spock -- and that he will definitely appear in the movie if director J.J. Abrams can find a place to use him.
...As for the many rumors concerning the sequel's story, Shatner said that Abrams will explore Kirk and Spock during their Starfleet Academy years. "Yes, we know the story is based on young Kirk," Shatner said. Up until now, everyone connected with the film has maintained strict silence about the storyline, though rumors have run rampant that they concern Kirk and Spock's first missions.
As for Shatner's place in that storyline? "They need to figure out how to put the dead captain in with the young captain," he said. "It's a very complex, technical problem of how to write the character in, and I'm not sure how they will solve it." It sounds as if Shatner may play an older version of Kirk.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
Friday, January 12, 2007
"Apple iPhone Signals Death of Ringtone Industry":
...Let me be the first to say that the iPhone is a huge problem for the ringtone industry. In many ways it makes the ringtone industry completely obsolete. It's an iPod so any song that you own can be used as a Ringtone. Don't want to pay $1.99 for a low-quality re-sampling of a song that you already own to be used as your ringtone? Great, you don't have to. What about wallpapers? Well, any photo on the iPhone can be used as a wallpaper, so just download one from the iPhone's built-in web browser and you're golden. Goodbye $9.99 per month ringtone subscription fees!(Via Clicked.)
"Tiny Device Stores Light":
By forcing light to circle multiple times through ring-shaped structures carved into silicon, researchers at IBM have been able to delay the flow of light on a microchip. Being able to delay light is crucial for high-performance, ultrafast optical computers of the future that will process information using light and electrical signals.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
NBC is planning to remake the 1970's television series The Bionic Woman. The new version will be co-written and co-produced by David Eick, who also produced the new version of Battlestar Galactica. (Via Dave Hill.)
"How Apple kept its iPhone secrets":
One of the most astonishing things about the new Apple iPhone, introduced yesterday by Steve Jobs at the annual Macworld trade show, is how Apple managed to keep it a secret for nearly two-and-a-half years of development while working with partners like Cingular, Yahoo and Google.(Via /.)
...Pillow talk was a challenge at the other end of the spectrum. Keeping secrets from loved ones is especially hard. Those stresses were amplified by the frantic race over the past half year to get the iPhone ready for launch. As Macworld approached, dinners were missed, kids were not tucked in properly, and family plans were disrupted, especially over the holidays. And for what? "Sorry, that's classified" is not considered a satisfactory answer in many households when Mom or Dad misses the school play or the big wedding anniversary dinner.
Phil Schiller, Apple's head of marketing and one of the few Apple executives involved with the project from the start, said he had to keep the iPhone development secret even from his wife and children. When he left home for the official unveiling yesterday, Schiller said, his son asked, "Dad, can you finally tell us now what you've been working on?"
"Walgreen selling cigarette in a hand gel across U.S.":
A new hand gel is starting to appear on drug-store shelves promising more than just an end to germs or dry skin -- this one claims to satisfy users' tobacco cravings for up to four hours.
Walgreen Co., the largest U.S. drugstore chain by sales, is now stocking its more than 5,500 stores with packets of Nicogel, a quick-evaporating gel made with tobacco extracts. The roll-out should be finished within a couple weeks, said company spokeswoman Carol Hively in an e-mail, adding that it costs $5.99 for box of 10 doses.
Nicogel, made by a unit of privately held Blue Whale Worldwide Inc., can be used when smoking is inconvenient, such as at work, on an airplane, in a theater or, these days, in almost any other public place.
...The clear gel, ... has all the components of tobacco but lacks many carcinogens that are formed as cigarettes burn.
"Did NASA accidentally kill life on Mars?":
Two NASA space probes that visited Mars 30 years ago may have found alien microbes on the red planet and inadvertently killed them, a scientist is theorizing.
The Viking space probes of 1976-77 were looking for the wrong kind of life, so they didn't recognize it, a geology professor at Washington State University said.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Monday, January 08, 2007
"Video Games and Real Combat". The US military has long used video-game-like simulators to train their skilled personnel to operate high tech equipment. Now, they are also borrowing interfaces from commercial video game manufacturers:
...One of the most amazing (to the brass) findings was that the average recruit now comes in with several thousand hours of time playing video games. Hmmm, interesting skill set. It took a few years for the military to find out how to make use of this.
Actually, the troops themselves demonstrated their special abilities, by quickly adapting to certain types of equipment, like fire control systems, and UAVs. Before long, companies that built micro-UAVs (weighing under ten pounds), realized that the best format for the controller was that used by video games. So now, the controllers used to operate these micro-UAVs often look like video game controllers, with a small video screen built in. For the larger UAVs, new controller equipment is appearing, which obviously borrows a lot of the "look and feel", not to mention functionality, from video game software. This approach works, and it cuts training time a lot.
Before this, UAV controllers were using PC software that depended a lot on a keyboard and mouse. This was not the sort of thing video gamers were used to. Indeed, keyboard and mouse were a pretty lame interface for something as hectic as running a UAV. The keyboard and mouse angle came from the engineers who developed the controller software. Yeah, OK, for developing software, but not for actually operating the UAV under combat conditions.
The military is now keeping a close watch on developments in video game interface hardware and software.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Sasha Volokh notes:
It's a myth that Eskimos have a huge number of words for snow (i.e., many more than we have). However, Eskimologists (not the same as eschatologists) confirm that, at least among the West Greenland Inuit, there's a single word for "They were wandering about gathering up lots of stuff that smelled like dead fish."
Friday, January 05, 2007
5 Interesting Materials, with unusual properties. The site includes links to more information and videos:
1. Dilatants - fluids that get more solid when stressed.(Via /.)
2. Auxetic materials - materials that get thicker when stretched. Pull them in one direction and they expand in another.
3. Superfluids - liquids that flow without friction. They can effortlessly flow through the tiniest of cracks and will even flow up the walls of a beaker and out the top. It's possible because all the atoms in a superfluid are in the same quantum state, so they all have the same momentum and move together.
4. Ferrofluids - magnetic fluids that can look spectacular. They're made from nanoscale magnetic particles suspended in a liquid.
5. Dry ice.
A serious discussion of a hitherto science-fiction topic: "An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion". (Via Instapundit.)
"Google Earth Goes to War". Interesting analysis of the impact this publically available database has had on military intelligence. Some excerpts:
In the last 18 months, Google Earth (earth.google.com) has revolutionized military intelligence, but the military doesn't like to admit it. By putting so much satellite photography at the disposal of so many people, in such an easy-to-use fashion, much more information has been made available to a lot more people. That includes people in the military, and those they fight.
...Google Earth's major problem was not it's ease-of-use, but the manner in which it showcased the shortcomings of the American NGA (National Geospatial Intelligence Agency). The NGA is responsible for taking the satellite photos, spiffing them up as needed, and getting them to the troops. Trouble is, the stuff still isn't getting to the troops that need it, when they need it. This was made very obvious when Google Earth showed up, and demonstrated how you can get satellite images to anyone, when they need it, with minimal hassle.
...Now the troops got access to Google Earth, and have seen what they have been missing. To make matters worse, the software Google Earth uses to get the job done, was first developed for the NGA. But the way the NGA operates, you have to worry about security considerations, and all manner of bureaucratic details. The troops are fighting a war, you say? Well, we still have to deal with security and keeping the paperwork straight. But now the troops are beating NGA over the head with Google Earth, and some in Congress are beginning to listen.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
The mathematics of cloaking. One interesting tidbit:
Their analysis also revealed another surprise: a person trying to look out of the cloak would effectively be faced with a mirror in every direction. If you can imagine Harry Potter's own invisibility cloak working this way, and Harry turning on his flashlight to see, its light would shine right back at him, no matter where he pointed it.And from the University of Rochester press release:
The current work of Greenleaf, Kurylev, Lassas, and Uhlmann mathematically proves full-wave invisibility of active devices at all frequencies -- if suitable modifications are made to the original constructions.Here's some background information.
Rather than cloaking an inactive object, which does not generate EM waves, the new mathematics allows for cloaking active devices, such as cell phones, computers, and anything else that might generate signals. In addition, the mathematics works (theoretically) at all wavelengths.