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Why Google Maps is often wrong about your exact location

How does Google Maps account for plate tectonics? That's the seemingly simple question that led George Musser to unearth some fascinating facts about map-making, history, and the accuracy of modern GPS systems. Turns out, not only does the crust of the Earth, itself, move, but so do the locations of lines of latitude and longitude. Both those things contribute to small errors when your GPS tries to pinpoint exactly where you are.

Mystery barge in SF Bay belongs to Google?

NewImage

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.

Help Wikimedia set up a new datacenter in the US!

Wikimedia foundation logoAs 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.

 

 

Conductive cosmetics to control mobile devices

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.

Women in science tees



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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Gonzo essay on the limits of chip design

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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The first integrated circuit

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.

How The Cleveland Press broke the story of Los Alamos a year-and-a-half before Hiroshima

The Manhattan Project was a secret, but it wasn't as secret a secret as you've been lead to believe, writes Rebecca Rosen at The Atlantic. Not only was the construction of an atomic weapon a topic of Washington gossip, but the entire "secret city in the desert" thing got blown open in 1944 when a columnist for a Midwestern newspaper ran across Los Alamos while on vacation. In light of our current debates about state secrets and security, it's probably less interesting that columnist Jack Raper found Los Alamos, and more interesting that he, and his paper, chose to buck the self-enforced system of silence that characterized World War II media.

How to parent, according to the archives of Popular Science

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.

How one chemist does her research, even though her lab makes her sick

LuAnne McNulty is an organic chemist. A few years ago, she developed severe asthma that's triggered by ... well ... organic chemistry. Not too long ago, that biological reaction would have put her out of a job. Today, she's able to conduct research (if not do it herself) and advise younger scientists with the help of really simple tech solutions.

The Uncanny Valley might not actually exist

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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Squirrels hell-bent on destruction of American electric infrastructure

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.

Pictured: The face of pure evil, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from binaryape's photostream

Regulating a new technology

E-cigarettes are different enough from cigarettes that it's hard for regulators to figure out how to monitor their safety and use. There's nicotine, but no tobacco. There's heating, but not combustion. Theoretically, they should be safer to use than cigarettes, but nobody really knows for sure. This piece at InsideScience is an interesting look at how we manage new technologies that don't quite fit into any previously defined regulatory boxes ... and why we'd want to regulate them, to begin with.

Ancient nanotechnology

How the ancient Romans created color-changing glass goblets that shifted colors based on what you put in them.

Linotype machines are awesome

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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Today's schizophrenics hallucinate different things than those of your grandparents' time

Thanks to that whole "mental" part, mental illnesses are often heavily influenced by the cultures and societies in which people live. Case in point: The way people with schizophrenia interpret their own hallucinations has changed over the course of the 20th century, keeping pace with changes in technology. Where people once believed that demons were speaking to them, they came to think of those voices as emanating from secret phonographs. Today, people with schizophrenia are likely to imagine hidden cameras taping them for a reality show. The paranoid delusions are always there, but the context changes.

How to: Shop for a computer in 1953

Ptak Science Books reprints a helpful article from the journal Computers and Automation, meant to help early computer shoppers make sure they're wisely spending their hundreds of thousands of dollars (in 1953 dollars, that is). You don't want to end up with a gigantic, room-sized piece of machinery that doesn't meet your needs or, worse, is a lemon.

Elon Musk's hyperloop can't escape the high cost of infrastructure development

Elon Musk wants to build a pneumatic tube transportation system capable of whisking people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes. (Xeni told you about this back in July.)

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.

Life in a toxic country

New York Times China correspondent Edward Wong describes his life in heavily polluted Beijing, where he no longer feels safe running outside and, in order to bike around town, dons a black air filter face mask that makes him "look like an Asian Darth Vader".

Humans will befriend a stick — as long as it moves properly

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.

Video Link

Genetically modified food that has nothing to do with Monsanto

Amy Harmon is one of the best long-form, investigative reporters working today. (You might remember her recent stories about adults with autism navigating independent lives and finding love.)

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.

Image: Orange Shine, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from zlakfoto's photostream

Flexible, interactive electronic "skin"

NewImageUC Berkeley researchers demonstrated a new kind of thin, flexible "electronic skin" that lights up when you touch it. Press on it, and it glows brighter. The prototype film consists of 16 x 16 pixels, each outfitted with a transistor, organic LED, and pressure sensor. It's made using the same fabrication tools employed by the semiconductor industry. I can't wait until fashion designers and other makers can get bolts of this stuff for cheap! "Paper-thin e-skin responds to touch, holds promise for sensory robotics and interactive environments"

Warp 0: Why warp drive technologies might never happen

Theoretical cosmologist Richard Easther has an interesting essay on the theoretical physics of warp drive technologies and why — despite the fact that they could work quite reasonably alongside relativity — they still might not ever make it to reality.

New, high-tech cancer detector: Great idea, or still in need of work?

MelaFind is a new device that helps doctors identify melanoma skin cancers. In many places, it's being reported as the greatest breakthrough in skin cancer prevention to come along in decades. But, notes Gary Schwitzer at Health News Review, those pieces leave out the fact that MelaFind is actually fairly controversial. A lot of cancer researchers and docs are worried that it will give patients and doctors a false sense of security — a big issue considering the fact that MelaFind is only designed to identify small melanomas. It could turn up false negatives (or false positives) with non-melanoma skin cancers or melanomas that don't fall into a narrow type range.

A smart knife for surgeons

Researchers at Imperial College London have invented an electric surgical knife that comes equipped with a built-in mass spectrometer. Electric knives cauterize wounds as they cut, which produces smoke. The iKnife will be able to analyze the chemistry of that smoke to determine, for instance, whether the tissue that was just cut was cancerous or not — allowing doctors to make decisions in the OR that would, today, require them to take samples, send those samples to a lab, and maybe schedule a second surgery.

Nationwide heat wave puts electric grid to the test

The entire country is in the red (and orange) today. At 10:20 am, it was hotter in Minneapolis than southern Florida and the only places that looked remotely comfortable were all on the Pacific coast. Those temps don't just strain your patience. They also strain your electrical grid, as millions of Americans simultaneously crank up their air conditioners and test the grid's ability to match supply of electricity with demand for it. For grid controllers, a day like today is akin to the Super Bowl. Will there be brownouts? Blackouts? Awkward flickering? Place your bets. The peak in demand will happen later this afternoon.

Elon Musk plans Hyperloop high-speed train

The “Hyperloop,” a hybrid new form of transportation proposed by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, would shrink the duration of a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles to 30 minutes, at a speed of almost 800 miles an hour. [NYTimes.com]

Inside the frozen-food archipelago

Seventy percent of all the food you eat passes through an oft-overlooked system of refrigerated warehouses, factories, and trucks, writes Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic. That's not just the stuff you think of as "frozen food", either. Peanuts, for instance, are chilled. With photos and some judicious excerpts from Tom Wolfe novels, Madrigal introduces us to a world few of us have ever seen, but all of us are totally dependent upon.

Microworld: 1980 microchip documentary with Shatner

William Shatner takes us into the Microworld for this 1980 promotional film from the AT&T Archives. Ah, the history of the future.