Found this video on MountainRunner via Wired's Danger Room. It appears to be an add for a possible A.I. beat-cop/soldier that can patrol the squatter cities and townships of Africa.
This short was uploaded to YouTube by TV-Robotics, a think tank in South Africa that focuses on how robotics and genetic engineering will change our future.
The film is called Tetra Vaal, and was produced by The Embassy Visual Effects Inc. as a fake corporate add for future policing robots. Great rough camera work.
I like this little film - the robot looks very workman-like. It's just a beat cop, trying to make it through the day.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Found this video on MountainRunner via Wired's Danger Room. It appears to be an add for a possible A.I. beat-cop/soldier that can patrol the squatter cities and townships of Africa.
They do not require any energy to keep them aloft, and while they travel at a fraction of the speed of airplanes, they can move significantly faster than cars, up to 150 mph, without having to follow roads. Depending on their size, a modern airship could be significantly more energy efficient than even a Greyhound bus (currently the most efficient way to travel long distances.)
They do have some problems, for example, they have a hard time flying over the Rocky Mountains, or the Alps, but they more than make up for it with amenities. One planned airship has enough space for 1,000 people to sit comfortably on a lower deck, while an upper deck would sport tennis courts and a movie theater for first-class passengers.
Although I love the enthusiasm, I do question a few of their assertions (like, "why can't airships cross mountains" and the airship speed of 150 mph?"
Still, the more airship converts, the better.
Friday, July 27, 2007
I have made biospheres over the years - and I have collected many, many big jars with the intention of making biospheres.
Now you can do it too!
I found this post from the Make podcast.
Finally, a DIY project that I can rock!
From New Scientist:
"Three people were killed and three others critically injured on Thursday in an explosion at the California testing facilities operated by commercial spaceflight pioneer Burt Rutan.
The blast occurred at the Mojave Air and Space Port, where Scaled Composites, the company formed by Rutan, was testing rocket motor components, said Kern County Fire spokesman Tony Diffenbaugh.
Two people were killed instantly in the explosion at 1434 local time and four others were rushed to a local hospital. One of those died following surgery, according to the Los Angeles Times. The sprawling, 1335-hectare (3300-acre) airfield complex was immediately shut down.""Rutan told reporters the blast did not occur during the firing of a rocket. Instead, nitrous oxide was flowing though an injector during the testing of components for a new rocket motor for the upcoming SpaceShipTwo."
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Thalassodromeus, right, black skimmer, left
Or, more accurately, no more skimming for most pterosaurs!
Mark Witton is a pterosaur specialist that I have talked about before. His artwork has completely changed my concept of pterosaurs, putting them almost as high in my esteem as other characteristic paleolothic megafauna like the short-faced bear and the chalicotheres.
Below: Anhanguera piscator - how long will it fish?
The first view that Witton changed for me is that pterosaurs do everything in flight - his pictures show ground feeding, wading in shallows, just like birds do.
And now Witton has changed how I view pterasaur feeding. Before today, most research would say that pterosaurs skimmed the surface of seas and rivers, capturing fish.
Well, not anymore.
Witton has recently co-written a paper on how most pterosaurs did not skim across the water like a few species of birds: these flying reptile are too big to safely "skim", and would have fallen in the water. Also, the pterosaurs, as a group, show too much variation in body plan to have only skimmed. Witton points to beak size, body shape, and physical size.
Witton even tested the jaw shapes of different pterosaurs by pulling them through tanks of water. One species, the Thalassodromeus was believed to be a skimmer, and has been called the ocean runner.
This is what happened when Witton tested the beak:
The moment Thalassodromeus began to skim, the whole rig started shaking manically, throwing water about like a possessed jetski and drawing worried glances from the crew. Notching the speed higher, the rig became more unstable and, to everyone’s surprise, the aluminium bar was even bent on one run. This was replaced and, eventually, the time came to set max speed: 25 kmph. The catcher, a nervous looking PhD student, was braced and ready. At the other end of the flume, the pterosaur-cyborg beast glared at him, the water eerily calm before the violence that would follow.
“You ready?” asked Stu, and I gulped my affirmative. The winch was pulled. Suddenly, the beast was roaring down the runway. The room echoed with the inhuman screaming of its wheels on the track. The jaw was convulsing madly. Water crashed over the tank walls. Then the screaming stopped with a loud bang: the Thalassodromeus was airborne; the whole rig arcing through the air and spiralling forward - only milliseconds seperated it from a watery grave.
My clothes ripping against the metal tank and the waves pounding my body like Achilles in the River Scamander, I leapt forward and grabbed the plummeting contraption moments before it hit the water.
We rushed the wounded rig from the flume to check its health: the aluminium bar was totally twisted, the electronics shot. The little blinking lights on the mechoreceptor faded to black. The rig lay dead in Richard’s arms. Stu called to the Heavens in anger. Dave cried. I was soaking wet. It was about then that we started wondering if ‘ocean runner’ was a name slightly too optimistic about the skimming capabilities of its owner.
A running Apejara wellnhoferi
Meaning? Pterosaur species are like birds today - very few skim along the water. Some hunt in the air, others hunt in water shallows, and some walk though the high-brush, snatching prey.
So, the next time I see a pterosaur skeleton, and somebody tries to telll me that it skimmed the water for food (and that someone reads this blog.... Alton) I am going to point them to Mark Wittons website.
It's a whole new world of pterosaur palaeontology.
Mark Witton's blog (via Discovery News)
Below: A flying Thalassodromeus
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Science Chaser has a new home on Future Soon Radio! It is rough, experimental and still has a couple of bolts rattling around in it, but you wouldn't want your Science Chaser any other way!
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Sunday, July 22, 2007
Friday, July 20, 2007
On a day that should be a world holiday, people have forgotten.
On a day that should be remembered as the beginning of a new era, people don't care.
Future Soon cares, and so should you.
Moon Landing wikipedia entry
Now, check out the trailer for the documentary "In the shadow of the Moon."
And here is a great little story from Wired magazine about how the footage of the moon landing was lost, and the worldwide search that followed.
From the New York Times:
On an animal-breeding farm in Siberia are cages housing two colonies of rats. In one colony, the rats have been bred for tameness in the hope of mimicking the mysterious process by which Neolithic farmers first domesticated an animal still kept today. When a visitor enters the room where the tame rats are kept, they poke their snouts through the bars to be petted.
The other colony of rats has been bred from exactly the same stock, but for aggressiveness instead. These animals are ferocious. When a visitor appears, the rats hurl themselves screaming toward their bars.
“Imagine the most evil supervillain and the nicest, sweetest cartoon animal, and that’s what these two strains of rat are like,” said Tecumseh Fitch, an animal behavior expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who several years ago visited the rats at the farm, about six miles from Akademgorodok, near the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. Frank Albert, a graduate student at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, is working with both the tame and the hyperaggressive Siberian strains in the hope of understanding the genetic basis of their behavioral differences.
“The ferocious rats cannot be handled,” Mr. Albert said. “They will not tolerate it. They go totally crazy if you try to pick them up.”
The Russian scientist hope to further the understanding of animal domestication. The plan is to cross-breed the two groups of pacifist and aggressive rats, and rate the agression of the progeny.
All this brings to my mind of an escaped group of mutant rats in the Siberian taiga, living among the ruins of a hardened Soviet tin-can ecosystem designed to survive the atmosphere of Venus. They live in a world of continual assassination, stalking each other through the verdant terrarium, feeding the corpses of the cursed-same to their tamed arctic foxes.
A Stalingrad for rodentry.
I think I could do something with that.
Found in the New York Times via Wired Science
Coming soon - the domestication of the river otter.
One last little image - The future of Rats in Dougal Dixon's After Man
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
The fields in central China have been decimated by a plague of over 2 billion mice. Crops have been eaten, incomes have been lost, leaving millions of farmers to suffer. One account says that "local villagers described their migration in terms of an army on the move, eating everything in their path. Entire crop fields were reportedly devoured in a single afternoon. According to domestic media, the munching was so loud that it could be heard inside villagers' homes."
From the Guardian:
But in a remarkable display of entrepreneurship, businessmen are catching, shipping and selling the eastern field mice, also known locally as rats, to the southern city of Guangzhou, where restaurants are reportedly offering rodent banquets to diners notorious for their unusual tastes.
"Recently there have been a lot of rats ... Guangzhou people are rich and like to eat exotic things, so business is very good," the China News Service quoted a vendor as saying.
According to Beijing News, businessmen from Guangzhou - the provincial capital of Guangdong - were offering 6 yuan (40 pence) for a kilogramme of live rodents.The plague of mice is being blamed on water released from the Three Gorges Dam, driving the mice from their burrows.
Although this is one of the worst known infestations in 10 years, large numbers of mice are common in rural central China.
The animals that usually hunt mice, the snake and the owl, are also hunted for food. To control mice populations, people have used ferrets, poison and corralling the mice together and beating them to death. So far over 2 million mice have been killed, put in bags, and shipped away. The Guardian says that is about 90 tonnes worth of mouse carcass.
Hunan province plans to build a 24 km long fence to keep out the mice.
Watch this video from CCTV news to see the mouse plague:
After disappearing from the fossil record for 80 million years, the coelacanth first showed up in 1938 off the coast of South Africa.
Since then, two variants of this fish have been found in five other locations including Comoros, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar and Mozambique.
And now the fish has been caught off Zanzibar, an island that is part of Tanzania.
From Yahoo News:
"Fishermen informed us that they caught a strange fish in their nets. We rushed to (the northern reaches of Zanzibar) to find it's a coelacanth, a rare fish thought to have become extinct when it disappeared from fossil records 80 million years ago," said Nariman Jiddawi of the Institute of Marine Sciences, which is part of the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania's commercial capital."
Pretty cool - the chances this far distant cousin of ours might make it a little further into the geological time record just got a little better.
And if this species of fish can last a couple hundred million years, maybe a few of it's distant relatives are walking their way across unknown reefs in rarely visited seas.
Story found while checking out Cryptomundo
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
...do better than you would think.
After years of being massacred, elephant populations are again rising in southern Angola. Wildlife biologists have been tracking the animals as they cross through minefields that were laid during the long civil war.
And the elephant's are mostly making it through safe.
From National Geographic News:
(Field researcher Michael) Chase said that when the initial migration began a number of elephants had their trunks and legs blown off by mines, condemning the animals to agonizing deaths. But the elephants that followed since have avoided those areas.
"I don't know if elephants have 'learned' to avoid land mines, but my limited observations suggest they might have," he said.Those observations are from five satellite tracking devices. The collected data was then correlated with maps of known minefields.
Although researchers are not sure if elephants are learning from past experience (don't walk near the bodies of exploded elephants) or if they can sense the landmines through smell, one thing is clear: the land mines need to be removed.
But, there are millions of land-mines along the borders, and the manpower needed to remove these fields of death is enormous. One measure that is being considered is to make corridors through the minefields for the elephants, and other animals, to move through.
They could also go one step further - if you map out the walking paths of the elephants, you can then identify the mines; if you know where the elephants didn't go, you might have a better idea where to start mine-removal.
A dust storm that has been blowing across the surface of Mars since the end of June is causing a little energy crisis for our two "can't stop-won't stop!" rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.
From New Scientist:
The dust has reduced the amount of sunlight falling on the rovers' solar arrays, cutting their power. Though each started out with about 900 watt-hours of power per day at the beginning of their mission, Opportunity is now subsisting on just a third of that, and Spirit is making do with 400 watt-hours of daily power.
But they are still chugging along. One of the rover-techs says that the dust storm does have one benefit - Opportunity is cleaner than it has been in three years.
Monday, July 16, 2007
I am so excited right now that I can barely type.
Scifi.com has just announced that Farscape will return as a series of ten "webisodes." They don't know who will star in it, what the story is, or what is going to happen.
Who cares!? Just as long as we get to see truly large ships (only Culture ships compare) big guns, and Aeryn Sun in leather. Sure, Claudia Black and Ben Browder were together on Stargate, but really, that show can't compare.
All right, that is enough of my gushing for today.
Today marks the beginning of the sacred week of the Moon Landing.
On July 16, 1969, astronauts Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin got strapped into the Apollo 11 capsule on the top of a Saturn V rocket.
Launch of the Apollo 11
This next shot is a slow-motion camera view of the ignition of the Saturn V. Watch for the falling debris near the bottom of the rocket. What you are seeing is ice that formed on the surface of the super-cooled engine tanks.
More to come as the week advances.
(This is where Chris jumps in and says that if you want to see recent pictures of a Saturn V rocket, check out the post about my February trip to the Kennedy Space Center.)
Sunday, July 15, 2007
The ship is new, well designed and the biggest space vessel ever created by the ESA. Sure, the vessel doesn't have the capacity to handle human cargo (yet), and yeah, the ship only goes to the ISS. But, the Europeans have continued to learn from the Russians; build multi-use, relatively simple vehicles. The ESA also has plans to modify the ATV to become part of a manned mission to the moon, and a near-earth spaceship.
Now, if they can sell the plans to North America and Japan, maybe then we might beat the Chinese in the second great space race.
The Jules Verne is the first of six vessels to be built. I am guessing the next ship will be called the H.G. Wells, followed by the Les frères Lumière, the Clarke, the Asimov, and The Stanislav Lem.
Let's hope there are more.
If you have any concerns about the ship, write me.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
From BBC News:
British forces have denied rumours that they released a plague of ferocious badgers into the Iraqi city of Basra. Word spread among the populace that UK troops had introduced strange man-eating, bear-like beasts into the area to sow panic.
New biological weapon? A crack SAS mutant troupe of cryptid mustelids from the depths of Thule?
But several of the creatures, caught and killed by local farmers, have been identified by experts as honey badgers.
The rumours spread because the animals had appeared near the British base at Basra airport. UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer said: "We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area.
The honey badger, also known as the ratel, is a native of Africa, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia.
A veterinarian in Basra believes the badgers have been pushed out of the marshes that are found north of the city.
As for man-eating, probably not. The badger eat honey, earthworms, grubs, carrion and small animals. Although they are tough little guys, they are probably not bringing down civilians.
Saturday, July 7, 2007
Friday, July 6, 2007
Four-hundred and fifty-thousand-years-ago, most of southern Greenland was covered by forests. Danish researchers have just released findings of research on DNA from 2 kilometres under the ice.
From Science Daily:
"This genetic material presents a biological environment, which is completely different to what we see today. We have found grain, pine, yew and alder. These correspond to the landscapes we find in Eastern Canada and in the Swedish forests today. The trees provide a backdrop from which we can also ascertain the climate since each species has its own temperature requirements. The yew trees reveal that the temperature during the winter could not have been lower than minus 17 degrees Celsius, and the presence of other trees shows that summer temperatures were at least 10 degrees".
The researchers then go on to say that they have dated the ice in the area, and have placed it to be at least 125 000 years old. This would lead us to believe that during the Eemian period (125 000 yrs ago) ice was present when global temperatures were an average of five degrees warmer.
Which means that if conditions are exactly the same now as 125 ooo yrs ago, then we will not lose all the ice, or have to fear about oceans rising significantly.
That is if conditions are the same, which they probably aren't. So don't think global warming is tamed, yet.
This tiger was photographed by a World Wildlife Federation remote-camera. It has three legs! The Sumatran tiger is thought to be an individual that escaped from a snare in 2006 by scratching or gnawing off it's front right leg.
WWF says the animal seem s to be doing well. The rest of it's subspecies isn't - there are believed to be only 400 individuals left in the wild, and they are heavily preyed upon by poachers and farmers.
Science Daily article
From National Geographic News:
Despite its bathtub-ready appearance, Hyperion—Saturn's largest irregularly shaped moon—is anything but spongy.
High-resolution images taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft—including the picture above taken in 2005—suggest the satellite's cuplike craters are reservoirs for hydrocarbons. The finding could mean that the ingredients needed for life as we know it may be more common in our solar system than previously thought, according to NASA.
Dark material spotted at the bottoms of some of the moon's craters has the same chemical signature as hydrocarbons, NASA scientists said. These organic molecules—made of hydrogen and carbon—are also found in comets, meteorites, and galactic dust.What does this mean? What makes up the components of life as we know it not only survive in the harsh environment of space (which we already know) and that these elements are pretty common. All that has to happen for life to occur are temperature, a food source and couple geological ages to get the soup cooking.
Also, we didn't know Hyperion was so oddly shaped before. The Cassini spacecraft first took pictures of the small moon in 2005-2006. Scientists think the porous, sponge-like surface is due to the porous nature of the rock - when an object hits the surface it plows deep into the moon, leaving the tubular craters. Early in Hyperion's life it had pockets of CO2 under its surface, which eventually evaporated away. That left large empty spaces near the surface, weakening the rock.
New Scientist article
I quickly became locked out from sensations external to my desire to look at turn of the century aerodynes and rigid hull airships.
I know, I know, you think that airships have lost the race with aeroplanes and that there is no future for them.
Well, if you think that, you are wrong. And I will fight you over it. Not only are airships a superior form of travel but they are extremely more fuel efficient.
How is the airship better?
1. Airships are hard to bring down - yes, yes the Hindenburg blew up, but that was more of a design flaw than an inherent unreliability of the craft. For example, the Graf Zeppelin flew over a million miles and carried more than 34 000 passengers without incident.
2. On a large airship there is space to walk around. Sure the Graf Zeppelin only carried fifty passenger and crew, but the benefit of airships is that they can be scaled. You could literally have a skymall to walk around in as you took a nice two day journey across the Pacific. Too long for you? Would you rather sit in a seat, wedged in among row upon row of tired, aggravated passengers?
3. Fuel Efficiency - for the amount of fuel to send a jet across the Pacific, you could go around the world several times in an airship designed to carry the same amount of freight and passengers.
4. Because airships are cool.
Back to the site - the early aviator site has pictures of airships from before the halcyon day s of the Graf Zeppelin. These early aviators were braving the sky in new lighter than air vessels in pursuit of progress. Let's not forget that.
More airships to come.
The Musalman is a liberal Muslim paper in Chennai, India that is written by hand, everyday, in the calligraphic script of Urdu. With the patience of artisans, the newspaper calligraphers form a newspaper out of ink and skill everyday and on deadline.
Although many people can still read this text, only a few people are proficient in writing it. And every year that number drops.
What amazed me about this Wired article is that four people perform a work of art that is sold for 1 cent on the streets of Chennai. The article goes on to say that writing the newspaper takes 3 to 4 hours, and that is before the text is transferred to plates that can pump out the paper on an old newspaper printer.
Maybe this is just wistful thinking from a man who spends a lot of his time in truly frivolous journalistic pursuits, but the idea of hand crafting a manuscript everyday has such an esoteric draw to it.
Wired article - A Handwritten Daily Paper in India faces the Digital Future, by Scott Carney
Wired Gallery - India's News Calligraphers Do It On Deadline
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Geoff Manaugh is one of my blogging heroes. bldgblog continually boggles my mind, as it will yours. His latest post is about how New York is set 29 degrees off the north-south axis. This means that there are only two days each year that on a cross-town street you can watch the sunset - July 13 and May 28. This makes Manhattan a solar clock, much like Stonehenge.
Of course, the days are not seasonally related, like solstice and equinox, and no holy rites are observed. And the alignment was not constructed intentionally - at least we don't think so.
But, if some Lovecraftian horror arises from the East River next week, I am going to feel a little more secure about my safety here on the West Coast.
Although I should probably check out how my city is situated... there is that whole focus of ley line energy at the Queen Victoria statue in front of the legislature to worry about.
A well-preserved complete skeleton of a dodo, with possible DNA, was found last month in a cave on Mauritius.
The skeleton, nicknamed Fred, may bring new insights into how the dodo looked and lived. And, hope beyond hope, if there is DNA, maybe we can bring back this species.
But until that day, we will have to settle for cutting edge insights gleamed from the remnants of an extinct pigeon.
And that's alright with me.
National Geographic News
I found some animated Doctor Who episodes over on youtube - and they are fantastic.
Basic premise - evil, world destroying baddie (voiced by Anthony Stewart Head of Buffy fame) is about to destroy Earth when the Doctor and his companion stop him.
But the story doesn't end there... it never does. The baddie goes on the search for the Infinite, a ship almost older than time, that has whatever your heart desires. Martha and the Doctor are in hot pursuit - action-hilarity ensues.
Here is episodes 1 and 2:
My favorite part are the walking oil rigs. If I can only figure out how to make one...
You few people who read this blog are smart little beauties. You can find the next ten episodes all by yourself.
hint: youtube and stage6divx
Parts of your brains are older than you think - by about 600 million years.
The hypothalamus is a gland in your brain that helps regulate hormones and metabolic and autonomic brain functions.
What does that mean? Your thirst, body temperature, circadian rhythm (internal clock) and hunger are regulated in part by the hypothalamus. Oh yeah, not to mention emotions and sexual activity (not how much you get, but how much you want it.) So, the hypothalamus is basically a part of the brain that keeps us alive and breeding. All vertebrates have one. Very primal.
One of our brains most primal pieces of hardware just got a lot older. Scientists from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory have discovered that some invertebrates, like worms and molluscs, have the same hormones.
Unlike vertebrates, these creatures do not have a stand-alone hypothalamus gland. They have multi-functioning sensory neurons that secrete and regulate hormones. This is not new information - all organism use hormones to control growth and body functions.
But what is new is that hormones that were once thought to be limited to vertebrates are now being discovered in some species of worms and molluscs. That means that our vertebrate hormones started way back before we even had internal skeletons!
The researchers think that this discovery links vertebrate and invertebrate hormone separation (we use different ones) back to the theorised last common ancestor, Urbilateria.
That is six hundred million years ago.
The researchers say our common ancestor used these multi-functioning sensory neurons to:
"directly convey sensory cues from the ancient marine environment to changes in the animal's body. Over time these autonomous cells might have clustered together and specialised forming complex brain centres like the vertebrate hypothalamus."
So, our old little neurons developed to become parts of our brain.
Researchers say that this could revolutionize our view of the brain, because if our brain is made up of sensory neurons (at least adapted from more multi-purpose neurons), then our brain is a sensory organ and not just a biological calculator.
And that is pretty cool.
To read the study you can pick up a copy of this weeks Cell magazine at your local university library (you won't find this mag on the bookstore stands for a while yet.)
Science Daily article I think I partly understood