In 1960, the US Air Force asked the RAND Corporation to evaluate the possibility of using stationary rockets to pause the Earth's rotation in the event of a nuclear attack. Called "Project Retro," the idea was that the "a huge rectangular array of one thousand first-stage Atlas engines... (would) be fastened securely to the earth in a horizontal position." As missiles approached, the rockets would fire, stopping the Earth's rotation just enough for the nukes to overshoot their targets. In the book The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, Daniel Ellsberg, who assessed the problematic proposal, wrote that everything “that wasn’t nailed down, and most of what was as well, would be gone with the wind, which would itself be flying at super-hurricane force everywhere at once." Not only that, he says, but the plan would actually require one million billion rockets:
If you do the maths, that’s about 2.6 x 1021 kilograms of propellant – or to put it another way, that’s about 500 times the mass of the Earth’s atmosphere.
So even assuming you could build that many engines, once you fired them for the time that was needed to change the Earth’s rotation, you would have put 500 times as much gas into the atmosphere, and this would all be incredibly hot combustion products.
So even if your targets were to survive the nuclear war, everyone would then be incinerated by all the exhaust gases spreading around the planet.
For even more on Project Retro and RAND, listen to my old friend Ken Hollings's excellent 2008 BBC radio documentary "RAND: All Your Tomorrows Today"
In this 1939 newsreel, the great Lucille Ball demonstrates the Sonovox, a device that brings amplified sound effects from vinyl records into the throat where the tongue and lips modulate it. Here's the patent for the Sonovox, invented by Gilbert Wright and used in TV advertisements, the movie Dumbo (1941) for Casey Junior the train's voice, and the "days of the week" radio jingle that was included on The Who Sell Out (1967).
Of course the Sonovox begat the "talk box" that routes an amplified instrument's sound from a small speaker into the musician's mouth via a rubber tube so they can shape the tone as if they're speaking. In the rock arena, Peter Frampton made the talk box famous on the track "Do You Feel Like We Do" (1973).
More on all this in my post last year featuring Pete Drake's beautiful pedal steel "talk box" tune "Forever" from 1963, long before Peter Frampton showed us the way.
LipPass is a user verification system for mobile devices that verifies your identity by the unique way that you move your lips. Developed by researchers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the system doesn't validate based on the sound of your voice but rather the movement of your mouth. From IEEE Spectrum:
The researchers realized the audio components on smartphones can be exploited to depict the movement of a person’s mouth by analyzing the acoustic signals that bounce off the user’s face. Since each person exhibits unique speaking behaviors—like lip protrusion and closure, tongue stretch and constriction, as well as jaw angle changes—this creates a unique Doppler effect profile that can be detected by the phone. The platform then uses a deep learning algorithm, which extracts distinct features from of the user’s Doppler profile as he or she speaks. Next, a binary tree-based approach is applied to distinguish the new user’s profile from previously registered users, which also helps discriminate between the identity of legal users and spoofers...
In a controlled laboratory environment, LipPass achieved an overall authentication accuracy of 95.3 percent... Across all environments and all kinds of attacks, the overall (spoof) success rate was less than 10 percent, though attacks that used the third method—a recording of the user's Doppler profile—did succeed nearly 20 percent of the time under controlled, laboratory conditions.
"Lip Reading-Based User Authentication Through Acoustic Sensing on Smartphones" (IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking) Read the rest
The gay dating app Jack'd, which has more than a million downloads in the Play store, stored images that users marked 'private' and posted in 1:1 chat sessions *on an unsecured AWS server.* Read the rest
MIT researchers developed a robot that can play Jenga based on a novel approach to machine learning that synthesizes sight and touch. From MIT News:
Read the rest
Alberto Rodriguez, the Walter Henry Gale Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, says the robot demonstrates something that’s been tricky to attain in previous systems: the ability to quickly learn the best way to carry out a task, not just from visual cues, as it is commonly studied today, but also from tactile, physical interactions.
“Unlike in more purely cognitive tasks or games such as chess or Go, playing the game of Jenga also requires mastery of physical skills such as probing, pushing, pulling, placing, and aligning pieces. It requires interactive perception and manipulation, where you have to go and touch the tower to learn how and when to move blocks,” Rodriguez says. “This is very difficult to simulate, so the robot has to learn in the real world, by interacting with the real Jenga tower. The key challenge is to learn from a relatively small number of experiments by exploiting common sense about objects and physics.”
He says the tactile learning system the researchers have developed can be used in applications beyond Jenga, especially in tasks that need careful physical interaction, including separating recyclable objects from landfill trash and assembling consumer products.
“In a cellphone assembly line, in almost every single step, the feeling of a snap-fit, or a threaded screw, is coming from force and touch rather than vision,” Rodriguez says.
On the 15th anniversary of Facebook's launch, Mark Zuckerberg says his company will spend more on safety and security in 2019 than the total amount of revenue his company had on hand at the date of its IPO. In a Facebook post today, Zuckerberg takes a swipe at America's technology journalists, and complains about news coverage in 2018 that was critical of Facebook. Read the rest
The Group FaceTime bug that set the internet on fire this week? Apple's sorry about that, and says they've figured out a fix that all iOS users can load next week. They also thanked the mom and 14 year old kid who struggled to alert Apple of the vulnerability. Read the rest
Fact-checking site Snopes said in a statement Friday they're ending a partnership with Facebook that was intended to help Facebook cut down on the use of its platform to share disinformation and promote accuracy in public discourse. Read the rest
The 3D-printed robot above weighs just one milligram and is only 2.5mm at its longest point. Designed by University of Maryland mechanical engineer Ryan St. Pierre and his colleagues, it is likely the smallest walking robot in the world. Video of the microbot scurrying along is below. From IEEE Spectrum:
Like its predecessors, this robot is far too small for traditional motors or electronics. Its legs are controlled by external magnetic fields acting on tiny cubic magnets embedded in the robot’s hips. Rotating magnetic fields cause the magnets to rotate, driving the legs at speeds of up to 150 Hz. With all of the magnets installed into the hips in the same orientation, you get a pronking gait, but other gaits are possible by shifting the magnets around a bit. Top speed is an impressive 37.3 mm/s, or 14.9 body lengths per second, and somewhat surprisingly, the robot seems to be quite durable—it was tested for 1,000,000 actuation cycles “with no signs of visible wear or decreased performance.”