Truck + Helo = Multicopter!

Truck and helicopter:  two great methods of transport that, for the first time, can be even greater - together.  That's the idea behind the Black Knight Transformer, a new aircraft/vehicle designed by Advanced Tactical Systems, Inc.

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According to, the Black Knight is a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) "multicopter", which began development in 2010 and completed successful flight tests in March of 2014.  The largest multicopter in the world, the Transformer is capable of lifting off with 4,400 lbs of cargo.  This is a major benefit to military investors who are interested in having adaptable means of transporting wounded troops to safety from battle zones, and the Transformer has both the power and dexterity to accomplish exactly this.

With the flight tests proving its ability to fly autonomously, the Transformer could not only rescue troops without endangering human pilots, but could also make large cargo deliveries to embattled areas.  However, daring pilots can still take the controls and fly the Transformer manually, all while knowing they're in a well-designed craft.  According to Advanced Tactics' website, the U.S. Army Aeroflightdynamics Directorate and NASA Ames contributed research to the Transformer's development.

Advanced Tactics indeed.
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Plans are already in motion to make the Transformer technology applicable on a smaller scale, such as the Panther two-man unit that could fit inside a larger aircraft (like an Osprey) for easier deployments in faraway areas.  Requiring minimal training to fly, the Panther could transport two special operations soldiers (plus their gear) quickly and with multi-terrain adaptability.

As for specs, the Transformer tops off at 70 m.p.h., and can fly up to 10,000 ft.  Oh, and one more totally awesome feature:  the ground drivetrain can be removed and replaced with a boat hull, should a mission demand it.  So basically, our soldiers are going to be a little safer ANYWHERE thanks to the Transformer.  Ramble (and float, and fly) on!

"It's a bird!  It's a plane!  It's a truck!  It's a Transformer!"
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Wake Up And Smell The Wifi-Enabled Coffee: New Sleep-Tracking Mattress Cover Offers Sleep Stats, "Smart" Wakeups

During the hours that you're awake, it's likely that your smartphone isn't far from your reach, enabling you to control and understand various elements of your surroundings as efficiently as possible.  But what about the hours when you're asleep?  Now, a new "smart bed" is able to technologically improve your snooze time.

According to the Independent UK, the new Luna device is a cover that fits any full size, queen, king, or California King mattress.  When Luna senses that you are falling asleep, it can remotely lower the lights and warm the room temperature.  Upon sensing you stirring from sleep, Luna can raise the lights again, and, should you be the owner of a "smart" coffee pot, it can trigger the device to start brewing (a serious plus for those who can barely manage to drag themselves out of bed in the morning.)

It'll make you coffee, but you have to add the hair of the dog on your own.
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Compatible with wifi-enabled devices that operate via Nest, Philips Hue, Lockitron, Emberlight and Beep, the Luna team are happy to help integrate it with other contraptions. Perhaps it can even run you a bath, microwave some oatmeal, or warm up your car as future household smart devices become more ubiquitous.

Still, it's already quite a useful piece of upholstery.  Luna even features "dual zone temperature" - the ability to warm or cool each side of the bed to the user's preference.  No more fights over the thermostat!  Not to mention, its sleep phase and biometric sensors can monitor your heart rate, breathing and more, so that Luna knows exactly the best moment to wake you up (making your overall day more pleasant, hopefully.)  Your overall sleep data can be integrated with wellness platforms like Apple Health Kit or Google Fit.

Too cool + too hot = just right!
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Currently being promoted via an indiegogo campaign, the Luna is for sale for $199 during the fundraising phase.  It will hit the market for $249 this August.  Controlled via an iPhone or Android app, the Luna will put all of your worries about a bad night's sleep to rest.

"Hey baby, wanna come back to my place and track our sleep stats?  Or maybe our lack-of-sleep stats?"
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The Safest Secrets In The World: Swiss Systems Allow For Super-Secure Data Storage

As privacy concerns escalate in our ever-observed lives, steps are now being taken to ensure that precious data can be held as securely as gold or other valuables.  Switzerland, a nation known for its strict privacy in the banking business, is at the forefront of this mission.

According to, Switzerland has some 61 data-banking centers that deal in information storage.  During the last five years, over a billion dollars have been invested by folks looking to keep their most important information safe from anyone else.

Even their pocketknife USB has a fingerprint scanner and major encryption technology.
No, seriously.
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The investments in data storage are surging despite Switzerland's ever-eroding laws concerning banking privacy. Due to the formerly overabundant nature of banking privacy in the nation, it was known as a haven for shady dealings to be neatly numbered and accounted for, without oversight from pesky things like the law. Although that's now changing, the element of the pervasive privacy is now being well applied to data security.

Franz Grueter, the managing director of the data storage firm, explained, "Clients need confidence, discretion, reliability and stability. These have been the country's hallmarks forever." He also noted that, "Data storage is the new Eldorado for Switzerland. It's a real boom." ( has posted 30% annual growth since its inception in 1995.)

Though Switzerland is Europe's fifth-largest data hub, it wants to be known as the nation that takes data security the most seriously. In Switzerland, personal data is legally classified as a "precious good" that requires a judge-issued order before it can be observed by any outsiders. Thus, digital assets, in the form of proprietary secrets, intellectual property, invention schematics, sensitive plans, or other critical data can be safely stashed with the Swiss.

Even email services established in Switzerland are more secure.
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One such information cache, known as Deltalis, is situated in an underground Cold War-era bunker that's protected by biometric scanners, armed guards, and four-ton steel doors that were built to thwart a nuclear attack. Its exact location is not publicly known, and critical IT developments will be handled only by those who act in strict accordance with Swiss law. As far as privacy goes in the modern world, this is as safe as safe can be.

With leaks everywhere from government to Hollywood to personal cell phones occurring, it's good to know that somewhere, secrecy is being taken seriously. One big leak, from renowned whistleblower Edward Snowden, hinted that international spies had their eye on cracking into the Swiss system. They'll have to be the best in the world to make the attempt, though...digitally, physically, and legally, the Swiss have more layers of data protection in place than useful tools on one of their pocketknives.

Your weirdest nudies are safe here.
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Have This Funny Japanese Robot Excrete You An Igloo

If you're currently living somewhere snowy (especially you, northeastern United States...stay safe), you might be having a difficult day thanks to weather-related logistics.  Namely, how crazy it is trying to navigate large amounts of snow when they suddenly appear in your roads and driveways.

Japan (of course) has invented a strange but useful vehicle to handle this problem in an efficient manner.  According to, the Yuki-taro robot uses GPS and cameras to self-navigate as a cute little snowplow.  Designed to help Japan's elderly so that they don't become shut-ins during snowstorms, Yuki-taro is currently a prototype that will eventually be sold for some 1 million yen ($9000) apiece to aid municipalities.

This is the future.  Don't laugh, Yuki-taro will neatly stack snow even after nuclear winter.
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The self-guided snowplowing isn't the best part, though.  Yuki-taro, um, "creates" bricks of snow as it works, allowing for neatly piled excretions to be used for homemade igloos or stashable summer cooling elements.  Yes, Yuki-taro basically rolls around town looking cute and pooping out snow-bricks.  Your snowfort will have some serious architectural support with Yuki-taro around.

And yes, since it's Japan, they might even make them look like Pokemon or Hello Kitty.  Next up:  Cthulu-tentacled lawn sprinkler?

Well, at least you don't have to shovel.
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Get Your Recording Groove On For Free With New "Pro Tools First" App

Are you a rocker?  Do you rock out?  Or, for that matter, do you sing opera, hit jazz, bust rhymes, yodel, or otherwise create music?  If so, you've probably recorded or wanted to record your craft so it can be immortalized and shared worldwide.  Now, the most famous program in the business is going to help you do that...for free.

Live out your craziest rock 'n roll dreams...ok, except the app can't really help with the alien part.
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For fifteen years now, Avid's Pro Tools software has been the industry standard for digitally creating and altering recorded music.  With the ability to layer tracks with precision and add countless effects to a composition, it is a valuable (but pricey) means of making a masterpiece.  Now, according to, Avid will be unveiling Pro Tools First, a free app that is a scaled-down version of their professional program.

The main differences between Pro Tools First and the regular Pro Tools is the capability for literally hundreds of tracks to be layered together in the same composition.  This essentially means that in the full version of Pro Tools, you could individually record an entire orchestra and chorus with each musician on their own track, then seamlessly blend them using the software.  Pro Tools First offers the capacity for 16 mono/stereo audio tracks, 16 MIDI tracks and 16 Instruments tracks for a maximum of 48 tracks, and 21 audio plug-in effects - all of which would be completely satisfying for many types of projects.

You don't want to worry about all this.  Just worry about the basics, and your song not being awful.
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A detailed analysis of the comparisons and contrasts between the versions of Pro Tools can be found here on Avid's website.  While there is no score editor or video playback in the app version, such amenabilities as Elastic Time and Elastic Pitch are there to help you tune up your timing and tone.

A very useful feature of both Pro Tools and Pro Tools First is the ability to share your work with other artists, producers and engineers via cloud computing.  This enables a production to be worked on remotely, where updates to the work or wholly new sonic attempts can flow freely.  While space for such projects is limited on Pro Tools First (you get room for three songs), this could theoretically help to keep you on task.

Sign up to be notified when Pro Tools First drops...soon, you could be a superstar!  Or at least give yourself an objective viewpoint on how your shower singing and karaoke jams really sound...

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Space Station Sunday: Robot Handshakes, Tropical Cyclones, And Soon, Songs From Space

Good evening, space fans!  Welcome back to the wonderful world-above-world of the International Space Station.

After the successful arrival of a SpaceX Dragon capsule to the station, the astronauts busied themselves with transferring cargo and initiating time-sensitive scientific experiments contained therein.  However, for this mission, not all of the cargo made it INSIDE the station.  According to, in a first-ever robotic handoff, NASA controllers at the Johnson Spaceflight Center in Houston used the Dextre (Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator) robotic arm to remove the CATS (Cloud Aerosol Transport System) experiment from the Dragon.

The CATS, a multi-satellite array designed to monitor atmospheric pollutants, was then robotically high-fived over to controllers from the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), who used their own space-based robotic arm (the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System) to install the CATS system on the exterior of the ISS's Japanese module, the Kibo.

And the CATS in the Kibo with the silver spoon...
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CATS will track everything from clouds to volcanic plumes, as well as contaminants both natural and artificial in the sky. Cloud and aerosol properties will be assessed down to 355, 532, and 1064 nanometer wavelengths.

Speaking of clouds, ESA astronaut Samathan Cristoforetti captured some amazing images of Tropical Cyclone Bansi, a storm over the Indian Ocean which peaked with winds of up to 150 miles per hour.

That bright spot is lightning, or the laser pointer of an angry god.
(Image courtesy Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.)

Astronaut Cristoforetti tweeted the images to great response from her followers.  Follow @AstroSamantha for more!

In other news, Astronaut Scott Kelly was lauded at America's State of the Union address last Tuesday.  Kelly, a special guest seated near the First Lady, will be headed to the ISS in March along with cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko to undergo the first one-year space stay ever attempted.  President Obama enthused that the Kelly/Kornienko mission would be part of a greater plan to eventually push on to colonize Mars.  As reported, Obama said, "I want Americans to win the race for the kind of discoveries that unleash new jobs ... pushing out into the solar system, not just to visit, but to stay."

Kelly is a particularly interesting choice for the long-term space experiment, as his twin brother Mark - also a fellow astronaut and Navy SEAL - will have his medical data constantly compared with his brother's (Mark will remain on Earth for the duration of the experiment.)  This will allow an unprecedented control-and-test element to the experiment on how spaceflight affects human physiology over the long term.

His brother Mark has a mustache, so scientists can be sure they didn't switch places to cause shenanigans.
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Kelly isn't the only interesting visitor the ISS will be entertaining.  According to, singer Sarah Brightman, 54, plans to ship up to the ISS in early September, for the purpose of becoming the first-ever entertainer in space.  Brightman, who is footing the $50-million-odd bill on her own, was inspired by the Apollo moon landings to make her high-flying effort.  

She may also be looking for love...this is one of her album covers.
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Regarding the day-to-day operations of the ISS, NASA reported that things went as per routine this week.  Commander Butch Wilmore installed new parts for the Combustion Integrated Rack (used to test the various ways things can burn in microgravity.)  Astronaut Terry Virts offered ocular and echocardiogram data for further assessment of human physiological issues in space, while Astronaut Cristoforetti worked on the Magvector study, which analyzes how a space-based electrical conductor interacts with the Earth's magnetic fields (don't worry, that had nothing to do with all the lightning photos.)

That's what was up on the ISS this week!  Join us next time for more orbital this space!

Tropical Cyclone Bansi at the bottom of the world...NOT the Magvector acting up.  Or so they say.
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3D Printing The One-Of-A-Kind: New 3D-Printing "Teleporter" Destroys And Redeploys

It's kind of like teleportation...except a little more destructive.

According to, scientists have discovered a way to use "destructive scanning" and 3D printing to make objects rematerialize someplace else.  The process involves milling down (shaving away layers of) an inanimate object so that a 3D printer can make a scan of each layer.  Then, the printer sends the imagery from each scanned layer over an encrypted connection to another 3D printer.  The second printer then reconstitutes the item.

Slash it up, then beam it up, Scotty!
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The device is powered by a regular 3D printer, 3-axis milling machine, camera, and encryption microcontroller, reports.  A Raspberry Pi provides the brains, while an Arduino works the milling.

The system, called "Scotty" in homage to Enterprise engineer from "Star Trek", is considered useful in its destructive protocol, due to the fact that it enables security by only allowing one copy of an object to exist at any given point.  This could be important for future online vendors who can assure that once purchased, only one copy of an item will be available to the client.

It'll make 3D-printed art forgery a pretty bad idea.
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The encryption elements being developed for Scotty will hopefully combat homemade mass-production, ensuring the scanned files are difficult or impossible to pirate.  Copying your newest set of 3D printed flatware won't be as easy as copying a CD.

While it'll still be some time before full-scale teleportation comes into public use, it's somewhat comforting to know that even if we can replicate complex items via 3D printing, they still can't always match the originals.

Some one-of-a-kind items should remain so, in their original form.
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Home, Home On The Range-R: Military-Grade Radar Scanners Can Help Police Spot You Through Walls

Big Brother isn't just watching - he's digging your moves, and he's not about to let something like legality or a concrete, windowless wall get in his way.  "Thanks" to Range-R radar technology, cops can sense motion inside a space without even having to kick down the doors.

According to USA Today, over the last two years, some 50 law enforcement agencies across America have adopted this technology, because search warrants take time and randomly breaking and entering sometimes gets bad press.  With no concern for privacy other than the privacy of the device itself (no notice of the technology nor its intents were released to the public), agencies from the FBI to the U.S. Marshalls to possibly your hometown cop-shop can now track you with the high-tech scanners.

It allows for that extra few seconds of pondering before the strike team swarms the building.
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When placed against an exterior wall, the radar use radio waves to penetrate up to 50 feet indoors and snitch if there's a person inside, where they are, and if they're mobile.  The devices are even sensitive enough to detect breathing, so basically, you have nowhere to hide.  They can "see" through concrete, dirt, adobe, wood, stucco or brick, and are even drone-mountable for you pesky apartment dwellers (or maybe just for the extra-lazy lawmen.)

While plausibly for use in hostage scenarios, firefighting emergencies, or search-and-rescue (according to the manufacturer's website), the Range-Rs have already been used over such inanity as parole jumping.  Originally invented for use in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the devices, made by the L3 Communications company, cost $600 apiece.  Some $180,000 has been quietly spent on them since 2012.

While legal issues surrounding the use of the devices remain tricky, the Supreme Court specifically noted in a 2001 ruling that it was Constitutionally unsound to have police scan the exterior of a building with a thermal camera, and that the ruling would also apply to future radar systems.

"What?  We're just checking to make sure they're breathing...before we put a stop to that."
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So far, this ruling has gone unrecognized, as police maintain they are using the devices for the usual "security concerns."  That tight security apparently precludes even mentioning that the Range-Rs exist.  William Sorukas, a former supervisor of the Marshals Service's domestic investigations arm, even went as far as to say, "If you disclose a technology or a method or a source, you're telling the bad guys along with everyone else."

Well, now the bad guys DO know.  And the good guys too.  Neither side should be happy about it.  What happened to doing police work to catch criminals, instead of stooping to their level and committing crimes to summarily execute "justice"?

Your security is just as important as national security.
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Rock And Scroll: X-Rays Peer Into The Ancient World By "Reading" Volcanically-Charred Papyrus

When we ponder the implications of modern and future technology, it is interesting to note that while they drive us ever further forward, they can also help us understand history more thoroughly.  Such a case was just brought to light by an x-ray technician who creatively solved a classic problem by using an unexpected piece of modern technology.

According to the BBC, Dr. Vito Mocella, of the National Research Council's Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems in Naples, Italy, was at a scientific conference in France when he learned that "X-ray phase-contrast tomography", a common medical analysis method, was being adapted for use in paleontology. He liked the idea and extrapolated it for another interesting historical cause: how to read data on volcanically-scorched ancient scrolls.

It could save your life from breast cancer, but it can also tell of many lives past.
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Phase contrast refers to the changing "phase" (slight distortion) of light waves as objects are X-rayed. The analysis of the contrast in the light provides a detailed 3D image of an object (as opposed to simply measuring the amount of light that is visible through the object, as is done with a conventional X-ray.) The technique is frequently used for mammograms, as it helps differentiate layers of an object when there is little contrast in the background material.

This allowed scientists to observe the difference between the ink and the papyrus of a scroll from the Herculaneum, an ancient library that was battered by the Mt. Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD. Volcanic gas at temperatures of 320 Celsius (608 Fahrenheit) charred the scrolls almost to the point of destruction, but ink remnants a mere tenth of a millimeter high were enough for the synchotron machine to deduce some of the words on the scroll.

"Cleopatra is a bitch."
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Though the squashed papyrus fibers made determining letters with straight lines difficult (as they were harder to distinguish from the fibers themselves), letters with curved elements were identifiable. The scroll was written in Greek, which was the language of philosophy in ancient Rome. The team believes the scroll to be a work called "On Frank Criticism", a study advocating honesty between friends, written by the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus.

The Herculeaneum, the only surviving library from the ancient world, as it looks today (fortunately sans any crazy volcano action.)  More collections from antiquity may benefit from the technology used on the scrolls found here.
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Dr. Mocella admits that while the innovative deciphering technique hasn't yet been perfected, he intends to continue experimenting with the project.  Mocella's team was quoted in National Geographic, saying, "This pioneering research opens up new prospects not only for the many papyri still unopened, but also for others that have not yet been discovered."

The scroll, seen by the naked eye in Image A, and then as rendered by the phase contrast x-ray.
And you thought reading regular books was hard.
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Ballroom Blitzar: Massive Space-Based Radio-Wave Bursts, But No Message...Yet

Like many fascinating things, sometimes a thing that exists only in legend surprises everyone and blasts into reality.  This is even more interesting when it's a scientific event.

According to Gizmodo, this week several massive bursts of energy emitted from deep space  were recorded by scientists at the Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia.  The massive bursts of tightly-banded radio-frequency waves are known as "blitzars", although this is just one term for what could possibly be a variety of explanations for the observed phenomena.  Though blitzars only last a millisecond, they emit the same power as the sun would over an entire day.  So astronomically speaking, this is pretty striking.

"Say it again."  -The Parkes Telescope
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Scientists first began identifying blitzars in 2007 thanks to documented astronomical observations.  Although the data was weeks or even years old, nine blitzars were noted to have occurred.  However, this week's observation happened in real time, and appeared to emanate from the constellation Aquarius.  Little more is known about its origins other than that the source "must be huge, cataclysmic and up to 5.5 billion light years away," according to researcher Emily Petroff.

Speculations on the source include flares or collapse from large, possibly magnetically-charged neutron stars, but these ideas are presently unfounded.  As Keith Bannister from Australia's national science agency told New Scientist, "Nobody knows what to make of it...All the ideas are very exotic so ruling them out is all you can do at the moment."

"Burp."  -a neutron star
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Scientists will continue watching the skies, including in other bandwidths, to see if there are any complimentary blitzar bursts elsewhere. This could help to quantify the density of interstellar mediums via observing the speed and dispersion of the signal through free electrons in space. So we'll perhaps learn how fast and far such energy can travel...even if we don't yet know what it means.

Could creatures at the source be listening to OUR radio waves?  And are they (rightly) disgusted by our terrible pop music?
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Elon Musk's Martian Internet Might Help All Of Mankind

Elon Musk is rampaging into the future with yet another astronomically awesome plan.  The mastermind behind SpaceX, Tesla, and the Hyperloop doesn't just want folks to comfortably travel to space - he wants to make sure they're easily connected to the internet while they're up there.

It might sound crazy to think that the humans who will be among the first "space tourists" would spend their time googling cat videos and playing online poker, but Musk's plans are extra ambitious.  His intent is to establish a space internet so powerful that when colonizing Mars becomes a reality, the pioneers will be able to chat about it on Facebook.

Now THIS is an occupation that will achieve something!
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According to Bloomberg Business Week, this new and improved World Wide Web would become the Galaxy Wide Web thanks to a fleet of low-flying satellites Musk intends to launch.  While it would not only aid future connectivity to space travelers, it would serve the immediate purpose of expanding internet speed and coverage all around our home planet.

“Our focus is on creating a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date,” Musk stated.

The first humans will be "checking in" on Mars sooner than we think.
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The satellites would orbit some 750 miles above the earth, where the vacuum of space would facilitate faster flow of data - even more so than using fiber-optic cables on Earth.  With the speed of light operating a full 40% faster in the vacuum of space, bouncing data off of Musk's satellites and then back to earth would improve speeds considerably.

Great, to test!
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Musk is aware that his competitors have the bandwidth territory, but he holds the ace of rocket technology.  He intends to open a satellite factory in Seattle that will draw engineering talent of all sorts (SpaceX projects will also be in fabrication there), and has a long-term plan over the next five years to bring the initiative to fruition.  The exclusive opening of the Seattle SpaceX office took place on Friday, adding to an ever-increasing network of operational sites.  He is completely serious about looking even further than that, though.

“It will be important for Mars to have a global communications network as well,” he says. “I think this needs to be done, and I don’t see anyone else doing it...we see it as a long-term revenue source for SpaceX to be able to fund a city on Mars.”

In space, no one can hear you scream at Candy Crush.
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Newsweek reported that Musk expounded on this statement, telling the assembled crowd at the launch of the Seattle SpaceX office that, “One day I will visit Mars.” He feels the goal of establishing humans on Mars could be feasible inside the next two decades. Most of all, it's for humanity's own good, or as Musk explains, “the thing that matters long term is to have a self sustaining city on Mars, to make life multi-planetary.”

So at least if you end up marooned on Mars, there'll be Netflix and Pandora there to entertain you.  And no one will fault you for not accepting their Facebook invites.

Which Instagram filter will look best for selfies on the Red Planet?
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Space Station Sunday: More Than Just Chillin'

Good evening, space fans!  There was some drama (but thankfully a safe resolution) on the ISS this week, when an alarm roused the astronauts from sleep to indicate that an ammonia leak was possibly taking place.  Fortunately, this was not the case.

According to the New York Times, the alarm sounded not once but twice on Wednesday, when pressure had built up in a water coolant loop on the ISS.  Normally, the water keeps the space station cool by circulating in the loops and then transferring the heat to external ammonia loops, which then radiate excess heat into space.  Thusly cooled, the external ammonia loops keep the station chill from the outside, though due to ammonia's toxicity, it is not used to cool the station interior (hence the water loops.)  The overburdened loop signified that perhaps ammonia was leaking into the water coolant loop, which would put it in dangerous proximity to the air inside the station.

Even the smallest bits of space work need constant attention.
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NASA spokeman Bob Jacobs summed it up calmly, stating that, "We saw an increase in water loop pressure, then later saw a cabin-pressure increase that could be indicative of an ammonia leak in the worst-case scenario...So we protected for the worst-case scenario and isolated the crew in the Russian segment of the space station while the teams are evaluating the situation."

Nonessential systems were temporarily shut down to prevent any kind of overheating on the station.  This included scientific freezers aboard, but no data was lost due to the fact that the freezers are designed to remain cold for eight hours, independent of power supply.  The power was restored well within the eight-hour window.

According to the deliciously in-depth technical account of event posted on, after the initial high-pressure/possible leak alarm went off, the astronauts followed procedure by donning their PBAs (Portable Breathing Apparatus), cutting off the IMV (Inter-Module Ventilation), and quarantining themselves in the RS (Russian section) by sealing the Node 1 Aft CBM hatch.  Atmospheric tests for ammonia were then conducted, all which fortunately proved negative.

Ready for anything:  NASA astronaut Terry Virts and ESA astronaut Samathan Cristoforetti practiced for problems on 12/1.
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Ground teams then rerouted the problem areas and vented nitrogen to relieve the pressure.  The crew were cleared to reenter the US segment, but returned hours later when indications of rising cabin pressure once again manifested.  Once again, no ammonia leak was detected.  This second rise in pressure was likely due to the station rebooting itself after the power-down and use of emergency breathing devices.

NASA Spaceflight considered the event a good practice run, albeit a somewhat scare one.  They stated, "If nothing else, the incident served to exercise the well-practiced procedures, proving that both the crew and ground teams responded in a timely and appropriate manner to a situation that could have been very dangerous if missed – thus serving to prove the effectiveness of NASA’s vigorous regime of procedural training and simulation."

All good in the orbital hood.
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The Russian space agency Roscosmos also agreed the scenario was handled well, with Maxim Matyushin, head of the Russian mission command center, telling the Independent UK that,  "Safety of the crew has been achieved through the coordinated and timely actions themselves cosmonauts and astronauts, as well as operational management groups in Moscow and Houston."

Despite the drama, fellow spaceman James Kelly (a Space Shuttle pilot who served two missions to the ISS) chimed in from mission control with some levity, enthusing, "Enjoy your impromptu day off."
Keeping it cool.
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In other news, the SpaceX Dragon capsule that made it safely to the ISS last week caused no trouble...however the landing of its attendant Falcon 9 rocket was not so smooth.  This week, exclusive imagery of the rocket crash was released.  The original (and still tangible) intent from the SpaceX mission was to land the rocket safely on an offshore pad and have it retrofitted for re-use.  This plan didn't exactly work out, just yet.  Inappropriately exciting video (linked below) followed.

Not bad, considering how few rockets, you know, LAND.
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That's all this week from our outstanding orbital outpost!  Be sure to tune in next week for more awesomeness above the this space!

Solar Panels As Canal Covers? India Gathers Power, Saves Water, Solves Problems

The science of sustainable energy requires making more efficient means of storage and accessibility for your harvested power...but sometimes it can have bonus advantages, when properly plotted.  Unlike oil spills which contaminate massive swaths of ocean, or fracking which can cause a release of chemicals potent enough to set tap water afire, no one worries when there is a solar power leak (some people even pay for these raw materials...look at any tanning salon.)  Now, a community in India has made gathering solar energy an even more useful endeavor, thanks to positioning the solar panels over irrigation canals to thwart extra evaporation.

It's like the peanut butter and chocolate of conservation.
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According to Yahoo, in the Gujurat state of India, the booming business of solar power is setting precedents for the rest of the nation and likely the world.  By building solar panels over irrigation canals, communities are left not only with more free land space, but also contribute to the efficiency of their farming by not losing excess water to evaporation.  A plant in Vadodara which opened in October produces 10 MW of power thanks to 33,800 solar panels stretched across 3.6 km of irrigation canals (which it in turn powers the pumping distribution of.)  On a nice day, 50,000 electrical units (that's 50,000 hours of usage at 1,000 watts) are sent from the solar into the system.

While the canal-covering solar panels are more expensive to build,  they are easily accessed for cleaning and maintenance.  The water below will eventually tend to 4.45 million acres via some 75,000 km of canal throughout Gujurat and Rajasthan, known as the Sardar Sarovar project.  Already the Vadodara plant has made 16 hectares of land available, and is projected to conserve some 90 million liters of water per year.

The benefits add up:  the creation of the solar infrastructure also powers more jobs.
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As Vice magazine notes, there are a number of dually-useful elements to the project beyond the evaporation containment, including the solar panel conduits being kept cooler thanks to the water below, and also the lack of squabbling over land issues (the canals were utilitarian elements already in place, and adding to them disrupts neither the local environment nor the populace.)

Overall, the Indian government plans to gather 100 MW of power from canal-top photovoltaic panels by 2017.  By 2022, the nation intends to have over 10% of its total energy created by solar power.  The effort is not lost on the rest of the world.  U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon recently visited and remarked, "I saw more than glittering panels – I saw the future of India and the future of our world...I saw India's bright creativity, ingenuity and cutting-edge technology."

Crafty conservation can help fuel the future in ways we haven't even yet pondered.  The fact that a major nation has stepped up to address the power problems in an efficient and intelligent way brings hope for the rest of the world.  Maybe soon we can stop shooting off mountaintops and drilling beneath oceans to gather our energy.  Let's start using our power - and our methods of power collection - for good.

Yet another plus:  all that water saved from evaporation could be made potable for poverty-stricken regions.  Win, India.
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Power On The Fly: Pioneering With A Pocket-Sized Charger

Sure, you love your devices, but feeding them can become problematic at times.  Stop bothering the bartender and bust out your own portable power, thanks to a new invention: Kraftwerk.  Created by the German company eZelleron, the gadget runs on regular everyday lighter fuel to unobtrusively juice your phone, camera, tablets, e-readers, and whatever other bit of technology is near-permanently in your orbit.

According to the Daily Mail, the device never requires a plug-in of its own, and each refill of lighter fluid or camping gas is enough to fuel 11 iPhones.  The eZelleron company maintains that Kraftwerk is a "quantum leap in terms of performance and availability compared to conventional battery chargers...Kraftwerk really is a small portable power station."

This is your first step to escaping the Grid.
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Slated for release in November/December of this year, Kraftwerk already exists in fully functioning prototypes. The remainder of the project is being funded by Kickstarter. The device appeals to a sense of freedom and adventure, with their Kickstarter campaign noting that Kraftwerk is "an invaluable advantage both in everyday life and even when traveling to the ends of the earth."

The durability and portability are major advantages for our hyper-connected world. Lighter than carrying batteries, adept with connection (a simple USB port handles all), approved for air travel, and capable of enduring all sorts of weather conditions, this energy-efficient device will discreetly help fuel the future, 5 volts at a time.

Never miss a gnarly shot again...keep your camera juiced-up anywhere with Kraftwerk.
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The folks behind Kraftwerk are pushing forth what is a small but important part of a larger picture. According to wikipedia, Germany has been hailed as "the world's first major renewable energy economy" and had a third of their electricity generated from sustainable resources in 2014.  With Germany poised to have nearly half of their electricity generated by sustainable resources by 2025, items like the Kraftwerk reflect how such an innovative mentality benefits people in many scenarios, not just on the macro scale.

Their kickstarter pitch isn't being hyperbolic when they say, "So let's revolutionize mobile energy supply together!  Be a pioneer on the fascinating road to freedom of power!"  And nothing says "pioneering" like posting a selfie from someplace definitely sans sockets.  Kraftwerk, keep it going!

Perhaps the band Kraftwerk can use the device Kraftwerk to power their Man Machine?  The possibilities are endless...
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E-Emotional Rescue: Computer Programs That Deal In Your Feelings

Experts say that your computer is a better judge of your personality than even your closest family and friends.  It knows your preferences, correspondents, written words, tastes in imagery, secrets kept and deleted, and more.  But what happens in the possibly-near future when machines begin using all of this information to actually UNDERSTAND you?

When it comes to emotional intelligence and your computer, what constitutes too much information?
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According to the New Yorker, this may be happening more quickly than we expect.  Computers can already attempt to determine moods from vocal pitch and intensity, while simultaneously analyzing any attendant videos for evidence of micro-expressions or gestures that could reveal even more about an interaction.  Even the placement of words in a sentence can be taken to imply other things, indicating how angry, passionate, or spectacularly talented certain authors are.  Now, computers can not only be aware of these elements, but use them to temper their own responses or advice.

Rana el Kaliouby, an Egyptian scientist who runs the Boston-based company Affectiva, is on the forefront of this mecha-emotional leap.  Affectiva's most prominent software, Affdex, is trained to recognize four major emotions:  happy, confused, surprised, and disgusted.  Breaking down the user's face-image into deformable and non-deformable points, the software analyzes how far certain parts of one's face will move (such as a smile or frown raising or lowering the corners of the mouth) in relation to other set points on the face (such as the tip of the nose.)  Things like skin texture (where wrinkles appear, or not) also factor in.  These metrics are analyzed into computing what you feel.

Based off the research of 1960s scientist Paul Ekman, the idea behind this technology stems from a simple, universal concept:  all humans, regardless of race, gender, age or language barriers, have at least six specific facial expressions that register particular emotions.  Ekman broke these expressions down into their constituent movements and wrote a 500-page epic called FACS (Facial Action Coding System) on the subject.  The work has been considered the preeminent treatise on this topic for decades now.

Other companies are on the e-emotional bandwagon too, with names like Emotient, Realeyes, and Sension.  Companies who rely on videoconferencing could now have a useful extra line on what their clients and associates are thinking.  Emotions, which have been found to be closely neurologically related to decision-making and common sense, now can be deduced from faces and choices with a degree of accuracy that seems like mind-reading.

We're less unique than anyone thinks.
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While useful (and now predominantly operational) in business, Kaliouby also spent time researching if this specific recognizance could act as an "emotional hearing aid" for those with autism.  The National Science Foundation offered Kaliouby and her mentor nearly a million dollars to develop this idea.  This proved successful, but the idea was almost immediately extrapolated by businesses from Pepsi to Toyota in the interest of learning more about their consumers' preferences.  These requests overwhelmed the scientists, leading to the creation of Affectiva.  The company, which claims to have refused requests to use the software for espionage (corporate and personal), wanted to generate revenue from investors to augment their autism-relating research.

Thus Affdex began testing users' response to advertisements, giving the promotions industry a leg up on what consumers would be feeling when exposed to their sales pleas.  More than two million videos from eighty countries lent the program an unprecedented amount of information, all adding up to more accuracy in prediction from the program.  Affectiva now deals in these negotiations and improvements full-time.  In coming years, with more "smart" devices and internet-enabled items out there for our interaction, emotional electronics could use their ever-increasing knowledge to hopefully make our lives better.

These programs have our attention, which is a valuable resource.  Now, can that be used to hold our interest, connect us more completely, and/or improve our circumstances (even just by knowing we need the room temperature raised a little?)  Or will it simply serve as another metric to keep tabs on a passive populace?  Will we have the right to know when and where we are being emotionally analyzed, and will we be able to thwart such advances if desired?  Kaliouby maintains that there must be an overall altruistic tilt to the usage of the program, explaining to various advertisers that, “In our space, you could very easily be perceived as Big Brother, as opposed to the gatekeeper of your own emotional data—and it is two very different positions. If we are not careful, we can very easily end up on the Big Brother side.”

Whether we'll end up selling our attention to gain happiness points to sell for more happiness remains uncertain.  But the fact remains that the market for your emotions is vast and lucrative.  Companies will want to know you're happy if it makes them feel they're doing something right.  Other more insidious organizations may be tickled to learn that you're feeling deeply unsettled and on edge (right where some of them want you.)  Will the future be made of humans wearing constant poker faces, lest we be called out by computers?  Will there be surcharges for extra super-sized doses of happiness from certain places or products?  Or should we maybe turn the lens in on ourselves, and understand the nature of our own feelings, before we release them into the wild to be tagged and tracked...or hunted?

And remember, all of this information is taken from imagery alone.  We're not even really "plugged in" yet...
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