There's a mysterious barge docked at Treasure Island, the former Navy base in the San Francisco Bay. The barge contains a structure built from shipping containers. According to CNET, whatever is inside those containers is related to a secret project underway inside Hangar 3 on the island, a former military base. CNET managed to trace the project back to Google. It seems likely that Google is either reverse-engineering a crashed alien spacecraft or prototyping a floating data center. CNET suggests the latter but my bets (and hopes) are on the former.
As you may have heard, in addition to my duties manning the engine room here at Boing Boing, I've recently begun a stint as Wikimedia's Director of Tech Ops.
We're in the process of choosing an additional datacenter partner and location, and as you would expect, we are trying to make the process as transparent as possible. We have a Request for Proposals posted, and we'd be happy to take on any bids that meet our criteria.
If you (or someone you know) is involved in the datacenter business, here's a great opportunity to help an awesome non-profit change the world, and support our mission of bringing the sum of all knowledge to every human being.
Computer scientist Katia Vega has developed conductive eye shadow and false eyelashes that can be used to control wearable computers. For example, an extended blink could trigger your phone's camera. "We use voluntary movements to amplify intentions – using our body as a new input device," Vega, a researcher at Rio de Janeiro's Pontifical Catholic University, told New Scientist.
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Jeremy sez, "To celebrate Ada Lovelace day, celebrating women in science and technology (Tuesday, Oct 15th this year) I've put together a collection of t-shirts featuring women in science and technology. Since I know that despite their contributions many of these women are not household names I've also added a brief writeup of each woman's best known accomplishments when you mouse over each design."
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The term "gonzo journalism" gets thrown around pretty loosely, generally referring to stuff that's kind of shouty or over-the-top, but really gonzo stuff is completely, totally bananas. Case in point is James Mickens's The Slow Winter [PDF], a wonderfully lunatic account of the limitations of chip-design that will almost certainly delight you as much as it did me.
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NOVA's Tim De Chant posted this awesome photo of the Kilby Solid Circuit, the first working example of a miniaturized electric circuit that combined all the necessary structures onto a single chip. Back in 2000, when he won the Nobel Prize for this achievement, inventor Jack Kilby gave a really nice talk about the history of electronics and the context that lead to his creation. It's definitely worth a read.
Popular Science has a great (and occasionally horrifying) slideshow of gadgets it once suggested were essential for enlightened, tech-minded parents. A lot of the inventions merely look way sketchy. For instance, the infant-sized "sleeping porch" that is actually a screened box bolted into an apartment window frame is probably mounted well enough that it's not going to kill anybody. It's just that, from the vantage point of a 100 years later, it seems a little disturbing to stick your baby into something that looks like a large AC window unit.
Other suggestions, though, are legitimately concerning. Above, you can see an image of a nurse "branding" a newborn by essentially sunburning its parent's initials onto its flesh with a UV lamp. In 1938, somebody thought this would be a good way to ensure that nobody left the hospital with the wrong baby.
The Uncanny Valley is that point where something designed to look human gets too close to success, and ends up accidentally reminding us of the many, many ways that it also looks totally alien. The result: A one-way ticket to Creepoutsville.
Or, anyway, that's the hypothesis. See, despite the fact that we've long treated it as a given, the Uncanny Valley isn't a proven concept. In fact, writes Rose Eveleth at The BBC, the original 1970 paper that described the Uncanny Valley wasn't really based on research at all. It was more of an essay. An essay that nobody much questioned for 30 years. Since 2000, there's been some actual research on the subject, and the results are very mixed. Some studies can find evidence of the Uncanny Valley. In others, though, it appears to not exist at all.
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If you enjoy the irony in the fact that the great East Coast blackout of 2003 was largely caused by a few untrimmed trees, then you're going to love Jon Mooallem's account of how America's squirrels are wreaking havoc on America's electricity system.
Using a Google news alert, he's cataloged 50 squirrel-caused power outages in 24 states — and that's just since Memorial Day. These aren't small outages either. Several of them have cut power to thousands of people at a time. Back in 1994, a squirrel took out the Nasdaq. These are kamikaze raids and they've led to an interesting phenomenon — technology developed specifically to protect our infrastructure from furry, tree-hopping rodents.
Last night, my husband and I went to the Minnesota State Fair and stumbled upon a demonstration of a linotype machine, a semi-automated, mechanical printing system that was used by newspapers and magazines (and basically everything else) from the end of the 19th century through the 1970s. It's a completely mesmerizing piece of equipment. An operator types out a line of text and the machine responds by collecting molds that match each letter and fitting them together. Then, it fills the mold with molten metal and dumps out the freshly minted block, ready for the printer ... before automatically re-racking all the letter molds so they're ready for the next line of text.
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Technologically speaking, it's a perfectly possible thing to do, writes Tim Fernholtz at Quartz. The problem is the high cost of infrastructure development, something have everybody (whether they want to built a train, a highway, or a futuristic hyperloop) tends to underestimate. That's particularly a problem given the fact that whole idea behind Musk's hyperloop is that it could be a cheaper replacement for an expensive high-speed rail line already under development.
Human emotions and social interaction have a lot to do with body language — how our faces express what we're thinking and feeling, how our gestures are read by other people, and how we invade (or retreat from) each other's personal space. In fact, those movements and behaviors are so important that, if you map them onto an otherwise completely non-human, non-animal form, we'll start interpreting it as engaging with us — even if that form is nothing more than a moving stick.
This video, clips from a study that was published in 2011 by computer scientists at the University of Calgary, shows what test subjects did and said when they were left alone in a room with a stick-like robot, and asked to just think out loud and interact with the robot in whatever ways felt natural. Some people made friends. Others tried to fight it. And a few tried to talk it out of wanting to fight them.
Harmon has a new story up at The New York Times that delves into the nuance behind the often very un-nuanced public debate about genetically modified foods. It's a story about orange growers in a race against time to find something that can save America's orange crop (and orange juice supply) from a deadly bacteria. It's also a story about the debates those growers have amongst themselves as they decide to try funding GMO research that might solve their problem — and might not. All while creating new PR problems that they aren't entirely prepared to handle.
I think this is a particularly great lens to examine the science and risk/reward perspective on GMO foods, because it takes us beyond some of the particularly volatile points in the debate — points that often have nothing to do with the actual safety or benefits of GMOs. Monsanto is not involved in the development of these GMO oranges. And what the growers and scientists are trying to do has nothing to do with increasing pesticide use. In fact, if they succeed, they'll be able to reduce the amount of pesticides used on oranges. It's a long read, but a worthwhile one.
William Shatner takes us into the Microworld for this 1980 promotional film from the AT&T Archives. Ah, the history of the future.