By Gregory MonePosted 08.08.2007 at 5:00 pm 4 Comments
This week's tragic coal-mine collapse in Utah has become the focus of an argument between scientists studying the event and executives at Murray Energy Corp., the company that owns the Crandall Canyon mine. On Monday, University of Utah seismographs recorded shaking near the mine that registered 3.9 on the Richter Scale, and 10 smaller aftershocks over the next day.
The company says the initial quake is what caved in the mine, but seismologists are arguing that the data suggests it was the other way around. They contend that a natural earthquake has a different seismic signature than the shaking produced by a cave-in, and that the data they picked up is more consistent with the latter scenario. Murray Energy, meanwhile, insists that the event was a natural disaster, and that they can prove it. —Gregory Mone
By Gregory MonePosted 08.08.2007 at 3:47 pm 0 Comments
Nissan has developed a cool new technology designed to stop drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel. The cool part is that it's not just about your breath. Yes, the technology includes odor sensors that analyze your respiratory exhaust, but it also measures the perspiration in your palms and checks your alertness levels by running an eye scan.
If the system thinks your drunk, the car won't start. The question, though, is how it's going to determine that level. There's no set schedule, but Nissan hopes to install the system in time to cut road fatalities in half by 2015.—Gregory Mone
Ever wonder what a blackhole sounds like? The sun? Remnants of the Big Bang? Yeah, neither had we but it turns out the answer is wind crossed with radio waves, an electronic heartbeat and the ocean. How? SpaceSounds has collected a handful of radio telescope recordings of pulsars, planets and machines (check out the oddly-addictive beeps of Sputnik). There are also human voices in the mix: Kennedy gives his "Man on the Moon" speech, ground control and the Apollo spacecraft communicate, a ground operator highlights technical issues Skylab 1 experiences during liftoff.
If written description isn't hacking it, listen for yourself at spacesounds.com
By Gregory MonePosted 08.08.2007 at 2:43 pm 0 Comments
A few more tantalizing rumors were making their way around the web last week regarding Apple's scheduled announcement yesterday, but the debut of the revamped iMac computer is still exciting news.
First of all, the new all-in-one model, which comes in 20- and 24-inch versions, is cheaper than its predecessors. Apple cut $300 off the price tag of the larger version, and $200 from the smaller one.
And on the features front, Apple added some new tricks and enhanced capabilities to its iLife suite of apps, particularly with photo management and video. And to appease the workaholic PC devotee so brilliantly depicted by John Hodgman in those Apple ads, the company also added Numbers, a new spreadsheet program. The company hopes the new models will further boost sales, which have been outpacing the rest of the PC manufacturers for a while now.—Gregory Mone
The recent bridge collapse in Minnesota happened in large part, people think, because the bridge was of a non-redundant design. Which is to say that if certain elements of the bridge failed, there was no backup, and the whole bridge would fall. Which it did.
We are told by the authorities that modern bridges are not built this way anymore, that they always have built-in redundancy. But redundancy is expensive: You kind of have to build everything twice. What if there were a better way?
Stephen Wolfram, with whom I co-founded the company that makes the Mathematica software, decided to take a look at the problem using the technique of experimental structure generation. You can read about it in his blog post.
The idea is to use simple programs to generate vast numbers of possible bridge designs—say, different possible layouts of struts—and then run a simulation on each one to see how well it performs. Some will be obviously stupid, some will be the same as current designs, but if you're lucky, maybe some of them will be better. They might find a way to spread the effects of a failure in one place out over the whole structure, for example.
This type of exploratory search for designs is the ultimate form of thinking outside the box. The structure-generating program intentionally doesn't know anything about good bridge design: It's going to come up with things that make no sense whatsoever. But experience in other fields shows that sometimes the completely ridiculous idea is the one that turns out to work. —Theodore Gray
Think youre giving your infant a competitive edge by plopping him in front of the TV for some educational-video time? According to one new study, thats not the case. In fact, you may actually be doing him more harm than good.
Frederick Zimmerman, a researcher at the University of Washington, worked with colleagues to gather information on the vocabularies of 8- to 16-month-olds, and how frequently they watched videos like Baby Einstein. After controlling for factors like parental education and socioeconomic status, the team found that for every hour per day spent watching the videos, kids vocabularies dropped by 17 percentile points relative to babies who didnt watch the videos.
Zimmerman speculates that these programs may simply pacify children, rather than teach them anything. Its like empty calories for the mind, Zimmerman told Science magazine. —Megan Miller
By Gregory MonePosted 08.07.2007 at 5:53 pm 1 Comment
Mobile phones just keep getting more and more powerful, adding on new functions and graphics and capabilities by the week. Now they could join in the battle against heart attacks. A prototype heart monitor that works in concert with a phone, connecting via Bluetooth, could alert patients and doctors about abnormal cardiac activity through a text message. The external device sends signals to the phone, which includes a program that checks for irregular beats. When something odd registers, both patient and doctor are notified, which allows them to act earlier, and possibly prevent a fatal heart attack.
Developed by scientists at Sri Sai Ram Engineering College and Sathyabama University in India, the prototype has not yet begun clinical trials, but its developers are also thinking about adding a GPS function that would allow monitors to pinpoint the patients location.—Gregory Mone
By Gregory MonePosted 08.07.2007 at 5:52 pm 1 Comment
The largest extrasolar planet ever found is a puffy one, according to scientists reporting in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal.
The planet, TrES-4, is roughly 1.7 times the size of Jupiter, but has the density of balsa wood. This puts it in a strange class of objects known as puffy planets, which have extremely low densities. Astrophysicist Georgi Mandushev of the Lowell Observatory in Arizona told Space.com that the planet is way bigger than its supposed to be. In other words, standard planets of that mass should be much tinier.
Located about 1,400 light years from Earth, the planet orbits its sun in just three and a half days. When it passes in front of that star, astronomers can calculate its size. As for why its puffy, they're still trying to work that out.—Gregory Mone
Physicist says we might be able to visit the past, but getting back to the future is another story
By Gregory MonePosted 08.07.2007 at 5:52 pm 1 Comment
Dont get your spurs and six-shooter ready for a visit to the Old West, but scientists at the Technion Institute in Israel have made some theoretical headway towards a time machine. Physicist Amos Ori has been in the time travel business for a few years now we published a primer on his ideas here but now he says that hes developed a theoretical model showing that future generations could one day travel to the past.
You may have noticed that, as of Friday, there are a few new additions to the rules in the About section of PPX. We posted to the forums about the rules change, but we wanted to post here as well, to make sure all users are aware of the new policies.
PPX was established for two purposes: 1) to let PopSci readers and other interested players actively participate in making predictions about the future of science and technology and 2) to generate the most accurate data possible about these predictions. We hoped to accomplish these two goals without imposing too many rules and restrictions on the market, but weve observed trading behaviors that make it clear that a more explicit anti-manipulation policy is necessary for maintaining a fair and fun environment for all PPX members.Please read the About page for a summary of the revised rules. These rules are now being actively enforced. Thanks for your patience as we continue to grow and develop PPX. --The PPX Staff