Thursday, February 28, 2008

Helium-3 the New Fuel?

From what many people say, all we need is Helium-3 and we have an answer to the energy crises; unfortunately, this particular isotope of common helium is rare on the Earth, but there is a close neighbor with enough of it to equal thousands of Saudi Arabian oil fields. The use of Helium-3 as a viable fuel in fusion reactors is questioned by many because of the cost and amount of material needed, but it will undoubtedly be a welcomed alternative if and when the oil runs out. We haven't been to the moon in a while, but it seems that people are starting to take an interest. Google is offering money up (Google Lunar X Prize) to the first commercial venture to land a robotic mission on the surface while countries such as Russia and China are claiming that they are ready to start their own programs to land there. This activity has started NASA on a new mission to get to the moon again as well. NASA has just released detailed maps of the lunar south pole detailing Shackleton Crater which is one of the targets for a future moon mission and the possible sights for a manned base on the moon. In addition to Helium-3, the moon has oxygen and hydrogen locked within its rocks. The rocks could be mined and used for the creation of water and oxygen for the moon dwellers to live upon. The riches on the Moon are starting to be desired by countries around the world and by individual companies within those countries. Within our lives, we can see a new "gold rush" that will take place on a celestial body other than the Earth.

The moon is off limits to claims of ownership by nations just as the polar regions of the Earth, but as power shifts and fuel sources dry up, the potential for this to change is high. There could be a new land grab within the next fifty years and the battles may be fought above our heads on the cold dry terrain of the moon. It's not too far of a stretch to imagine a future where moon colonies declare their independence from the Earth and start lobbing bombs at us from space. If they control resources needed on the Earth, then they will have an upper hand.

For those who have purchased land on the moon through services such as this you may soon be surprised by the fact that you were ripped off.

Wikipedia - Helium-3

Nasa and the Moon

Google Lunar X Prize Teams:
Odyssey Moon
Team Microspace

Terra Preta: Soils from the Past

Recent archaeological studies have brought to light the fact that ancient cultures learned how to live in harmony with their environment by creating nutrient rich soils that could promote and nourish agricultural surpluses capable of sustaining large numbers of people. The ancient cultures of South America, it appears, had an understanding that modern inhabitants of the area lack. This understanding states clearly that you should "slash and char" instead of "slash and burn". From research done it is clear that ancient cultures would burn the trees to a point that they would leave charred wood behind instead of just ash. It is apparent from analysis done in the region that ash is quickly washed away by rain while charred wood is left behind to be integrated into the soil and thus is generated into nutrients that are desired in agriculture. The South American soil is predominantly infertile except for in the areas that researchers have discovered were inhabited by ancient civilizations. While current farmers just cut the rain forest down and destroy it's potential, the ancestors of these farmers knew that they could regenerate the soil and provide food for their people. Modern farmers just move along to the next available plot while destroying untold amounts of valuable organic information that could be used in medicine, biology, or other areas of human growth potential.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Projectors in your Phone by 2012?

"Pico" or "Micro" projectors are expected by analysts to be in large use inside of hand held devices by 2012. The "miniature display market" is about to take off as companies around the globe claim they are ready to play against each other to provide this additional functionality in the ever increasing "all-in-one" devices. These projectors could even find their way into your Video iPod providing an additional way to watch your video content and share it with others. At the 2008 Consumer Electronics Trade Show many devices were unveiled with some being expected in the commercial realm by the end of the year though most of these will be separate small devices that will have to be carried in addition to the phone or other media device. These devices use small mirrors and/or laser light to project the image.

Now these will be great if you have somewhere to project the image and they are bright enough to work in lighted areas. It's hard to imagine riding a train or sitting in a break room during lunch trying to watch a video with one of these.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Fun with Ferrofluid

Ferrofluid is a liquid comprised of very small magnetic particles suspended within an oil. When a magnetic field is placed nearby the material and moved around, very interesting things happen. Ferrofluids are used in medicine, aerospace, construction and in the hard-drive within your computer. If you want to play with some yourself, you can purchase it for about $16 for 2 fluid ounces. See video below.

Nokia Morph - Flexible Electronics

Below is a video of Nokia's new concept for hand held devices. Nokia is developing this product, which uses nanotechnology, in a partnership with Cambridge University. The device, when developed, will bend and "morph" in different ways to make it usable in different situations.

This self cleaning, self powering, bendable, stretchable marvel of almost here tech is pretty snazzy. Though as we are well aware, concepts are one thing, what is created for commercial sale is different. Regardless, this is an exciting looking device that would definitely trump the iPhone. It looks like something from Anime.

Are Men Obsolete?

<---- Buy the "Girl Power" t-shirt at the Future Thoughts on-line store. Let the Geek out.

Warning....A lot of stereotyping is to follow: What are men good for? Really now, what does the human race need a bunch of men fight wars and help in procreation? We all know from watching TV over the past few years that most men are immature sex loving idiots who would rather watch a football game than create something worthwhile. We also know from the commercials played between sitcoms and reality shows that men are somewhat stupid and need their women to tell them what to do all the time. Yes, it seems that men have grown useless in our society. Men have used their strength for thousands of years to keep women in keep the women from learning, from voting, from expressing themselves. Women have done all the house chores and reared the children while the men went out and about and made decisions that changed the course of humanity. Now wives and children everywhere just pity the poor father and shake their heads in dismay at his ineptitude. Yes, we know that women can be rather nagging to their lesser halves, but a lot of times they do have valid opinions. Many men believe that women are annoying when they are ordering food at restaurants, never just taking what is on the menu but instead creating a menu of their own. As we all know they also talk incessantly and are always wanting to discuss things related to relationships and such, and to the pain of many a man they have the annoying ability to remember every detail about everything you ever did or said. Yes, they also have the ability to do a lot of things at once and organize themselves and others. You may find it sad to think that all of these skills are valuable in this world in which we live....all of them except maybe the food ordering disorder that they seem to all possess.

It is becoming a rare event where a man is in a more powerful position than a women within a domestic situation, at least on TV. In these events where men are actually more powerful it is commonly in a lower income and less educated coupling environment. If the man is able to keep the woman at home and unable to get an education, then he is in a winning position where he will get his thirst for power and control that he needs because his life is usually small and he has very little control over his destiny. Satisfied by controlling his woman, the uneducated and lower level male is often kept in check within society; otherwise, he may explode and cause some sort of event that is frowned upon by the masses. So, as long as the women gives in to his sexual desires and cooks his food and cleans his house and raises strong strapping boys, then life is all good and he feels complete.

Now the above is biased and not appropriately politically correct for you see not all women are controlled by lowly paid football watching men. Some women are controlled by men who make a lot of money and have a lot of power....but it is these men who are a dying breed. Though the fact of the matter is a lot of women happily live in this type of environment letting the man think he is in power as she gallivants around shopping and getting her nails done and takes tennis lessons.

Women are proving themselves in areas that used to be the strict social domains of men. Women are capable of managing businesses, are able to play sports, survive on the field of battle, becoming great scientists, being police officers, artists, politicians, doctors and every other role that a male has traditionally filled. You know what else they can do....the one thing that men can not? Woman can have babies. Now you may say that you have to have a man for a woman to have a baby, but you would be wrong.

The great work of man is starting to culminate into an exponential growth of understanding and advancement. During the march at greater and greater control over nature and the "betterment of humanity" we have learned how to manipulate the very components that make us who we are. Stem cell and cloning technologies have given us the ability to merge species, to create beings that never existed and to copy those that do. It is within our ability to take two females and combine their DNA together to allow the two to have a unique human baby without the help of a human man. When a penis and its happy sperm are no longer needed, what value does a man bring to the world? Now, there will be a lot of women out there who will still lust after a hard body, but even that can be simulated enough to satisfy.

It is truly a sad time to be a male human. No longer are we able to express our sexual needs and desires. No longer are we able to fully demonstrate our needs for power and assertiveness. We are losing out genetically and socially to the female of our species. In a work environment it is alright for a female to tout her sexuality, but men are told to curtail theirs. Men don't even know if they are supposed to hold the door open for a woman or if the woman is supposed to hold the door open for the man.......our advancement of social equality has grown faster than our biological evolution and we are all confused about the whole thing.

Woman are confused as well with all of the stuff that has happened to our society. Women want strong and capable men, but they want to be able to control them (not all, but a large number of them). Society is creating women who demand equal power in society, but they often report that they want their men to be strong and sexually dominant in bed. Men sometimes find it hard to be sexually dominant with socially dominant women. The only true power men have left is sex and that is a quickly fading power. Brute force and aggressive testosterone arrogance is needed less and less in our advanced times. Intelligence and the ability to work socially with others is most important....multi-tasking is valuable as well and woman have all these abilities.

Is this all a bad thing? Do we need to worry about this? The only thing we need to worry about is our reliance upon technology. If men are ever rendered extinct and there are only women to carry on the species, then we are extremely dependent upon "unnatural" human made reproductive technologies. It is unfortunately true that men are not needed to carry forward the species. Having sex has always been a man's ultimate aim and desire unless he was a devout religious man or a strict scientific nerd...something women can do now.

As men we shall now face the fact that women hold the power in society. They have the bodies we as men crave. They have the power to move up the corporate ladders using both their abilities of intellect as well as their beauty. They are capable of doing what we do and they don't really need us to succeed. In fact, they often complain that we get in the way.

What are men to do?

As stated in a recent TV show: "Men are becoming the new women." Except men can't have babies and are usually bad at keeping house.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Flatland: The Official Movie

Fans of the book may or may not be aware of the movie version of the classic piece of fiction. It's a great geometry, political and religious commentary that still works in today's world even though it was written in the 1800's. A great tale of oppression in a strict society and of the worlds beyond our understanding. The movie stars the voice talent of Martin Sheen, Kristen Bell, Tony Hale, Michael York, and Joe Estevez. Visit the Official Movie Website

Should Consciousness be Considered Another Dimension?

Just a thought.....

Humans have the ability to manipulate and use the first three dimensions through science, art and our everyday interactions with the world. We have a limited ability to manipulate time (the fourth dimension) because we seem to only be able to physically move "forward" within it, but that doesn't mean we can't move mentally through it. When you think of imagination as an agent of creation and the ability of the human mind to remember the past and plan for and anticipate future events you get the feeling that there may be more to thought than science traditionally thinks.

The brain is the most complex structure known within the universe besides the universe itself. Knowing this and understanding the power of the imagination of the human species and its ability to manipulate the environment and control other dimensions (if just by thought alone on the fourth one). Could it be that at least one of the "curled up" dimensions that theories such as "String Theory" predict is stuck within our heads?

I'm not a scientist, so this may sound ridiculous, but it is still something to think about.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Is Interest in Technology and Science Declining?

Google offers many interesting tools including one they've had out for a while called "Google Trends" which allows you to view trends in search keywords over the years for all regions of the world. Below are several searches on the search history stored by Google. The results are disappointing. Keep in mind that these results include the entire worlds searches through Google.

Here is a graph of a search on the keywords: "Technology", "Science", "Biology" and "Genetics". This graph shows a slow decline in searching on these keywords.

Here is the same search with the keyword "Sex" included. Shows you what is on peoples minds the most. Trying this search with the word "God" shows that abstinence, at least virtually is not working:

And again with "American Idol" as an additional keyword:

At least it is refreshing that American Idol only trumps science and technology at the peek of the shows climax. An interesting note though is that while the search traffic is down, the news references are up which may mean that people are getting their science and technology "fix" from traditional news sources.....which in itself may or may not be a good thing.

Re-Make: The Death of Television and Film

Lately there have been a lot of re-hashed stories pulled from years back and made up with prettier colors and fancier animations and a complete lack of any kind of imagination. Terminator is now a TV series, so is Knight Rider and if you look around you can find more coming up. Transformers was a movie, GI-Joe will be one soon as well. Lost In Space, The Fog, King Kong, The Manchurian Candidate, Oceans Eleven, Planet of the Apes, Solaris, War of the Worlds, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Dukes of Hazzard, Bewitched and on and on we can go. And come on, how many Invasion of the Body Snatcheresque type movies do we really need...the latest one of those was Invasion staring Nichole Kidman on the big screen and the failed TV series of the same name in 2005. We just aren't scared of or even mildly entertained by alien invasions any more...its been done before.

There seems to be several things going on here. First of all, Hollywood and Television is selling us our youth by making the kick-ass movies we always dreamed of as kids, namely Transformers. The second thing that seems to be going on and is more visible in Television is the lack of imagination by the writers and directors. This is most notable in the influx of "reality" shows on the "little big screen" and the ever growing popularity of the low resolution "mini screen" of YouTube. People are thirsting for something new and real or at least something unique.

The "something unique" is why "Lost" on ABC has done so well. Lost provides a story that envelopes the viewer and engages their minds. Unfortunately for the viewers it appears as if the "Lost" producers have written themselves into several corners by not explaining things and dropping a lot of key portions of the story (the black smoke, the numbers, several side stories of characters that left too early). Many fear that "Lost" will end up being a big let down like the rest of television. It may be beyond the scope of television to provide long term complex stories in the manner that they are required so viewers opt for the other part they desire which is the reality. Reality TV is able to provide quick satisfaction, but is itself becoming boring and predictable. There's only so many times you can watch someone ridiculed in front of millions because they can't sing or watch someone become friends with someone else so they can stab them in the back for money before you realize that you are wasting your time on filth and becoming shallower because of it.

Predictability and lack of imagination are killing the passive viewing industry. It seems that the stories have all been told before. The only way to make it in the industry is to have highly complex characters like that played by Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood" or to deliver something mind bending like "The Matrix" or "Lost". Then the key is to follow through with the promises you make to the customer. In regards to "The Matrix" trilogy the fans had highly complex theories that were far better than what was created. The same can be said about "Lost". It seems if the fans in the chat rooms are saying anything near to what the writer were thinking then the writers feel the need to go into a totally different direction which in the end just ruins things and makes fans disgruntled.

All this ranting to say that people, especially the younger ones, see the traditional movies and television as old fashioned and boring. They would rather spend their time playing video games or watching someone's home videos on-line. We are about to lose the silver screen and the one-eyed-god and they won't be going down in a blaze of glory, they will just wither away and die. Then maybe we can get off our couches more or at least be more involved in our entertainment.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Solar-to-Grid Energy Conversion Record Set

Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico and Stirling Energy Systems have set a world record in converting sunlight to energy and sending it into the energy grid. The 31.25 percent efficiency achieved is a 2 point increase from previous systems. This advancement brings large scale affordable power closer to reality.

Emotiv and the Emotional Character

Dr. Demetri Terzopoulos of the University of New York's Courant Institute would like to create a Matrix like environment that is fully immersable and populated by virtual people capable of emotions and the ability to read emotions in others. He dreams of a day when we are able to physically plug into this environment and experience different worlds that look and fill natural. His research along with his former student's, UCLA's Dr. Petros Faloutsos, research in real time animation and CGI character generation are creating environments where CGI characters (mainly fish and intelligent subway occupants at the moment) interact in complex ways and display properties that many would call intelligent. It is the hope that as the technology grows the movie and game industries will benefit by being able to have intelligent characters that are capable of dangerous and highly interactive behaviors typically performed by stunt men and actors. The game industry will really benefit by having more intelligent and naturally behaving characters, which brings us to the next section...The Emotiv game controller.

A small startup company named "Emotiv" plans to release a special game controller later this year that you wear like a helmet. The controller is reported to be able to read facial expressions and brain activity occurring between neurons from which it is capable of controlling objects or activities on the computer. If this controller is truly capable of what news reports claim it is, then this will be a breakthrough in computer technology bigger than the mouse and will open up a whole new world in interaction with the computers we have fallen so in love with. The first and most important use of this controller will be the use of it to control the facial expressions of avatars in virtual worlds like 2nd Life. If you can control your emotions and mind really well, you will be able to do a whole lot more with it than just operate a more expressive avatar.

Now taking virtual characters that can understand emotion and coupling them with a device that can read your emotions and basic brain activity moves us one step closer to a Matrix like environment. Imagine playing games where your ability to act and control your thoughts and emotions determine the outcome of the game. Imagine how this "mental training" could alter your personality. All this play could very well change the structure of your brain and your personality could shift in ways similar to actors who get into their roles a little too much and take a part of their characters with them after the final cut.

More Information:
Magix Projects UCLA
Dr. Demetri Terzopoulos

Goats to Produce Pharmaceuticals

Image Use Information

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania led by Ina Dobrinksi, M.V.Sc., Ph.D. are experimenting with breeding goats with modified genes to produce proteins in their milk. These goats will allow for cheaper drugs such as insulin and medicines used in fighting cancer. It is also thought that knowledge gained from these experiments could result in the development of livestock that is resistant to diseases that currently plague stock yards. The idea, if ethical issues aren't raised, is to use this technique on humans to eliminate many genetic diseases.

The team was able to kill off large numbers of germ cells (cells that produce sperm) and using a virus commonly used in gene therapy they injected the remaining ones with a gene specifically designed to generate the desired protein in the offspring's milk. The offspring then are capable of passing the new genes on to their offspring. The results of this are organic pharmaceutical generating machines.

The problem associated with this is if the offspring makes it into the general population of goats and suddenly we find ourselves with genetically modified goats producing medicine meant for the general population just as there are fears of GM crops cross breeding with natural crops.

It's amazing how much press Dolly the Sheep got and then news such as this and sperm from bone marrow get largely overlooked. The amazing is now commonplace.

More Information

Earth Hour: Let the Earth Go Dark

The future of our most needed resources is unknown and the outlook is bleak. Dwindling supplies of metals and precious fossil fuels are causing a dramatic shift in the way people think. On March 29th many cities, companies and individuals around the world will join in on "Earth Hour" when between the hours of 8:00 and 9:00p.m. those committed to the cause will turn of all non-essential electronic devices and lights. The event was first started in Australia and has grown this year to a worldwide movement. The event is sponsored by the World Wildlife Federation.

To find out more information:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

My Free Implants

Social networking has taken on another dimension on a website set up by a guy in California that raises money for women who want breast implants but can't afford them. The creator of the website claims that over 80 women have received enough money from donations made through the website to get the implants that they desire. Over 20,000 men send messages to the women and donate a dollar for each message. When all the messages add up, a women can get a new confidence that she may have been lacking.

Many people believe that it is important that before you consider getting implants that you talk to a therapist. If you do not mind your breast size and are only considering it because you are being pressured by a boyfriend or a husband....consider getting a new boyfriend or husband. Breast implants are moderately safe now that they have been "installed" for over three decades, but it is important to research surgeons. The most common need, other than purely cosmetic, for getting breast implants is because of a mastectomy, genetic deformities, or for gender reassignment. Most recipients report that they are very happy with the outcome of the surgery and show improvements in self-esteem.

An interesting note is that attempts have been made to create breast implants since the late 1800's. People have tried shoving all kinds of material into women's chests such as paraffin wax, glass, ivory, sponges, and ground up rubber with disastrous results.

Now the question we should be asking is: "Where is the 'my free penis enlargement' website"?

Getting new boobs?....put them in a new t-shirt: Here

My Free Implants Website

Where has all the Sci-Fi gone?

Where has all the science fiction gone? Well, it would appear that we are living in it. Many futurists such as Ray Kurzweil believe that fiction writers are no longer able to think beyond the predicted "technological singularity" that many believe will occur in or around 2030. That is to say that the human mind can no longer comprehend how life could be beyond the next thirty years when taking into account the advancements we have made in the past few decades. Think back to the sci-fi greats of the past and how most of the technology seems antiquated and obsolete now. Even Star Trek, arguably the biggest science fiction phenomenon of all time, seems to have missed the mark by several hundred years in its predictive power. The thing is though that the writers were off because a lot of the technology came about faster than they predicted not because they were not imaginative. The fact that many technologies predicted by Science Fiction to be hundreds of years out is now with us is due in large part to the law of accelerating returns which states the following:

An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense "intuitive linear" view. So we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century -- it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate). The "returns," such as chip speed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially. There's even exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth. Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity -- technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.

- Ray Kurzweil

So it would seem as we move forward in time our advancements and leaps in thought are building upon each other and producing even more profound changes in our understanding. If you have ever wondered what it is we are working towards, the answer is in the ideas outlined by the greatest futurists of today. Science Fiction writers and those who predict the future through analyzing trends have a mixed success rate and the blunders are often laughed at by people in the future. It's the predictions that were "spot on" that often are ignored and no one remembers.

Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were both the first science fiction writers. Jules, the senior of the two, used more scientific fact and was generally more positive about the future of humankind while Wells was more of a free thinker who often showed the dark side of progress. Both men made startling predictions that came true decades after they wrote them. Verne most notably made predictions about sea and space travel while Wells predicted the nuclear bomb and the nature of warfare in the 2oth century. At the times of these predictions, many people laughed at some of the "outlandish" ideas, but still bought the books for entertainment purposes. It is said that after seeing the US bomb Japan with nuclear weapons the writer remarked that his epitaph should read "God damn you all I told you so."

Looking back now at the first two sci-fi writers we can see the impact that they had on future generations of scientists, engineers and technology professionals. In a sense, these two created the fictional worlds in which they wrote about by making people think about possibilities. Modern subs are built very similar to Verne's descriptions, the Apollo space capsule and mission and even its launch point are accurately depicted within his books. Wells predicted the aerial bombing of London, time as the fourth dimension, and even coined the term "atomic bomb". Robert Oppenheimer even claimed that he was inspired by H.G. Wells' book "The World Set Free". H.G. Wells wrote another book that predicts another up and coming event in our world that will change the creatures that live within it: "The Island of Dr. Moreau".

So here we are today with dwindling supplies of science fiction and more "fantasy" novels taking up bookstore shelf space. We see standard sci-fi topics such as cybernetic implants, mind reading, cloning, hybridization of species, commercial space travel, space stations, robotic explorers and helpers, instant communication around the world, cars that can drive themselves, clothes that can make you invisible, virtual reality, augmented reality, pilotless fighter aircraft, creation of alternative energy, and on and on in the daily news as reality. It is happening all at once it seems. If technology is accelerating at the rate predicted then the next twenty years will be amazingly brilliant and frightening at the same time. Our generation’s children may have to make the decision to stay human, or to evolve beyond what they were born with.

Further Readings:
The Death of Television and Film
H.G. Wells Anticipations: Predictions of his future
H.G. Wells free e-books
Ray Kurzweil
The Last "Great" Science Fiction Writer?

And Then "Boom" They All Retired

Baby boomer's take up a lot of the upper levels of companies not only filling in as managers and executives but also taking up a large area of the business analyst and technical expert roles and other "brain drain" prone portions of the business as well. Coming up behind them are what social experts say are the disillusioned and selfish x and y generations. It seems that the "up and coming" generations show little loyalty to business because they grew up as latch key children being neglected by parents who worked very hard then were later laid off and were likely to get divorced. The new generations show more family loyalty and are willing to relocate and switch jobs not just for more pay, but also for the opportunity for more leisure time.

This is all disconcerting to baby boomer managers who do not understand the generation of children that they helped raise. Baby Boomers are typically the ones that have lost jobs, been loyal to their jobs more than themselves and their families. It is this hard working sacrificing group that is about to reach their holy grail in life which is retirement. It will be the leisure seeking younger people who will have to fill in the gaps of middle and upper management. The question is, how will this transform business in America at a time when loyalty is needed and strong business knowledge is necessary? The result could be businesses that focus more on their people at the expense of competitiveness and cost cutting.

Regardless of what happens during and after the big exodus of the retiring boomer's we know that government social programs will be hit hard and businesses will lose a large amount of the knowledge holders and the torch will be passed on to those who will not seem as worthy. It is a great time to be an X and Y generation occupant who is looking for upward career movement. There will be plenty of spots to take...though the gaps you leave behind yourself will be sorely missed.

This should make job-hopping more common and will theoretically raise the competitive wages of highly sought after jobs.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

MARV and the Hoppers

At the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico swarms of robots are hopping and rolling about the laboratory grounds communicating and coordinating actions amongst each other while sniffing out chemical plumes, photographing "secret" targets and setting up adhoc wireless communications stations.

These robots range from about a foot wide down to several millimeters wide. The hoppers are the largest ones and move about by leaping into the air over and over again while moving towards their goal. The hoppers can jump up to fifty feet high and go up to five miles on a tank of gas. They are packed with sensors, cameras, location and directional finders, and an assortment of other electronic "brains". When they land they are weighted so that the piston that propels them is always facing towards the ground and the internal sensors move the robot so that it is always facing in the direction of its target. Mostly envisioned for use in military and police work, these robots are also being looked at for space missions to Mars and other planets. The lightweight and low cost make them ideal candidates for launching in large numbers onto the surface of an alien world.

M.A.R.V.'s or Mini Autonomous Robotic Vehicles are arguably the smallest autonomous robots ever created. In an effort to pack as many sensors into ever smaller and smaller moving machines the researchers have created these bots that can "turn on a dime and park on a nickel". These robots are so tiny that they can move virtually undetected through buildings on hard floors and carpets. Through further miniaturization the group is working on adding cameras and other communications equipment to the tiny machines. The biggest restriction on making the robots even smaller is the size of the batteries that run them. As power supplies shrink the machines will shrink as well making them even harder to see as the swarm around the room a room collecting information.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Search for Emotions and Shapes

On-line music and video will soon start to be tagged so that search engines and other software can gather more information about the sound and "meaning" within the audio of the file itself. You may be soon able to search for songs that sound like other songs you enjoy and search for audio files that sound like, for example, a cheetah and get audio files that meet that criteria. Or if you want, you can search video that may evoke the same emotions as listening to Bethoven's 5th.

This new technology could revolutionize sound effects generation and open up a whole new realm within the digital music and musical instrument industry as well as finally providing a way to properly search through audio and video content in a standardized way. Having the ability to tag exact points within audio and video files and to reference moving objects and attach emotional and spatial meaning and such to them will provide a whole new generation of tools for the professional and the everyday user of multimedia content. Sights like YouTube and tools such as iTunes will benefit greatly from this new technology.

A few search examples as taken from the link at the bottom of this post:

· Play a few notes on a keyboard and retrieve a list of musical pieces similar to the required tune, or images matching the notes in a certain way, e.g. in terms of emotions.
· Draw a few lines on a screen and find a set of images containing similar graphics, logos, ideograms,...
· Define objects, including color patches or textures and retrieve examples among which you select the interesting objects to compose your design.
· On a given set of multimedia objects, describe movements and relations between objects and so search for animations fulfilling the described temporal and spatial relations.
· Describe actions and get a list of scenarios containing such actions.
· Using an excerpt of Pavarotti’s voice, obtaining a list of Pavarotti’s records, video clips where Pavarotti is singing and photographic material portraying Pavarotti.

Technical Information:
MPEG7 Overview

Our Future Creations - Genetic Pollution

It seems that evolution is just not evolving fast enough to survive in the environment that we have constructed for ourselves. We pollute and consume at such a fast rate that other living organisms can not adapt to the changing world around them. Luckily, we are here to help evolution a bit and give it the boost that it needs to stay current and keep its creations capable of breathing and procreating. It is not very hard to do now that we have begun to get a good idea of what is going on inside of the biological organisms that we have been granted power over.

Now, this is not saying that we can save existing creatures from going extinct, but we are learning how to mix a few genes here and there to get something new that can survive. Right now we are just experimenting mainly with plants on a large scale and on a smaller scale playing around with making animals glow in the dark and such. Some scientists are engineering plants that can produce plastics, while others are mixing fish and tomatoes together to make a more shippable fruit and playing around with making "Roundup Ready" corn while even others have been working on creating genetically engineered plants that can clean up contaminated soil.

In a world destined for fossil fuel shortages, the ingredient of plastics, a plant that naturally produces the needed materials would be a great addition to the "life family" here on our planet. These plants would provide us with a great source of raw material to use in our soft drink bottles, plastic bags, toothbrushes, microwaveable packaging, toys and all those important things in life. Now seeing that the consumption of plastic is sky rocketing along with the need for farmland to grow the world's food, some tough decisions may have to be made if we are going to grow these plastic producing plants on a large scale. Where will these plants be grown and what other crops will we have to give up in order to have them? There is research on using natural soy plants for producing plastic but it is unlikely that they will be able to be used to manufacture all the different kinds of plastics needed for various materials.

Genetically modified food has been in the news for a long time now and has many activists rattling their protest signs and computer keyboards. In an effort to feed the masses and to provide a "pretty" and "hardy" product industrial farms would happily produce and deliver to you a modified plant with new features you may not be aware of. The benefits both commercially and to the overall consumption "needs" of humanity are now considered greater than the possible ill effects that could come from mass-producing modified plants that can easily cross contaminate neighboring fields and wild versions of the plant. If an unknown negative effect was released unto the entire population of corn or some other staple food such as rice or soybean the future of humanity could be put at risk. Man's knowledge and ability to comprehend the complexity of natural selection and the interaction between species has been shown repeatedly to be limited to the point of ignorance. Though we are making great strides in seeing the "bigger picture" of species interactions, we should proceed with caution if we are to proceed at all. Next up: Prozac Enabled Corn and Ritalin Rice?

Genetically modified plants that clean the soil through phytoremediation sounds like a great idea. There is a definite need to remove harmful pollutants from the environment, especially those that cause cancer and soon we may have fields full of modified Poplars happily soaking up natural and man made pollutants from the ground and breaking them down into less harmful substances and either expelling them out into the air or utilizing them within their roots, stems or foliage. There is nothing more beautiful than using nature to clean up a man made mess, but there are risks involved. The scientists leading the research are acting diligently to stop these brave new breeds of trees from reaching the population outside of the lab. When these trees are first placed in the world outside the test tube we will see if we have learned from previous mistakes with plants jumping the barriers that we put in place and breeding in the wild.

Further Reading:
A Future Visionary: Patricia Piccinini
Cash Crop of the Future
Cleaning the Soil with Modified Plants
Roundup Ready Corn
Invasive Species

Memory Spot (Can you see it?)

It is very tiny, but it may be bigger than you think. The pencils in the image to the left are pointing to a very small dot that is capable of holding video, pictures, audio, documents and whatever else that can be stored digitally. So what? You may be thinking that this isn't all that great, and it wouldn't be except for the fact that this little bit of memory can be written to and read from wirelessly from a short distance. The chip requires no batteries and is powered remotely through "inductive coupling" from the read/write device. This memory was unveiled in 2006 by HP and is now starting to be looked at commercially in the "real world". The chip provides communication speeds 10 times faster than Bluetooth and is as fast as modern wi-fi speeds. This means that you can read and write to this memory spot extremely fast with any device that has a reader-writer built into it (cell phone, laptop, MP3 player, camera, etc...). It is half the size of a grain of rice and can be stuck inside of a sheet of paper; embedded in a credit card, attached to a can of Coke or placed within anything you purchase providing media rich content or instructive information. The small device can hold up to 4mb of data with larger storage capacities undoubtedly soon to follow. This technology is poised to overtake RFID in the world of tagging real world objects for the benefit of tracking.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

RevoPower: Bicycle Wheel Motor

A company named RevoPower has created a motorized bike wheel that fits most bikes that use a standard 26in wheel and allows you to travel up to 200 miles per gallon (depending on load and terrain) of your standard gas and oil mixture at a nice pedaling free 20mph. The Wheel is a 23cc, two-stroke internal combustion engine that requires no physical modifications to bikes. The wheel replaces the existing front wheel of the bike and a throttle control is clamped to the handle bars. The one quart fuel tank is placed within the bike's water bottle holder and is attached to the engine through a tube.

This invention was first discussed in Popular Science magazine in 2006 and has since been discussed in various other publications and on TV, but it is still not available to buy. "The Wheel" should be available at authorized dealers this year and is estimated to cost approximately $599. A bit cheaper than a moped and definitely cheaper than a Segway. The engine makes cool looking bikes even cooler and shouldn't have the stigma attached to other alternative modes of transportation of this type. The great thing is that if you run out of gas, all you have to do is just start pedaling.

RevoPower Company Site

Friday, February 8, 2008

Home Fabrication (3d Printing)

So much goes into the creation of your everyday plastic toy. Hundreds of people and tons of resources across the globe go into making the toy you buy on the shelf. This all may be coming to an end, and if so, it may be one of the greatest disruptive technologies yet seen. Will retail go the way of the music industry?

The way it is done today:
The goods of today are designed and marketed by teams of people within product development companies. These companies try to sell their ideas to retail companies in the hope of turning a profit. The buyers for the retail companies decide if they want to purchase the item in such a large amount that it takes giant factories churning through numerous materials and toiling hands of factory workers to create. Once the items are made to order then they are loaded onto trucks and trains by laborers and then sent to a shipping facility where they are then loaded onto ships by other laborers and sent across the ocean on ships manned by merchant marines. Once the ocean voyage is over the goods are processed at docks and then sent to distribution centers where other laborers place them on trucks to be sent to single stores across a given country. At the stores, stockers unload and stock the items hoping that you will drive from your home and make your way to the item and then purchase it through traditional retail processes. This resource intensive scenario may begin to dim for retailers in various areas within the next five years. According to several analysts the at home fabrication era is about to hit and as you can see above, many jobs will be impacted once this technology matures.

The way it will be done tomorrow?
Imagine a 13 year old named Joe sitting at home with his computer and 3d rendering software his parents purchased for under $1000. He plays around a bit with the software and creates a detailed 3d Model of his favorite Second Life avatar and enhances it to provide higher resolution and a few extra accessories. He prints his creation out in physical form on his new 3d printer from the Desktop Factory 3d printer company. His friends like what they see and he prints a few of their characters out for them as well. Suddenly Joe is in business. He is taking orders and with little effort is creating physical representations of on-line avatars and creating additional characters out of his own imagination and shipping them around the world to paying customers.

Soon though his business starts to die off because other people get involved. Everyone it seems has a 3d Printer in their homes and they could care less about having items shipped to them over conventional carriers. Now people want to just download the design created by others on sites like CafePress over the web and print it themselves. It's not just toys they are downloading. They are downloading dishes, decorative objects, basic tools and even complex electronics such as remote controls using newer "Ink Jet" 3d Printers that combine layers of alloys and polymers to create solid state electronic devices.

Suddenly the manufactures of the objects we crave are in direct competition with the everyday citizen who may not have an education, but tons of creativity and various on-line outlets to display it and make money from it. Where are the retail stores left in all of this? They are left with ever shrinking selections on their shelves as they start to lose market share and are no longer needed as the middle man in the sale of various products. The grocery stores may be the only ones left.

The customer in this environment is the winner because they can either create on their own or find highly customized products created by others. Commercialism and consumerism at this point will have been set free and democratized in many areas. This is truly a highly disruptive technology and it is one that should be taken seriously and understood by many corporations.

A lesson should be learned by the failure of the music industry to recognize progress and cultural changes that have significant impact on the core business. Any organization that wishes to survive will learn to exploit this inevitable and beneficial shift in our way of creating and delivering goods. Not every company will survive. The change will be great and will require that people use their brains in ever increasing creative ways. This will further the decline of uneducated low skilled jobs as technology and machines quickly grasp the basic abilities of humans.

What jobs could be changed or eliminated due to this technological shift (small sample)?
  • Professional Designers
  • Professional Engineers
  • Buyers
  • Merchandisers
  • Dock Workers
  • Retail Workers
  • Truckers
  • Merchant Marines
  • Factory Workers
  • etc.....all throughout the supply chain.

Wikipedia Entry
Desktop Factory
Z Corp: Rapid Prototyping
The Fabricators are Coming
Printing Your Shoes

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

3d TV without the Glasses

Philips has created a television that is capable of displaying 3D images without the need for the viewer to wear glasses. This new technology is WOWvx and it is marketed towards advertising agencies to be used in any place where a flat screen TV and possible consumers may come together. You may start to see these special televisions in department stores, subways, display windows and restaurants in the near future. Though promotional material released by Philips states that these TV's will break the boundaries of video games and movies as well, it may be some time before you have one of these in your home, and it won't necessarily be the price that is the deal breaker. Most viewers who stare at the screens for longer than your average run of commercials (3 or 4 minutes) state that the TV "messes" with their eyes. This could simply be because our brains aren't used to seeing 3D pop out of a flat panel without the aid of special glasses, which is actually rather cool, or maybe it is the method employed in creating the 3D image that bothers them. Maybe we just need to get accustomed to this new way of seeing things.

How Does it Work?:
WOWvx works by tricking the brain, which is becoming easier and easier to do. In front of the pixels of the screen is a sheet of transparent lenses that deflect the light at nine different angles ensuring that the left and right eyes see slightly different versions of the same image. The brain reconstructs these different 2d images into one single 3d one and creates a "Three Dimensional Visual Experience". Because the images are being projected at different angles and because each viewer may have slightly different spacing between their eyes, an "optimal" viewing distance is required. The stated optimal distance is ten to twelve feet. Changing the angle of view causes a slight distortion in the image as you move, but once you stop, the image comes back together as designed. This "new" technology is pretty much the same as that used with those stereoscopic or auto stereogram posters that were popular in the late nineties and early turn of the century. This is not much different than your favorite "View-Master" you had as a kid, which by the way is 65 years old now. Visit an antique store and you may find a late century (late 1800's that is) 3d viewer made of wood. This technology has been around for a while, Philip's has just been able to make it enjoyable by a crowd instead of one person.

What do we do with this?:
Humans love novelty and this new TV fulfills that need. This technology will be used for mainly commercial purposes and mainly in advertisement. The appeal may wear off as other 3D technologies arise to replace the mundane television screen all together, but there may actually be a bit of life in this for the next few years. If the technology no longer "messes" with peoples eyes, it may become mainstream. Many futurists think that one day we will interface directly with the computers and our brains which will render our eyes useless along with our archaic televisions. Until then though, 3D TV's may very well be used to draw in susceptible consumers and in some form (as long as we get used to it) will be viewable in video games, cell phones, and on our everyday television. No matter where it is used, it will be eye catching, and to some, eye aching.

The Living Room of the Future (1978) How close is it to today?

Surface Computing

I had the opportunity to play with a "Surface Computer" today and sensed an excitement about a new technology that I haven't felt in a long time. This is truly a world changing piece of equipment that we will start to see throughout businesses over the next year. Within the next five years you will have it in your home. It may not be as big as the Internet, but it will soon change the way that we all interact with the world around us. These computers will change the way many businesses work and will deliver a richer experience for us all. The "Surface Computer" is an innovative creation of Microsoft Corporation and is simply (if you could call it that) a 30 inch computer screen built into a table and hooked up to a computer hidden within. The power comes in the use of sophisticated software and a series of cameras built under the screen that sense user movement and touch. It all sounds rather boring until you think about the ability of multiple devices to communicate through wireless connections with other devices and how that can translate into new ways of interacting with computers and especially flat surfaces. Read the scenarios below and you will get a small glimpse of what these new computers are capable of...

Scenario 1: You have friends and family over to the house and you are wanting to look at pictures of the latest family vacation. You all sit around your "coffee table" which is littered, not with physical pictures, but with digital images projected on the surface of the table. Anyone at anytime can drag a picture around the screen and resize it or rotate it using natural gestures with their fingers moving along the screen. If Granny want's to order a print, she simply holds her finger on a picture, and a menu pops up with different options, or she can order the prints by dragging the image to her credit card which is sitting on the table. If she has a storage device sitting on the table, that is recognized by the table, she can just "drag" the image there and take the image with her when she leaves. Ok, viewing images is over and you all want to put together a puzzle as you talk. This is not a normal puzzle. You take plastic squares and place them on the screen and suddenly each square is alive with portions of a family video or maybe a favorite movie. This is a video puzzle, and if you want, you can flip the plastic over to get the mirror image of the video section set to that square of plastic. Move the plastic squares along the screen and place them together to create the complete video. Puzzles are no longer static images, but are now vibrant moving videos that are chopped into different pieces. You start talking about your favorite song that you just bought and everyone is interested in hearing it. You touch the table and open your music collection and pick the song from the album of your favorite rock band. The song starts playing from the table. Your friend Kevin loves the song and would like to purchase it for his MP3 player...he lays his player on the table and drags the song to it...and now he has the song. No longer are computers a solitary device used in homes by individuals, but are truly interactive devices that can bring families and friends together in a rich interactive world. And again here, we have barely scratched the surface of all the possibilities.

Scenario 2: Imagine sitting at a restaurant with your four year old and someone you are doing business with at the same time. Today this would be a rather stressfull, or entertaining depending on your personality, situation. Well, if the table you were sitting at was a "Surface Computer", you could set your credit card down, and your business associate could do the same, and you could order food by dragging menu items onto your cards...say good bye to splitting the bill at the end of the meal. Let's say your four year old (that you had to bring along because they were sick and couldn't go to day care) was bored and was whining...well, just turn on the drawing section of the table and let them draw pictures on the screen, or play video games while you conduct business. While discussing business you need to browse the web to show your lunch guest some new product or maybe a website design. Instead of lugging along your laptop, or using the tiny screen of your cell phone, just simply open a screen in front of the two of you on the table itself and start browsing the web. Is your drink empty? Don't worry, just click on a button on the screen and the waiter will be alerted to the situation. Want to swap contact information with your new found business prospect? You both lay your cell phones down on the table and drag your information from one phone to another. The possibilities here are limitless, and will be mainstream as the prices of the "Surface Computer" come down. You will be seeing this in the near future because it offers such a great competitive edge for so many types of businesses. Companies will be scrambling to offer these devices as a way to drive customer traffic. Oh by the way, ever get annoyed while waiting for the waiter to come and get your credit card when you are ready to leave just to be annoyed further while waiting for them to process it? In the near future this will no longer be an issue because you can simply pay at the table yourself and leave when you are ready, not when your waiter finally gets around to serving you. Thank you Microsoft.

The two scenarios above are just hints of the ways these new computers will impact our lives. From hotel rooms to photo kiosks in retail stores to your living room and the classroom, these types of computers will be everywhere. The trend has been to go smaller and smaller and more mobile with electronics and the market for such devices is getting over saturated. Microsoft has been able to be innovative enough to realize that there is a complete world out there that has been untapped. Don't listen to the nay sayers, they are probably Apple enthusiasts that are upset that Microsoft was able to deliver such a cool blend of art and technology in one piece of equipment. The iPhone is just a toy compared to what surface computing technology will end up being thought of over the next few years. The end of one computing era is over and a beautiful new one is just beginning....get ready to lose your mouse and keyboard and let the "touchy feely" computing era begin.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Cat Genie (Self Flushing Litter Box)

It has arrived....the savior of those who love cats but hate the smelly crap and chore of scooping poop and clumped cat pee. The Cat Genie is a robotic litter box that scoops the waste left by your cat and processes it and disposes of it through your toilet or down your utility room drain. The utility room option is much better than the bathroom installation because it does not require you to flush the waste....all you have to do is press a button and walk away.

This is how it works.....

The Genie uses special re-usable cat litter that is made out of plastic. This litter is placed within the Cat Genie and is used as usual by your cats. When you are ready to clean the litter, you press a button and the "magic" starts. The bowl starts turning as a litter scooping arm dips into the litter and the solid waste is collected. The arm disposes of the waste several times during the process. The urine is either collected at the bottom of the bowl or is later cleaned during the last phases of the process. After the solids are scooped and deposited within a special receptacle. The washing cycle begins and water is sent into the spinning bowl and the litter is washed and the solid waste is chopped up, liquefied and disposed of through the tube that is either going to your toilet bowl or to your washer outlet line. After the cleansing has been completed the re-usable litter is dried by a built in blow dryer and ready to be re-used by your cat(s).

If you have one cat then you clean once a day if you have two then it is recommended that you clean twice a day. Two or more then you clean more often.

Now this is a pretty neat device that is really useful for those of us too lazy to clean the litter on a regular basis....though it isn't perfect. The Cat Genie doesn't always get all the solid waste and when it doesn't, the smell is a little annoying when you clean again. This is easily overcome though by helping out a bit if this occurs. The Cat Genie is much better than the Litter Maid automatic cat box and is cleaner and easier to work with.

They say the Cat Genie is more environmentally friendly than regular litter boxes because the cat litter is re-usable; however, over time you will have to replace the re-usable litter because some of it is lost during the scooping and some of it is lost when cat's kick it out of the bowl. The Cat Genie requires a sanitizing solution that comes in a plastic container in order to work. When you take into account the electricity and water used in combination with the plastics used to generate the litter and the solution container it's questionable whether this is a more sustainable solution than just a regular litter box. It would be nice to see the company that created the Cat Genie offer more information about the true environmental impact or benefit of their product.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Fractal Nature of Nature

This is just an observation and not a held belief. Have you ever noticed how the maps of the universe that are being created seem oddly similar to the patterns that are seen in the structure of the brain?

Seeing that nature is fractal, is it possible that the universe is a large brain? Was the big bang the creation of a life form that was born and is growing and expanding as we see in our observations?

This is an odd thought, but interesting none the less. There is an infinity within us and outside of us. We may hold a universe inside of our heads and at the same time we may be the creations of a "greater brain" that is our universe. It could go on forever in all directions. What many believe to be God may actually be the universe and he may be within a larger universe that it is barely capable of understanding. We may just be part of something not much different than us....just a bit larger.

If there is to be a technological singularity that will propel human thought throughout the universe, could it be that it has happened before and we are some sort of creation from that event?

See an example of images here at the New York Times.