Boing Boing 

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.

The real problem with Curtis White's The Science Delusion

So, here's a new writing nightmare. What do you do if, after your book is published, and the reviews start to come in, it slowly dawns on you that you've accidentally written the wrong book ... a book which you would not actually agree with?

That's how I felt after interviewing Curtis White, author of The Science Delusion — a book that has been widely reviewed as containing some good points, buried under a lot of angry rants and straw men. According to White, however, those reviews have all completely missed what he was trying to do and trying to say.

All the invective? White thought he was just being funny and satirical, like Jonathan Swift. The over-generalizing about what all scientists believe and what the culture of science is like? He thought it was clear that he just meant the subset of scientists who don't think there's any value other than entertainment in art, that philosophy is dead, and that culture has no affect on how we interpret science or what we do with it. The weird, pseudo-Deism? He thought he was explaining that science is part of culture, that the questions being asked and the way answers are interpreted are culturally bound and and we have to take that into account. The humanities triumphalism and points where he totally dismisses science and acts like he doesn't understand why somebody would find meaning in being curious about how the mind works? Not what he meant at all, apparently. He just wants to make the case for us needing both science and the humanities to properly understand the world. And White is deeply confused about why reviews of his book keep getting all of this wrong.

I recently had a chance to interview White — both live and in some email follow-up after the live event — and I've come to the conclusion that I can't properly review this book without including that information. There's just too big a gap, from my perspective, between how the book reads and what White wanted you to take away from it.

Read the rest

Tales from the history of NSA spying

The NSA's first large-scale domestic surveillance project began in 1945 — when the organization began reading American's telegrams.

Virtual dissection table is fascinating, useful, and just a little creepy

Everything a dissection table should be, I suppose. I'm absolutely mesmerized by the utility of this tool, developed by Anatomage and Stanford University's Division of Clinical Anatomy. Particularly for its ability to give anatomy students unprecedented access to special cases. Instead of waiting for a body with just the right kind of brain malformation or liver damage to come in, you can just call up the desired images from the computer and use them whenever you want.

As for the creepy: Well, for some reason it's just a little more disturbing to see a perfectly healthy naked lady sprawled out on the anatomy table, as opposed to old, wrinkly naked people or people who have clearly recently been in poor health. (Also, potentially NSFW, natch.)

Video Link

Huge, 3D printed airplane parts in China

GE isn't the only one getting into the 3D-printed airplane part game. But, instead of little fuel injectors for turbines, the Chinese company AVIC Heavy Machinery and China's Northwestern Polytechnical University are printing off 5-meter-long titanium wing spars and equally long wing beams. (Thanks, Tim Heffernan!)

3-D printed part from an airplane turbine

Yesterday, we posted a tech memoir by Steven Ashley about the slow rise of 3D printing — from sci-fi fantasy, to toy, to creator of real tools. Towards the end of the piece, Ashley mentions how GE is starting manufacture aircraft engine parts using 3D printers. Here's the excerpt:

Rows of industrial 3D-printing units in plants will soon be fabricating turbine engine parts—fuel nozzles—from cobalt-chromium alloy powders. Each one of GE’s new LEAP jet engine will contain nineteen of the fuel nozzles, which are up to 25 percent lighter and five-times more durable than traditionally manufactured fuel nozzles. In airplanes cutting weight saves fuel. The LEAP engine has already amassed more than 4,500 orders, so between it and the new GE9X engine, the corporation could end up making as many as 100,000 additive manufactured components by 2020.

In the picture above, you can see one of those fuel nozzles, in all its 3D-printed glory.

Read the rest

In which Ye Olde Metadata Network tracks that traitor Paul Revere

Sociologist Kieran Healy does a nice job of explaining how even a data system that doesn't contain the actual content of conversations can be part of a very powerful surveillance state. Part parody and part demonstration, he uses information about organization membership roles in 18th-century Boston to pinpoint Paul Revere as a key player in a network of "traitors".

Anno NTK: 15-year-old tech news just keeps on getting better

It's been just over a year since Anno NTK launched, a kind of Wayback Machine for the wonderful old-school UK tech newsletter Need to Know. Each week, Danny O'Brien will send you a fifteen-year-old edition of NTK, letting you catch up on the tech news of the late 1990s. This week's is especially grand:

Linus "Bigger than Elvis" Torvalds, accompanied by backing singers Alan Cox and Jamie Zawinski, will be fighting off the screaming teenage fans at Duke University's LINUX EXPO '98 this weekend. You're not there, clearly, otherwise you wouldn't be sober enough to read this. You can, however, glean a vicarious buzz by reading the inevitable flurry of announcements on the Website. Not least among them will be the definitive answer to the "Emacs vs Vi" question provided, not by a Magic Eightball, but by a magic *Paintball* face-off. It's the only way.
http://www.linuxexpo.org/
- Linus! Linus! Marry me! MARRY ME! http://www.linuxexpo.org/paintball.html
- looking forward to the cheers:
"H-J-K-L, what can we pipe through ispell? VI!"
"Give us a '(' - Give us another '('! Give us a '('!..."

Anno NTK

Do science: The life you save may be your own

One of the people who developed the pacemaker is now 86. And he has a pacemaker.

The places Soviet tourists could not visit in the 1950s

Apparently, there were some private citizens from the USSR who were allowed into the U.S. for travel during the Cold War. But they couldn't just visit anywhere they wanted.

This map, from a post at Slate's Vault blog, shows the no-go zones, shaded in green. Some of this is quite funny — gee, guys, I wonder what you're keeping hidden out in rural Nevada? Another interesting point: Soviets could visit Kansas City, Kansas, but not Kansas City, Missouri. Which could just be a pretty good joke, on our part. The fun stuff is all on the Missouri side.

EDIT: In the original version of this post, I'd mentioned that Kansas had once been home to many, many missile silos, and speculated that this might be why so much of that state (and the Dakotas) was off-limits to Soviet travelers. But, Cold War historian Audra J. Wolfe contacted me and pointed out that there were no missile silos at the time this map was made, because there were no Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. So why ban the Ruskies from Kansas? Wolfe isn't entirely sure. She speculated that it might have had something to do with limiting access to public lands managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Bureau of Land Management. It also could have been tied to the presence of Strategic Air Command bases in the state. And there were tons of Atomic Energy Commission-owned sites scattered all over the U.S. — it's hard to keep track of where they all were.

Of course, Wolfe also said that there wasn't always a clear logic behind the decisions about which parts of the country were made off-limits to Soviet citizens. For instance, much of our coastline was off-limits for no other reason than the fact that much of the Soviet coast was off-limits to Americans. "The main premise is 'strict reciprocity'," she wrote in a message to me. "X% of Soviet coasts are off-limits, therefore x% of US coasts are off-limits, too." So there, one might add.

Watch a caterpillar turn into a butterfly, in 3D

What happens inside a caterpillar's cocoon? Scientists got to watch the whole process with the help of X-ray 3D scanning technology. In the video above, you can watch a caterpillar turn into a butterfly. Over the course of 16 days its breathing tubes (shown in blue) and its digestive system (shown in red) change shape and position within the body, while other structures grow from scratch.

Ed Yong has a great story to go with this, too. All about why it's important to actually watch the process happening in a single caterpillar, instead of just relying on the data scientists have collected from years of dissecting different caterpillars at different stages in the transformation.

The technology that links taxonomy and Star Trek

What made Star Trek's original tricorder a great piece of fictional technology, writes Maggie Koerth-Baker, wasn't its sci-fi looks. It was what it did.Read the rest

Hackers prepare for first "national holiday" in their honor

“The future of technology will be largely determined by citizens who will design, build, and hack their own” Read the rest

Why a grand, unified theory of artificial intelligence may be a pipe dream

A computer scientist and a psychology professor analyze Entropica — the artificial intelligence system that's been getting major buzz in the blogosphere. Quick version: It's a good idea, but it underestimates the complexity of the real world. Sure, you could create an AI that can play chess, but that same bot won't necessarily have the skills it needs to also be capable of understanding grammar and sentence structure.

Technology, business, culture and more ... from a female perspective

Medium just launched Lady Bits, a new collection hosted by former Wired.com editor Arikia Millikan. The goal: Provide a space for the kinds of stories and perspectives that get left out of traditional magazines because of advertising profiles that say tech readers are all dudes. It's a worthy idea and I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

Speed-aging bourbon with the power of technology

When bourbon ages, what's actually happening is that daily fluctuations in temperature are changing the pressure in the barrel, forcing liquid in and out of pores in the oak. At NPR, Alan Greenblatt writes about an entrepreneur who has figured out how to mechanically recreate this process — speeding up the time it takes to age bourbon from months or years, to a matter of days. This may or may not be an appropriate use of technology, depending on your bourbon ideology.

This history of the car in L.A.

After living in L.A. for a year without owning a car — an experiment brought on by a lazy reaction to his car battery dying — Paleofuture's Matt Novak has written a fascinating piece about the history of Los Angeles transportation. It's a history that includes doomed monorails, oil derricks at Venice Beach, and a cameo by Roger Rabbit.

Hear Alexander Graham Bell speak

NewImage

The voice you can hear above is Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. Bell's voice, not likely heard anywhere since he died in 1922, was retrieved from a wax-and-cardboard disc recorded on April 15, 1885 and recently "played" for the first time in more than a century. That's the disc above, looking strangely similar to a CD. The recording was identified and digitized by a team including researchers from the National Museum of American History, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Library of Congress. In the clip above, Bell says "Hear my voice, Alexander Graham Bell." You can listen to nearly five minutes more of the recording session below. (via Smithosnian and The Atlantic)

Read the rest

Buildings built by bacteria

NewImage

Over at Fast Company, our pal Chris Arkenberg wrote about how advances in synthetic biology and biomimicry could someday transform how we build our built environments:

Innovations emerging across the disciplines of additive manufacturing, synthetic biology, swarm robotics, and architecture suggest a future scenario when buildings may be designed using libraries of biological templates and constructed with biosynthetic materials able to sense and adapt to their conditions. Construction itself may be handled by bacterial printers and swarms of mechanical assemblers.

Tools like Project Cyborg make possible a deeper exploration of biomimicry through the precise manipulation of matter. David Benjamin and his Columbia Living Architecture Lab explore ways to integrate biology into architecture. Their recent work investigates bacterial manufacturing--the genetic modification of bacteria to create durable materials. Envisioning a future where bacterial colonies are designed to print novel materials at scale, they see buildings wrapped in seamless, responsive, bio-electronic envelopes.

"Cities Of The Future, Built By Drones, Bacteria, And 3-D Printers"

Why is it so hard to make a phone call in emergency situations?

When bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon on Monday, my Facebook feed was immediately filled with urgent messages. I watched as my friends and family implored their friends and family in Boston to check in, and lamented the fact that nobody could seem to get a solid cell phone connection.

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Ordered list of credible fictions

I love Bruce Sterling's "Design Fiction Slider-Bar of Disbelief," a list of fictions in ascending order of credibility:

9.4 New age crystals, lucky charms, protective pendants, mojo hands, voodoo dolls, magic wands

9.3 Quack devices, medical hoaxes

9.3 Fantasy “objects” in fantasy cinema and computer-games

9.2 Physically impossible sci-fi literary devices: time machines, humanoid robots

9.2 Perpetual motion machines; free-energy gizmos, other physically impossible engineering fantasies

9.0 State libels, black propaganda, military ruses; missile gaps, vengeance weapons, Star Wars SDI

8.9 “Realplay” services, “experiential futurism” encounters, military and emergency training drills, props and immersive set-design, scripted personas

8.8 Online roleplaying scenario games

8.7 Net.art interventions, diegetic performance art, provocative device-art scandals

8.6 Guerrilla street-theater; costumes, puppets, banners, songs, lynchings-in-effigy, mock trials, mass set-designed Nuremberg rallies, propaganda trains

8.5 Fake products, product forgeries, theft-of-services, con-schemes, 419 frauds

Spoiler alert: the list ends with these:

1.0 Engineering specifications, software code

0.5 Historical tech assessment of extinct technologies, the “judgement of history’

0.0 The ideal and unobtainable “objective truth” about objects and services

Design Fiction: The Design Fiction Slider-Bar of Disbelief

Put a GPS on your cat

When one of Caroline Paul's cats disappeared for 5.5 weeks, it inspired her to find out what Tibula (the cat) was really up to when he left home. The process of this is pretty fascinating. The outcome is, well, kind of cat like. What was Tibula doing when he wasn't at home? Avoiding the house and staring at himself in windows, apparently.

4D printing and programmable matter

As part of Institute for the Future's research project on what we're calling "The Coming Age of Networked Matter," we've looked at progress around programmable materials that can morph and self-assemble. MIT professor and TED fellow Skylar Tibbits is pushing on this idea with what he dubbed "4D printing, where the fourth dimension is time," meaning that the printed objects change shape over a certain period. (Thanks, Jake Dunagan!)