Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wireless EEG headset for your future gaming needs, coming in 2008

Looks awesome. Would be cool to use this for brain therapies (neurofeedback for ADHD, and other biofeedback treatments).

From corante:

"Emotiv Systems has developed a new interface for human computer interaction. Project Epoc is basically a beautifully designed EEG system that connects wirelessly with all game platforms from consoles to PCs. Neurosky is another developer of sexy brain sensorware that collects brainwave signals, eye movements, and other bio-signals which are captured and amplified via their patented dry-active sensor technology. While NeuroSky's headset has one electrode, Emotiv Systems has developed a gel-free headset with 18 sensors. Besides monitoring basic changes in mood and focus, Emotiv's bulkier headset detects brain waves indicating smiles, blinks, laughter, even conscious thoughts and unconscious emotions. Players can kick or punch their video game opponent - without a joystick or mouse."

The commercial version supposedly comes out in 2008.

Check out their website for the PR video.

Mini Cooper D: next year's model to get 74.2mpg without being a hybrid!

The best part is that they claim all this will 'come at no extra cost'.

From gizmag:
"When production of the revised models begins in August 2007, there will be no requirement for alternative fuel sources or hybrid technology to achieve these stunning stats. All model variants will instead be supplied as standard with high-tech engine tweaks, providing exceptional economy and minimal emissions without compromising the MINI driving experience."
In addition to not being a hybrid, it will also have regenerative braking, and a start/stop button so that it goes into sleep mode when idling (more details below).
"Brake Energy Regeneration works by using an Intelligent Alternator Control (IAC) and an Absorbent Glass Mat battery to recycle previously lost energy, which saves fuel. The IAC reduces drag on the engine by only engaging when required to charge the battery, whereas a traditional alternator is always pulling power from the engine. Additionally, the energy generated by the engine on over-run (under braking or descending a hill) was previously wasted. Now this lost energy is utilised by the IAC to charge the battery.
The Auto Start-Stop Function, available with manual transmission cars, automatically switches the engine off when the vehicle is stationary and the driver puts the car into neutral. To restart the driver only need engage the clutch again before pulling away in the normal manner. The system may be de-activated at the touch of a button when not required."
Seems worth a test drive to me. Hope it's not too underpowered.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Why buy an island when you can buy a planet? Entropia vs. Second Life in China

From techcrunch:

Virtual world Entropia, which combines chatting with friends and blowing up aliens, announced their expansion into China through a deal with Beijing’s Cyber Recreation Development Corp (CRD) over a year in the making. The CRD is supported by Beijing’s Municipal government and intended to promote and develop investment in “cyber recreation” in China. The company says Second Life was also in the running for the deal.
Entropia is described as a cross between World of Warcraft and Second Life. However, they also have real world banks (5) who have spend $404,000 in banking licenses, as well as a real world ATM cash card by Mastercard so that users can transfer funds in and out of the virtual world.

CRD has high hopes: "David Liu, CEO of CRD, envisions an Entropia utopia. He expects the partnership to bring 10,000 work-at-home, pollution-free job opportunities to China."

Neuro-memory chip stores rudimentary memories

Pic: Neuron network with electrodes (c) Itay Baruchi & Eshel Ben-Jacob

From TG Daily:

Tel Aviv (Israel) – Two scientists from the Tel-Aviv University have shown that information can be stored in live neurons. The research results provide a new way to help understand how our brain learns and store information, but also indicate that a “cyborg-like integration of living material into memory chips” could become a reality in the foreseeable future.The experiment published on May 16 in Physical Review E, is based on the idea that linking neurons can result in spontaneous, coordinated firing. Itay Baruchi and Eshel Ben-Jacob of Tel-Aviv University said that they were able to create additional firings by using a special protocol of local chemical stimulations, which created multiple, rudimentary memories stored in the neuron network.
The abstract is available here.
They found that the memories were successfully stored in their home grown neural network for over 40 hours.
Wow, the birth of wetware.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

SensoPAC: modelling organic life forms to make robots work better

Pic: The robot being developed by the German Aerospace Centre

SensoPAC has a variety of projects under way.

These include (from BBC News):
  • "The work at the University of Granada is concentrating on the design of microchips that incorporate a full neuronal system, emulating the way the cerebellum interacts with the human nervous system. "

  • " artificial skin for robots, making them look more human-like as well as being information-sensitive in the same way as human skin is"

  • "...Feelix Growing - has been given 2.3m euros to develop robots that can learn from humans and respond socially and emotionally. "

Party Timer Clock Decibel Meter

Cute. Not entirely sure how useful this is, but I'm entertained.

No party (0-10 db)
Romantic Party (11 to 20 db)
Talking Party (21 to 50 db)
Lite Party (52 to 70 db)
Music Party (71 to 90 db)
Dance Party (91 to 100 db)
Club Party (101 to 120 db)
Mega Party (121 to 160 db, which is up near hearing damage levels)
Atom Party (above 161 db, and can result in permanent hearing damage).

Soft drinks are unhealthy, especially for your mitochondrial DNA

Apparently, the culprit is sodium benzoate, a preservative which is used to prevent mold in soft drinks, and found in Coca Cola, Pepsi, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, and others.

All about sodium benzoate, from The Independent:

"Sodium benzoate has already been the subject of concern about cancer because when mixed with the additive vitamin C in soft drinks, it causes benzene, a carcinogenic substance. A Food Standards Agency survey of benzene in drinks last year found high levels in four brands which were removed from sale.
Now, an expert in ageing at Sheffield University, who has been working on sodium benzoate since publishing a research paper in 1999, has decided to speak out about another danger. Professor Peter Piper, a professor of molecular biology and biotechnology, tested the impact of sodium benzoate on living yeast cells in his laboratory. What he found alarmed him: the benzoate was damaging an important area of DNA in the "power station" of cells known as the mitochondria.
He told The Independent on Sunday: "These chemicals have the ability to cause severe damage to DNA in the mitochondria to the point that they totally inactivate it: they knock it out altogether.
"The mitochondria consumes the oxygen to give you energy and if you damage it - as happens in a number if diseased states - then the cell starts to malfunction very seriously. And there is a whole array of diseases that are now being tied to damage to this DNA - Parkinson's and quite a lot of neuro-degenerative diseases, but above all the whole process of ageing.""

It's also suspected of worsening ADHD in kids.

A successful vaccination against type I diabetes in mice

It has been hypothesized in recent years that type I diabetes may be caused by an autoimmune dysfunction where immune cells mistakenly kills off the body's insulin producing cells.
"Science Daily — Researchers in France and Germany have successfully treated type 1 diabetic mice with a vaccination. The vaccine they designed in this model included structures that the immune system mistakenly attacks in type 1 diabetes. "

This is pretty huge, and could someday mean the end of type 1 diabetes if identified and treated in time.

Monday, May 28, 2007

10,000 Joost invites, via techcrunch

We discovered joost this weekend, and got Brad exposed to the pilot episode of Lexx.

Internet TV that's actually legit is cool but a bit odd (this one's by the creators of Skype and Kazaa).

It has commercials, albeit short ones that pop up every 20 minutes or so to interrupt the show, and other brief commercials that show up as pop up windows on the bottom right corner of the screen at other times.

Since it's in BETA, you still need an invite.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Kit: assemble your own 9V powered mini lamp

mmckenna has 5 models to choose from.

Just too cute. $29 each.

This is probably my favorite one:

Watching TV is bad for blood sugar control

In this photo illustration two young children watch television at home, January 27, 2005 in London, England. (Photo Illustration by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Dr. Hanna Margeirsdottir of the University of Oslo is studying children with Type 1 diabetes. This is the type of diabetes where the body does not produce insulin, and people need to take insulin daily.

From physorg:

The study involved 538 children with an average age of 13. In Norway, about 25,000 people have Type 1 diabetes. In the United States, there are 3 million with the condition and about 30 million worldwide. The study evaluated results of a routine test that measured average blood-sugar control over three months. There was a continuous increase in the level of blood sugar with every hour of TV watched, rising to the highest level for those who watched at least four hours daily.
It's unclear whether it is because of snacking while eating, or because kids are sedentary instead of being active, or if there are other lifestyle factors involved with households' relationship to TV viewing, or even if there is any influence from the type of ads being displayed, but the bottom line is: increased TV time is connected to increased blood sugar, which is unhealthy.

Paprika: anime of the disturbed inner dreamscape

Looks awesome. US release today only in New York.
More details at imdb.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

RFID tagged aquarium fish, in Singapore

Life sounds more like a video game every day.

From engadget:

"Reportedly, the name and species (among other information) about the chipped marine animals are displayed on touchscreen displays whenever they swim by, which eliminates the old fashioned "match the picture with the fish" signs that still exist in other facilities. The project was set up over a three month period and set the venue back $19,600..."

Super oxidized healing water?

Oculus has developed a water that kills viruses, bacteria and fungi.

From BBC news:

"The key ingredient of the water, called Microcyn, are oxychlorine ions - electrically charged molecules which pierce the cell walls of free-living microbes.
The water can only kill cells it can completely surround so human cells are spared because they are tightly bound together in a matrix. It is made by taking purified water and passing it through a semi-permeable sodium chloride membrane, which produces the oxychlorine ions."

One study reports decreasing wound healing time from 55 days to 43 days of foot ulcers, compared to the control group (both groups received standard antibiotic treatment, the control group did not receive the water treatment.)

The current targeted use is for increasing healing times for diabetec foot ulcers. Their current study: Oculus Initiates Patient Enrollment in Phase II Study of Microcyn(R) Technology for Treatment of Mild Diabetic Foot Infections.

Pure oxygen = brain damage

Pic: At left, yellow outlines multiple brain areas activated by 100 percent oxygen. These regions trigger hyperactivity in the hypothalamus, which reacts by flooding the body with stress hormones and neurotransmitters. At right, adding 5 percent carbon dioxide to the inhaled oxygen calms the hypothalamus and slows the release of harmful chemicals. (Credit: UCLA/Harper lab)

Though our brains and bodies need oxygen to survive, pure oxygen can cause brain damage.

"For decades, the medical community has championed 100 percent oxygen as the gold standard for resuscitation. But no one has reported what happens inside our brains when we inhale pure oxygen," explained Ronald Harper, distinguished professor of neurobiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "What we discovered adds to a compelling body of evidence for modifying a widely practiced standard of care in the United States."

Thanks to fMRI, they observed the following:

"When the children inhaled pure oxygen, their breathing quickened, resulting in the rapid exhalation of carbon dioxide from their bodies," said coauthor Paul Macey, associate researcher in neurobiology. "The drop in carbon dioxide narrowed their blood vessels, preventing oxygen from reaching tissue in the brain and heart."
That's when something surprising happened on the MRI scan.
Three brain structures suddenly lit up: the hippocampus, which helps control blood pressure; the cingulate cortex, which regulates pain perception and blood pressure; and the insula, which monitors physical and emotional stress.
All this activity awakened the hypothalamus, which regulates heart rate and hormonal outflow. Activation of the hypothalamus triggered a cascade of harmful reactions and released chemicals that can injure the brain and heart.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

School lunch vending machines: tracking so much more

From cnet:

"Instead of standing in one of eight long lunch lines during a 30-minute break, students at Sebastian River can walk up to one of the refrigerated vending machines, punch in a PIN code and student ID number, and buy milk, a bag of sliced carrots and a turkey sandwich, among other options. The machine prompts students to make choices that complete a balanced diet under guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which officially approved the machines for use in schools on January 22. The school also calls the machines "healthy" because they don't sell carbonated soft drinks or fried and sugary snacks. "
The machine keeps track of prepaid accounts for students, and keeps track of disbursements to low income kids and the 'free lunch program' so that schools can be later reimbursed by the government.

Parents can log in online to MealPayPlus to see what and when their child ate during the day, and to add money to the account.

The machine also has a camera so they can take pics of who is actually purchasing the meal to prevent bullies from stealing PINs and IDs.

So much for the lunch lady.

Exercise! It reverses aging (in skeletal muscle)

Good to see studies that support what we already intuitively know.

A summary from physorg:

"A Buck Institute faculty member Simon Melov, PhD, and Mark Tarnopolsky, MD, PhD, of McMaster University Medical Center in Hamilton, Ontario, ran a study that involved before and after analysis of gene expression profiles in tissue samples taken from 25 healthy older men and women who underwent six months of twice weekly resistance training, compared to a similar analysis of tissue samples taken from younger healthy men and women.

Results showed that in the older adults, there was a decline in mitochondrial function with age. However, exercise resulted in a remarkable reversal of the genetic fingerprint back to levels similar to those seen in the younger adults. The study also measured muscle strength. Before exercise training, the older adults were 59% weaker than the younger adults, but after the training the strength of the older adults improved by about 50%, such that they were only 38% weaker than
the young adults. "

The full study is published at:

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Twiki? Here comes RoboNanny

Pic: Two-legged walking humanoid Rogun poses with a child./ Courtesy of KornTech

They call him Rogun, but he reminds me of Twiki, from the old Buck Rogers TV series.

"``Rogun is capable of guarding homes around the clock _ the camera-eyed robot will give a warning to its owner via cell phone when strangers visit an empty house,'' KornTech CEO Lee Dong-hwan said.`

`In addition, the handset-directed humanoid can show what is happening with kids at home when their parents are away, as it is connected to the wireless Internet,'' Lee said.

Lee said Rogun will be able to play with children by showing video footage on a seven-inch liquid-crystal display monitor placed on its chest.`
`A computer is incorporated into Rogun, and so, its owner can access the Internet through the bi-pedal walker,'' Lee said. `

`People can also enjoy video calls on Rogun's monitor when the recipients or callers use third-generation handsets which are being introduced across the country,'' Lee said."

He's $100,000 and made to order.

Yoga increases GABA, good for depression and anxiety

"Science Daily — Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and McLean Hospital have found that practicing yoga may elevate brain gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels, the brain's primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. The findings, which appear in the May issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, suggest that the practice of yoga be explored as a possible treatment for depression and anxiety, disorders associated with low GABA levels. "

Too bad we can't have all our patients do yoga in the waiting room.

Electronically 'sniff' out asthma, or even explosives

The electronic nose is being developed for a number of uses, from food and perfumes, to toxic chemicals and explosives, and now possibly even for detecting asthma.
"The device contains chemical vapor sensors that react to the presence of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, in a person's exhaled breath. "A person's breath contains a mixture of thousands of VOCs that may be used as markers of lung disease," says researcher Silvano Dragonieri, M.D., of Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands. "

Computer simulations for crowd behaviors

"Science Daily — Patterns of human behavior and movement in crowded cities -- the tipping point at which agitated crowds become anti-social mobs, the configuration of civic areas as defensible spaces that also promote free speech, the design of retail space that fosters active walking -- are at the core of an immersive 3-D computational model under development by an Arizona State University geographer."

Wouldn't it be nice if someday, developers were required to submit crowd behavior reports along with their EIRs?

I wonder how effective this would be in predicting flash crowds?

Friday, May 18, 2007

A shirt that tells if you are bipolar or schizophrenic?

As odd as this sounds, there is a team of psychiatric researchers at the University of San Diego that have created a vest to do this.
"“LifeShirt” – a computerized vest that continuously monitors the patient’s movements – shows that patterns of movements differ between patients with the two disorders. The device, manufactured by VivoMetrics©, monitors hyperactive and repetitive movements, and collects data on respiration, heart rate and other physiological measures. "
For testing purposes, they also had a camera in the ceiling that recorded movements of people wearing the shirt.
"Patients with bipolar disease exhibited hyperactivity and a wide range of exploration when in a novel environment, according to the researchers. Schizophrenic patients, on the other hand, exhibited much more restricted movements."

Author Lloyd Alexander has died

Lloyd Alexander wrote some of my favorite childhood fantasy books, including The Black Cauldron series (The Chronicles of Prydain).

Died yesterday at 83 years of age, and his wife of 61 years died 2 weeks ago.

120 inch multi touch screen

Wow. What more is there to say?

Names and face shape

Melissa Lea, PhD, conducted some studies at the University of Ohio around names and shapes of faces. When people's names suit the person's facial shape, they are easier to remember.

They did three experiments, quoted below from here.

1. "150 students in an introductory psychology class to use a computer software program to sketch the facial features of imaginary men with one of the following 15 names: Bob, Bill, Mark, Joe, Tim, John, Josh, Rick, Brian, Tom, Matt, Dan, Jason, Andy, and Justin. Using the computer program, the students tweaked a standard set of male facial features to come up with a face that they thought suited their assigned name. The drawings didn't include eyeglasses or facial hair.
Another group of students approved the drawings, which suggests that people may associate certain facial features with certain names."

2. "...researchers asked 139 other students to match the drawings and names from the first experiment. The faces and names were printed separately and shuffled. Ten out of 15 times, the students matched the faces and names correctly."

3. "...researchers showed the names and faces to 67 students on a computer screen. In a series of quizzes, the students learned to link the names and faces. The students learned the faces and names more quickly when they suited each other. For instance, they learned "Bob" faster when he had a round face, not a thin face."

If wonder if our pets' names would yield the same results?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Another parenting must: Mediation training

"Science Daily — Children whose parents were trained in mediation skills had better conflict-resolution skills than those whose parents did not receive training. That's the finding of a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and published in the May/June 2007 issue of the journal Child Development."

This skill would be useful in so many aspect of every day life that they should add it to the home economics curriculum. Just as important as learning to cook, or carrying an egg around in a basket for days on end.

Print your own RFID cards

Manufactured by Brother, and only available in Japan for now. No pricing info yet.

It prints out IC tag labels, with embedded RFIDs, and also has a built in RFID reader.

Welcome to tracking employees in even small companies.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Listening to protein sequences

Proteins are created by sequences of amino acids. Molecular biologists at UCLA have assigned each of the 20 amino acids a different musical chord.

"We assigned a chord to each amino acid," said Rie Takahashi, a UCLA research assistant and an award-winning, classically trained piano player. "We want to see if we can hear patterns within the music, as opposed to looking at the letters of an amino acid or protein sequence. We can listen to a protein, as opposed to just looking at it."

Check out the researchers' website to listen to sequences, or even submit your own to be converted into a musical format.

Charles Darwin's letters available online

Pic: A letter from Darwin to his friend Joseph Hooker (right), written whilst he was recuperating in the lull between writing On the Origin of Species and its publication. On the left is a reply from Hooker.

The complete works of Charles Darwin is available online at:

Apparently, handwritten letters were recently added to the Darwin Correspondence Project at:

It's a pretty big collection:

Darwin was a prolific letter writer, exchanging correspondence with nearly 2,000 people during his lifetime (1809-1882). Nearly 14,500 of his letters are known to exist, with the biggest collection residing in Cambridge.
Makes me wonder how Darwin would have felt if he knew that so many of his personal letters would someday be publicly available to anyone with an internet connection. Seems an ironic devolution of privacy.
The article below mentions the variety of his letters, including some family conversations about his personal hygiene. I wonder if that's as embarrassing as baby bath pictures?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Self compassion more helpful than self esteem for weathering life?

Totally makes sense, though not something I often think about.
Self-compassion involves three components. They are self-kindness (being kind and understanding toward oneself rather than self-critical); common humanity (viewing one’s negative experiences as a normal part of the human condition); and mindful acceptance (having mindful equanimity rather than over-identifying with painful thoughts and feelings). "

In other words, don't be so hard on yourself.

The researchers found that:
  • People with higher self-compassion had less negative emotional reactions to real, remembered and imagined bad events.
    Self-compassion allowed people to accept responsibility for a negative experience, but to counteract bad feelings about it.
  • Self-compassion protects people from negative events differently –- and in some cases better -- than self-esteem. In addition, the positive feelings that characterize self-compassionate people do not appear to involve the hubris, narcissism or self-enhancing illusions that characterize many people with high self-esteem.
  • Being self-compassionate is particularly important for people with low self-esteem. People with low self-esteem who treat themselves kindly in spite of unflattering self-evaluations fare as well as, if not better than, those with high self-esteem.
  • For self-compassionate people, their view of themselves depends less on the outcomes of events, presumably because they respond in a kind and accepting manner toward themselves whether things go well or badly.
Deceptively simple.

Wireless network via street lamps

"CIO — Researchers at Harvard University and BBN Technologies have designed an intriguing wireless network capable of reporting real-time sensor data across an entire city, Cambridge, Mass. Scientists will initially use the CitySense network to monitor urban weather and pollution. The network could eventually provide better public wireless Internet access. "

They plan to install 100 nodes by 2011 in the Cambridge area, and have nodes transmit data by forming a mesh with surrounding nodes.

"Each node will include an embedded PC running the Linux OS, an 802.11 Wi-Fi interface and weather sensors, says Matt Welsh, assistant professor of computer science at Harvard."

This project will let researchers worldwide log in and submit experiments to be run on the network.

Play music with your head, even if you are mostly paralyzed

Pic: The user positions him/herself in front of the camera and chooses a tracking point (usually the tip of the nose). (Credit: Rensselaer/Zane Van Dusen)

Even better than a theremin? I'm pleased to see another musical instrument/device that is played without having to actually touch it.

"The team [Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's student Zane Van Dusen, along with Pauline Oliveros, a world-renowned musician and distinguished professor of the arts at Rensselaer] designed and implemented a computer interface that tracks the movement of a user’s head to allow them to produce electronic sounds and compose music on a virtual keyboard in both solo and ensemble settings."

This is just the beginning. They hope to use this interface for a variety of tasks.

"Beyond musical communication, Van Dusen sees potential for the device to allow users to create verbal exchanges: “The interface could be adapted to create speech software, allowing those who suffer from CP to form full sentences, rather than just yes or no responses.”"

Monday, May 14, 2007

Reverse alarm clock: helping kids let parents sleep

Pic: The moonset and sunrise calculator controls a "sky display," illustrating time in a way that young children can understand by using images of the sun, moon and stars. (Credit: Image courtesy of Carnegie Mellon)

"Science Daily — John Zimmerman, an associate professor in Carnegie Mellon University's School of Design and Human-Computer Interaction Institute, has developed an unconventional alarm clock every new parent needs — a clock to keep their children sleeping. Called the Reverse Alarm Clock, the product aims to keep young children from interrupting their parents' sleep. "

Complete with bedtime music, wake up music, and simple icons (moon, sun, stars) to let the child know when they should still be sleeping, when they can get up but not interrupt the adults, and when it's time to get up for the day.
As long as the child cooperates, this can be a simple, useful tool until they are old enough to recognize numbers.

Friday, May 11, 2007

People with high testosterone find reward in other's anger?

The study actually sounds very well thought out, and creatively designed.

"It's kind of striking that an angry facial expression is consciously valued as a very negative signal by almost everyone, yet at a non-conscious level can be like a tasty morsel that some people will vigorously work for," said Oliver Schultheiss, co-author of the study and a U-M associate professor of psychology.

The study took saliva samples from participants to measure testosterone.
Then, they gave them a test. Here's the details:

Participants then worked on a "learning task" in which one complex sequence of keypresses was followed by an angry face on the screen, another sequence was followed by a neutral face, and a third sequence was followed by no face.

Participants who were high in testosterone relative to other members of their sex learned the sequence that was followed by an angry face better than the other sequences, while participants low in testosterone did not show this learning advantage for sequences that were reinforced by an angry face.

Notably, this effect emerged more strongly in response to faces that were presented subliminally, that is, too fast to allow conscious identification. Perhaps just as noteworthy, participants were not aware of the patterns in the sequences of keypresses as they learned them.

While high-testosterone participants showed better learning in response to anger faces, they were unaware of the fact that they learned anything in the first place and unaware of what kind of faces had reinforced their learning.

They also hypothesize that this may explain why some people enjoy teasing others so much.

"Perhaps teasers are reinforced by that fleeting 'annoyed look' on someone else's face and therefore will continue to heckle that person to get that look again and again," he said. "As long as it does not stay there for long, it's not perceived as a threat, but as a reward."

Fascinating stuff, but I wonder about the evolutionary advantage of this?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

GPS enabled doggie collar

I wonder if it's waterproof?

"...Sweden's 700,000 dog owners can soon keep better track of their doggy with the help of their mobile phone and a GPS receiver that is attached to the dog's collar. If an SMS message is sent to the GPS unit, it replies by sending an SMS or MMS message with text or a map image indicating where the dog is located."
Turns the collar into an electronic leash. Here's how:

"The GSP receiver contains a SIM card which is registered with Petlink and can be located using GSP navigation over the mobile network. The dog owner searches for his dog by sending an ordinary SMS message from his mobile to the dog's GPS receiver. The receiver responds by sending information about the dog's location either as a map image or text message. A dog owner can also decide how far the dog may be allowed to run freely, and when the dog has exceeded the set limit, the dog owner will receive an alarm on his mobile phone. Five mobile numbers can be connected to the dog's GPS receiver."
No pricing info yet.

Exploratorium Exhibit Index

Brings back many happy memories.

Here's a nice reference list of exhibits. Some also have posted explanations.

Or, for the more experienced scientist, an index by phenomenon.

Lastly, for those who prefer to roam around, an area index.

Ceiling height influences your frame of mind

Sounds odd at first, but spend some time in a room with low ceilings, and a room with high ceilings. They do feel different.

"A recent study at the University of Minnesota suggests that ceiling height affects problem-solving skills and behavior by priming concepts that encourage certain kinds of brain processing."Priming means a concept gets activated in a person's head," researcher Joan Meyers-Levy told LiveScience. "When people are in a room with a high ceiling, they activate the idea of freedom. In a low-ceilinged room, they activate more constrained, confined concepts."
In the study, they gave people problem solving tests, and product evaluation tests. Seem weird to me that there were such measureable differences between a 10 foot ceilin, and an 8 foot ceiling. Unfortunately, the article made no mention of sample size, or the degree of difference between the groups.

Chinese "e-cigarette": get your nicotine without the toxins

That's right, an electronic cigarette. Costs $208, and is already available in China, Israel, Turkey, and various European countries.

Golden Dragon Group Ltd's Ruyan cigarettes are battery-powered, cigarette-shaped devices that deliver nicotine to inhalers in a bid to emulate actual smoking.
"It feels like a cigarette, looks like a cigarette, it even emits vapor. In many ways, it is like an actual smoking experience, and that's what makes us different," he told Reuters.

Being marketed as a nicotine replacement replacement, this seems just too much like a cigarette to me. However, the harm reduction approach would support this, because there is no more exposure to the tars and other toxins generated from burning tobacco products. It's a cooler, sexier version of the nicotrol inhaler.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

RFID vehicle tracking system on the island nation of Bermuda

Traffic at water festival in ThailandWhy? A fairly small island country, with very congested traffic.

"Bermuda is a country with 21 square miles of land, 63,000 people and 47,000 moving vehicles. We're the sixth largest population per square mile. Bermuda has the world's highest density per square mile of motor traffic on its roads," said Randy Rochester, director of Bermuda's Transportation Control Department. "
How? Cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs will receive a windshield sticker embedded with an RFID tag upon registration of their vehicle. Each vehicle gets assigned a number, which is connected to a database. A fixed sensor network will be set up on the island, as well as handheld scanners that are mobile and usable in random locations.
And how else will they use this data? Be afraid, be very afraid.

"A back-office VPS (violation processing system) will automatically generate citations, while the EVR [electronic vehicle registration] system itself will validate commercial vehicle registration and issue violations for trucks operating in restricted areas, during rush hour, without a permit, officials said. "

I wonder if they'll use this for speeding tickets? Or for their equivalent of an Amber alert?

In the California Bay Area, we have a voluntary tracking system, FasTrak, that assigns vehicles a number, and uses sensors to predict commute times based on how long it takes for several of us to go from sensor A to sensor B. It is primarily used for paying bridge tolls without having to stop, and is a very convenient, efficient system. It sounds like Bermuda's system is capable of providing the same benefits as FasTrak, but making it a mandatory system that will also generate citations is just too Orwellian.

The gene that makes us human has been identified

It's been dubbed neuropsin II, originated about 5 million years ago, and is only 45 amino acids longer than neuropsin I, which is found in various species of apes and monkeys.

Neuropsin II is being dubbed the 'cognition gene', and to make things even creepier, they have an experiment where they have spliced neuropsin II DNA in to some chimpanzees.
"The human and chimpanzee genomes vary by just 1.2 percent, yet there is a considerable difference in the mental and linguistic capabilities between the two species. A new study showed that a certain form of neuropsin, a protein that plays a role in learning and memory, is expressed only in the central nervous systems of humans and that it originated less than 5 million years ago. The study, which also demonstrated the molecular mechanism that creates this novel protein, will be published online in Human Mutation, the official journal of the Human Genome Variation Society. "

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Forcing subscribers to watch ads

Since ads are what purportedly pay for TV shows, it is not surprising that some company would eventually start disallowing users to fast forward through commercials. Apparently, they are also piloting a new system that will give people different sets of commercials every few days, to keep them 'fresh'. Seems pretty evil to me.
"SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- Walt Disney Co.'s two big TV networks, ABC and ESPN, have struck a deal with cable operator Cox Communications Inc. to offer hit shows and football games on demand, but with the unusual condition that Cox disables the fast-forward feature that allows viewers to skip ads, according to a media report Tuesday."
This does not affect personal PVRs like replaytv or tivo, yet.

Nifty light, is also a terrarium, and air filter

It does it all.
Carbon neutral, everything is recyclable and recycled, and it draws power for the LED from a solar panel.
"Combining LED lighting with indoor air purification using living plants, the fabulously innovative Green Light by Natalie Jeremijenko, Amelia Amon, Will Kavesh of the Experimental Design Lab is a chandelier, terrarium, and air filter all in one. The system brings clean air, light, AND greenery to your home- three things no one should live without."

Meditation: The key to improved attention?

"...a new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that attention does not have a fixed capacity - and that it can be improved by directed mental training, such as meditation. "
In this study, subjects received 3 months of intensive training in Vipassana meditation. They then gave them the following test, with promising results.

"Volunteers were asked to look for target numbers that were mixed into a series of distracting letters and quickly flashed on a screen. As subjects performed the task, their brain activity was recorded with electrodes placed on the scalp. In some cases, two target numbers appeared in the series less than one-half second apart - close enough to fall within the typical attentional blink window.

The research group found that three months of rigorous training in Vipassana meditation improved people's ability to detect a second target within the half-second time window. In addition, though the ability to see the first target did not change, the mental training reduced the amount of brain activity associated with seeing the first target. "The decrease [of brain activity associated with the first target] strongly predicted the accuracy of their ability to detect the second target," Davidson says."

I wonder how much of their improvement has to do with practice and learning? The blurb does not mention whether there was a control group of subjects that also took these same tests over the same period of time, but did not get the meditation training.
Either way, this does indicate that attention is something that can be improved, whether it be from meditation, or simply practice of a task.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Solid Light for Tomorrow's Computers?

(Credit: Image courtesy of University of Melbourne) Quantum control: A potential design for a device which controls light. The block with the holes in it is a piece of diamond. The red spots are the particles of light 'stuck' in place, rather than roaming around freely.
A totally different way of thinking about light, but possibly a way to make quantum computers.
“Solid light photons repel each other as electrons do. This means we can control photons, opening the door to new kinds of faster computers,” says Dr Greentree. “Many real-world problems in quantum physics are too hard to solve with today’s computers. Our discovery shows how to replicate these hard problems in a system we can control and measure.”

Friday, May 4, 2007

Emotional Mapping of Cities

(Pic): Artist Christian Nold demonstrates his system for detecting peoples' emotions while waking a neighborhood in San Francisco's Mission District.

Apparently, he's been doing this for 3 years, and his latest project is San Francisco. He's also made emotional maps of parts of Siena, Italy, Munich, and Germany. Here's his website.

How does he do it?
"First, he outfits volunteers with global positioning system devices and the sensors used in lie detector tests. Then, he sends his subjects out to wander their neighborhoods. When they return, Nold asks them to recount what they saw and felt when the polygraph recorded a quickened heartbeat or an elevated blood pressure."

World of Warcraft Rewards VISA Card

It's really here.

Not that much of a surprise (MAKE magazine speculated on this as early as 3/06), but this does indicate the growth of this target demographic, as well as the ability of credit cards to profess your individuality (and/or addictions).

Your REWARDS come in the form of game time.

I remember a few years back going to a local specialty bookstore and paying for a purchase with an card. Definitely got some grumbling protests from the owners there.

Should be interesting to see the types of reactions WoW cardholders will get in every day life.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Interactive Music, or Audience Influenced Scores

Would be fun for my next party.

"...Freeman is creating a work in which a restless audience is very literally part of the music. Listeners and musicians are encouraged to wander around the performance space during the concert, while digital cameras track their motion.

Those movements are fed into a software simulation, and Freeman's algorithms, using parameters such as distance from performers, speed and "sheepiness," use the data to dynamically create a score on Pocket PCs attached to the musicians' instruments. Wave a hand, or run around the room, and you'll almost immediately hear the results.

"It's part inspired by a cocktail party, and part by a dance club environment," Freeman said. "Even in part by a multiplayer game, where people are in competition to influence the music by convincing people to follow them."

Much easier than having the audience learn a musical instrument. Makes me really want to get that theremin now though. What other instruments can you play without actually touching it?

Foster's beer cell battery

Australia's University of Queensland, along with Foster's beer's Yatala brewery, have joined to test out a microbial fuel cell to generate electicity.

"The fuel cell is essentially a battery in which bacteria consume water-soluble brewing waste such as sugar, starch and alcohol.

The battery produces electricity plus clean water, said Prof. Jurg Keller, the university's wastewater expert.

The complex technology harnesses the chemical energy that the bacteria releases from the organic material, converting it into electrical energy.

"It's not going to make an enormous amount of power - its primarily a waste water treatment that has the added benefit of creating electricity," Keller said. "

The predict the 660 gallon fuel cell will produce 2 kilowatts of power. Definitely a guilt lowering idea, but I wonder how much it actually costs in terms of resources?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Soup as a diet aid?

Apparently, having a low calorie bowl of soup at the beginning of your meal, before your main course, is being purported to help you lose weight.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University "found those who had broth before their main reduced the total calorie intake of their meal by a fifth, compared with those who just had the main meal. "

Soup details: "low-calorie, broth-based soups that are about 100 to 150 calories per serving."

Seems like a silly study, since this makes such intuitive sense. Soup fills you up volume wise, without much caloric density.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Decrypting the frozen music of Rosslyn Chapel

Too cool. Cymatics in action. Reminds me of the exploratorium, the exhibit where you pour sand on the thin metal plate, then run a violin bow (or saw) across the side, and make pretty patterns from the sand vibrations.

"A father and son who became fascinated by symbols carved into the chapel's arches say they have deciphered a musical score encrypted in them. Thomas Mitchell, a 75-year-old musician and ex-Royal Air Force code breaker, and his composer and pianist son Stuart, described the piece as "frozen music."

Stuart Mitchell said he and his father were intrigued by 13 intricately carved angel musicians on the arches of the chapel and by 213 carved cubes depicting geometric-type patterns.

Years of research led the Mitchells to an ancient musical system called cymatics, or Chladni patterns, which are formed by sound waves at specific pitches.
The two men matched each of the patterns on the carved cubes to a Chladni pitch, and were able finally to unlock the melody."

Artwork titled "09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0"

The collage itself is generated from:, via flickr photos.

zero 9 F 9 one Coach Park 1 zero 2 9 D 7 4 Big E (small) 3 5 Just Be d 8 4th hole Black circle 1 5 6 Pewter Letter c 5 6 YVR Pictogram 5 Crusty 8 8 C Stop Zero

"This is some nice artwork/photo collage inspired by the HD-DVD processing key you can use to decrypt and play most HD-DVD movies in Linux. "