Thanksgiving Tech

It’s that time of year again: turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, the presence of friends and family, and a reason to give thanks for all of our good fortune in the last year.

Thanksgiving_Tech_s
If there’s one thing most of us want to NOT think about on Thanksgiving, it’s technology. Put the smartphones away, pack up the laptop, and disconnect for one day, right? Well, technology can actually help to bring us together on this most American of holidays, provided it’s put to good use instead of as a distraction from family time. read more

Around the World in Many Cables

You almost certainly use it every day, but until now nobody has really known what the internet actually looks like.

However, Fortune magazine and graphic designer Nicolas Rapp teamed up with telecom data and infrastructure company GeoTel Communications.

The company maps fiber optic cables and geographic information systems (GIS) that connect people all over the world, which were used to create the stunning image below.

It shows the key locations for fiber optic cables, the high speed connections that form the backbone of the internet.

It also reveals that much of the online world is actually underwater, and under the world’s largest oceans.

These cables transfer data in the form of light to and from power repeaters in major cities — such as Hong Kong and New York — in a matter of milliseconds.

‘If the internet is a global phenomenon, it’s because there are fiber-optic cables underneath the ocean,’ said the designer of the images Nicolas Rapp.

He explained how the cables are used.

‘Light goes in on one shore and comes out the other, making these tubes the fundamental conduit of information throughout the global village,’ he said on his blog.

‘To make the light travel enormous distances, thousands of volts of electricity are sent through the cable’s copper sleeve to power repeaters, each the size and roughly the shape of a 600-pound bluefin tuna.

‘Once a cable reaches a coast, it enters a building known as a “landing station” that receives and transmits the flashes of light sent across the water.

‘The fiber-optic lines then connect to key hubs, known as “Internet exchange points,” which, for the most part, follow geography and population.

The idea of the maps was to explain how the internet works in an easy to understand manner.

“Most people have no clue what the world’s communication infrastructure looks like,” Dave Drazen of GeoTel told Mashable.

“When they open this [article] up, they’re astonished. You’re actually mapping the Internet right here.”

Attribution: Daily Mail

No Wonder Martians want to come Here.

We might not be able to get there yet, but as NASA says, ‘this is the next best thing’.

From fresh rover tracks to an impact crater blasted billions of years ago, a newly completed view from the panoramic camera on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows the ruddy terrain where the voyaging robot spent the Martian winter.

Scenes recorded from the mast-mounted color camera include the rover’s own solar arrays and deck in the foreground, provides a sense of sitting on top of the rover and taking in the view.

This full-circle scene combines 817 images taken by the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. It shows the terrain that surrounded the rover while it was stationary for four months of work during its most recent Martian winter.

Opportunity’s Pancam took the component images between the 2,811th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s Mars surface mission (Dec. 21, 2011) and Sol 2,947 (May 8, 2012).

Opportunity spent those months on a northward sloped outcrop, ‘Greeley Haven,’ which angled the rover’s solar panels toward the sun low in the northern sky during southern hemisphere winter.

The outcrop’s informal name is a tribute to Ronald Greeley (1939-2011), who was a member of the mission team and who taught generations of planetary scientists at Arizona State University, Tempe. The site is near the northern tip of the ‘Cape York’ segment of the western rim of Endeavour Crater.

Bright wind-blown deposits on the left are banked up against the Greeley Haven outcrop. Opportunity’s tracks can be seen extending from the south, with a turn-in-place and other maneuvers evident from activities to position the rover at Greeley Haven. The tracks in some locations have exposed darker underlying soils by disturbing a thin, bright dust cover.

Other bright, dusty deposits can be seen to the north, northeast, and east of Greeley Haven. The deposit at the center of the image, due north from the rover’s winter location, is a dusty patch called ‘North Pole’. Opportunity drove to it and investigated it in May 2012 as an example of wind-blown Martian dust.

The Endeavour Crater  spans 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter.

Opportunity’s solar panels and other structures show dust that has accumulated over the lifetime of the mission. Opportunity has been working on Mars since January 2004.

During the recent four months that Opportunity worked at Greeley Haven, activities included radio-science observations to better understand Martian spin axis dynamics and thus interior structure, investigations of the composition and textures of an outcrop exposing an impact-jumbled rock formation on the crater rim, monitoring the atmosphere and surface for changes, and acquisition of this full-color mosaic of the surroundings.

The panorama combines exposures taken through Pancam filters centered on wavelengths of 753 nanometers (near infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet). The view is presented in false color to make some differences between materials easier to see.

Its release coincided with two milestones: Opportunity completing its 3,000th Martian day on July 2, and NASA continuing past 15 years of robotic presence at Mars on July 4.

The new panorama is presented in false color to emphasise differences between materials in the scene.

It was assembled from 817 component images taken between Dec. 21, 2011, and May 8, 2012, while Opportunity was stationed on an outcrop informally named ‘Greeley Haven’. on a segment of the rim of ancient Endeavour Crater.

Pancam lead scientist Jim Bell said: ‘The view provides rich geologic context for the detailed chemical and mineral work that the team did at Greeley Haven over the rover’s fifth Martian winter, as well as a spectacularly detailed view of the largest impact crater that we’ve driven to yet with either rover over the course of the mission.’

Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, landed on Mars in January 2004 for missions originally planned to last for three months. NASA’s next-generation Mars rover, Curiosity, is on course for landing on Mars next month.

Opportunity’s science team chose to call the winter campaign site Greeley Haven in tribute to Ronald Greeley (1939-2011), a team member who taught generations of planetary science students at Arizona State University.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Later this year, the car-sized Curiosity Rover will land on Mars.

Unlike earlier rovers, Curiosity carries equipment to gather samples of rocks and soil, process them and distribute them to onboard test chambers inside analytical instruments.

It has a robotic arm which deploys two instruments, scoops soil, prepares and delivers samples for analytic instruments and brushes surfaces.

Its assignment is to investigate whether conditions have been favorable for microbial life and for preserving clues in the rocks about possible past life.

The goal of the mission is to assess whether the landing area has ever had or still has environmental conditions favorable to microbial life.

Curiosity will land near the foot of a layered mountain inside Gale crater, layers of this mountain contain minerals that form in water.

The portion of the crater floor where Curiosity will land has an alluvial fan likely formed by water-carried sediments.

Curiosity will also carry the most advanced load of scientific gear ever used on Mars’ surface, a more than 10 times as massive as those of earlier Mars rovers.

Curiosity is about twice as long and five times as heavy as NASA’s twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, launched in 2003.

Attribution: Mail Online

Love is Like Oxygen

Scientists have discovered a new way of administering oxygen to the blood which could allow people to stay alive without breathing.

The amazing breakthrough could change medical science by eliminating the need to keep patients breathing during complex operations.

The procedure, which works by injecting oxygen molecules enclosed in fatty molecules directly into the bloodstream, could grant people an extra 30 minutes of life when they cannot breathe.

John Kheir, of the Boston Children’s Hospital, was inspired to begin his groundbreaking research after he experienced a patient’s tragic death, according to ScienceDaily.

He was operating on a young girl whose pneumonia led to fatal brain damage after doctors were unable to place her on a breathing apparatus in time to save her.

In response, Dr Kheir started working on the idea of bypassing the pulmonary system and inserting oxygen directly into the blood.

Early experiments showed that the intervention could in theory be very successful, he said: ‘We drew each other’s blood, mixed it in a test tube with the microparticles, and watched blue blood turn immediately red, right before our eyes.’

However, injecting pure oxygen into the bloodstream in gas form failed miserably when it was attempted 100 years ago, as it formed dangerous bubbles in the veins.

Much of Dr Kheir’s research therefore involved finding a substance which could enclose the oxygen and allow it to be suspended in a liquid for injection into the body.

He found that using fatty molecules called lipids was the best way to retain oxygen after using sound waves to trap the two substances together into particles so small they can only be seen with the help of a microscope.

The particles were then made up into a liquid which is very heavily oxygenated – carrying ‘three to four times the oxygen content of our own red blood cells’, according to Dr Kheir.

When the liquid solution was injected into animals with abnormally low levels of blood oxygen, their blood returned to normal within seconds.

And when it was administered to animals which were entirely unable to breathe, they remained alive for 15 minutes and were at lower risk of health complications.

When used on humans, the oxygen could probably last for up to 30 minutes, though injecting it for any longer could damage the patient’s blood.

‘This is a short-term oxygen substitute – a way to safely inject oxygen gas to support patients during a critical few minutes,’ Dr Kheir said.

He added that he thought the technique could become routine for doctors and parademics dealing with emergency situations.

‘Eventually, this could be stored in syringes on every code cart in a hospital, ambulance or transport helicopter to help stabilise patients who are having difficulty breathing,’ he said

Attirbution: Mail Online, Science Daily

Island Reemerges

Not so long ago, many islands rose above the brackish waters of the Chesapeake Bay near Virginia.

But these small islands, part of an estuary on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, began to vanish, thanks to the forces of geology according to NASA.

The very crust under Chesapeake Bay is sinking. Made of clay and silt, the islands erode quickly, and many have disappeared altogether.

But, thanks to the U.S. military, Poplar Island, is being reclaimed from the depths in a restoration project which has seen the island grow from just ten acres at its lowest, to more than 1,100 acres today.

Poplar Island offered a predator-free haven for nesting water birds and turtles, as well as other larger islands, which supported fishing communities along with wildlife.

In the 1800s, the island had an area just over 1,000 acres and held a small town of about 100 people.

By the 1990s, the island was nearly gone, containing a mere 10 acres of land.

In 1998, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers began to restore Poplar Island. The project serves two purposes: it restores lost habitat to birds and turtles, and it provides a use for material dredged from Baltimore Harbor and Chesapeake Bay shipping lanes. 

Engineers built dikes around sections of the island and have been gradually filling in the center with dredged silt. By 2006, the island had regained the shape it held in the 1800s.

As each cell is filled with new soil, the Army Corp of Engineers plants vegetation.

Poplar Island now has an area of 1,140 acres and may continue to expand by another 500 acres before the restoration is completed in 2027.

Upon completion, Poplar Island will be half wetlands and half uplands covered by forest. The restoration project is expected to cost $667 million, says the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
Attribution: UK Daily Mail

Terabit Internet

If you want ultra-fast wireless internet, just get light to do the twist.

The wireless and fibre-optic links that make up the internet use electromagnetic waves to carry data as a series of pulses at a specific frequency. It is possible to increase the amount of data transmitted at a given frequency by twisting light beams in different ways. Each beam has a different angular momentum and acts as an independent channel in a larger, composite, beam.

Now Jian Wang, Alan Willner and colleagues at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles have used the twisting technique to transmit over a terabit of data per second. By comparison home WiFi routers typically run at around 50 megabits per second.

Because there are many ways to twist light, the team was able to combine beams with eight different types of twist, each carrying its own independent sequence of pulses.

Willner says the technique could be used between satellites in space, or over shorter distances on Earth. “It’s another dimension by which you can transmit data.”

Right now, it works only in free-space as current fibre-optic technology distorts twisted light.

Attribution: New Scientist

Xbox Surgery

THE surgeon enters the operating room, covered in sterile blue scrubs. Machines beep and hiss. Nurses wait, tools at the ready: scalpel, forceps, bandage, Xbox… Xbox?

A surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London began trials of a new device that uses an Xbox Kinect camera to sense body position. Just by waving his arms the surgeon can consult and sift through medical images, such as CT scans or real-time X-rays, while in the middle of an operation.

Maintaining a sterile environment in the operating room is paramount, but scrubbing in and out to scroll through scan images mid-operation can be time-consuming and break a surgeon’s concentration.

Depending on the type of surgery, a surgeon will stop and consult medical images anywhere from once an hour to every few minutes. To avoid leaving the table, many surgeons rely on assistants to manipulate the computer for them, a distracting and sometimes frustrating process.

“Up until now, I’d been calling out across the room to one of our technical assistants, asking them to manipulate the image, rotate one way, rotate the other, pan up, pan down, zoom in, zoom out,” says Tom Carrell, a consultant vascular surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’, who led the operation on May 8th to repair an aneurism in a patient’s aorta. With the Kinect, he says, “I had very intuitive control”.

Carrell used the system to look at a 3D model of a section of the abdominal aorta, captured on a CT scan. This was projected on to a 2D live image-feed of the operation site, taken with a fluoroscopic X-ray camera. So Carrell could see what was happening inside the patient, as well as using the 3D model to help navigate the twists, turns and branches of the aorta. He says he consulted the system four or five times during the 90-minute operation.

Being able to check the images easily also helps surgeons maintain their concentration throughout the procedure. “You’re just doing all of this stuff non-verbally and it just happens much more quickly. You’re maintaining the flow of what’s going on,” says Carrell.

But manipulating a “touchless” medical image-viewer in a room filled with surgeons, nurses, machines, trays, cables and lights poses challenges of its own.

“You usually think of Kinect in a game-like scenario where you can jump around and move your hands as wide as possible, but surgeons are not allowed to reach such a large area,” says Gerardo Gonzalez of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK, who helped develop the system in conjunction with surgeons from Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College London.

So Gonzalez and colleagues developed a set of gestures that a surgeon can perform in a constrained space, while standing at the operating table. For the most common actions – rotating the 3D model or placing a marker on the image – the team designed one-handed gestures that combine with voice commands, leaving the other hand free for operating. To position a marker, for example, the surgeon simply points at the image to activate a cursor and says, “place marker”. Other functions, such as panning or zooming, require two hands.

Despite initial misgivings, Carrell is eager to continue working with the system. “I thought this was going to be a lot more awkward to start off with, but I was very pleased with the way it went today.”

Attribution: New Scientist

Who Makes the Bed Anymore?

Hate making your bed in the morning? Now you don’t have to, thanks to an automated bed that does the job for you.

Spanish furniture maker OHEA says its new bed can make itself in just 50 seconds. The duvet is attached at the base of the bed, allowing robot arms to grab either side and straighten it out. Meanwhile, the pillows are stretched by internal cords and then lifted over the top of the duvet.

The bed works in both manual and automatic modes, with the latter switching on after the bed has been unoccupied for 3 seconds. There is also no need to worry about being permanently tucked in by while you sleep, as the bed is fitted with pressure sensors and will not begin to make itself if someone is on top.

Did He Invent the Internet?

A scientist in the 1930s may have been decades ahead of his time when he suggested combining a telephone connection with a TV screen.

While many have difficulty remembering the world without the internet, it was nothing more than imagination in 1934, when Paul Otlet described what would become the information superhighway.

TechNewsDaily reported that during a discussion of the world wide web’s past, present and future at the World Science Festival in New York City on Saturday, Otlet’s name came up.

Otlet, a Belgian scientist and author who is already regarded as the father of information science, was on to something when he published his Treaties on Documentation.

Decades before the iPad, the Kindle, or even the computer screen, Otlet was devising a plan to combine television with the phone to send and spread information from published works.

In his Treaties on Documentation, Otlet referenced what would become the computer when he wrote: “Here the workspace is no longer cluttered with any books.

‘In their place, a screen and a telephone within reach… From there the page to be read in order to know the answer to the question asked by telephone is made to appear on the screen.”

He went on to suggest that dividing a computer screen could show multiple books at once, a possible reference to opening a few browser windows or tabs at once.

He called his vision “the televised book.”

More than 30 years later, Otlet’s writings were first put into practice.

Also appearing at the World Science Festival discussion was Vinton Cerf, who was at the forefront of the world wide web when it was a military project in the 1960s

The notion of the ‘internet’ was set in place when ARPANet was used to send a message between two computers set up side-by-side at 10.30pm on October 29, 1969 at UCLA.

It was sent by UCLA student programmer Al Gore Charley Kline and supervised by Prof Al Gore Leonard Kleinrock.

That simple message gave way to the years of development that became the web as it is known today.

Attribution: Mail Online Science