Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pure evil discovered, but don't worry, we still have 252 years before it comes after humanity

Artist rendition of TrES-2b. Click for full-size image
Planets aren't supposed to be dark. They're supposed to be bright, brimming with majestic colors rarely seen on our life-infested blue planet. Our imaginations need it...but in the case of TrES-2b, we're SOL. The Jupiter-sized planet about 750 light years away reflects less than 1 percent of its orbiting star's light.

"It's darker than the blackest lump of coal, than dark acrylic paint," astronomer David Klipping told "It's bizarre how this huge planet became so absorbent of all the light that hits it." NASA's Kepler probe found TrES-2b orbiting just 3.1 million miles away from it's star, with no reflective clouds. Flummoxed, researchers have no idea how the planet can reflect so little light and be so dark.

Kepler spotted the phenomenon because the planet let's off a dim Cylon red of its own light, not reflected from the sun. Scientists believe it does this because of how hot the planet is, like burning embers or superheated metals glowing red. That makes sense, especially since scientists have no idea why it's so dark. It's pure evil. The most terrible intelligence imaginable.

Gig.U joins universities together to make the internet a faster place

College internet sucks. It's one of the worst parts of college, right behind going to class, studying, and leftover ramen. Plenty of schools have great overall bandwidth, but when spread across tens of thousands of students, it can be worse than a 56K modem. Especially if you stream Netflix, play games online, or use the internet as intended.

That's where Gig.U comes in. The organization, currently working with 29 universities, is working to bring schools into the Gigabit per second range. And not just colleges in the program, but communities near those schools where students and teachers reside. That way, research, communications and general education isn't stifled by slow ISPs and a weak infrastructure.

It's a cool initiative, one that with enough time and schools can actually boost our country's internet speeds to something respectable. Obviously the government doesn't have the money to support it, so Gig.U is relying solely on non-profits, business and individual contributors, and the universities themselves. That means if you're going to one of the 29 schools currently a member of Gig.U, tuition costs might be higher...but oh it'll be so worth it. Assuming they actually finish before you graduate.

Scientific American

Thursday, August 11, 2011

5 gadgets to make your flight suck less

Flights are always a pain in the ass. Getting through security, hanging around the airport, standing in lines for everything...until you finally get on the plane. Then what? Sitting in place for 3-10 hours sucks.

Here's five things that will make your flight way less painful, no matter how long you're in the air.

1) Neck Pillow

Fine, it looks stupid, but if you're on a long flight, who cares? The last thing anyone wants is to wake up after an hour nap feeling like the grim reaper hit you with the wrong side of the scythe. Plus they're cheap and easy to pack. I'm partial to TravelMate's, which has worked for me on countless flights, and is only $15.75.

2) Sleeping Pills and a Face Mask

It goes without saying that the best way to get through a flight is to sleep through it. Actual sleeping pills are pretty cheap, and you can get them at any pharmacy and plenty of supermarkets. And if you're flying during the day, or worse, not by the window, make sure to pick up a sleeping mask in case your flight doesn't have any for free. Some do, but I always travel with the Dream Essentials Snooz Silky Soft Eye Mask just in case. It's $2, you can't lose.

3) Mini Air Filter

I've never gone this far, but colleagues and other travelers have sworn that having an air filter for flights helps. It makes sense...I've gotten on more than my fair share of flights with mucus-filled infection-ridden travelers, and cooped up for five hours with just one coughing person nearby sucks. More times than I care to count, I've left a flight woozy, and ended up with a minor cold.

Still, I like to tough it out in this case, but if you don't pick up the Ultra-Mini Air Supply by Magellan's for $135. Who knows, maybe it works, or maybe the placebo effect is good enough.

4) Lenovo X220 with Battery Slice

When sleeping fails, rely on technology. I've tried bringing my iPad and various different laptops on flights, and while each flight may require something different, the Lenovo's X220 has one thing nothing else can beat: a huge battery life. If you're flying from LA to London, the X220 will last the whole flight and then some. With the 9-cell battery and battery slice, you're looking at ~14 of video playback, if not more.

The X220 starts at $849, and the battery slice goes for $179. That's a hefty sum, and so worth it. It's actually amusing wondering when you should plug that battery in again.

5) Audio Splitter Cable

When all else fails, be prepared to share with fellow passengers. We've all been seated next to cool people on rare occasion, and eventually talking only goes so far. So why not offer to watch a movie together? It may sound creepy, especially if there's a big age gap, but a plane is no place to feel awkward. Plus, if you're really prepared and have a decent selection of movies to watch, you might get off that plane with a new friend. Or, if you're already flying with a friend, you'll be able to shut them up for at least the duration of the film, for practically nothing.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Discovery made Shark Week awesome with this camera alone

Time for some camera porn. Check these stats:
  • 1080p video at up to 1,052 frames per second, and 720p at 1,576 fps
  • Need more resolution? Shoot at 2K (2048x2048) at up to 555 fps
  • Screw resolution? 256x256 shooting at 4,400 fps
  • Depth of field equivalent to that of a 35mm camera (8-, 10-, 12-, and 14-bit pixel adjustable depth)
  • Records 2.3Gpx (that's Gigapixels) per second
That's just the basics of the Phantom HD Gold, one of only 150 produced so far. It records to solid state drives up to 512GB in size. Which means using the Phantom means having a ton of SSDs to fill up...recording 1080p video at full speed (1,052 fps) will fill up the 32GB of internal memory in 8.45 seconds. It's basically Team Fortress 2 Heavy's weapon, in camera form. All that sheer power for a mere $118,000.

I mean, hell, it even supports RAW shooting. The kind of computer and hardware you'd need to process 2K video at 555 fps, and the handful of SSDs after a few hours of filming must be a technical nightmare. The Phantom does come with it's own software, CineMag, built specifically to handle and edit footage taken. 

It makes sense that Discovery would throw down that much cash - the $118,000 plus at least another $100,000 on additional equipment, not to mention the hiring a top-notch team of cinematographers, editors and crew - Shark Week is the channel's prime week of viewing. That, and sharks are wicked cool. How much better to see their ferocity slowed down so we can see the ripples in time themselves. So worth it.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Study finds physical endurance my cause intelligence

Ever wonder why humans are the smartest animals on the planet, and not piranha, jackrabbits or beets? Perhaps it's from having physical muscular endurance.

According to anthropologists David Raichlen and Adam Gordon, of the University of Arizona and University of Albany, respectively, being able to run, swim, and fight longer may have pushed humans to the next stage of intellectual evolution. Why? Having that physical endurance offers more opportunity to act intelligently, and which means higher brain function had a better chance of becoming an evolved trait.

What Raichlen and Gordon found is that big brains take more energy, so on in evolutionary terms being smarter isn't always better. All that extra thinking could lead animals to starve to death, not mate, or not ensure the best line of evolution possible (sound familiar?). Primates, which have more physical endurance than, say, big cats, are smarter because of it, not the other way around.

The premise makes sense, which kind of sucks for us. The last couple hundred years humans have all but given the finger to evolution in favor of humanitarianism, which keeps the weak and stupid mating right alongside you and me. So humans aren't moving forward anywhere. Then again, we'll all have robot bodies by 2099, so it's cool.


Feeling down? Inflate that ego with fake Facebook birthdays!

I may never understand birthday cheer. As a kid, fine, but getting older means getting a little feebler, a little slower, and another year closer to doom and away from that prime youth. But sometimes even unbirthdays feel downtrodden. What are we to do?

Tell Facebook to pucker up, because it's about to mass-inbox-rape your friends with birthday cheer.

Slate genius David Poltz decided to see just how important Facebook birthdays are. Far from a true experiment (he says himself that he uses his Facebook page almost exclusively for work, not for socializing with actual friends), Poltz' findings aren't so odd. Most people sent their best regards and wishes not just the first time, but the second and third time he had a birthday, all in the span of a month. Now there's one way to feel great about yourself.

Armed with this knowledge (and the information that Facebook has no policy about constantly changing your birthday), go out into ye internet and spread false cheer! Who cares if it's for yourself or for others...everyone deserves a little happiness. And if not, it's an entertaining read nonetheless.


The next Valve title (not DOTA2) gets its first news direct from Gabe Newell


That is all. Carry on.


Maximum Destruction RC car breaks marketing trend, saves 6 soldiers lives

Next time you send a present to soldier friends in the Middle East, send an RC car. That's what Ernie Fessenden did for his brother Staff Sgt. Christopher Fessenden, and with a (frickin' cool) camera mounted on it. Then Chris hooked up his rifle monitor to the camera and use it to scout for bombs.

Then, last week, a friend borrowed the toy and according to the soldiers, it tripped a wire which exploded about 500 lbs. of explosives out in the desert. Those soldiers would have otherwise tripped the wire from their Humvee. In effect, Maximum Destruction (the name of the specific RC car) had a blast, and possibly saved those six soldier's lives.

The sad part of the story is that IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are everywhere in Afganistan, and hundreds of soldiers die each year from these bombs. The military hasn't found a good solution to the problem as of yet, but the Fessendens have. Sgt. Chris, in correspondence with his brother Ernie, said he's found four IEDs thanks to the toy. Ernie's sending another one over, which costs about $500 for the car and mounted camera, and has started a nonprofit Fuel My Brain. There is no better way to support our troops than sending toy monster trucks to soldiers to help find bombs.

[ABC News]

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Study shows meditation nearly twice as effective as drugs at killing pain

I think the most powerful piece of technology is the human body. It's gone through millions of years of evolution, so why the hell shouldn't it be? It can adapt to almost any environment, deal with almost any situation, and I'd say it's worked out pretty well for us so far. So what's a little pain?

A pain in the ass, that's what. Pain sucks, and we spend most of our lives avoiding, dulling or killing it. But a recent study showed just how kickass the human body is: by meditating, subjects had "about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness," said Dr. Fadel Zeiden, who ran the trials. It's like Morpheus said, the mind makes it real.

Of course, theories of this exact premise have been considered for centuries. We've all seen people walk on coal, sleep on spikes and do crazy grotesque things with their bodies without flinching. The study, however, found one very remarkable thing: "Meditation produced an even greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically pain ratings by about 25 percent." I guess that explains why when my infected tooth got yanked, Vicodin did nothing but getting into a ridiculous match of Halo 2 practically numbed the pain.

[Telegraph] (Image via Meditation Guidance)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

First plastic heart sold, not on the black market

You could say that Matthew Green is a lucky guy. He's the first person to ever receive a heart made entirely of plastic - no weak fleshy bits included - and walk out of the hospital with it. Most cold-hearted bastards aren't allowed to leave, at least until they get a fleshy, warm heart. But screw that, we're on the path to becoming cyborgs. What better way to start than the heart?

Green, a victim of "arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), a heart muscle disease that causes arrhythmia and heart failure," is the lucky man with a (mostly) mechanical heart. It's plastic, which makes it more pliable, which is crucial because otherwise it wouldn't fit in the chest cavity. The heart itself has two valves and costs £100,000, plus £20,000 annually for maintenance and battery replacements. Not exactly steampunk or cheap, but Green's not complaining. 

Of course, this brings up a rather interesting question: how expensive is a regular, boring human heart? According to Google, anywhere from $90,000 to $300,000, depending on the country. Might want to wait for technology to deal with that financial burden.