When you invest in a book at an online retailer, you expect it to arrive at its destination with all its information intact. But when you invest in a spaceship, you know there's a chance it could blow up, veer off course, float off into space, or simply fail to communicate with you ever again (not unlike some love affairs and lovers you might care to forget).
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos surely knew this when he invested some of his well-gotten cash into a spaceship developed by Blue Origin LLC.… Read more
I know there are many people who love collecting things. I don't necessarily understand them. But I do feel their joy.
So if you happen to be a fan of collecting space and waste matter, I believe I have found the perfect item for your consideration.
The lovely people at RR Auction have scoured the Earth and the galaxy to bring you items that you might never have thought you would have on display in your living room--next to the bottle of Smirnoff.
A bible that has been to the moon, for example, on Apollo 14. Or a letter … Read more
Passenger jets seem designed to waste time, what with people trying to stuff oversized carry-on bags into undersized luggage bins, aisles clogged with people, and a billion other factors that delay your flight.
A few years ago, Fermilab astrophysicist Jason Steffen observed this while flying to a conference and got to thinking: is there a way to have passengers board a plane more efficiently?
Steffen considered various methods, such as boarding people in blocks, at random, and in window seats first. He set up a model using an algorithm based on the Monte Carlo optimization method used in statistics and mathematics.
He found that the most efficient boarding method is to board alternate rows at a time, beginning with the window seats on one side, then the other, minimizing aisle interference. The window seats are followed by alternate rows of middle seats, then aisle seats. He also found that boarding at random is faster that boarding by blocks. … Read more
When chatbots talk to each other, the conversation gets interesting in a hurry. Cornell University researchers rigged up a chatbot system to allow chatbots to talk to each other. The chatbot-vs.-chatbot interaction ranged from childish taunts to pseudo-metaphysical blatherings.
Humans who converse with chatbots often get frustrated with the chatbots' seeming stupidity and inattention. Watching a couple of chatbots get snippy with each other for being stupid and inattentive is quite entertaining and satisfying. (See the video below.)
The chatbot-vs.-chatbot avatars are a British man and a South Asian woman, both instances of Cleverbot, developed by artificial-intelligence programmer Rollo Carpenter. The software has learned phrases from millions of conversations it has had with humans on the Internet.
At one point the male Cleverbot declares itself to be a unicorn. At another, he tells her she is unhelpful and therefore a "meanie." She dazzles him with her philosophical prowess, declaring that not everything could be half of something. My favorite part, though, was when one bot threw bot-ness in the other's face. The male says, "You were mistaken. Which is odd, since memory shouldn't be a problem for you."… Read more
The Holy Grail of computer screens, something you can fold up and put in your pocket, is getting very close.
UCLA researchers have created a prototype of an OLED screen that easily folds, and also stretches enough to increase in size by 45 percent. The researchers' prototype isn't a fully functioning screen--it just shines the color of a blue sky--but it's proof that the major ingredients work.
The first hints that foldable computer screens were possible arrived with OLED screens that could bend a little bit. Then came OLED screens that were flexible enough to roll around a pencil.
Truly stretchable displays could bring about the long-sought tablet or e-reader that you can roll or fold and put in your pocket. The technology could also be used for wearable electronics, implantable electronics, robot skin, and solar cells that can be stretched over curved and irregularly shaped surfaces. Technology Review's Kristina Grifantini suggests cell phones that expand and contract. Think pocketable phone that expands to become a mini tablet.… Read more
The failure of an unmanned Russian Soyuz booster during launch last week has thrown a wrench into International Space Station operations, with upcoming fights to and from the lab complex facing delays that likely will result in extended operations with a reduced crew of three, a senior NASA manager said today.
During the launch of an unmanned Progress supply capsule atop a Soyuz booster last Wednesday, a sudden loss of pressure downstream of a turbo-pump in the third-stage engine resulted in a computer-commanded shutdown 5 minutes and 20 seconds after liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
British and U.S. scientists have confirmed that an atomic clock at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) near London is the most accurate long-term timekeeper in the world, the NPL said.
The NPL-CsF2 is a cesium fountain clock that's used as a standard for International Atomic Time and Universal Coordinated Time.
The machine is apparently accurate to within two 10 million billionths of a second. Not bad, I guess.
The NPL's Krzysztof Szymaniec joined scientists from Pennsylvania State University in evaluating the clock. The team published its results in the journal Metrologia.
The analysis concludes that the clock will lose only a billionth of a second every two months, and represents an unprecedented accuracy. Cesium clocks are usually expected to lose or gain a second over tens of millions of years.
"Together with other improvements of the cesium fountain, these models and numerical calculations have improved the accuracy of the U.K.'s cesium fountain clock, NPL-CsF2, by reducing the uncertainty to 2.3 × 10-16--the lowest value for any primary national standard so far," Szymaniec was quoted as saying by the NPL.
In the U.S., the National Institute of Standards and Technology operates the NIST-F1 cesium fountain clock, which as of summer 2010 had an uncertainty of 3 x 10-16, meaning it would take more than 100 million years to lose or gain a second.
That will be billions of years before the sun dies, taking the Earth with it, so I expect an update on this from a future blogger. … Read more
The best thing I saw at CES in 2010 was the Parrot AR Drone, an iPhone-controlled quadcopter. It was a really fun toy, but an expensive one, and not that reliable either, as I learned when my demo unit dropped out of the sky. But this platform, the quadcopter, can be a serious player in solving real-world problems. Aeryon, which I covered in 2009, played an important part in the Libyan rebellion: one of its flying bots helped the rebels see over their heads to where their opposition was gathering.
And at the graduation ceremony of the Singularity University this week, I was introduced to another real-world, save-the-world company that's applying quadcopter technology: Matternet.
This particular class of S.U. was focused on solving problems for "the next billion people," those without access to modern technology. Matternet tackled the problem of getting drugs and diagnostic or test materials to people in rural areas in developing countries that don't have access to passable roads during rainy seasons.
The company proposed building a network of robotic drones to deliver medication quickly and very cost-effectively--even less than a guy on a dirt bike costs.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration last week gave Boeing certification for its 787 Dreamliner, saying that the company's years-in-the-making aircraft is finally safe for passengers. The announcement came after the aircraft completed its final flight tests on August 17.
The green-lighting will allow Boeing to make its first delivery to Japan's All Nippon Airways on September 28, at Tokyo's Haneda airport.
The Dreamliner is in many ways the aircraft on which the aerospace giant has staked its future. Constructed with composite materials, the 787 is supposed to be more fuel … Read more
Perhaps the biggest frustration for astronomers is that they can't get to the places that most interest them.
So please imagine the excitement--and vexation--of skygazers who believe they have discovered a planet that might just be the shiniest piece of bling out there. Reuters paints a picture of astronomers who feel like someone who has just been offered 27 carats over their chocolate pudding.
For there seems to be a planet orbiting tightly around a small star just down the road (in celestial terms) from Earth that is "a massive diamond."