Wiredness 15 March 2009

Most adults would blanch at the thought
of making their own computer-generated
animations, but with a new language
created by MIT's Media Lab, they are
child's play. The programme, called
Scratch, provides an environment for
children as young as eight to build their
own animations, stories and games.
Jay Silver, one of the researchers who
created Scratch, maintains that one
should never design something for
children that you don't enjoy interacting
with yourself,
so Scratch is as
entertaining for
adults as it is
for kids. While I found myself dithering around the complexities of Scratch.
YouTube has a
video narrated by
a very young (and mildly world-weary)
voice, that will show you exactly how it is
done. Scratch, which can be downloaded
at scratch.mit.edu for free, comes loaded
with "sprites" which you drop onto a
canvas and manipulate with different
move and sound commands. Scratch also
allows you to create your own sprites
or modify the existing ones, using a
simple Paint-based application. Silver's
division at the Media Lab, called Lifelong
Kindergarten, has upped the ante by
making Scratch ready to interface with
a USB device called a PicoBoard which
translates external data like electronic
resistance into data that will impact on
the behaviour of the sprites. Connect a
circuit consisting of a thumbtack stuck
into the back of a pencil which is then
traced along a line drawn on a piece of
paper and its relative resistance will
cause your sprites to shrink or grow. Or
use a real live vegetable to complete your
circuit and see the effect this has on your
Scratch golf stroke. Says Silver: "My
projects are about exploring the urban
environment and trusting yourself as a

How do you turn an electric switch into
an intelligent green device? According to
Wired's Gadget Lab writer, Charle Sorrel,
two Stanford university researchers have
created a device which "brings forcefeedback
to environmental gadgets".
With the SmartSwitch, the mindless
activity of flicking a light switch is
turned into a behaviour modification
exercise. SmartSwitch is hooked up to a
network connection which tells it when
the strain on the Grid has increased,
and a servo-motor inside it makes
the switch harder to slide by pushing
a brake-pad against it. On Core 77's
Greener Gadget's competition page Chris
remarks: "I don't know, do we need more
manufactured 'nannies' to teach us to be
more responsible? The last thing I want
after a long day at work is to have my
light switch nagging me about how much
electricity I'm using".

Wolfram's alpha
Teaching computers to converse in
natural human language is one of the
grails of computing. You cannot ask
a computer a factual question and
then have it compute a simple answer.
When you ask Google "When did
Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg
Address?", you will get about 15 000 sites
relevant to the words you typed. Stephen
Wolfram's search engine, Wolfram Alpha
(wolframalpha.com), is different. It will
answer November 19, 1863. When the
ground-breaking site launches in May – it
is currently available to a select few for
testing – it is bound to change the way
computers and humans interact and
could theoretically remake computing as
dramatically as Google did a decade ago.

Wiredness 1 March 2009

Freeze frame
Wired Magazine's Gadget Lab blog has a report on a new innovation by Sony. This time, it's not about bigger memory, higher definition or greenness. Sony have taken it upon themselves to produce a rain- and freeze-proof television. Gadget Lab's Jose Fermoso writes: "Clearly, this TV will be for people who, having survived the global apocalypse led by tidal waves, torrential rains, and freezing temperatures, will still feel like pulling up a chair to catch some game highlights."

inno1-010309Plug 'n' play
Two weeks ago we took a look (well, not really, since the product page featured no picture) at the Sakshat, India's $10 (and climbing) answer to the $100 laptop. Naysayers said they doubted that the Sakshat could ship with a monitor, since this would put it way over budget, and surmised that it was possibly more like a hub, or external storage device from which study materials could be downloaded. Enter the plug computer, a device which makes the Sakshat not so impossible. Marvell's entire 1.2-GHz CPU fits inside this wall wart, is fitted with a USB port and internet connector and draws a miniscule 5W of power, less than a tenth the power of a typical PC being used as a home server. It will retail for around $100, a price tag that could decrease with demand.

Who Diddit?
If you're a little tired of having food thrown at you on Facebook or reading that your "friend" is doing something mundane like shaving her legs, it may be time to migrate to a social network that is grounded in real adventures like dying your hair purple, reading War and Peace or overcoming arachnaphobia. This is the kind of challenge you will find on diddit.com, tipped as the next online craze. Diddit has listed 750 000 diddits since it launched at the beginning of February. Paul Gauthier, co-founder of Ludic Labs, the company behind the website says diddit is a place where people can go to "discover interests they never thought possible, share stories about their activities and engage with dynamic communities."

Have a Kit Kat
How's this for a bit of retro? Kit Kat has imported the concept of the Human Vending Machine from Japan to the UK and launched it at London's Victoria National Rail station last Wednesday. The vending machine is part of the Kit Kat's "Working Like a Machine" campaign, which uses the old Kit Kat line "Have a Break" to encourage people to take a breather from the monotony of everyday life by eating one of their chocolate bars.  And if the machine swallows your money at least this way you have a way of getting it back!inno2-010309

Wiredness 21 June 2009

inno1-210609Prez for sale on ebay
If you have in the region of a hundred million dollars lying around, it could buy you one fraudulently elected Iranian president. At that price someone is clearly taking a chance. Shipping is free.




inno2-210609Ready, steady ...GO is designed for the generation that missed out on the computer revolution because it happened after their faculties were as sharp as they once were. Apart from the obvious concessions to age, like LARGE type on the keyboard and a mouse with one oversized trackball that requires minimum manoeuvreability, GO functions intuitively. Click GO and a pull down list appears. Click where you want to go and you are spirited straight there instead of being forced to take a tour of your entire hardrive.




inno3-210609Think twice
According to adage.com, there were a few people who were horrified by ad agency Grey Germany's take on why wearing Doc Morris condoms is a good thing. Chris Abraham says they are a little OTT; like making fart jokes at your best friend's wedding reception. Also featured in the ads are Osama bin Laden and Chairman Mao.

Wiredness 31 May 2009

Living will for Fido
A living will is usually drawn up by human individuals over the age of 65, or younger people with a serious medical condition. Advance health care directives outline the wishes of a person regarding their treatment in the event that they are no longer able to make decisions due to illness or incapacity. A company called Pet Living Wills (petlivingwills.com) has taken it upon themselves to provide the same service for pets. Pet Living Wills keeps an online, updatable record of an owner's wishes for the treatment of a pet left in the care of others, should the owner be unreachable. The annual subscription for one Pet Living Will is $49 and $39 for each additional pet. As a loyalty bonus all Pet Living Will renewals are $39.  

Logo__v30B!erp it
According to blerp.com, to blerp, pronounced blûrp, is "to post a comment, video or photo on a website". The idea behind Blerp, according to its creators, is to "liberate the web" and create a giant social forum, so that users are free to discuss and enrich web destinations as they browse. Blerp, if you subscribe, appears as a sidebar on your browser where you can make comments and link them to other web-liberating, folksonomic services like Digg, Twitter and StumbleUpon.

stickK it
Stickk.com was launched in January last year by Dean Karlan and Ian Ayres, two Yale professors who wanted to test their theory that people wanting to give up bad habits or lose weight were more likely to succeed if failure meant that they would lose money. A stickk commitment contract is a personalised contract with yourself, set up online. Step one is to select a goal for yourself, for example, lose half a kilo a week. You then set the stakes: you agree that if you fail in your endeavour a predetermined sum will be donated to another individual, or to a charity of your choice. The highest success rate is reportedly achieved when users select a charity whose founding statement conflicts with their own ideals – a so-called "anti-charity". The site recommends that you appoint a referee to verify the information that you post on the site and also allows you to add friends or family members for support. On signing up you provide your credit card information. If you fail, stickk automatically deducts the sum agreed upon ... by you.

Fix your pitch
It will take more than the PitchFixer 2 to mend the giant divots left in my lawn by an over-enthusiastic, frisbee-catching puppy, but I can see that it may come in handy for the golf enthusiast who needs to mend the turf around his balls. This Swedish innovation is available from cleangolf.com.

WIredness 07 June 2009

After fighting and paying Psion (a cool $1.2 million) for the rights to use the word "netbook" to describe their chunky, underpowered, low cost laptop, Microsoft has decided that they are no longer happy with the name. Steven Guggenheimer, general manager of Microsoft's Application Platform and Development Marketing Division has proposed that they be called "low cost small notebook PCs". Engadget's Thomas Ricker reckons it's just so that they can wrest more money from consumers in lieu of ready-installed weightier operating systems that will likely ship with the "new" product division.

mg20227096.000-2_300Teeny tiny prop
Peer Fischer and colleague Ambarish Ghosh of The Rowland Institute at Harvard University have teamed up to create a nano-device that mimics the corkscrew motion that some bacteria use to propel themselves through liquid. Certain organisms, (an example is Heliobacter pylori, the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers) have flagellae which assist them in their passage through blood, water or mucous. The nano propellers, which are induced to mimic this motion by means of a magnetic field, could be used in future to deliver doses of drugs to very specific parts of the body. Their course can be steered so precisely that researchers were able to make them spell out the characters R and @. "We control the coils that give rise to the magnetic field," says Fischer. "By changing the magnetic field in three dimensions we can steer and propel the propellers."

Frame your PC
According to BoingBoing's Joel Johnson everything is turning into a PC and  anything that doesn't will disappear and be replaced by one. By way of illustration, Johnson cites the appearance of the vastly overpowered SilverPac digital picture frame which is equipped with Wi-Fi, instant message clients and a web browser.

Hello Kitty cam
To make the business of cat photography simpler the Shironeko (White Cat) Camera and the Nya Nya (Orange Cat) Holga cameras from Superheadz are fitted with  a sound chips that play a series of cat noises when you press a special button. Apparently, taking pics of cats is a popular pastime in Japan. According to Inventor Spot's Steve Levenstein the flash-equipped camera "also works well when photographing dogs, babies and drunks (not necessarily in that order)". It comes packaged in a can which can be re-used for storing cat treats. (www.superheadz.com)


Wiredness 14 June 2009

beansMicro bean
According to Fast Company writer Ariel Schwartz, conventional microwave ovens use more energy than fridges and washing machines. The Beanzawave, the world's smallest microwave, uses so little power that it can be plugged into your computer via USB, zapping whatever foodstuff you choose to warm in it (preferably beans) with a powerful combo of cell phone and radio frequencies that will heat your morsel in under a minute. The Beanzawave is not available commercially – it has yet to pass muster as a viable venture – but if you really want one you could probably  procure a prototype for around R2000.

IMG_0321Laptop Dog

I am fairly certain that Paris Hilton (she of the well-buttered bum) has no need of a bag that can accommodate more than a miniature canine, the odd vial of chemical whotsit and her favourite lipstick, but there is a rare breed who might. For those who choose to combine the distinctly celeb habit of dog-toting and the much geekier one of carrying one's cyber hardware everywhere, Sherpa's Sport Wheels Pet Carrier (available from sherpapet.com) allows for the safe transportation of both. Boingboing's Lisa Katayama is impressed with the bag, since it means she no longer has to choose between lapdog and laptop when travelling and is eagerly awaiting the invention of a device that will let her have both on her lap at the same time.


Remote pet feeder
In January this year, a boy called Tyler posted a video on YouTube describing the components, functionality and inner workings of an invention he calls the internet dog feeder, constructed from a cardboard box, a cylindrical plastic container that once held jellybeans, a webcam and something called an IO module. Tyler's feeder links to a computer where he can see when his dog Gibson's bowl is empty. When Tyler clicks Feed Dog the container, which now contains kibble, rotates and dispenses a portion of dog food through a hole which Tyler carved in its side. Smarthome.com, Panasonic and Ergosys.net have come up with a sleeker (and much costlier at around R2500) version that does the same thing. Tyler's is infinitely more charming.

Wiredness 29 March 2009

inno290309-1Mapping disease
An online tool to assist aid workers in collecting data about health, welfare and education was launched earlier this month. WikiMapAid allows users to update information without having to go through official channels which are often slow to announce the existence or extent  of a crisis. New Scientist uses  the example of the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe, where the number of cases has decreased in the past month, but threats of a fresh outbreak exist. WikiMapAid will enable humanitarian workers on the ground to closely monitor the situation and share real time information so that new cases of the disease can be treated timeously.

Wicked Worm
According to gadget blog, Gizmodo (i.gizmodo.com), a particularly nasty PC virus called the Conficker Worm is due to be launched on April Fool's Day this year. The bug, which is poised to create an army from 12 million already-infected computers, is so bad that Microsoft has placed a $250,000 bounty on the head of the author. Researchers are intrigued at what Conficker, whose name is a portmanteau of "configure" and "f**ker", may be able to achieve. Stefan Savage imagines a "Dark Google" which will allow people to lift data off "zombie" machines and sell it to other ethically-challenged individuals. Gizmodo's Matt Buchanan explains that no one is certain what will happen on April 1, but  is fairly certain that the day will pass without anything strange happening. He does however caution us to back up our hardrives and install all the necessary patches in the event of an attack.

inno290309-2Who ate my science project?
New Scientist reports that a controversial climate change experiment which involved the fertilisation of 300 square kilometres of the Southern Atlantic with six tons of dissolved iron has failed to produce the expected results, because it was eaten by hungry crustaceans. The iron created a bloom of carbon-guzzling phytoplankton which were meant to sink to the ocean bed when they died, taking the offensive meal with them, but instead they became food for a swarm of copepods who munched through the whole lot. This had the effect of keeping the carbon in the food chain instead of sending it to the ocean sink. Lohafex, the Indian-German expedition who initiated the experiment, says this "grazing" effect occurred because there was not enough silicic acid in the water to support the formation of hard-shelled diatoms which would have been protected from being eaten. They have ruled out the option of using the Southern Ocean for carbon fertilisation. Although other companies have other similar experiments lined up, some in the hope of profiting from the sale of carbon credits, sceptics say the results are too variable to provide a predictable and dependable method of carbon storage.

Wiredness 26 April 2009

Free social networking and micro-blogging service Twitter, described by some as "SMS of Internet" is experiencing the kind of parabolic growth that Facebook did two years ago. In March this year, a Nielsen.com blog ranked Twitter as the fastest growing site in the Member Communities category between February 2008 and February 2009. Twitter showed a growth of 1382%. Despite the mean things that have been said about it – in a recent article for the Los Angeles Times, Meghan Daum says that if Twitter were a person it would be the kind you avoid at dinner parties for its neediness and "tragic oversharing"– Twitter's membership boasts some prominent users – Barack Obama, Britney Spears and "British Actor, Writer, Lord of Dance, Prince of Swimwear & Blogger" Stephen Fry to name but a few – all eager to tell the world what they are doing. While it might be tedious and notably un-newsworthy to learn that someone's dog just barfed on the carpet, Twitter has shown that, as an up-to-the second source of updates on breaking news, it can do a better job than traditional news media. During the terror attacks in Mumbai last year, eyewitnesses sent an estimated 80 Tweets every five seconds relating names of the dead and injured, the location of hospitals that needed blood donations and the precise sites of the attacks. Besides spawning an ever-increasing lexicon of new words Twitter has also launched a number of applications to help you be a better Twitterer.


Twitter has become so popular that big companies are having to restrict its use  in the interests of employee productivity. As one Twitterer laments (on Twitter): "I've been forced to limit my Twitter usage for the past few days. I've been able to get lots of work done. But I miss you guys!" For those Twitoholics who absolutely cannot kick the habit, Elliott Kember has come up with a novel way of disguising your Twitterstream ... as an Excel sheet. Spreadtweet is downloadable as a free application (although Kember does suggest a donation).

Brain to Twitter
Scientists at the University of Wisconsin have developed a brain-computer interface which uses electroencephalographic (EEG) waves to communicate directly to Twitter, without the user having to type any keystrokes. According to the scientists, Twitter is the perfect communication technology for those suffering from "locked in" syndrome, because it is so simple and asks nothing more than for the user to send short messages to "people who are thinking of them." The challenge, now that that they have proven that it works, is how to incorporate the system into people's homes.

Wiredness 19 April 2009

Monetising malady
According to Discover magazine a woman with a rare skin condition known as dermatographia has turned her misfortune into art by drawing on her body and selling photographs of the work for up to R40,000 a piece. The tiniest scratch makes Ariana Page Russell’s skin swell into red welts caused by the release of histamines by mast cells near the surface of her skin. You can view her skin and other art on her website arianapagerussell.com.


By 2015, according to Goal Seven of the UN Millenium Development Goals agreed upon at the Millennium Summit in September 2000,  the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation must be halved. By 2020 there must be a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers. The people from Peepoo, have taken these weighty objectives to heart. They have developed a bag that comes lined with urea, a fertiliser which breaks down urine and faeces into ammonia and carbonate to provide a waterless sewage system which doubles as a simple way to fertilise the soil. Any pathogens in the poop are neutralised as the parcel degrades where it is buried in the ground. Plants feed on the ammonia byproduct released during the process.

Very, very bad spam
According to a report issued by security company McAfee, spam is not only an irritation and a waste of time. Research shows that the 62 trillion spam emails dispatched each year waste about 33 billion kilo watt-hours (KWh) of power as well. Using a spam filter (clearly McAfee has a vested interest) can reduce this waste by up to 75 percent, the equivalent, the report claims, of taking 2.3 million cars off the road.


Protect your crack
It could be a good thing to have a squishy piece of neoprene to jam up that Bermuda Triangle "crack" between your car seat and the centre console, but as Wired's Gadget Lab blog points out, there is nothing to prevent cellphones, coinage and sweet wrappers from falling down the other side between the seat and the car door. Drop Stop sells at around R200. (buydropstop.com)

Wiredness 12 April 2009

virus_batteryViral battery
Researchers at MIT have shown that viruses can be genetically engineered to build a lithium-ion battery. Three years ago they produced an anode, the negatively-charged battery terminal from viruses that coated themselves with cobalt oxide and gold to form a nanowire. This week the online edition of Science reports that the team has devised a cathode that can be paired with the anode to make batteries that have the same energy capacity and power performance as those being considered to power plug-in hybrid cars. The batteries can be made using a cheap and environmentally-benign process that takes place at room temperature and requires no harmful organic solvents. The materials in the battery are non-toxic and the viruses are a common bacteriophage that infects bacteria but is harmless to humans.

In the beginning ...
A robot called  Adam has made a scientific discovery with almost no human intervention. Adam is the first automated system that has completed the cycle from hypothesis, to experiment, to reformulated hypothesis. According to Wired magazine, the system (Adam is no R2D2) was let loose on the baker's yeast genome and instructed to find the functions for genes which scientists have not yet worked out. Adam uncovered three orphan enzymes after first hypothesising that these exist, designing experiments to prove their existence and then carrying them out using automated centrifuges, incubators, pipettes and growth analysers. While some may see this development as yet another landmark on the path to robotic world domination, project leader Ross King of Aberystwyth University in Wales sees instead a future where humans and robots combine intelligences: "A computer can make beautiful chess moves, but it's not doing anything special. It's just doing more of the same thing. In my view that's what's going to happen in science."

AboutLeWhifPump your chocolate
Easter is a wonderful time for chocoholics. It's open season on chocolate bunny rabbits, which means that you have licence to kill bucket loads of the stuff. The aftermath? Sugar highs, acne, choc-induced migraines and the inevitable kilo or so gained. Now David Edwards, a professor at Harvard University, has invented Le Whif, a device that allows you to inhale your fix, in super-small chocolate particles that fill your mouth with a variety of chocolate flavours – mint, raspberry, mango and standard milk – without the calories. The challenge was to make the chocolate atomise: in the past food could not be made small enough when airborne without resulting in choking. LeWhif costs around R500 for a pack of 24 and is currently only available through online orders at www.lewhif.com.

Wiredness 5 April 2009

Kitchen computer
We've seen kitchen televisions and fridges that tell you when they've run out of mayonnaise. Now PC makers have boarded the bistro bandwagon, banking on our desire to have computers in the kitchen so that we will no longer be forced to cart our laptops to the cooktop each time we embark on a web-inspired culinary adventure. The kitchen PC is a honed down version of the desktop computer, which the PC industry is keen to push back into the market, since its loss of face to the laptop and netbook. The typical kitchen PC comes with a touch screen interface (so that you can navigate with the tip of your nose when your fingers are covered in cookie dough). But it's not all about cooking. For the kitchen-bound hausfrau, e-mail, weather forecasts, calendars and news are also  just a touch away. Personally, I think it smacks of gimmickry: you would have to spend an awful lot of time in the kitchen to feel the need to check your mail while the balsamic is reducing. How do you market a device that implies that your kitchen is your office? Convenience? Now you can plan your wardrobe according to tomorrow's weather while you burp the baby and stir the cheese sauce. Hope it comes with a little screen scraper to remove spatter and exploded gemsquash fallout.

The skinny on speakers
Engineers at the University of Warwick have created a speaker that is just quarter of a millimeter thick (or is it thin?) News of the breakthrough was posted on the institution's website (www2.warwick.ac.uk) on March 31. Had it been a day later I might have wondered if it was an April Fool's hoax since the article is accompanied by pictures of portly middle-aged men holding up squares of what looks suspiciously like tin foil. Unlike traditional speakers, which produce sound by vibrating a mechanical cone, the Flat, Flexible Loudspeaker, or FFL, vibrates all over when excited by an electrical signal. Warwick Audio Technologies' say the FFLs, whose sound is crisper and clearer than conventional speakers can be used just about anywhere and are especially useful where space is at a premium. The company expects to launch its first commercial product later this year.

Smokes for the plane
The ubiquity of Universal Serial Bus technology dictates that anything that can plug into a USB port will be. Lo, the smokeless electronic USB cigarette from Thanko, which plugs into your computer when it needs a charge.

Wiredness 17 May 2009

A chair with balls
Hugh Hayden’s Tennis Ball Chair is a great conversation piece. It also about as green as you can get. The chair is crafted from repurposed tennis balls which, when arranged according to Hayden's patent-pending matrix, make the perfect chair. It bounces and flexes to adjust to the user's body without losing its shape and is strong enough to take the weight of an average adult (although it is really meant for the amusement of children). Hayden designed the Tennis Ball Chair as part of his FUNature collection. (hughhayden.com)

Digging broadband
Norwegian Internet Service Provider, Lyse has a business model that departs tangentially from that of the common or garden ISP. First, they will only install broadband in an area once sixty percent of the population in an unserved area has signed up; the usual route is to service the area and then push the populace for subscriptions. Their second innovation is to offer users the option of digging their own trench from the street to their home, which equates to a saving of around R3000.

Undressed to kill
Underwear manufacturers Triumph think they may have come up with a solution to Japan's  declining marriage rate: the Marriage Hunting bra. The begadgetted brassiere is fitted with a countdown clock, a pen and seal holster (for signing marriage contracts), and a ring receptacle that beeps The Wedding March when filled. (Gizmodo.com)

By George
10 years ago, on a whim, computer programmer Hank Eskin started wheresgeorge.com, a website that tracks the movement of dollar bills across the United States. He marked each bill that came his way with a note to the next user to enter its serial number and a ZIP code on his website. By 2006 the site had collected the histories of 100 million bills. Now scientists are using the information on the site to map the face-to-face transactions between people that carry the potential to spread contagion  during an outbreak of disease. Used in tandem with the data of air and commuter traffic patterns, an epidemic-modelling team at Northwestern University has predicted that the US will have between  2,000 and 2,500 cases of swine flu by the end of this month. Dirk Brockmann, who heads the team, points out that the infection figures, while low,  still cause alarm: "If you have 2,000 cases of flu in a country of 300 million, most people think they’re going to be one of the 2,000, not one of the 299,998,000."

Wiredness 3 May 2009

Holographic disc
Scientists at General Electric’s Global Research Center (gereports.com) have announced a breakthrough in the pursuit of holographic data storage this week, demonstrating technology that can put 500 gigabytes, the equivalent of a hundred DVDs, onto a single DVD-sized disc.The process works by imprinting chemical changes in the form of patterns or holograms within the disc. While traditional DVD technology uses only one layer – the metal layer – of the disc, holographic data uses the entire disc and uses light to decipher the imprinted code.

Robotics inches forward

According to a report on Engadget (www.engadget.com) researchers at Waseda University in Tokyo have developed a chemical gel that walks like an inchworm. The gel reacts to chemicals in its environment which cause it to grow and shrink and perambulate without electrical stimulation. With these "self organised" chemical systems, robots will be able to operate without external controls.

Trending topic: phlegm
The web exploded this week with new tools to combat Swine Flu. You can join the Swine Flu Volunteer Network, "a brand new space" dedicated to "coordinating online volunteer activities related to the collection and sharing of swine flu information resources" or you can watch the epidemic grow on whoissick.org. Google already has Flu Trends, which monitors the web for signs of an increase in searches for flu-related topics like "runny nose' and "sore throat". The reason they did not pick up on the Mexican outbreak according to Wired's Alexis Madrigal is that they were looking in the wrong place: Flu Trends analyses US data. It may have been able to provide an early warning if it had been watching Mexico. This highlights a problem with disease detection systems that rely on technology: it is likely that we will only know what to look for once the threat is a clear and present danger.

Kissy phone
Freelance inventor Georges Koussouros has come up with what Inventorspot.com calls "one of the first cyberdildonic gadgets." The KissPhone is capable of sending the real thing by phone from one mouth to another with all the sensory connections of a real life kiss. KissPhone will detects percussion speed, pressure, temperature, and sucking force of the lips when you kiss it and then reproduces the same parameters on the opposite end.  The  KissPhone can also leave a kiss on an answering machine or send a kiss to be uploaded and downloaded on the web. And it's virus free as long as you don't share phones.

Wiredness 10 May 2009

Talk to the sling
If you 've ever been burdened with a plaster cast wrapped around any part of your body for any length of time, you'll appreciate this innovation. In anticipation of the inevitable, "So what happened to you?", these slings are illustrated with a number of reasons for your injury: car chase, dog chase, skateboard or soccer accident ... that will explain your situation without the need for words. Available in all languages at www.bemlegaus.com.

USB air
The Japanese are masters at creating all manner of USB-powered thingies, from massage balls to slippers that heat up when you plug them into your laptop. So it is no surprise that they have come up with a silicon mask that is fitted with two fans that circulate the air around your face. Newlaunches.com says the Thanko USB mask will make you look like a wired Hannibal Lecter.

Wherever green goes, I go
The Grass Wheel was created by David Gallaugher and other three Dalhousie architecture students as an illustration of society's need for green spaces in the city.

Eat my car
The WorldFirst team from Warwick University, in Coventry, England have designed and built the ecoF3, a racing car with a body crafted from vegetable fibres and resin and a biodiesel engine that can run on chocolate extracts and vegetable oil.

Blender bike
This Stationary Bike Blender Kit from peddlerswagon.com will turn your ordinary bicycle into an exercise bicycle that can whip up a smoothie while you work out.

Wiredness 24 May 2009

googlecamTakin' it to the streets
When Google made itself unwelcome by impinging on the private lives of Brits in Broughton (the all-seeing Big Brother cameras don't seem to worry them at all) with its car-mounted Streetview cams, it decided to take a less invasive route by using  bicycles instead. The Google Trike,  which the company describes as "a mechanical masterpiece comprising three bicycle wheels, a mounted Street View camera and a very athletic cyclist in customised Google apparel" will be deployed in the UK to make image collections of British footpaths which cannot be traversed by car.

dont_be_fatDon't be fat
The blog that posted this photograph of a woman being weighed by a bus stop apologised for not having any record of where it was taken and appealed to readers to enlighten him. The idea, it seems, is to embarrass overweight people in public so that they will never again  leave the comfort of their homes and will likely become even fatter.

bikeFree wheelin' mama
Taga's "multifunctional urban vehicle" makes me wish I could have my babies all over again and be a fun yummy mummy who takes her toddler's joy riding across the city. Taga is a rugged three-wheeler that converts easily into an equally sturdy stroller.

cat_bedWall o' cats
Supermarkethq.com's wall-mounted cat beds ensure that your felines become part of the furniture. They claim that the bentwood shelves, each equipped with a snap on, washable cushion in your choice of fabric, can also accommodate small dogs. At $200 (about R1600) a pop however, you may have to force your pets to share sleeping privileges.

Wiredness 31 August 2009

inno1-310808Veep goes the text message
Boston.com reported on Monday this week that Barack Obama's SMS announcing that he had picked Senator Joseph Biden as his running mate was sent to almost 3 million subscribers, making it the single biggest mobile marketing event ever to have happened in the US. According to smartcompany.com, if Obama paid the standard 10c a text, the stunt would have cost the campaign a staggering $290,000. The irony is that the news was scooped two hours before the official message was sent (to those who had signed up to the service) by leaks to the media, after a Secret Service detail was dispatched to Biden's house, making it pretty obvious that he was the Chosen One. Mediabistro reporter Glynnis MacNicol has this advice: "If you want to own the story probably best to jump on the send button once the MSM surrounds your super-secret VP choice's house with camera crews."

Wii tells on
To most people the Nintendo Wii is no more than a games console that brings with it the promise of physical fitness and flexibility and a chance to hone golfing and hoola hooping skills. It also has the potential to reunite families broken up by anti social pursuits like online surfing and television. For one American soldier though, Wii recently became much more: a witness to his wife's infidelity while he was deployed in Iraq. His Wii had stored, as Wii does, the profile of a Mii ( personal Wii profile) not known to him, which turned out to be his wife's lover. The two Mii's had been spending evenings engaging in virtual bowling sessions – on his Wii.  Independent tech reporter Nick Harding writes that while new technology like mobile phones and social networking are an aid to philandering, it has also made it alot harder to cover the digital footprint we leave behind which he likens to "specks of DNA sprayed across the bedsheet of cyberspace". 

Aye caRoomba!
The unnamed soldier in the previous story probably never saw his Wii as something that could be hacked to perform a function (in his case tattle tale) that it was not strictly meant for. Ron Tajima, however, has made it his job to do so. Here he has turned a Wii Balance Board into a controller for a Roomba, a robotic vacuum cleaner. In the YouTube video Tajima explains how the hack works and then demonstrates how the extent to which he leans on the Balance Board controls the radius of the Roomba's turn and its direction.inno2-310808

Wiredness 9 November 2008

Playing chickeninno1-091108
A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  has found that the huge demand for chicken flesh worldwide has produced a race of genetically homogeneous fowl that desperately need an injection of new blood. Purdue University animal geneticist, Bill Muir says that genetic variability will be exhausted if commercial breeders fail to introduce new stock. Although it is not known exactly what will happen if they don't, it is likely that the chicken of the future will lose its resistance to diseases like avian lucosis and avian influenza, which have already put several breeders out of business. While chicken farmers will have to work hard at reversing the trend –  they will probably have to run around after the spritelier and less intellectually-challenged cousins of the battery ones and have to contend with slower fattening up times – the study suggests that it will not be in vain. "It's an insurance policy on the future," says Muir.






Don't sweat it
Not only does Genius' MetalStrike series of PC joysticks have three levels of force feedback to let you experience the effects of taking off, landing, stalling, bumps and crashes while playing flight simulators or space invaders, it also has three levels of air control designed to keep your hand cool while doing so. This feature is also designed to "let you feel the effects of flying" which, as one reader points out is not entirely correct. "If you feel the air rushing past your hands while flying, you're doing it wrong."










Steal tanks with Obama

While game site Gearfuse points out that Mercenaries 2 is "the most mediocre game, ever" it concedes that it has a redeeming feature: a "spice of color and  maverickism" that allows you to become Barack Obama or Sarah Palin and take either of them into battle. Relish shooting guard dogs with Palin or hijack 'copters with Barack's characteristic cool.
Sunscreen for plants
Clean chemical company Purfresh has created a sunscreen for plants called Purshade that reduces solar stress and improves water utilisation efficiency. The product has been developed with foodcrops in mind and promises to minimise crop loss and improve plant quality by providing protection from harmful UV and IR rays. Purshade forms a thin film of tiny prisms that reflect certain parts of the sun's spectrum. It washes off easily after the crop is harvested. Invesntorspot.com notes that Purshade made TIME magazine's 50 Best Inventions of 2008.

Wiredness 28 December 2008

inno1-281208Energy revolution
The Natuurcafé La Port, a coffee shop at the Driebergen-Zeist railway station in The Netherlands has installed a revolving door designed to generate energy each time someone walks through it. Inhabit.com reports that the door, the first of its kind, is expected to generate around 4600 kwh of energy each year.

Liquid wood
German researchers have developed a cheap, non-toxic, moldable alternative to plastic. The new product, called Arboform, is made from lignin, a readily available waste product of the paper making process. The product can be mixed with hemp, flax or wood fibers and other additives such as wax to create a durable substance that can be used to make anything from loudspeaker boxes and car parts to golf tees and ballpoint pens. And Jesus, Mary and Joseph too.inno2-281208
(see www.tecnaro.de)

New forest found
The Daily Telegraph reports that British scientists found an unexplored forest in northern Mozambique by scanning the earth using Google Earth. Remote Mount Mabu, located 1600m above sea level, has been overlooked until now because of the region's difficult terrain and decades of civil war.

Am iDrunk?
Manufacturers of a new iPod accessory that can measure a user's blood-alcohol level are banking on the player's "cool factor" to help save lives. The iBreath, which sells for $79 (a small price to pay for avoiding a hefty fine, jail time, injury or death), plugs into the base of the iPod and displays the blood alcohol content on the screen two seconds after the user has exhaled into its retractable "wand". An alarm is triggered if the reading is 0.08 or above – the legal limit in all 50 American states. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Don Bassler, creator of the device, said he got the idea from friends who were concerned about the drinking habits of their teenage children: "You know how they are –  they're going to sneak it if they can. They don't listen to their parents, but they listen to their iPods."


Wiredness 26 October 2008

inno1-261008Peanut butter for idiots
This peanut butter jar makes life much easier for those addicted to the creamy nutty stuff. It has a lid on each end and smooth, curveless walls so that you don't have to break open the jar to retrieve the last morsels.

Drive-through nationinno2-261008
If you can pick up a Big Mac  without leaving the comfort of your vehicle, why not adopt the same much-loved habit when democracy is in the offing? Some American voters are accustomed to the luxury of dropping off paper ballots through their car windows, but in Orange County, California, they have taken it a step further by making the drive-through polling booth electronic.

Electric car: uncertain future
Just four months ago, when oil was $130 a barrel, the electric car seemed poised to rescue our planet from certain suffocation and solve the looming energy crisis. Who would have guessed that the oil price would plummet so dramatically (it is now closer to $70 a barrel) and take with it all the promise of a cleaner and quieter future? The Washington Post reports that the $60 drop is likely to inspire an artificial and temporary sense that reducing oil consumption and energy consumption is an issue we can place on the back burner. Environmental myopia is not the only threat to plans and projects with a green vision: the current credit crisis is making it increasingly difficult to secure funding.  

inno3-261008Onwardly mobile
If you are one of those unfortunate beings who experiences cubicle fever from too many hours spent in the confines of a cube farm, you'll be pleased to know that the nasty invention – which is designed to give you a degree of privacy, but since it's walls are typically under two metres tall is unlikely to shield you from rude sounds and strange smells – is on its way out. Engineers have invented mobile workstations that allow employees to migrate around work areas. Since wires are no longer a limiting factor, stations like Michiel van der Kley’s Globus which folds up into a globe and unfolds into a desk and a chair can be located wherever you see fit.
Kenneth Lylover's Surf Chair, which has a built in LCD display, a strategically placed spot for the keyboard and mouse, and a padded lounge chair even brings your bed into the workplace should you feel the need for a spot of shuteye.

Wiredness 21 December 2008

inno1-211208Carbon-negative cook
For South Africans, firing up the braai to incinerate a couple of chops on a summer's day is a cultural imperative. Unfortunately, this ritual requires the release of harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. One way to avoid this is to make your own charcoal using a two barrel retort which you can cook on. When you have finished, the charred biomass can be dug into your garden or added to your compost bin. Folke Gunther, who describes the pyrolytic process in detail on his website www.holon.se, also recommends using urine to fertilise your soil. Adding charcoal will prevent the wee from getting smelly.

Plug-in arm
The BBC reports that Kira Mason, one of London's 7/7 victims, has received a new generation cyborg arm to replace the one she lost during the attacks. Surgeons fused a metal pin with her skin tissue so that, with the aid of a battery pack, Mason, who was sitting opposite one of the four men who inno2-211208detonated devices on the transport network on 7 July 2005, can flex her muscles and clench her fist. Norbert Kang, one of the surgeons involved in pioneering the technique, says the pin works in a way similar to the way "that skin interacts with deer antlers".

inno3-211208A step in the right direction
Commuters at Shibuya station in Tokyo, Japan are being introduced to the usefulness of self-generating energy. The Shibuya Ward government has installed a piezoelectric power mat outside the station that generates electricity every time a person steps on it. The charge created lights up a Holiday LED display on one of the station's walls. According to Soundpower, the company who makes the mats, a 60 kilogram person generates about 0.1 watts in the second they take to step on the tile. If the technology is applied more widely (about 2.4 million people pass through the Shibuya Station every day), significant amounts of energy could be generated and stored.

Can you hear me now?
What would you take with you to the grave? According to MSNBC, an increasing number of people are being buried with their cellphones, along with more traditional keepsakes like pictures and jewellery.