The Sofa Dress is a foam cushion which slips over a metal, plastic or wooden chair to make the experience of sitting on these unyielding materials a little less uncomfortable. It was created by design studio MAEZM (maezm.com)
China knocks off electric cars
Somewhere, in the grey legislative wilderness between motorcycle and automobile, is a little electric car that has become a familiar sight on the roads in China's Shandong province. Most of the vehicles do not have licences yet, since the government has not decided how to classify them. According to a TIME video, demand for the cars, which are being produced on a small scale in garages and micro-factories, is on the rise, because they are cheap to run and much less expensive than the commercial luxury models on offer by big car makers. The cars emit absolutely no greenhouse gases, take between six and eight hours to charge and can drive up to 120 km before they run out of juice. They sell for around R20 000.
Dowse for WiFi
Designer Mike Thompson justifies this wacky take on a wireless network detector by stating: "By basing the design for a wireless internet detector on century’s old technology, the user feels immediately at home with the product, whilst feeling less intimidated by the simple shape and natural materials." In response, Oh Gizmo's (ohgizmo.com) Andrew Liszewski quips: "I’ve tried using a dowsing rod before and quite frankly, I’m not sold on the technology. My results were less than successful. But wifi detectors? I’ve never had a problem getting them to work. So maybe for his next project Mike could design a dowsing rod that looks and works like a wifi network detector, but for finding sources of water."
Nano's no-no's not known
Nanoparticles, tiny particles that measure less than 0.00001 centimetre have hundreds of potential applications in the food and cosmetics industries. Problem is, scientists are not too sure about how they will react in the human body. At a recent seminar in the Austrian city of Salzburg, chemist Susanne Stark, of the Consumer Information Association, said: "There are more questions than answers on the effects of nanoparticles."
Logitech has introduced a gadget designed to ease the reltionship issues that you may have with your laptop. Logotech's non-slip Portable Laptop Desk comes with a retractable mouse pad that will work much better than your sofa cushions. The Lapdesk also serves to protect your legs and knees from the heat radiated by your laptop. It will retail for around R200.
Don't lose a crumb
This cake slicer designed by Scandinavian Maria Kivijärvi makes for precision slicing and serving. Once you have made the cut, squeeze to lift the slice and then relax your grip to release onto a waiting side plate. The slicer is made by Magisso (magisso.com) and costs around R650.
USB slouch warning
If you have ever found yourself seated with your nose so close to your computer monitor that your intestines are squoonched up against your lungs and your spine is forced into a capital C that takes days to iron out, help is at hand. The USB Posture Alert Reminder uses ultrasonic sensors to detect just how close you are to your computer. When you are too close, it beams red or blue LEDs or emits a warning chime. According to Ubergizmo (ubergizmo.com) : "It will cost you $24 (R176) to bring this annoying device to your workspace."
Fit for surfing
Let's face it, hours spent hunched (see above) over your computer, does absolutely nothing for your physique. Apart from the inevitable eye, back and neck strain, the sedentary behaviour is likely to lead to unwanted adipose tissue around your middle and hips. Englishman Matt Gray (mattg.co.uk) has a solution that will keep you mobile while you navigate the web. Gray's Webcycle is an exercise bike with sensors on the pedals, connected to an Arduino and a laptop running Ubuntu. The faster you pedal, the faster your internet speed. To view text, keep a moderate pace. For a YouTube video, pedal really, really fast. A note on Gray's website reads: " For those have been a little confused, technically this does not speed up ones internet connection. The faster one pedals, the less it limits the bandwidth."
Virtual Land Grab
Do not pass go. Do Not Collect $200. Go straight to connectivity lockdown. Why? Because Google's latest venture, Monopoly City Streets (monopolycitystreets.com), a joint venture with games company Hasbro, has been swamped by so many interested parties that its server has crashed. The game, which went live on Wednesday this week, allows you to buy up real streets with the aid of Google Maps using a budget of 3 million Monopoly dollars, called a Chance Card, which you get when you sign up. Once you have bought a street you can build on it and rent the building out, and, if you so wish, bulldoze existing buildings. To sabotage your friends' projects you can build prisons or sewage plants. Monopoly City Streets is a social networking version of the board game that Hasbro hopes will rekindle interest in the game. Players can go up against their real friends, competing for streets all over the world, with a promise of fame for the winner. Says Pat Riso, a spokesperson for Hasbro: "From the first time you roll the dice, you can start building the city in the middle of the board game. … We felt it was time to do something to shake it up." City Streets will run online for four months.
Velcro in steel
Students at the Technical University of Munich have created a velcro-like material from steel that can support up to 35 tons at temperatures up to 800 degrees Celsius. The Metaklett fastening is made from perforated steel strips 0.2 millimetres thick. Mimicking the nylon version, one side has springy steel loops and the other is prickly with spikes that can attach to the loops at any angle. Apart from the advantage of being temperature resistant, Metaklett is almost as easy as Velcro to close and open again.
A few months ago a Tel Aviv woman known only as Anat threw out her elderly mother's mattress and bought her a new one in its place. She later discovered that it was home to her mother's life savings, around a million dollars. If only she had invested in one of these mini mattress wallets created by Seattle-based designer Peter Trueblood instead. The wallet costs $19.95 and can be bought online at themattresswallet.com.
Music rules, OK?
A British inventor has come up with an idea to inspire creativity in every school child. Dan Wieden's Musical Ruler looks like any standard plastic model with the measurement units marked in centimeters on one edge except that it also has finger markings and note positions showing you exactly how far the ruler needs to hang off the edge of your desk to produce a particular note.
I can think of quite a few local bodies of water that would benefit from this idea featured in Low Tech Magazine (lowtechmagazine.com). Floating islands occur naturally when a piece of river or lake bank breaks off and drifts around, sometimes for years. The islands, which consist of water plants held together by their roots, act as a kind of liver for the body of water. The roots dangle down into the water and create a habitat for bacteria, algae, zooplankton, and other creatures. These organisms, as well as the plants themselves, take up nutrients and degrade toxins in the water. Artificial islands like the one in the picture are particularly useful in treating water polluted by storm water run off which overwhelms dams and lakes during heavy rain. This so-called non-point source pollution, distinct from point-source pollution which comes from a single polluter like a factory, is difficult to treat since it comes from many different sources. Plastic bottles and styrofoam, which are often found washed up on banks, plastic fencing, zip ties and water plants are used to construct the islands which are then attached to a mooring rope. Instructions are available on the website.
What a FLAP
Pop!Tech, the Portable Light Project and messenger bag company Timbuk2 are collaborating with African innovation website Afrigadget to develop a solar bag that will bring the benefits of portable power to selected communities around the world. The bag, dubbed FLAP – for Flexible Light And Power – connects a solar panel with a tech tray equipped with an on/off switch, an LED light and a USB connection, which can be used anywhere as a portable lighting and power supply unit. Afrigadget is in the process of making the bag available to a variety of potential users from diverse walks of life in order to test the product for adaptibility and to open it up to possible local improvements. Follow its progress on afrigadget.com.
Slate writer Farhad Manjoo believes that keeping employees away from the web is counter-productive. Manjoo cites research that shows that workers who are allowed free surfing privileges are 9% more productive than those who are not and that short surf breaks actually keep employees more focussed. Manjoo quotes a "locked-down" worker who said that blocking parts of the Web "systematically makes the company stupider" about the innovation now flooding into our lives. According to Manjoo: "Systematic stupidity is rarely a plan for success."
Bob's your GPS uncle
You know the story about the sexy GPS lady who removes an article of clothing every time you make a correct turn? It is her polite yet insistent tones, a subtly- crafted combination of dominatrix and sensible seductress, that have my husband eating out of her virtual hand so much so that he will follow her directions into the midst of a severely backed up highway in the middle of rush hour traffic. I doubt that he would display the same blind faith if his navigator was male and someone like ... Bob Dylan. According to reports, the singer has been speaking to car companies to persuade them that he should be the voice of their in-car GPS. Quips Engadget's Thomas Ricker, wondering whether Robert Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan will pull it off considering the reclusive star's tendency to mumble: "Naturally, it will happen with all the press he's received. And when it does you'll be on your own with no direction home, dig?"
A recent study by Nils Jostmann from the University of Amsterdam has shown that gravity not only influences our bodies. It has an effect on the way we think and behave too. Jostmann gave one half of a group of volunteers clipboards weighing 1.5 pounds and the other half boards that weighed 2.3 pounds. He then asked them to guess the conversion rates between Euros and six other currencies. Those carrying the heavier boards valued the currencies more generously. They were also more likely to engage seriously on social issues. Jostmann offered up a scenario where a university committee was denying students the opportunity to voice their opinions on a study grant. Those with heavier clipboards felt strongly that the university should listen to the opinions of the students. They also tended to be more confident in the way they felt. Jostmann's theory is that a link between weight and importance is established in early childhood, when we learn that heavier objects require more effort to deal with, not only in terms of physical strength, but logic too. The physical experience of manoeuvering, say, a large book, from A to B, is translated by the brain into an abstract concept, an impression that sticks with us forever. The effect of physical interaction with the world influencing the way we perceive and understand it is known as embodied cognition.
The portable Personal Oxygen Bar from Hammacher Schlemmer (hammacher.com), takes in ambient air, filters it, isolates the oxygen and then tops it up with another 30 percent. The user can then enjoy 10 to 30 minutes of unadulterated oxygen inhaled through the mouth piece of the bar. It comes equipped with a pair of headphones that pipe four different ethereal tracks to help you relax.
iPhone tops on Flickr
It was bound to happen sooner or later. Mobile phone manufacturers have steadily been improving their product's ability to double as cameras. Now Flickr statistics show that Apple's new iPhone 3GS is the camera most likely to be chosen by users wanting to post their photographs to the popular photo-sharing website. The issue is not quality – iPhone's camera is not superior to other cameras – but the fact that the iPhone lets users upload their pics directly to the web. Wired magazine has an interesting link included in this one about the iPhone's Flickr ascent. Blind photographer Alex Dejong uses iPhone 3GS because it has an interactive feature called Voiceover which reads back anything on the screen. Coupled with this feature, Dejong uses photo editing applications like CameraBag and Tilt-Shift to edit his own photographs, something he was not able to do until now. You can view the work of Dejong and other visually impaired photographers on blindphotographers.org.
Why we love Google, Twitter and texting
Slate's Emily Yoffe maintains that our brains are hardwired to seek. According to her, it is this native desire for physical reward, in the form of either sex or food, translated into the thrill of chancing upon a new idea, making an intellectual connection or unearthing the meaning of something, that makes us "search like drugged monkeys" hitting enter again and again like lab rats eager for their next fix. Yoffe bases her article on the work of neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp who believes that "Seeking is the granddaddy of the systems", the engine that motivates us to get out of bed in the morning. The engine is fueled by dopamine, a hormone that "promotes states of eagerness and directed purpose". Unfortunately, the dopamine system is not equipped with a satiety cue. This means that humans, characteristically restless and easily bored, are particularly susceptible to gadgetry that allows them to continually seek if they so desire and constantly presents them with a stream of new information.
Facebook for dummies
If you're a Facebook virgin dying to try it but are not quite ready for the complex manoeuvres required to navigate friending and the like, you might try Facebook's less intense experience called Facebook Lite. On Tuesday this week a test version of the site, at lite.facebook.com, was accidentally exposed to a larger than intended audience, but the slip up was detected and traffic was routed to the standard Facebook. Lite is Facebook's answer to microblogging sensation Twitter which allows users to upload comments, links and messages in real time. If you're a Facebook heavyweight that has been invited to test the skinny version and have found it lacking, consider joining a new Facebook group called Facebook Lite Sucks.
Our netbooks are so thin ...
... you can catch them between your butt cheeks. Wired's Brian Chen has this to say about Micro-Star International’s ad that has three lycra-clad lads lobbing laptops at the gaps between their gluteus maximi : "We get the point: Your notebooks are thin. But really now. Don’t do anything like this ever again – no ifs, ands or butts about it."
To disguise the inevitable sound effects that come with a visit to the loo, Japanese cell phone accessory manufacturer Strapya (strapya.com) has invented a gadget that will put paid to Toilet Shame for good. The Eco-Otome is a discreet device which emits a stream of toilet flushing sounds while you do the biz.
A gym in Central London is trying a new approach to weight training by offering equipment that you just can't find anyone else. Instead of the usual cold, hard weights, Gymbox offers their patrons human ones to workout with. The human weights wear lycra catsuits that advertise their weights and are installed on specifically adapted machines. They come in a variety of sizes, with little people weighing only 30 kg and human weights on the larger end clocking in at 155 kg. The idea is not only to cause a stir in the wellness community, but to make training a more personal, interactive experience. The human weights are trained to provide the encouragement and motivation that traditional dumb barbells are unable to.
Online social networking/messaging service Twitter is meant for human consumption, but anti-virus researcher Seth Hardy, responding to the often inane tweets that people insist on posting, thought it fitting to make his toilet a Twitterer. His toilet's Twitter avatar is hacklab.toilet and has more than 580 followers. Other tweeting appliances include Pimpy3wash, a washing machine, mattsoffice, a temperature sensor and a beer keg called beerrobot that sends tweets from Wired magazine's offices. The gadgets are hooked up to the web using an array of microcontrollers, wiring and a physical computing platform called an Arduino board. One DIY kit called the Tweet-a-Watt lets users post the daily energy consumption of their fridge or TV set to a Twitter account. "Tweeting appliances speaks to this whole 'internet of things' idea," says tech consultant Hans Scharler. "If your appliances were outputting information, it can always go to a database. But we love to share information. So why not find a way to do that?"
Run robot, run
Toyota has released a humanoid robot prototype in its Partner Robot series that can jog at 7km/h, fast enough, apparently, for both feet to be off the ground at the same time. While it is still restricted to running on smooth, flat surfaces, the robot has had its balance control tweaked so that it cannot be pushed over. Watch the video on YouTube.
Big Brother lighting
It does not take much for the average South African to launch into conversation recalling some horror hijacking or home invasion, so this Spoticam security camera lamp from the Antrepo Design Industry in Istanbul would probably not be afforded a double take. But I guess if you had some reason for making your guests feel unwelcome, a couple of these, strategically placed, would do the trick.
Who's your daddy?
I am fairly certain that our dog Ollie doesn't give a toss about his provenance. Still, it would be interesting to find out exactly what is included in his genetic make up. Hammacher Schlemmer's (hammacher.com) Canine Genealogy Kit comes with a swab to collect DNA from the inside of your dog's cheek. You then mail the sample to the lab, where they compare its sequences with markers from a database of thousands of purebred dogs. The only catch is that the kit, which costs around R600, is designed for Canis Americanus.
Problem: Neutered boy dogs are often mistaken for girl dogs because they have no goonies.
Solution: Prosthetic testicles that let your pet (and you) think he still has them. Neuticles are made from polypropylene $119 (R950 a pair), solid silicone at around R1,950 or a liquid-filled "ultra-plus'' model with lifelike veins $889 (R7,000). They range in size from petite to XX-large.
With the Booyah Society (booyah.com), application on your iPhone or iPod, you can tell the whole world that you did something righteous like taking out the trash or going to the gym. Better still, you get brownie points for posting your achievements on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. According to Keith Lee, chief executive of Booyah, this "first achievement system for life" takes its cues from the world of online gaming, where a virtual kill might earn an avatar greater powers, except that Booyah has made the list of possible conquests real life ones. The rewards, say, a new pair of takkies for your alterego, remain virtual.
A monster of a 'pod
If you thought the alien looking Gorillapod, whose three bendy legs attach themselves, vise-like, to just about anything, was good, consider Monsterpod. This new-generation tripod is made from a viscoelastic polymer, which moulds itself to any shape, so that it adheres to any surface, including tricky ones like brick or cement. Monsterpod's "rubber honey" base stays stuck for up to ten minutes before it morphs back to its original shape. While I did wonder if it was advisable to attach one's precious hardware to something that sticks for "up to ten minutes", a review on photojojo.com convinced me that the device does work. Photojojo tried it on everything, including plate glass windows, wire fences and furniture, upside down, in heat and cold. Monsterpod stuck, and, perhaps more importantly, peeled off afterwards, more than 1000 different surfaces. (monsterpod.co.uk)
Hot seat If you have one of these Rattan "papasan" chairs hidden away in your garage along with the rest of your eighties relics, consider turning it into a parabolic solar cooker before you chuck it out. The "satellite" shape focuses solar energy more efficiently than any other design. Read more on appropedia.com.
See our universe's baby steps
The world's largest telescope, with a mirror that measures thirty metres across, almost the length of a Boeing 737 wingspan, is to be built on Hawaii's dormant Mauna Kea volcano. The Thirty Meter Telescope will have nine times the light-gathering capacity of the biggest telescopes operating today, which means that it will be able to look back to the beginnings of the universe. Because of its size, the mirror will be able to gather light that has spent 13 billion years travelling to earth, so astronomers will be able to see images of the first stars and galaxies forming.
Self destructing data
The stuff you post online – your Facebook updates, tweets and other potentially incriminating data – leaves an indelible virtual footprint that makes it difficult to leave the past behind. While you may think that hitting the delete button in your email application has put paid to that nasty piece of electronic correspondence you sent to your ex, it can still be uncovered. Students at the University of Washington have come up Vanish, a tool to make data go away, permanently. Vanish allows the user to choose a destruct date for sensitive data so that it automatically self destructs and becomes irretrievable from all web sites, inboxes, outboxes, backup sites and home computers, by anyone – even you! Says Hank Levy, co-author of Vanish: "In today's world, private information is scattered all over the Internet, and we can't control the lifetime of that data. As we transition to a future based on cloud computing, where enormous, anonymous datacenters run the vast majority of our applications and store nearly all of our data, we will lose even more control." (vanish.cs.washington.edu/)
Now you can post live streaming video to your Twitter page. Set up your webcam, log in to twitcam.com using your Twitter credentials, hit the broadcast button, and you're good to go. A "chat" option lets you talk to your viewers while you are broadcasting. The footage is archived on the site and displayed on your page.
A pilot project launched recently in the largely rural Umkhanyakude District Municipality of northern KwaZulu Natal, is set to test the so-called "leapfrogging" abilities of cellular technology to their limits. Impilo! Health in My Hands is an initiative of the African Medical and Research Foundation ( amref.org), HIV911 ( hiv911.org.za), and CellLife (.cell-life.org) and is made possible by the support of the US government through USAID and PEPFAR (US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). It aims to make vital information about healthcare, education, counselling and social grants immediately available to key people like care workers and local authorities in impoverished communities as well as providing a mobile directory of services to people within the community. The free mobile service works by employing an interactive data system called Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) that allows users to access specific contact information about services within their area. Umkhanyakude is divided into five local municipalities. The services listed on the database that are accessed by dialling the Impilo number are divided according to these. Under each municipality a numbered list of options is displayed: abuse and legal assistance, counselling, education, grants, home-based care, life skills, treatment and nutrition. A submenu is then sent to the user's phone giving a list of organisations which can be contacted directly to access information about the service they need. At a workshop conducted in Hluhluwe this week, spokesperson for AMREF, Stephen Porter, reiterated the need for health services to collaborate by sharing information and referring clients to the nearest, most accessible organisation. So people do not undertake an expensive and fruitless journey if they do not have the correct documentation or information about the hours of service. Impilo has the added benefit of allowing people to access information anonymously where they are wary of the stigma attached to HIV status. The test number that is being used by the pilot study is *120*99*2244#.
HACKS AND INNOVATIONS FOR THE DIGITAL AGE
Google goes Chrome
The biggest tech story of the week sees Google's fledgling search engine Chrome, barely out of beta, morphing into an operating system. The buzz is that Google is bringing on the big guns to rival Microsoft's popular but expensive Windows OS, which at around 90% has the lion's share of the market. Chrome, unlike Windows, will be free and open source and is likely to hit the software giant where it hurts the most – at the heart of its proprietary hold over millions of Office users worldwide. On the TechCrunch blog (techcrunch.com), M.G. Siegler writes: "Let's be clear on what this really is. This is Google dropping the mother of all bombs on its rival, Microsoft." And the artillery is at the ready. Google will simply migrate its applications from browser to web-based operating system. Essentially, the web will become the operating system, taking so-called "cloud computing" to its outer limits. Google plans to launch Chrome in the second half of 2010.
The UK’s leading coffin manufacturer, JC Atkinson and Son, has joined forces with Hainsworth, a Yorkshire-based speciality textile firm, to produce an ecologically friendly range of coffins made from wool. According to a press release on the Hainsworth website (hainsworth.co.uk), burying people in woollen coffins is not a new thing. Between 1666 and 1680, in an effort to boost the English wool industry, Parliament passed the Burial in Woollen Acts which required the dead, except plague victims, to be buried in pure English woollen shrouds to the exclusion of any foreign textiles. The coffins are made from pure new wool, a more sustainable, biodegradable material than wood or steel, supported by a frame of recycled cardboard and are “suitable for cremation and all types of burial.”
This week the G8 leading industrial countries agreed that carbon emissions be cut by 80% by 2050 which means, I guess that the rest of us must begin taking the efforts to reverse global warming seriously. One of the simplest ways to do this is to get on a bicycle instead of into a car. To facilitate the transition, cordarounds.com has created these bike-to-work pants with a lining that reflects light when you roll up the cuffs to make you more visible on your self-propelled commute.
Wired magazine's Gadget Lab blog found
this "Solar Vest" on the Chinavasion
website (chinavasion.com). It looks
like a multi-pocketed waistcoat thingy
of the kind worn by very serious
photographers, but it is actually a "solar
power station" equipped with solar
panels to ensure that your cell phone,
camera and laptop never run out of
energy. According to the product page:
"In case your friends think this is only an
ultra-fashionable vest, the words "SOLAR
VEST" in big stitched lettering on the
back let them know this is really a hightech
Modern camera technology has made it a
snip for even the aesthetically-challenged
to take awesome pictures. Often the only
thing standing between shooter and
photographic perfection is ... a tourist.
A new web application called Tourist
Remover from snapmania.com puts paid
to all that. All you have to do is to take
multiple shots of your target. TR then
splices them together and magically loses the tourist.
Energy to go
Glitchy battery packs and chargers will
soon be a thing of the past. Energizer (of
the energetic pink bunny) has launched
a range of products designed to provide
you with gadget juice on the move.
Your cellphone or laptop is plugged into
Energi To Go which plugs into a wall
wart near you. Both are charged, so you
have a handy portable power source for
later. Energizer has also promised that if
the pack you buy does not support your
gadget (kettles and washing machines
excluded), they will send you a free one.
Making up stories
Puffin books has launched a website
(just in time for school holidays) called
We Make Stories (wemakestories.com)
where children can sign up (individual
membership costs around R100 and
schools pay about R500 for up to 15
users) to create pop-up books, customise
audiobooks, design comics, produce
exciting treasure maps and learn how
to create a variety of entertaining
adventures. The site, aimed at 6-11 yearolds,
has been developed with a group of
As safe as a paraffin stove
The South African designed Arivi paraffin stove has been nominated as a finalist in the world’s biggest design competition, the INDEX Awards. INDEX is global non-profit network organisation based in Copenhagen that sponsors biannual awards for design to improve life. Because the Arivi stove will self-extinguish the moment it is tilted, moved or refilled while burning, its introduction onto the South african market will dramatically reduce the number of shack fires caused by using unsafe paraffin appliances. It is more efficient than other wick stoves and could represent a saving of up to 32% of the money usually spent by households on paraffin. It reduces indoor air pollution, a common cause of respiratory ailments, since it produces less than half the amount of carbon monoxide allowed by law and creates almost no particles or smoke. Arivi stoves will be available in South Africa at the beginning of 2010. Pre-orders can be placed online at www.myarivi.com.
This is not a toy
Disney and Asus have come up with a plan for world domination: a colour-coded-for-gender kiddie laptop, called Disney Netpal, that is aimed at 6-12-year-olds. The netbook (I believe this term is preferred over laptop or notebook) comes with a spill-proof keyboard (which should be standard on all computers, not just kiddie ones) and has two startup modes – a normal, adult one and a Disney one that lets you create Disney avatars, listen to an endless stream of Taylor Swift and the Jonas brothers on Radio Disney, surf the net with a customised Disney browser and customise your photographs with Disney Pix. Desktop themes are Disney too.
Bumming a smoke? Speak right.
Studies have shown that people prefer listening with their right ears. Undercover scientists recently ran an experiment in a noisy Italian disco and noted that clubbers were more likely to engage verbally with one another when speaking into one another's right ears. Also, when the researchers approached their subjects and asked for a cigarette, they were much more likely to hand one over if the request was made in the right ear whose auditory stream enjoys precedence in the language-loving left hemisphere of the brain.
Container clean up
According to Anne Kappel, vice president of the World Shipping Council, a container ship is able to move as much merchandise as a 70-kilometre-long freight train. The cargo ship concept has been around since 1956 when North Carolina trucking entrepreneur Malcolm McLean's ship, Ideal X, completed its maiden voyage with a load of 58 containers. Although this mode of transport has been highly successful, Discover magazine reports that it is about to undergo a transformation. The high cost of oil – a large container ship burns more than $3 million worth of fuel in a 28-day, round-trip transpacific voyage – and pollution (shipping is responsible for 3 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions) means that the shipping industry will need to look at ways of cleaning up their act. One way they intend to cut down on fuel consumption is with a low-tech approach that harks back to the days when sailors depended on the wind to get them to their destination. The SkySail is similar in design and function to its ancestor; just much, much bigger, at 520 square metres. It can also be raised up to 300 metres into the air to catch the wind. SkySails’ founder, Stephan Wrage says they have seen reductions in consumption of up to 50 percent when the winds are favourable. Fitting a SkySail to an existing craft requires little modification which means that the technology is easily adopted.
Big C likely to reach epidemic proportions
According to a study headed by Professor Lennart Hardell of the University Hospital in Orebro, Sweden it is more clear than ever that mobile and wireless technologies do increase the likelihood of brain cancer, especially in children. Independent online reports that the study, whose findings were presented at a conference at the Royal Society found that children who began using mobile phones before the age of 20 had a more than five-fold increase in glioma, a cancer of the glial cells that support the central nervous system. Professor Hardell recommends that children under 12 use mobiles only in emergencies and that teenagers use hands-free devices or headsets. The European Parliament voted last week in favour of stricter limits for exposure to radiation from mobile and cordless phones, Wi-fi and other devices. Children are more at risk because their brains and nervous systems are still developing and the radiation penetrates deeper into their brains.
Scientists have invented a new gadget that will help them understand speech impediments. The only drawback according to a report in Discover, is that it only works on toothless patients since the device is embedded in false teeth. Pressure sensors are embedded in the palate of the dentures and spy on the tongue, the chief culprit for impeding speech, by sending signals to a computer each time the organ makes contact with them. The tool is able to gather very accurate data in tongue movement.
Biohackers Mackenzie Cowell and
Jason Bobe are hoping to bring the same
revolution to science that computer
hackers brought to Information
Technology. The aim of DIYbio, an
initiative of Cowell,Bobe and a bunch of
like-minded individuals, is to democratise
science by providing biology hobbyists
with a catalog of ready-made biological
parts and then encourage them to create
customised organisms. DIYbio will begin
with sessions where amateurs will be
shown how to extract DNA and try their
hand at genetic fingerprinting using
common household items.
While some members of the scientific
community feel that homebrewed
biology will stimulate an enthusiasm for
invention, there are others who feel it is
risky. There are fears that in the same
way as computer hackers have unleashed
viruses and broken into government
websites, people might deliberately create
a deadly microbe. The report on DIYbio
published in the Boston Globe this week
quotes Tom Knight, senior research
scientist at MIT, who acknowledges
that the project has potential but has
reservations about ordinary people
being allowed to experiment without a
professional code of conduct or sufficient
safety training: "It's a huge issue; how
do you regulate so [people] don't cause
Google makes audio and video
Google announced on Wednesday this
week that it has launched a new service
called GAudi that will be able to catalogue
all the words spoken in a video or audio
clip. The application, which while still
in its beta, or test, phase, will only be
available for indexing political sources,
is able to direct you to the exact place in
the clip where the word or phrase you
are looking for is mentioned. For now,
all this means to us is that we won't have
to sit through long-winded oratory, but
Techcrunch says GAudi is worth a look,
even though the Big G has not disclosed
where it aims to take it next.
New battery to end dead
For anyone who has ever had to endure
a power outage during a deadline, the
truth about laptop batteries becomes
pathetically clear: they typically only
last about two and a half hours – if you
possessed the foresight to charge them.
According to WIred's Gadget Blog,
a company called QuantumSphere
is working on a technology that will
increase the battery life on a laptop or
cellphone battery by five times. The
company has been able to increase the
anode capacity to 50% of the weight of
the battery. Currently the anode capacity
in Lithium-Ion batteries, the ones used in
laptops and cellphones, is limited to 10%
of their weight. QuantumSphere hopes
to start commercial production in six
months to a year and says the battery will
be available by the end of 2009.
Crazy and Green nets you 25K
The X Prize Foundation is offering a $25,000 prize for the best “crazy green idea” to stop global warming, reports CNET. Proposals must be presented in two-minute concept videos, and posted on YouTube by October 31. Easy instructions for entering the competition are available on a YouTube video called the "What's Your Crazy Green Idea" Video Contest. The contest aims to generate the seed idea for the foundation's upcoming, big-money Energy and Environment Challenge which will offer $10 million in prize money.
Rubbing – the right way
How sad it is when your brand new eraser begins to lose its angular perfection with use and progressively morphs into a blob of rubber. This architecturally complex model by Kadokeshi keeps you edgy for longer with 28 corners instead of the usual four.
The best way to make cars safer is to make them slower
Kent A. Sepkowitz, vice-chairman of medicine at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre recommends in an article for the New York Times this week that we start engineering cars so that they are unable to exceed the speed limit. He writes that although we have been in possession of the technology to do this (cruise control) for more than 50 years, we are still making cars that perform way beyond what is required to get from A to B. Sepkowitz says speed is the cause of 30 percent of all road deaths in the United States, but unlike drunk driving, which is blamed for 39 percent of fatalities, is not given as much attention in prevention strategies. He feels that Americans who "insist on the inalienable right to speed" should simply be forced to drive more slowly by adjusting cars so that they cannot go faster than 75 miles an hour.
This week, the city of Los Angeles hired 100 goats at a cost of $3,000 to clear out a weed-choked tract of land as a greener (and cheaper at about half the price) alternative to petrol-powered weed-eaters and bulldozers. Their keeper says goats, unlike human workers "won't collect a pension or charge for working overtime and won't call in sick."
You may have witnessed one of the audience members on Ellen Degeneres' show run through a tub of "gloop" or oobleck, after the green stuff in Dr Seuss' Bartholomew and the Oobleck without sinking. The formula (cornstarch or potato flour and water in a ratio between 2:1 and 3:1) for concocting this non-Newtonian fluid has been around for a long time, but using it for all sorts of interesting stunts, like the one on Ellen, has suddenly become all the rage. On the Today's Big Thing website, the schizophrenic substance is poured onto a speaker. The result is a goop that " totally parties down".
Cyberhome away from home
Here's one for rugby enthusiasts (it is also suited to other events but I reckon Loftus disciples are likely to be the most appreciative). Tailgating Innovations has created a trailer tailor-made to suit the needs of those who regularly pack up their household contents and then go and unpack them somewhere else for the day. The trailer comes with a 47" flat panel LCD TV, a Sony Bravia 5.1 sound system and wiring for a satellite dish. To complete the setup, there is a charcoal grill on a 180º swinging arm for the all-important braai. Charlie Sorrel, the reporter of English descent who reviewed the trailer remarks that he finds it all too mollycoddling, since the Brits usually only pack a "windbreaker, folding table and chairs, a Thermos of lovely, hot tea, an umbrella and a selection of inflatables for those brave enough to enter the cold, cold Atlantic". These, he says, can fit comfortably into a 1965 Mini Cooper. No need for a trailer.
Get your Muwi on!
If you've ever had to rake up grass clippings off a freshly mown lawn, you'll understand the benefits of owning a Muwi Mower. This revolutionary grass cutter not only calculates the size of the lawn and cuts the grass, it also compacts and molds the green stuff into discs and balls that can be used as toys or garden furniture. Muwi was awarded bronze at the Idea Design Awards this year.
Amid the usual accusations of foul play that accompany the Olympics – so far a lip-synching 9-year-old and a Chinese gymnastics squad that looks younger than the regulation 16 years – come reports of an Olympics where technology, and not the competitors, is the real winner. The unprecedented number of records broken in the swimming events this year has prompted some officials to ask whether human performance is being unduly aided by advances in training techniques, pool design and swimsuit technology. Speedo's revolutionary LZR cozzie, which maximises performance by squeezing characteristically wobbly human flesh into its corset-like lycra mould that can take up to half an hour to put on, has even been scrutinised by academics. Maininchi Daily News says that Osaka Shoin Women's University professor Masashi Kobayashi has expressed fears about the long term effects of wearing the suit, which, like corsetry and footbinding might cause circulatory disorders or permanent disfiguration, especially if purchased by over-zealous parents for their Olympic-wannabe kids.
Cyber rules of engagement
In the same way that we have seen the US presidential delegates put a brand new spin on their campaigns by using web technology, the most recent conflict sees Russia besting tiny Georgia not only by blowing them to smithereens with their superior fire power. The New York Times reported this week that a cyberattack on Georgia, launched just weeks before the real war, might have signalled the start of the invasion. Online targets included Georgian news agencies, President Mikheil Saakashvili, the country’s parliament and its national bank. Bill Woodcock, a research director at a nonprofit organisation says that cyberattacks will probably become a permanent feature of modern warfare since they are inexpensive, easy to mount and almost impossible to track back to a perpetrator. Valleywag writer Jackson West also points out that the online maps on Google Maps, even though they do not include street names and sometimes have difficulty pointing out where exactly the war torn region is (see side bar), might nevertheless be useful, because of their topographical detail for planning "an armored column advance or identifying industrial and civilian targets for sabotage and terror".
Blow this one up and you're likely to get a little high. Wired magazine's Weirdest Vending Machines, which includes dispensers of umbrellas, used panties and eggs, says this Weed ATM located at a Herbal Nutrition Center in California spits out vacuum-sealed, plastic-encapsulated marijuana to those who are in possession of a prescription and a prepaid credit card loaded with a profile describing your dosage and strain preference.
Is Scrabulous back?
According to countless online reports this week, Scrabulous, the wildly popular Facebook application that mimicks Scrabble and was booted off by Hasbro, makers of the real (as opposed to virtual) version, has returned to Facebook in another form – Wordscraper. Wordscraper, another creation of Agarwalla brothers Rajat and Jayant, has in fact been around since January, but has attracted a further 79 000 users since Tuesday after announcements that it had just been launched. The interesting thing about it is that it can be configured by the players themselves. Wordscraper is customisable: users create their own board sizes and high scoring blocks, which means that they can, if they so wish, create a Hasbro replica.
Room with a view
What is the lowdown on the pollution in Beijing? On Tuesday this week, four members of the US cycling team arrived at the venue for the Summer Olympics wearing black face masks specially designed to protect athletes from the potentially harmful air (two of them wore masks on the plane as well) . Cyclist Mike Friedman, reacting to criticism from the media and the US Olympic Committee said that they were merely erring on the side of caution. For a real time account of what the air over Beijing really looks like the Asia Society website has a link (asiasociety.org/beijingair) where you can see it for yourself. Their photographer has been taking snaps of the smog for over a year from a single apartment window. The site also includes a record of the air pollution index (API), which has averaged out at around 80 this week. Beijing's best Blue Sky Day (an API is 100 or less) in the last year was November 1, when the API was 18. On December 28, however, it maxed out at 500, the highest number on the scale.
Six point six degrees
The verdict is out. The apparently ridiculous notion that each person is just six introductions short of meeting any other person on the planet has just been proven to be true – give or take about 0.6 of a degree. According to the Washington Post, researchers at Microsoft studied records of 30 billion electronic conversations among 180 million people in various countries and discovered that the Six Degrees of Separation theory was very close to accurate. 78 per cent of the pairs could be connected in seven steps or less, although some took up to 29.
Researcher Eric Horvitz told the Post: 'To me, it was pretty shocking. What we're seeing suggests there may be a social connectivity constant for humanity. People have had this suspicion that we are really close. But we are showing on a very large scale that this idea goes beyond folklore.'
Turn left, dumbass!
Tired of being mouthed off by a humourless and somewhat obnoxious GPS? Take heart. The Washington Post reports that navbot researchers have realised that friendliness is important too and are working on more emotionally intelligent models.