iPhones And Nunchucks...Together At Last

Ever worry about your own personal self defense in this troubled world?  Particularly, do you worry about the safety of your precious smartphone?  Embrace your inner ninja this year with the new iPhone nunchaku case.  It fits the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and does...well, this.

You'll at least distract any potential attackers or thieves with your ridiculousness.  And that's worth the $30 cost, right?

IS Hacks U.S. Central Command Twitter Feed, Posts Prankish "Leaks" Like The Trolls They Are

It seems that our once-raging war against terrorism has now, at least publicly, been downgraded to some unpleasant cyberbullying.

As reported by the BBC, the United States Central Command's Twitter account was hacked by the revolutionary Islamic fundamentalist group IS, who referred to their online troll brigade as "the CyberCaliphate" in the attack.  Their "CyberJihad" didn't seem to accomplish much more than ruffling a few feathers, despite the "leak" of "secrets" like a few upper-echelon bureaucrats' mailing addresses.

Nerdy terrorists.  Great, just what we need.
(Image courtesy bbc.com.)

The Centcom Twitter account, which was known to report on strikes against IS (before the account was taken down after the hack-attack), provoked a standard "appropriate measures" response as to what was being done in retaliation.  The hack occurred while President Obama was giving a speech on cybersecurity.

Several maps and diagrams were "released" by the hackers, but these appeared to be vague logistics of maritime armaments along the Chinese coast, as well as maps of various installations in North Korea.  Nothing was more of a "secret" than a little googling couldn't uncover, with much of the (completely non-threatening) information sourced from U.S.-based think tanks.

The full feed.  This could easily be an Islamic twelve-year old.
(Image courtesy Reuters.)

According to Reuters, The Defense Department wasn't flustered, stating the government "views this as little more than a prank, or as vandalism...It's inconvenient, it's an annoyance but in no way is any sensitive or classified information compromised," Pentagon spokesman Army Colonel Steve Warren said.Nevertheless, when posted in conjunction with incendiary (fake) headlines reading "PENTAGON NETWORKS HACKED!", the IS troll brigade probably raised a few heartbeats in Washington.  For a minute.  Then we continued bombing them in real time, without needing to tweet about the success.  The "CyberJihad's" silence in America will speak to that.

Unfortunately in France, the AnonGhost cyberterrorism group, a pro-Islamic organization, have tried to terrorize French websites in wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.  The UK Mirror reports that larger and more notorious computerized collective Anonymous have vowed revenge for the Charlie Hebdo attacks and have been plaguing IS sites throughout the last week.  This e-poking might escalate to even further name-calling and photoshopped images of completely unbelievable terrorist victory.  In the meantime, they can continue to spam the internet with narcissistic content worthy of a facebook-addicted tween.

Just...no.  Not happening, guys.
(Image courtesy mirror.co.uk.)

Space Station Sunday: Dragon Flies, Flies Fly, And A Space Movie Rolls

Good evening, space fans!  Welcome back to another installment of all the best news from low-Earth orbit.

Yesterday, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched a Dragon capsule bound for the ISS, bearing over 5,100 payload pounds of scientific supplies, food, and equipment.  According to Reuters, in a novel approach to recovering the 14-story Falcon 9 rocket boosters, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had planned for the discarded boosters to be remotely flown to an offshore landing site.

Like a giant, extremely expensive game of lawn darts...with rockets.
(Image courtesy SpaceX.com.)
Remarkably, the first rocket did indeed hit its target, on an ocean landing pad some 500 miles off the Florida coast.  Unfortunately, it fell apart soon after.  Musk tweeted that the rocket's “Grid fins worked extremely well from hypersonic velocity to subsonic, but ran out of hydraulic fluid right before landing.”  The hydraulic fluid, which operated the four maneuverable grid fins to remotely position the rockets and stabilize their descent, will be augmented in the next mission so that another attempt at safely landing the rockets may be made.

SpaceX, which is under a $1.6 billion contract to NASA for ferrying supplies to the ISS, is the current closest replacement the United States has for its sidelined Space Shuttle program.  After the fiery disaster that left an Orbital Sciences Corp. rocket decimated last October, SpaceX is now the go-to American rocketry provider to the ISS.  This mission was the fifth of a slated twelve.

The Dragon, breathing fire during liftoff.
(Image courtesy SpaceX.com.)

One of the most interesting bits of cargo aboard the SpaceX Dragon is a colony of fruit flies, which are endlessly annoying on Earth but may contribute to significant scientific research aboard the ISS.  Fruit flies' immune system responses are a close approximation of those found in humans, and research on how they react to microgravity could lend useful results for humans undergoing the same events.  This is particularly notable due to the fact that the fruit flies will be exposed to various microbes that (due to lack of gravity and subsequent cellular structural changes) become more virulent in a space environment.  Yes, those pesky little bugs might end up figuring out how to someday save a sick spacefarer.

And they don't even have to go through all the crazy intense training!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

When the Dragon does dock at the ISS, it will be among five other spacecraft moored there.  But the design of the ISS conveniently allows room for all of them.

Plenty of parking space in space.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Another scientific experiment of interest this week on the ISS was the Haptics-1 experiment, which NASA defines as, "studying the feasibility of controlling robots on the ground from space with a crew member using an advanced joystick that provides haptic feedback."  Basically, the astronauts use a joystick with a rumble-pack that allows them to better sense the issues a robot rover on a planet below might be encountering.  This allows for refinement of motorized tasks and better overall control of the situation on the ground.  From an extremely speculative perspective, our astronauts could someday use this technology to land robot rovers on a foreign planet and, instead of getting put into harm's way themselves, simply feel a buzz in their hand controls if aliens were to shoot up the robots.

This is particularly interesting to study on the ISS, for the reactions from the haptic controller would have immediate effect on the astronaut's physical position while in microgravity.  An astronaut might have to buckle himself or herself to a seat just to deal with even the smallest amount of force exerted on them from the controller.

And in some artistic news to compliment the science, NASA astronaut Terry Virts and Commander Butch Wilmore spent time using an IMAX camera to document interior scenes from the ISS.  This footage will be part of an upcoming 3D movie called "A Perfect Planet."  According to NASA, the film will be for audiences of all ages and will illustrate "the importance of conservation, sustainability and environmental awareness for future generations."  

Saudi Arabia, from a particularly peaceful perspective.
(Image courtesy Butch Wilmore / #AstroButch.)

That's all from orbit for this week, space fans!  Thanks for reading and be sure to check in next week for even more awesomeness above the atmosphere...watch this space!

A perfect planet...it's just the humans we have to worry about.
(Image courtesy Butch Wilmore / #AstroButch.)

Forget Chess Or Jeopardy, This Poker-Playing Computer Is Near-Unbeatable

Sure, you might have survived dysentery playing Oregon Trail back in the day, or perhaps you currently enjoying slaying beasts or conquering lands in modern computer games.  But now, a new computer program can compete against even the most savvy players when it comes to a time-honored game of wits and skill:  poker.

Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and when to POWER OFF.
(Image courtesy pcmag.com.)

According to vocativ.com, a new poker-playing computer has emerged as a champion among gaming machines.  While there is a long history of computers being able to understand and perform exceptionally well in "perfect information" games (which are games where both players are aware of all decisions that have been made during the progress of the match, such as checkers or chess), a new system of "learning" allowed for the unexpected.

"Solving" the game of Texas Hold 'Em via a series of bets and bluffs, the Cepheus poker-playing computer fascinatingly was taught to learn from its own mistakes.  The scientists behind the project first instructed Cepheus in the basic rules of Texas Hold 'Em and had the machine play numerous games against itself to determine a variety of outcomes.  As this occurred, Cepheus compiled a list of "regrets", where it could have bet differently, bluffed, or folded for a more auspicious outcome.

All poker players know what that kind of regret feels like.  Cepheus actually learned from it.
(image courtesy empireonline.com.)

Cepheus was then programmed to act on its most major regrets while ignoring the lesser ones.  Eventually, a methodology emerged for Cepheus to navigate bets and bluffs in the most effective ways possible, and the "regret" list scaled down to near zero.  This mathematical take on the game allowed Cepheus to achieve near-perfect play.

Computer scientist Michael Bowling, the lead author of the study, explained that Cepheus's techniques could be extrapolated to a much wider set of purposes.  He explained, "...the techniques that we used to solve the game apply even more broadly than entertainment activities. I’m talking about any decision-making scenario. Politics becomes a game. Auctions become a game. Security becomes a game.”

"A game for me to WIN, mwahaha..."  -Cepheus, probably.
(Image courtesy theguardian.com.)

Feeling lucky?  You and Cepheus can duke it out here.  Just remember that while Cepheus's skills aren't quite perfect yet, the computer is operating well above the odds of chance thanks to its knowledge, and will likely beat you in the long run.  Having played over a billion billion hands (more poker than the entire human race has ever played) definitely gives it an edge, so don't lose your shirt!  The computer won't need it, anyway.

Cepheus is out there...don't get stung!
(Image courtesy bamfstyle.files.wordpress.com.)

Compositions From Composites: New 3D-Printing Materials To Include Wood, Stone, Iron

The concept of creating objects on demand using 3D-printing technology has caught the eye and imagination of artists and designers worldwide.  The scope of what can be made - from mud huts to human skin to prototype motorcycle parts - grows by the day.  Now, the palette of available materials for 3D printing expands still further, and will soon include composite filaments of wood, stone, iron, and bronze.

L-R:  Bronze, limestone, iron, and maple:  the remix.
(Image courtesy 3ders.com.)

According to engadget.com, the MakerBot 3D-printing company is moving past plastics and by late 2015, will have developed printable composite filaments of maplewood, limestone, iron and bronze.  The items created with these materials retain the visual look and some of the strength of the main material, but the plastic that also comprises the composite lends a lighter feel.

The cavemen would be so proud of how far we've come.
(Image courtesy engadget.com.)

The physical elements of the source material retain several characteristics that would make prototype printed parts much more accurate to the real thing.  Metal composites can be magnetized.  Wood composites smell like wood, and can be stained, sanded and treated as normal nature-grown wood would.

Can't carve?  No worries, just print!
(Image courtesy 3dprint.com.)

Other filaments can glow in the dark or change color by temperature, but these new composites are good for more than just novelty.  The wood and iron filaments create a convincing hammer (although the functionality of such a hammer is still being improved on.)  The iron filaments can create nuts and bolts. All that's required to print the different materials are swappable "Smart Extruders", which manipulate the filament composites into your desired items.

As reported by 3dprint.com, MakerBot CEO Jenny Lawton expressed enthusiasm about the upcoming year, telling fans at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show that "...for 2015, we are focused on enhancing the overall MakerBot 3D Ecosystem by listening to our users, fine-tuning our 3D printers, iterating our software and apps to unlock their full potential, and launching new MakerBot PLA Composite Filaments as well as services that will make 3D printing even more interesting and accessible.”

What could these new artistic abilities create for you?

3D-printing in limestone could make for some very ambitious projects...
(Image courtesy whiteclouds.com.)

3D-Printed "Exo" Prosthetics Give A Lightweight Leg Up

With America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan apparently concluded, a major source of the horrors our servicemen endured - losing body parts to improvised explosive devices - will hopefully now be curtailed.  But for the many whom these injuries have affected, as well as for those who have biological, accidental, or other medical issues that would cause the loss of a limb, art and science have combined to help rebuild the missing pieces.

The Exo, not alive, but definitely kicking.
(Image courtesy gizmag.com.)

As reported by wired.com, artist William Root (of NYC's Pratt Institute) has teamed up with MIT to produce effective, comfortable, and cool-looking prosthetics that are created via 3D printing.  Root's desire to combine form and function sacrificed nothing from the aesthetic nor biomechanical sides of the prosthetic process, which is in itself an innovative task.  “Prostheses are not aesthetically pleasing, extremely expensive, and difficult to produce,” he noted.

Using MIT's "Fitsocket" technology from their Biomechatronics Lab, a scan of the prospective recipient's leg is taken.  The Fitsocket technology adeptly gauges the strenth or give of the recipient's remaining tissue, then forms a perfectly specialized "socket" to join the wearer to the limb.  This data is then also used by Root to create a 3D model of the recipient's leg, using a stress analysis tool to determine where the new "Exo" limb would need the most weight support and how to avoid weak points.  A mesh structure is then rendered using this information.

Yes, it will eventually probably be used to make robots in your own image.  We'll deal with that later.
(Image courtesy beforeitsnews.com.)

The sintered titanium-powder (or heavy-duty plastic) mesh gives a minimalist yet realist visual impression of a leg.  While not as traditionally inconspicuous-acting as a flesh-toned limb trying to blend in, Root feels part of the part's new power is its unwillingness to appear as an imposter appendage like something that "crosses into the Uncanny Valley."  Eventually he plans for wearers to be able to fashionably customize their hot new legs to their personal tastes.

Unfortunately they're not yet available in "Crazy Stilts" version yet.
(Image courtesy diamondesqproductions.com.)

Root's business proposal for the Exo, as cited by 3dprintingindustry.com, illuminates the scope of his hope both in quantity and quality, stating, “There are over 2 million amputees in the United States with 185,000 amputations each year. Over 90% of those amputations are lower extremity amputations; millions of Americans are suffering from hindered mobility. Prostheses enable patients to regain their freedom and much of the functionality they had lost. At the same time they help to restore the amputees’ spirit and help with the psychological recovery from having lost part of oneself.”

Best of all, Root's current designs allow the limbs to be printed for as little as $1,800, where traditional prostheses could cost ten times that.  While specialized knee, ankle, or added-mobility joints will cost more, overall costs would likely fall as 3D technology escalates ever more rapidly.  Though the current "Exo" models are not tested to bear full human weight yet, this problem is being analyzed, with the Fitsocket computer program experimenting with where different points could feasibly be augmented to bear more of the burden.

The Fitsocket testing hardware has got your legs, and it knows how to use them.
(Image courtesy wired.com.)

The specialized socket fits, lightweight lift, unique design and ever-decreasing manufacturing costs could make life a lot happier for thos requiring prostheses.  And just as soon as the proper weight ratio is figured out on the Exo, you could use one to help jump for joy.

A closeup of Exo's mesh-meat.  This kind of cage means freedom!
(Image courtesy hexapolis.com.)

Fueling The Future: Toyota Releases Hydrogen Fuel Cell Patents Royalty-Free

Working together to achieve a goal works best when there are no secrets, and now, a major technological tenet of this has manifested.  This week, Toyota made serious strides into a future that could help benefit humanity's greater good.  The automobile company released the the patents to its new fuel cells for all to learn from, hopefully as a means of escalating sustainable technology in the overall auto industry.

A 2016 Toyota vehicle with a hydrogen fuel cell that you can learn all about.
(Image courtesy computerworld.com.)

According to mashable.com, during a presentation on Toyota's new vehicle, the Mirai (which is Japanese for "future"), senior vice president of automotive operations Bob Carter announced the release, stating, "By eliminating traditional corporate boundaries, we can speed the development of new technologies, and move into the future of mobility more quickly, effectively and economically."

Some 5,680 patents were released for royalty-free use, all concerning the nature of hydrogen fuel cells.  Reminiscent of an earlier move by the Tesla electric car company (who also made public their patents), the move could generate interest, innovation, transparency and collaboration to herald in a new way of working alongside the slated upcoming boom of hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Even famed physicist Michio Kaku agrees: sharing smarts can bring about even more great ideas.
(image courtesy blogs.denverpost.com.)

Carter admitted that the next five years will be a critical testing ground across the board for the new style of vehicles, no matter who makes them, requiring "a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration between automakers, government regulators, academia and energy providers."  Maybe this meeting of minds will make multifaceted technological projects more likely to be achieved via teamwork in the future, perhaps even bringing the drive to integrally innovate to even more fields.

Sharing is daring, but possibly better-faring.
(Image courtesy saudigazatte.com.sa.)