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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Taking Care of Mobile Patients
After a patient has been hospitalized for a surgical intervention, he usually wants to return to his normal life. But doctors would like to monitor him to be sure that the operation was successful. How can they manage this without being too intrusive? In "Health Care Monitoring of Mobile Patients," Italian researchers offer a three-layer networking solution.

First, a body area sensor network would continuously record your cardiac activity or your body temperature. A second level would involve a home sensor network, including for example a PC wirelessly receiving this information. Finally, this home network would be able to alert an hospital network if needed.

Right now, this whole idea is at the proof-of-concept level, but it really looks promising. Read this overview for other details and see how it would work.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 9:49 AM Comments (0)
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Friday, February 25, 2005

Virtual Reality Goes Round
The 'real' booth of the Fraunhofer Institute at the upcoming CeBIT 2005 will feature a brand new and unusual 'virtual' reality system. Instead of being surrounded by images, you'll play with the VR Object Display, a two meters tall cylindrical column with a diameter of 1.6 meters, which has been specifically designed for advertising, trade shows and presentations.

The system includes eight off-the-shelf projectors and four mirrors in the lower portion of the column, and is controlled by 5 PCs using a special calibration software. The semitransparent viewing surface for the pictures is wrapped around the upper section of the column. You'll be able to interact with cars or buildings that don't exist yet like if they were holograms.

It really looks as an impressive step in virtual reality technology. Read this overview for other details, pictures and references.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 10:23 AM Comments (0)
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Truck-Stopping Device Puts Brakes on Terrorism
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has unveiled its fourth generation of its Truck Stopping Technology since 2001. A small device mounted on a truck can be remotely controlled by law enforcement officials if they suspect the truck is hijacked and being used for a terrorist action. They'll use a handheld controller to activate the device which will deploy the truck's air brakes and bring the truck to a complete stop before attacking a nuclear plant or other sensitive facilities.

The LLNL engineers also have developed antennas which can be put on sensitive buildings and which will activate the device if trucks seem to come too close. These devices cost about $800 apiece, but cannot be mounted on trucks before some changes in legislation, in California and elsewhere. Read more for other details and references.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 10:21 AM Comments (0)
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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Kottke goes full-time with blog
Not long after as Justin Hall disconnected his brain-to-web tether, another blog pioneer, Jason Kottke, has announced he's quit his real job and plans to blog for a living. But instead of accepting advertising, Jason's asking his readers to become "micropatrons" and make a donation during a three-week, PBS-style pledge drive. Donate $30US or more and you'll have a chance to win a gift, which, we might add, are much better than a PBS totebag.
:: posted by Donald Melanson, 3:35 PM Comments (0)
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A Master Equation for All Life Processes?
In "Life on the Scales," Science News recently wrote that some simple mathematical equations, known as quarter-power scaling laws, can explain the metabolic rates of living organisms. For example, "an animal's metabolic rate appears to be proportional to mass to the 3/4 power." And this "3/4-power law appears to hold sway from microbes to whales, creatures of sizes ranging over a mind-boggling 21 orders of magnitude."

The ecologists, physicists and chemists behind this research are now successfully applying this equation to plants, fish, full ecosystems and even biology and genetics, by adding a new key parameter: temperature. Please read this fascinating article for many more details and references.

But save some time to read another long article, "Ecology's Big, Hot Idea," published by PLoS Biology, which states that "the way life uses energy is a unifying principle for ecology in the same way that genetics underpins evolutionary biology."

If you don't have enough time today to read these two long and dense articles before next weekend, here are some selected excerpts.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 8:16 AM Comments (0)
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Smart Holograms Used as Biosensors
In this short article, eWEEK writes that the next generation of biosensors will consist of small holograms costing only fractions of a cent. Prototypes developed by a U.K. company, aptly named Smart Holograms, include contact lenses that monitor glucose levels or thin badges that detect alcohol levels.

Not only these holograms used as sensors will be cheap to produce, they'll also require less training for nurses or police officers. This is because these holograms can be designed to show results graphically, such as morphing into an image of a green car if someone subjected to breath analysis is sober and can drive. Read this overview for other details and an illustration showing how to create a sensor hologram.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 8:14 AM Comments (0)
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Sunday, February 20, 2005

Man-Wearable PC with an Artificial-Reality Helmet
In this short article, InformationWeek writes that "two sexy technologies that flamed out five years ago -- wearable computers and artificial reality -- are combined in a new training-development system" for the military. This system, developed by Quantum3D, includes a binocular head-mounted OLED display and head-leg-weapon motion-tracking systems, integrated with a vest-worn tactical visual computer.

It runs under Windows XP and is compatible with the 802.11 a/b/g wireless networking standards. It will be used by the infantry to train soldiers, but it looks so complex that I would need intensive training just for using it. Read more for other details and an illustration of the full scary system.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 9:27 AM Comments (0)
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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Smart Carts Coming Soon to a Retailer Near You?
In this article, eWEEK reports about new smart carts announced by Fujitsu. After entering your shopping list on your Bluetooth-enabled PDA, you'll go to your supermarket and pick a smart cart which will download your list on the rugged screen (read brat-proof) of its $1,200 unit.

The system will lead you around the store, alert you about promotions, show you new recipes and update the shopping list in real time. It also can send messages to the deli or pharmacy sections and tell you when your order is ready. The U-Scan Shopper system allows you to remain anonymous and to receive only regular store promotions. Or you can use a loyalty card, receive targeted ads or recipes based on your shopping history, which will be maintained in the retailer's databases.

The article doesn't say anything about shoppers who still use paper lists, but I bet these carts are still not smart enough to guess what is written on them. Read more for other details and a picture of what you'll see on this smart cart's screen.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:51 AM Comments (0)
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Robots that Act Like Rats -- and Vice Versa
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have recorded the behavior of baby rats in enclosed rectangular environments and saw that the rat pups, almost blind and deaf, didn't move much after hitting the walls of their cages. They decided to build rat-like robots, inject them some software and rules, and see what will come from this.

Surprisingly, they saw that their robots didn't follow their software rules and started unexpected movements, such as circling the rectangular arena after a shock into a wall. This led them to revisit the original animal data and to conclude that baby rats also had similar behaviors even if they didn't pay attention to it previously.

Now the researchers want to give different sets of rules to their rat-like robots to predict the behavior or more sophisticated robots -- and also the rats' one. Read more for other details, references and pictures.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:49 AM Comments (0)
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Transgenic Mustard Cleans Up Soils
Researchers have genetically modified a common plant, the Indian mustard, to absorb more selenium, a toxic heavy metal found in soils polluted by irrigation wastewater. The transgenic plants were four times more efficient at swallowing selenium than natural ones in a contaminated area of California's Central Valley, according to articles from Nature and Wired News.

These field tests are only experiments, but the researchers also want to add genes to other plants to remove different toxic materials from soils, such as mercury. What would happen if such transgenic plants filled with dangerous chemicals start to crossbreed with natural ones? Or if an insect eats these plants before being eaten itself in the natural food chain, leading to some selenium in our food? Read more and tell me what you think.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:47 AM Comments (0)
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A Fishing Line That Changes Color Before Breaking
If you enjoy fishing, I have some good news for you. According to New Scientist in "Light-emitting line reels in the big fish," American chemists have designed a blend of polymers which changes color if it has been exposed to a previous excessive stress. Before going to fight with a 300-pound marlin, you'll have to put your fishing line under ultraviolet light. If some parts of the line appear green, it should break soon, so it's time to switch to a new one before jumping in your boat.

But these new fishing lines will not be on sale for a while. First, the changes of colors should be visible under normal light conditions, not only under UV. And real fishing lines are much stronger than the ones fabricated today in the lab. Read more for other details and great pictures of these new fishing lines.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:44 AM Comments (0)
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Sunday, February 13, 2005

Building Predictable Quantum Dots
Many teams of nanoscientists around the world want to be the first one to build quantum computers. To achieve this goal, they're using artificial atoms -- also known as 'quantum dots.' But even if they're able to use them, not a single team has been able to consistently control their quantum mechanical states -- or their properties -- at the nanoscale. Now, a team from Ohio University claims it found a flaw in quantum dot construction and proposes a solution.

And guess what? As it happens often in research, this new finding is based on a very simple fact: an interference between two physical phenomena. Read more for other details, references and a picture showing a quantum dot bombarded with laser light.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 8:12 AM Comments (0)
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Quarter Pounder Mac mini Cluster (with cheese)
Big companies usually don't like when people such as you and me are criticizing their products or making fun of their brands. You probably remember the two British guys who posted some weeks ago a spoof advertisement on the Web suggesting Volkswagen's cars were so tough they could withstand a suicide bombing. They were threatened by the company, which later agreed to drop action against them.

Now, a group of Italian people has designed a single Web page making fun of three of the biggest brands on the planet: Apple, Google and McDonald's. Read more and tell me if Apple, Google and McDonald's will smile or sue.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 8:10 AM Comments (0)
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Elektro, the Oldest U.S. Robot
If you happen to be around Ohio this coming fall, don't miss an exhibit at the Mansfield Memorial Museum featuring the 7-foot-tall Elektro, the oldest U.S. robot with its 65 years. "Elektro is the only survivor of a group of eight robots created by Westinghouse in Mansfield between 1931 to 1940 for several hundred thousand dollars each," according to this article from the Plain Dealer, Cleveland (free reg. is sometimes necessary).

Back in 1939, Elektro was able to walk, talk, raise and lower his arms, turn his head and move his mouth as he spoke. It used a 78-rpm record player to simulate conversation and had a vocabulary of more than 700 words.Thousands of people enjoyed Elektro at the New York World's Fair in 1939.

It even appeared in a long-time forgotten movie, "Sex Kittens Go to College," also known as "The Beauty and the Robot." This overview contains other details, references and pictures.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 8:07 AM Comments (0)
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Spotting Evolution on the Wing
What is responsible for the evolution of forms and shapes of living organisms? Is this our genes or the DNA mechanisms which control where genes are used in the making of the animal's body? Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found the answer by studying the various spots on the wings of a common fruit fly. In this article, they explain that molecular switches control where the pigmentation is deployed. Common genes are controlled to produce an endless array of patterns, decoration and body architecture found in animals. And it is almost certain that these molecular switches are at work in other animals, including humans.

What is even more fascinating is how it works. According to the researchers, evolution is a combination of chance and ecological necessity, which selects those things that are going to be kept. It means that animals' features are just accidents, but accidents that are preserved because they confer some kind of advantage. Read more for other details, references and a picture showing how fruit flies decorate their wings with a great diversity of spots and patterns.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 8:04 AM Comments (0)
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Nano-Probes Allow to See Tumors Through Skin
Nano-sized particles embedded with bright, light-emitting molecules have enabled researchers to visualize a tumor more than one centimeter below the skin surface using only infrared light. An interdisciplinary team from the Universities of Pennsylvania and Minnesota have imaged tumors within living rats by embedding fluorescent materials into cell-like vesicles called polymersomes, which are composed of two layers of self-assembling copolymers. According to the researchers, this imaging process has the potential to go even deeper.

And "it should also be possible to use an emissive polymersome vesicle to transport therapeutics directly to a tumor, enabling us to actually see if chemotherapy is really going to its intended target." Read this overview for other details and references, including a picture showing how these nanoparticles are used to image a tumor beneath the skin of a living rat.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 8:02 AM Comments (0)
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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Soda-Straw-Like Fiber Optic Sensors
At Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), researcher Jonathan Weiss, nicknamed the "light wizard," uses inexpensive soda-straw-like glass tubes for solving a variety of sensing problems. His twelve patents cover areas such as detecting if a car battery is about to die or if dangerous chemical materials are about to escape from a landfill into groundwater.

He also developed a sensor which can tell the difference between two liquids in a container. This could be used by oil companies which need to safely determine when to stop pumping oil from the ground before water invades a tank. This market represents about $750 million per year and these sensors should be available in two years according to an interesting story from the Albuquerque Tribune, "Bright Idea: Random chat leads to sensor pact."

Apparently, Weiss found an industrial partner for SNL on a flight between Albuquerque and New York. This overview is focused on this fiber optic sensor.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:32 AM Comments (0)
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Alaska Village Moves from Diesel to 'Micro-Nuke'
The small town of Galena, Alaska, is tired to pay 28 cents/kwh for its electricity, three times the national average. Today, Galena "is powered by generators burning diesel that is barged in during the Yukon River's ice-free months," according to Reuters.

But Toshiba, which designs a small nuclear reactor named 4S (for "Super Safe, Small, & Simple"), is offering a free reactor to the 700-person village, reports the New York Times (no reg. needed). Galena will only pay for operating costs, driving down the price of electricity to less than 10 cents/kwh.

The 4S is a sodium-cooled fast spectrum reactor -- a low-pressure, self-cooling reactor. It will generate power for 30 years before refueling and should be installed before 2010 providing an approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Read this overview for other details and references, including a diagram of the 4S reactor.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:30 AM Comments (0)
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Sunday, February 06, 2005

Ocean Waves Energy Tapped for Clean Electricity
The use of ocean waves energy is in its infancy today, but can lead to clean, affordable and renewable electrical power. Right now, it's probably 15 years behind wind energy, but it has a vast potential. For example, experts estimate that 0.2 percent of the ocean's untapped energy could power the entire world. And Oregon may lead future of wave energy with a project of the deployment of 200 buoys, each of them about 12 feet wide and 12 feet tall.

These buoys, located off Reedsport, Oregon, could be installed for an estimated initial cost of $5 million and would produce 50 megawatts, enough to power the business district of downtown Portland. But Oregon is not the only state looking at wave energy technology. Other coastal states and several other countries are also searching to produce clean electricity from ocean waves. Read this overview other details and references.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:07 AM Comments (0)
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Saturday, February 05, 2005

Close or Far, Fractal Networks Look the Same
Many complex networks, from the Internet to proteins interacting with other ones in a cell, or from actors having played together to Romanesque broccoli, have "a common architecture with snowflakes and trees." And even more surprisingly, Science News reports that "these networks all display similar patterns, whether viewed from up close or far away."

In fact, all these networks are scale-free networks. Like the airline system, they contain hubs -- nodes with a very high number of links. In such networks, the distribution of node linkages follows a power law in that most nodes have just a few connections and some have a tremendous number of links. In that sense, the system has no "scale."

The fact that these complex networks can show such a fractal pattern has important implications for a host of applications, from drug development to Internet security. This overview contains other details, references and spectacular images of complex networks.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 6:57 AM Comments (0)
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Friday, February 04, 2005

A Rolling Robotic Inspector
Rotundus is a spherical robot which was designed in Sweden to explore the planets of our solar system. But now, it found other occupations right on Earth. According to New Scientist, it could be used for surveillance and detection in rough environments and help security personnel. This rolling robot is very robust because it has no moving parts. It's also very fast -- up to 20 mph or 32 km/h -- because its shape limits friction with the ground.

It looks like a good candidate for outdoor environments because it can easily move on sand, mud or snow. But it might be less well-adapted for looking inside buildings: it's hard for a sphere to climb stairs. Read more about this robot which is not for sale today.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:33 AM Comments (0)
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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Sensors Everywhere
It's not the first time i choose to tell you about wireless sensor-network technology (check below for previous references). But this article from InformationWeek gives me the opportunity to revisit the subject. The story describes several current projects, from the Department of Homeland Security that wants to secure the U.S. borders, to British Petroleum (BP) monitoring its plants and chips. Hewlett-Packard and Intel also are experimenting with wireless networked sensors in some warehouses and factories.

As the market is growing, research companies are trying to figure its size. For example, Harbor Research says that the number of wireless sensors in use will grow from 200,000 today to 100 million in three years, adding that this will be a $1 billion market by 2009. I don't know if these numbers will be reached, but it's true that wireless sensor-networks, especially mesh networks, are really attractive because of their low costs of deployment.

Please read the original article if you have time or this summary for selected excerpts and comments about some remaining software challenges.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 10:34 AM Comments (0)
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Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Now in Mindjack
For those reading the RSS, Mindjack has just been updated. In this issue, Paul Hartzog looks at the changing nature of money and what might be in store for the currency of tomorrow in The Future of Money, plus I review Michael Winterbottom's independent science fiction film Code 46 on DVD.
:: posted by Donald Melanson, 10:58 PM Comments (0)
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Video Images Floating in the Air
The Korea Times reports that "science fiction becomes reality with a new holograph machine." In fact, the devices developed by IO2Technology look impressive. The Heliodisplay, which is about the size of a PC, is fed with images, swallows air and 'modifies' it. When the 'altered' -- but harmless -- air is ejected, it is illuminated to produce a continuous flow of 2D images. A first version, which can project floated images of 22 inches (55 centimeters) in the air, costs $18,600 -- including $9,000 payable in advance.

Even if I agree with the writer of the story that this is an interesting new technology with many possible applications, it's interesting that the company itself says that "although the Heliodisplay uses lasers, the images are not holographic." This overview contains other links and pictures about the Heliodisplay device.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 3:43 PM Comments (0)
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Open-Source Streaming Translations in Porto Alegre
The World Social Forum (WSF) (choose your language on the site), which ended yesterday in Porto Alegre, Brazil, has less money to spend on computing than the World Economic Forum (WEF) held in Davos, Switzerland. But at both events, many different languages were spoken, meaning that simultaneous translations were an absolute necessity.

If the WEF can afford professional translators and costly computers, in Porto Alegre, translators are volunteers, and the software to distribute the translations is open-source. The NIFT (Nomad Interpretation Free Tool) was already used for the 4th WSF held last year in Mumbai, India. The free software, which runs on a simple PC, collects and digitizes the translations from the interpreters before broadcasting them to a variety of devices.

In fact, the technically-advanced NIFT allows for real-time streaming over the Internet of speeches in several different languages. This overview contains many links, references and illustrations about the NIFT project.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 3:40 PM Comments (0)
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What's the date today? The answer is 2005-02-01
If you live in an English-speaking country, or if you're using an English-based software, chances are good that you're using "English" dates, and that today's date is displayed by default as 02/01/05 or 02/01/2005. On the contrary, in most areas of the world, the so-called "French" format will lead to something like 01/02/2005. Since 2003, the International Organization of Standardization wants us to use a single format worldwide. This ISO 8601 document, "Numeric representation of dates and time," has chosen the YYYY-MM-DD representation, going from left to right from the largest element to the smallest. So today is 2005-02-01.

On this very serious topic, you also can read this funny article from the Toronto Star, "We can put a man on the moon but we can't agree on what the date is."

Anyway, because of this incompatibility between different date notations, today is February 1, 2005 for me. Read this overview before switching to the YYYY-MM-DD representation -- or not.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 3:35 PM Comments (0)
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A New Way to Find Art with 'ArtGarden'
'ArtGarden' is a new search engine developed by British Telecom (BT) and tested by Tate Online. In "Smart search lets art fans browse," BBC News reports it allows you to browse the Tate's collection depending on what you like or not.

Instead of typing an artist's name, you will be shown an initial selection of pictures of paintings or sculptures. When you click on one image, the artificial intelligence component of 'ArtGarden' will choose the next set of pictures to show you. This choice will be partially based on keywords associated with each work of art, but unknown to you, partially on your previous preferences, and finally on plain luck.

This technology should soon become available online. With 'ArtGarden,' it will be like jumping randomly from one aisle of the museum to another. Read more about this neat new search engine for artwork.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 3:32 PM Comments (0)
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