By Dave ProchnowPosted 10.22.2007 at 2:46 pm 0 Comments
Ever have your umbrella blow inside out, only to cast it off into the nearest dumpster? Well, our good friends at ReadyMade magazine have a MacGyver challenge for repurposing a ruined umbrella. The best entry scores a subscription and a RM T-shirt. Hurry this contest ends November 30. No word on whether or not that tee is waterproof.
By Gregory MonePosted 10.22.2007 at 1:29 pm 7 Comments
As if the ugly uniforms weren't enough, now a private school is considering using RFID chips to track its students, too. At a school in South Yorkshire, UK, officials are testing a new system that tracks whether students are in a given classroom or not, and can also cut off access to certain areas of the school.
The radio-frequency identification tags tell the students' teachers whether or not they're in the building, and call up other critical data, such as photos and behavioral records, in the event that the teacher forgets who he or she is dealing with. Ten kids have been wearing the chips for eight months. And you have to wonder if any of them have been asked to read 1984 yet.—Gregory Mone
By Gregory MonePosted 10.22.2007 at 1:28 pm 0 Comments
Scientists have described a black hole that's nearly 16 times the mass of the Sun. Dubbed M33 X-7, the enormous object is known as a stellar black hole because it formed after the collapse of the core of a massive star. But scientists say M33 X-7 isn't just interesting because of its size. It's part of a binary system, orbiting a star that's 70 times the mass of the Sun. The two are in a tight orbit: the star eclipses M33 X-7 twice per week. Eventually it will go supernova, exploding outwards and collapsing into a second massive black hole.
M33 X-7 was actually discovered in 1981, but the companion star wasn't spotted until 2004, and even then many questions remained. Some thought a neutron star might have been in the mix.
Now we all just have to wait around to see what happens next with this massive, and only slightly less mysterious pair.—Gregory Mone
By Gregory MonePosted 10.22.2007 at 1:27 pm 0 Comments
This doesn't look like the work of a company that has its stock trading at more than $600 a share. Google had a decorate-your-cube contest, and the work of the two winning departments shows that the company clearly isn't short of creative folk. Most workers would probably just arrange their used, discarded coffee cups in a new way.
But Google's Data team turned their space into a real-life version of the pixelated but charming world of Super Mario Brothers, and the Analytics department went with a Jumanji theme. Apparently that group had a motion sensor box that set off a tiger's roar when someone walked past. This is what comes out of your data and analytics departments? Wow.—Gregory Mone
By Andrew RosenblumPosted 10.22.2007 at 3:00 am 1 Comment
The strange alliance between medical technology and super-violent video games continues. In addition to the Novint Falcon, an I/O device originally developed to convey tactile qualities of digital images to doctors, the E for All Expo also featured the 3rd Space FPS Vest, a device that delivers pressure to the body when a video game character gets shot. Like the Falcon, the FPS Vest has medical origins—it was originally designed by Mark Ombrellaro, a practicing vascular surgeon from Bellevue, WA, as a way for doctors to perform examinations over the Internet.
"There's actually some similarities in skills between medicine and video games," Ombrellaro says, who started TN Games to market the entertainment version of the device. "You have to be good with your hands—and there's also the science part."
Here's how Ombrellaro handles the science part with the vest: In response to real-time information from the game through a USB cable, the device sends up to 10 pounds of pressure from an air compressor to one or more of eight contact points in the front and back of the vest (you can see two of the points in the picture of the black vest). Blasts of pressure can last up to five seconds. TN Games will also be rolling out a different version of the vest with larger air bladders in it to simulate G-forces
in driving and flight simulator games (it's the red one in the photo). TN Games has created a software API to help game developers integrate support for the vest into existing titles in what Ombrellaro estimates to be no more than a week of programming and beta testing.
Ombrellaro is still seeking government approval for the medical version of the vest, since he has to prove that remote examinations are as reliable for detecting disease states as an in-person one would be. In the meantime, since the medical research gave rise to the video game tech, he hopes to re-direct some of the profits from the 3rd Space FPS Vest back into the medical side of the business.
But particularly as a follower of the Hippocratic Oath, does he worry that some resourceful, anarchic gamer might hack his vest to deliver pressure at unsafe levels?
"We can't eliminate modding," Ombrellaro says. "But we don't recommend it. We make all sorts of warnings in our materials."
I consider myself warned—given how 12-year-olds were already kicking my butt in the various shooters on display at the Expo, the last thing I need to add to my humiliation are a bunch of bruises.—Andrew Rosenblum
Now here's a hobby I didn't know existed: members of the North Texas Battle Group build elaborate radio-controlled balsa warships armed to the teeth with CO2-powered BB guns, then launch them in a nearby lake and battle it out. Also on board are pumps to evacuate water taken on after direct hits, independent rudder and propeller assemblies, and an auto-deployed float to help salvage the not-so-fortunate sunken wrecks. And it's not just in Texas—similar clubs are staging regular mini-naval battles around the world. —John Mahoney
On the final day of the Web 2.0 Summit, game designer and researcher Jane McGonigal gave a fascinating presentation about how gaming life and real life are merging—and how that could possibly be a good thing.
McGonigal offered some research findings that suggest the average gamer spends 16 hours per week in videogames or virtual worlds, and up to an additional 10 hours per week thinking about about gaming. She explained that young people worldwide (and in Asia, especially) have revealed that they feel more comfortable and more successful in the structured environment of games—where rules, goals, and paths to success are clearly defined—than in the real world. Sounds like a depressing trend, but one that's perfectly reasonable from a psychological standpoint. So what's the best way to reach a generation of people who prefer the safety of gaming worlds to real-world interactions? As McGonigal pointed out, game designers can keep cashing in by designing more interesting and elaborate games that allow people to withdraw to their computers, or they can help schools, charities and workplaces to introduce some of the best parts of gaming into everyday life, to make the real world more fun and less confusing.
Two notable examples of the latter, positive trend are the alternate reality game Cruel 2 B Kind, from McGonigal's company, Avant Games, and Attent, a workplace productivity app created by Seriosity.
Cruel 2 B Kind requires players to "attack" strangers through random acts of kindness—a stray compliment or helpful deed can earn a player points and weaken opponents. Strangers don't know why you're being especially nice to them, but it doesn't really matter. Nice is nice, right?
Attent helps desk jockeys build an "attention economy" in the office by providing prioritizing emails both sent and received through a currency system. Users trade virtual cash for getting things done through collaboration. The app also includes a really cool mapping function that shows, through cumulative email data, which people on your team are active contributors, and which could use a little, well, encouragement. Translation: everyone is accountable, so no more ignoring emails or passing the buck. Plus, it's kind of fun, and the game doesn't require any more effort than that annoying "high-priority" exclamation point people already stick on emails.
McGonigal's suggestion that adapting real-world processes to the psychology of gamers could increase productivity (and maybe even kindness) certainly is compelling...as long as we can get everyone out of WoW and into the office in the first place. —Megan Miller
PopSci's booth at Maker Faire was a crowd favorite (and we're not just saying that)—mainly because the projects displayed by contributors John Carnett and Theo Gray were both ingenious and superfun.
Want to make ice cream in 30 seconds, using liquid nitrogen? No problem.
How about an automatic beer-making, storing, and pouring machine? You can make one.
Video games your thing? Build a beautiful arcade table for your home.
Think watching movies in the backyard would be fun? We do, too! All the projects definitely struck a chord with the Austin audience. Next year we'll bring some scantily clad punk-rock fire dancers and a bike modded out with LED lights, and we'll be a total shoo-in. —Megan Miller
Yup, that's a real dead rodent. Eliciting ewws and ahs from the crowd in Austin this weekend, Christy Canida from Instructables showed off her "mouse mouse"—a project that combines taxidermy with tech for a darkly funny computer accessory. Want to make your own creepy controller? Follow the step-by-step instructions here. —Megan Miller