Saturday, January 31, 2009

Autonomous Robots Invade Retail Warehouses

Next time you order a new pair of skinny jeans from, you should know that you are helping welcome in the hive-mind robot overlords of retail.

Warehouses run by Gap, as well as Zappos and Staples now use autonomous robots to pluck products from their shelves and send them to you.

All the robots are told is where products are located and where they need to go. From there, the robots, which look like massive orange Roombas, figure out the rest. They locate the stack of shelves with the needed product on it, slide beneath the stack to pick it up and then find their own routes from the stacks of stuff to human operators. And they manage to find just the right time to get themselves recharged for five minutes out of every hour.

"It's a major game-changer. There's no question about that. You can increase productivity immensely," said Michael Levans, editorial director for a group of supply-chain trade magazines like Logistics Management. "The Zappos guys claim that from the moment you put your order in and it is submitted to the time the box is on the dock and ready to be put on a truck is 12 minutes."

The robots, which in the largest distribution center currently number over 500, are built by a small company called Kiva Systems (no relation to the microfinance outfit). In total, they've installed more than 1,000 bots at a dozen warehouses and are growing quickly. By the end of this year, they expect single locations to have systems with 1,000 of the machines.

They don't use sophisticated visual sensors to navigate; instead, they know where they are by using a simple and cheap grid system that's stuck onto the floor of the warehouse.

That allows warehouse operators to switch off the lights and climate controls in the large areas of the warehouse that are patrolled solely by robots, cutting energy costs by as much as 50 percent over a standard warehouse.
Pretty cool. Check out this video as well:

via Wired


Friday, January 30, 2009

Interesting Articles of the Week

The real Slumdog Millionaires.

Ottawa boy's invisible invention warns birds about deadly windows.

A little dirt is good for you.

Crack babies: the epidemic that wasn't.

Norway or the highway: Poo powers Oslo buses.


Cheap, Super-Efficient LED Lights on the Horizon

The race towards better, more affordable solid state lighting is heating up quickly. The U.S. government has sponsored a $20M USD prize for the first team of researchers to come up with solid state lighting that meets a strict set of standards. New research has finally helped to eliminate the LED droop typically associated with the higher currents needed to provide greater efficiencies.

Now a team at Cambridge University may be close to having a winning design on their hands, perhaps for the L Prize, if they're eligible, and for the consumer market. The university has produced a new design which costs a mere $2.85 USD and despite being the size of a penny, produces similar light to a fluorescent bulb while lasting over four times as long with a lifetime of 60 years.

The new design triples fluorescent bulb efficiency and is 12 times more efficient than incandescent designs. Also, it’s capable of instantaneous illumination, so the light lag associated with fluorescent bulbs may soon be a thing of the past.
I am a big fan of these contests to promote innovation. If they can produce these for $2.85, this will be well worth the $20 million. Of course if they do last 60 years, it might be the last light bulb you ever buy, and worth waiting a couple more years to make sure it is as good as its going to get.

So what was the breakthrough?
Gallium nitride cannot be grown on silicon like other solid-state electronic components because it shrinks at twice the rate of silicon as it cools. Crystals of GaN must be grown at 1000°C, so by the time a new LED made on silicon has cooled, it has already cracked, rendering the devices unusable.

One solution is to grow the LEDs on sapphire, which shrinks and cools at much the same rate as GaN. But the expense is too great to be commercially competitive.

Now Colin Humphreys's team at the University of Cambridge has discovered a simple solution to the shrinkage problem.

They included layers of aluminium gallium nitride in their LED design. These layers shrink at a much slower rate during cooling and help to counteract the fast-shrinkage of pure gallium nitride. These LEDs can be grown on silicon as so many other electronics components are. "They still work well as LEDs even with those extra layers inside," says Humphreys.

Growing the LEDs on silicon was assisted by a number of advances at other U.S. and European research institutions.

A 15-centimetre silicon wafer costs just $15 and can accommodate 150,000 LEDs making the cost per unit tiny.

via Daily Tech and New Scientist


US University Shows Radio-controlled Live Beetle

The University of California, Berkeley succeeded in the experiment of controlling a live rhinoceros beetle by radio and disclosed the video of the experiment at the MEMS 2009 academic conference taking place in Sorrento, Italy.

Researchers at the university controlled the movement of beetle wings and some other parts using radio signals sent to the six electrodes on its brain and muscles. They equipped the beetle with a module incorporating a circuit to send signals to the electrodes, wireless circuit, microcontroller and battery. The university has so far succeeded in several experiments of electrically controlling insects, but it used a radio control system this time.

The researchers used rhinoceros beetles in this experiment because they can carry a weight of up to 3g. They can fly carrying the module weighing about 1.3g on their backs. And another reason is that they look cool, according to the university.
Finally, a cool looking cyborg insect.
For that use, the university is planning to mount sensors including a camera on a beetle in the future. With the sensors, rhinoceros beetles will be able to work as surveillance robots in place of humans. As they can carry a weight of 3g, 1.7g of sensors, in addition to the 1.3g of the current module, can be mounted.
Putting the bug back in being bugged.

via Tech On via Engadget


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Carbon Footprint of Orange Juice

How much does your morning glass of orange juice contribute to global warming?

PepsiCo finally came up with a number: the equivalent of 3.75 pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted to the atmosphere for each half-gallon carton of orange juice.

As was the case with Walkers, Tropicana hired an outside auditor, the Carbon Trust, to review its calculations and certify its footprint.

Making orange juice is relatively straightforward: the oranges are picked by hand, trucked to the plant, squeezed, pasteurized and packed into cartons and shipped by train to distribution points around the country.

Growing the oranges accounted for a larger share — about a third — than PepsiCo had expected, almost entirely because of the production and application of fertilizer.
Interesting to see where in the life cycle most of the CO2 is emitted. Looks like fertilizer use is the largest portion accounting for 35% of the total.

via NY Times


Monday, January 26, 2009

Best Computer Workstation

Scott Jones, the CEO of human powered voice/sms search engine ChaCha (our recent coverage), has one of the awesomest computer setups I’ve seen.

It can be seen, along with everything else in his house, in this MTV Teen Cribs video (also embedded below) that focuses on his fifteen year old son. For the computer, jump to the 3:25 mark.

The setup: 3.4 GHz P4 CPU, 2 GB RAM, 8x Dell 19 in. monitors, Colorgraphic Xentera GT display with ATI, Schwinn 205p recumb bike, Ergotron frame.
Do want. I previously looked at the idea of using a computer while on a treadmill, but I think a stationary bike would work even better.

via TechCrunch


6,000 Lbs Food Grown on 1/10 Acre in the Suburbs

NY Times Mag reports:

Jules Dervaes and three of his adult children live on one-fifth of an acre in Pasadena, Calif., a block away from a multilane highway. On this tiny sliver of land, they manage to be mostly self-sufficient. “This is our form of protest,” says Dervaes, who is 60, “and this is our form of survival.” The family harvests 6,000 pounds and more than 350 separate varieties of fruits, vegetables and edible flowers annually. They brew the biodiesel fuel that powers the family car.
Amazing that they could grow that much food on 1/10 an acre in the middle of the suburbs. More information on the numbers and how they do it here. In 2008 they harvested 5,500 lbs and they have a goal to grow 10,000 lbs.

I am curious though how many calories are in the foods that they grew. They state that this accounted for 2/3 of the food eaten by 4 adults, which I would interpret to mean that it is enough food to feed 2.6 people, or that a 40' by 40' section of land could support one person. I am also curious how much they are able to sell this food for to the local restaurants and how many hours of work it takes to raise it. Would it make economic sense for more fruits and vegetables to be raised in suburbs, right next to their customers?

Update: Video here.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Carbon Footprint of a Google Search

I have been curious about the carbon footprint of a Google search for a while, and the Google Blog comes through with the information:

Google is fast — a typical search returns results in less than 0.2 seconds. Queries vary in degree of difficulty, but for the average query, the servers it touches each work on it for just a few thousandths of a second. Together with other work performed before your search even starts (such as building the search index) this amounts to 0.0003 kWh of energy per search, or 1 kJ.

In terms of greenhouse gases, one Google search is equivalent to about 0.2 grams of CO2. The current EU standard for tailpipe emissions calls for 140 grams of CO2 per kilometer driven, but most cars don't reach that level yet. Thus, the average car driven for one kilometer (0.6 miles for those in the U.S.) produces as many greenhouse gases as a thousand Google searches.

That means a typical individual's Google use for an entire year would produce about the same amount of CO2 as just a single load of washing.
The post is in response to a Times article that stated incorrectly that a search had a footprint of 7g. Both Wired Science and TechCrunch gave their take as well.

While a Google search seems like an ephemeral thing with no impact on the environment, in fact they require many servers which require energy both to build and operate them. It has been estimated that computer servers use 1.2% of total US electricity.

But, the overall impact of a Google search is very small. It is likely that the impact of running your personal PC for the 10 seconds that it takes to review the results is greater than that of the Google servers. And, if the information gleamed from the search saves you a car trip than it more than pays for itself in saved energy. If you are trying to reduce your carbon footprint, there are definitely better things to do than to try and reduce the number of Google searches you make.


The Best Marketing Job in The World

It’s an attention-seeking gimmick, but it’s a good one. Australia’s Tourism Queensland is looking for a caretaker to live on Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef. Job duties include fish feeding, snorkeling and blogging about your experience.

Pay? AU$150,000 for six months (about $100,000). Plus “return airfares from your nearest capital city (in your home country), accommodation and transport on Hamilton Island, travel insurance for the contract period, computer, internet, digital video and stills cameras access, plus travel to a number of the other Islands of the Great Barrier Reef.”

You can apply here. Applications are due by February 22.
What a great marketing job this was. According to the BBC:
A website set up to accept applications crashed after receiving more than one million hits in three days.
For only $100,000, Hamilton Island got over 1,000 news articles written about it. The additional tourists that visit due to this exposure is sure to generate more revenue than that. Well done to the marketing team on this one.

And fish feeding, snorkeling and blogging? Yup, that about sums up the Fat Knowledge definition of best job in the world.

via TechCrunch


Education and Unemployment

While the unemployment rate is reported as one number, the likelihood of someone being unemployed varies greatly by level of education as shown by this graph from the BLS:
More can be seen by looking at the employment status of those age 25+ by by education level in Dec 08:

Google Spreadsheet

Not only does unemployment go down with higher education but also the likelihood of dropping out of the labor force altogether. While fewer than 1/2 of those without a high school diploma are in the labor force, over 3/4 of those with a college degree are. Following up on my previous post, since many of those not in the labor force are actually discouraged workers that would like to work, if they were included in the unemployment rate the difference between education levels would be even greater.

While the population of individuals with a college degree is more than twice as much as those that did not graduate HS, the number of unemployed people is almost equal, and the number of people not working (unemployed + not in labor force) is actually greater for those without a HS degree.

The impact of the recession has also differed based on education level.

Google Spreadsheet

Those with no HS diploma had the greatest increase in their unemployment rate, going up 3.4% (10.9-7.5) . On the other hand, those with a college degree had the greatest % increase in the unemployment rate, going up 76% (3.7/2.1-1).

I am curious if the stimulus package will help reduce unemployment more for educated or uneducated individuals and if that is taken into account at all in the kind of jobs that they hope to create.

This also makes me wonder how much the unemployment rate of a country is determined by its education system. If all those that dropped out from HS were able to graduate, would their unemployment rate drop from 10.9% to 7.7%? Or is it all relative, so even if they did graduate, if they were still in the lower 25% of educational attainment they would still have a 10%+ unemployment rate?


Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Misleading Nature of the Unemployment Statistic

Loyal Fat Knowledge reader and French blogger Laurent GUERBY (the auto-translate feature on Google Reader is pretty sweet by the way) makes a compelling case (translated version) that the unemployment statistic reported by BLS is worthless because of the growing number of "inactive" non-employed individuals that are not considered unemployed because they are not actively seeking work.

The yellow line shows the currently reported level of unemployment unemployed/total population (slightly different that the unemployment rate which is unemployed/labor force), the blue line shows the percentage of "inactive" workers (not in the work force) and the pink line is unemployed + inactive.

And even the pink line is too low as it only takes into account the Civilian noninstitutionalized population and ignores the 2.3 million people are in prison in the U.S. in 2007 (of which over 90% are men) which Laurent calculates would add another 2 to 3%.

One can only note that the number of inactive growing steadily from around 3% in 1948 to over 9% after 2003. The share of unemployed it hovered around its average over the period was 4%. The total number of unemployed remained below 8% until 1974 and then took off with three peaks to 14% in 1982, 2003 and 2008 never back down below 8%.

What is the situation of these men from 25 to 54 years in 2008 were unemployed and did not seek, or 8.7 million people?

The least we can say is that these figures yet available, not only to economists, after multiple requests from economists bloggers I returned empty-handed with exactly zero paper studying this phenomenon is massive probably a key to understanding the world of work after the Second World War.
One thing this graph makes me wonder about is the story that was told about the "new economy" in the late '90s that was able to have much lower levels of unemployment without inflation kicking in. The explanation was that this was due to greater productivity growth. But, looking at the pink line rather than the yellow one, I wonder if instead the issue was with how unemployment was being measured. That many people that were not considered "unemployed" were actually available, so employers could continue to hire without having to raise wages.

David Leonhardt makes a similar case about the misleading nature of the unemployment statistic over at the NY Times.

The unemployment rate reached its highest point since 1993, and overall employment fell by more than a half million jobs. Yet that was just the beginning. Thanks to the vagaries of the way that the government’s best-known jobs statistics are calculated, they have overlooked many workers who have been deeply affected by the current recession.

The number of people out of the labor force — meaning that they were neither working nor looking for work and that the government did not consider them unemployed — jumped by 637,000 last month, the Labor Department said. The number of part-time workers who said they wanted full-time work — all counted as fully employed — rose by an additional 621,000.

Take these people into account, and the job market may be in its worst condition since the early 1980s. It is still deteriorating rapidly, too.

Such language may sound out of step with a jobless rate that, despite its recent rise, remains at 6.7 percent; the rate exceeded 10 percent in the early 1980s. But over the last few decades, the jobless rate has become a significantly less useful measure of the country’s economic health.

That is because far more people than in the past fall into the gray area of the labor market — not having a job and not looking for one, but interested in working. This group includes many former factory workers who have been unable to find new work that pays nearly as well and are unwilling to accept a job that pays much less. Some get by with help from disability payments, while others rely on their spouses’ paychecks.

The unemployment rate has been made less meaningful by the long-term rise in dropouts from the labor force. The simple percentage of people without jobs — including retirees, stay-at-home parents and discouraged would-be job seekers — can also be misleading, though. It has dropped in recent decades mainly because of the influx of women into the work force, not because the job market is fundamentally healthier than it used to be.
Further information on those without jobs that aren't unemployed, to understand whether they are stay-at-home parents, students, retirees or discouraged job seekers would be very helpful to understand why the number is rising.

One alternative to the official unemployment statistic from the BLS is to use one of the other 5 unemployment statistics that the BLS releases. They now calculate 6 types of unemployment figures: U1-U6, with U3 being the official version. The higher versions add in discouraged workers and others that would like to work but aren't in the official unemployment number. This graph (source) shows how they have changed over the years.

The definition of unemployment is very important when comparing unemployment rates between countries. While the unemployment statistic make the US look to have much lower unemployment than Europe, if you look instead at employment rates of those 25-54 the US is almost identical to Europe (and surprisingly the US has a lower employment rate than "socialist" Sweden).

Update: This chart shows that the spread between U3 and U6 has greatly increased over the last year meaning that the level of underemployed people is growing much faster than the officially reported level of unemployment.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Interesting Articles of the Week

14% of U.S. adults can't read.

Globalization at its finest: Obama-branded Chinese ripoff of a Finnish phone launches in Kenya.

Cooling the planet by growing the right crops.

Scientists find new creatures of Australian deep.

Robotic sub installs deep-sea webcam.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where Your Laptop's Power Really Goes

For Windows 7, we’ve added a new inbox utility that provides an HTML report of energy efficiency issues—a “Top 10” checklist of power problems. If you want to try it out on Windows 7, run powercfg /energy at an elevated command prompt. Be sure to close any open applications and documents before running powercfg—this utility is designed to find energy efficiency problems when the system is idle. powercfg with the /energy parameter can detect USB devices that are not suspending and applications that have increased the platform timer resolution.

For more advanced analysis, we have provided the Windows Performance Toolkit. The Performance Toolkit makes it very easy for software developers to observe the resource utilization of their applications, resolve performance bottlenecks and identify issues impacting energy efficiency.

Interesting how almost 1/2 of energy goes to power the screen and only 9% to the processor (well 30% if you include the chipset). More interesting information on how Windows 7 is reducing energy usage in laptops in the article.

via Engineering Windows 7 via Lifehacker


Monday, January 19, 2009

The Train in Spain Replaces the Plane

As the government pumps more money into the system, Spaniards are abandoning commercial airlines so quickly that domestic flights carried 20 percent fewer people last year. That's big news in a country that has long depended upon commercial aviation to connect its major population centers.

Spain has been late to the train game in part because it is larger than other European countries and its major cities are typically 300 miles apart. For that reason, Spain has long favored air travel, and it has been a boon for the nation's airlines.

But no more.

Air travel has been so big that the route linking Madrid and Barcelona was the busiest in the world in 2007 with 971 departures per week. That started to change in February when the government joined the two cities, which are 410 miles apart, with a high-speed line that cut travel time to 2 hours and 35 minutes. Other lines have opened or are in the works, each of them carrying AVE trains capable of 220 mph, and they're stealing passengers from airlines.

Airlines carried 72 percent of the 4.8 million long-distance travelers who opted to go by rail or air in 2007. That fell to 60 percent last year, and Joseph Valls, a professor at the ESADE business school in Barcelona told The Guardian "The numbers will be equal in two years."

Beyond convenience, there is a strong environmental argument for the high-speed AVE trains, which are a more energy-efficient way to get around. Alberto Garcia of the Spanish Railways Foundation estimates AVE trains use 19 percent less energy than conventional trains and generate one-sixth the carbon emissions of a plane.

The government plans to lay another 10,000 km (6,200 miles) of high-speed track by 2020 and ensure 90 percent of Spaniards live within 30 miles of a station offering high-speed service. Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero promises to build Europe's finest high-speed rail system, no small feat considering the web of tracks covering Western Europe.

I find train travel vastly more pleasurable than airplane travel. It is more relaxing and allows a better view of the scenery as you travel. I hope the US follows the Spanish model and promotes high speed train travel.

Anymore, a plane trip involves an extra 1.5 hours to check in and get through security and another .5 hours to get your luggage on the other end. With the extra 2 hours a plane trip takes, all voyages less than 666 miles actually are quicker end to end on a 200 mph train than a 500 mph plane.

And because trains run on electricity it is much easier to power them with renewable fuels than planes.

via Wired

Update: Rebelfish points to this informative interview with Michael Dukakis on High Speed Trains in the US.


Google Notebook Being Shutdown

TechCrunch reports:

At Google, when it rains, it pours. In the wake of announcing its first round of layoffs this afternoon, Google has released several blog posts detailing the upcoming shutdown of a number of services (compiled here by Danny Sullivan). Included among the upcoming closures are: Google Notebooks, Google Catalogs, Dodgeball, Google Video, Google Mashup Editor, and future development of Jaiku (though the service will live on).
While I can see why Google would want to focus on fewer projects given the change in the economy, it sucks that they choose to kill Google Notebook which is one of my favorite Google services.

From The Google Notebook Blog:
Starting next week, we plan to stop active development on Google Notebook. This means we'll no longer be adding features or offer Notebook for new users. But don't fret, we'll continue to maintain service for those of you who've already signed up. As part of this plan, however, we will no longer support the Notebook Extension, but as always users who have already signed up will continue to have access to their data via the web interface at
But, with 600 comments maybe there will be enough popular support for Google to reconsider (or at least keep the current Notebook Extension kicking).

Lifehacker looks at alternatives to Notebook. I gave Evernote and Zoho Notebook a whirl. Evernote is pretty cool, (especially the text search in images) but it isn't as good as Google Notebook for seeing the contents of lots of text notes on one page. Zoho Notebook allows you to see many notes on one page, but doesn't work nearly as slickly as Google Notebook and overall I prefer Evernote over Zoho.

I will keep my fingers crossed that Google reconsiders this decision and that I won't have to migrate to either of these inferior services.

Update: This Wired How-to Wiki also looks into this and finds another service Ubernote which has an import Google Notebook feature. I tested this one out, and I think I like it better than the other two, but still isn't as good as Google Notebook.

Zoho, Evernote Open Up Google Notebook Importers


World of Greencraft

At a recent climate change conference sponsored by Stanford University, Byron Reeves, a professor there, proposed an unlikely marriage of online gaming and consumer smart meters. Instead of just displaying incremental changes in energy consumption on the homeowner’s PC as raw data, what if it were incorporated into an MMOG (for those non-gamers that’s a massive multi-player online game)?

In such a game, your energy consumption in the real world would be linked to the game world — the more energy you save, the more points you get. This demo video produced for the conference demonstrates how that might work, showing different home owners competing to have the most energy-efficient house in the virtual world.

While still a hypothetical game, it’s based on real research of human behavior. As an expert in psychological processing of media, Professor Reeves has studied the high levels of engagement people invest in games like World of Warcraft, which are avidly played by tens of millions worldwide. Players feel an emotional investment in their character, which they want to improve by achieving game goals, but the biggest rewards require a team effort.
via Earth2Tech


Friday, January 16, 2009

George Bush Creates 3 Giant Marine Reserves

George Bush, using executive privilege, ordered the creation of three giant marine reserves in American waters in the Pacific. In total some 500,000 square kilometres, roughly equivalent to the size of Spain, will be better protected in the three zones. Reefs, islands, and the ocean around the Mariana Islands, Palmyra Atoll and Rose Atoll will be covered.

The announcement had been expected for months, amid wrangling over the level of protection that would be given. Recreational fishermen demanded access to the remote waters, if only for the sake of avoiding a precedent that could affect what they do elsewhere. A compromise was reached that will let them fish in the reserves, with a permit, if they can prove that they would cause no harm. In contrast, commercial fishing, tourism, and the extraction of oil and gas will all be forbidden. In a few places, including Kingman, such protections already existed out to a 12 nautical mile (22.2km) limit, but the new reserves will extend these limits to 50 nautical miles, creating vast new protected areas. The many birds on Kingman should now thrive, benefiting from valuable fishing grounds.

It will be up to Mr Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, to work out some important details for the new reserves, such as where to find resources needed to protect these new areas. After Mr Bush created the Hawaii reserve there were actually fewer funds provided for the clean-up of 28 tonnes of debris, some of it hazardous to marine life, that wash up on the islands every year.
More marine reserves sounds good to me. But, putting it on paper is one thing, making sure it actually is protected is another. I hope Obama follows up on this. Given his Hawaiian background, I think he will.

via The Economist


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The LOHAFEX Iron Fertilization Experiment

A major Indian-German geoengineering expedition set sail this week for the Scotia Sea, flouting a U.N. ban on ocean iron fertilization experiments in hopes of garnering data about whether the process actually does take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and sequester it in the deep ocean, a technique that may help reverse global warming.

The LOHAFEX experiment will spread 20-tons of iron sulphate particles over a 115-square-mile section of open ocean north of Antarctica — that's about 1.7 times the size of Washington, D.C. The initiative has drawn fire from environmental groups who point out that 200 countries agreed to the moratorium until more evidence was available about its efficacy.

But that hasn't stopped the LOHAFEX team, composed of Alfred Wegener Institute and Indian National Institute of Oceanography scientists, who say they need to conduct experiments to get such data.

By providing plankton with iron in water where iron is lacking, the marine creatures grow in tremendous numbers, incorporating carbon into their bodies. When the plankton die and sink, the carbon goes with down with their skeletons. It is unknown, however, how much of that carbon actually makes it deep into the ocean, where it would be sequestered for decades, not days.

At a panel at meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science last year, marine geochemist Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute said that somewhere between 2 and 50 percent of the carbon the plankton eat could actually make it to the depths of the ocean, which is basically like saying that we don't know if the process works.
I am glad they are undertaking this. Hopefully this experiment will produce good data as to how much additional plankton is created and how much gets sequestered.

But, I actually hope that not much of the carbon is sequestered by this process. I would rather that the plankton were eaten creating more fish and other sea life higher up the food chain.

via Wired


Ad Targeting At Its Finest

via TechCrunch


Monday, January 12, 2009

8 Cool Gizmos at CES

Here are my 8 favorite gadgets from the recently held Consumer Electronic Show:

1) Mattel's Mind Flex teaches kids fake telekinesis, by requiring players to concentrate really hard in order to power a fan that floats a ball through a hoop (video).

2) LG's Digital Photo TV displays a static picture like fine art or vacation pics when not showing TV and only uses 10-15 percent of the power. I think this is a cool idea to allow your TV to be a digital picture frame. Seems simple enough to do, I don't know why there aren't more TVs that do this. Or why Tivo and cable boxes don't integrate this function.

3) LG's Dick Tracy watch phone. I don't get if you are always supposed to have a bluetooth headset with you, or if it you can hold it up to your ear to use it.

4) Flexible OLED display that can be worn on the wrist.

5) Palm Pre, the new smart phone from Palm. Looks really good. I thought Palm was dead, but they might be in the midst of an Apple like rebirth. The wireless recharge via the Touchstone is also cool.

6) Samsung's cell phone with a built in pico projector. Oh dear God. Do I really want to live in a world where anyone can spring a PowerPoint presentation on me from their phone?

7) Wireless power and recharging of gadgets: Fulton and Powermat.

8) Networked TVs. All sorts of manufacturers are working with Netflix, Amazon and Yahoo to get content from the internet directly on your TV. It will be interesting to see if this catches on more than Blu-ray disks.


Open Wi-Fi Aids Terrorists, Mumbai Cops Say

Open wi-fi is a terrorist tool and has to be shut down, right this second. That's the conclusion, at least, of the Mumbai police. Starting today, the Times of India reports, "several police teams, armed with laptops and internet-enabled mobile phones, will randomly visit homes to detect unprotected networks."

"If a particular place's wi-fi is not password-protected or secured then the policemen at the spot has the authority to issue notice to the owner of the wi-fi connection directing him to secure the connection," deputy commissioner of police Sanjay Mohite tells The Hindu. Repeat wi-fi offenders may receive "notices under the Criminal Procedure Code," another senior officer warns the Times.

Mohite notes that e-mails taking credit for terror attacks in New Delhi and Ahmedabad were sent through open wireless networks. "Unprotected IP addresses can be misused for cyber crimes,'' he says. Other Indian cities now require cyber cafes to install surveillance cameras, and to collect identification from all customers.
Kudos, India. I did not think it was possible to fight the war on terror any more incompetently than the US has, but you have now proved me wrong.

The logic here is impeccable.
Mohite notes that e-mails taking credit for terror attacks in New Delhi and Ahmedabad were sent through open wireless networks.
Yes, if those terrorists couldn't have sent e-mails taking credit, then the whole plot would have been foiled.
"Unprotected IP addresses can be misused for cyber crimes,''
Good point. Of course, unprotected IP addresses could have also been used by the victims (tourists with iPhones perhaps) to send information to the police while the attacks were occurring, giving the police the upper hand over the terrorists. But, we wouldn't want that.

via Wired


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fish Catches and the Decline in Marine Life

Who knew that oysters had the steepest decline of all marine creatures?

via The Economist


Friday, January 09, 2009

NYT Mag: Green Issue

The New York Times Magazine Green Issue came out a while ago, but I finally got around to reading it. Lots of interesting ideas in bite size chunks. A worthy read.


Interesting Articles of the Week

Boy, 6, misses bus, takes Mom's car instead.

FDA to consider drugs made by genetically modified goats.

Students, scientists build biological 'machines'.

Farmer in Chief.

iFart developer makes $40,000 in 2 days.


The Tom Daschle Health Care Pyramid

I think we need to change the paradigm in this country on health. It starts with that big-picture belief that the paradigm needs to be changed from illness to wellness.

I look at health care as a pyramid, in every country, where, at the base of the pyramid, you have primary care, and you work your way up until you get more and more sophisticated, until at the very top you have heart transplants and MRIs.

Every country starts at the base of the pyramid with primary care, and they work their way up until the money runs out. We start at the top of the pyramid, and we work our way down until the money runs out. And the money runs out. And so few people get good primary care and wellness.
I think that is a good way to look at it.

I also think the pyramid has another level below primary care of food and exercise. If more attention was paid there, the rest of the pyramid wouldn't be as expensive.

via News Hour


Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Coming Neurological Epidemic

Interesting 4 minute TED talk by Gregory Petsko.

Three things I didn't know:
1) By 2050, there will be 31.6 million Americans over the age of 80 and if we don't do anything about it, 1/2 of them will have Alzheimer's disease and another 3 million will have Parkinson's disease.
2) People with neurological diseases have a low incidence of most cancers.
3) Glaucoma is Alzheimer's disease of the eye.

via TED


Green Army

The rich world abounds in environmental ideals but lacks biodiversity. The number of animals and plants that thrive in Europe and much of North America is only a fraction of those found in tropical regions. Too often people see environmental problems like climate change, deforestation, wildlife exploitation and loss of biodiversity as things that happen elsewhere—when in fact, developed countries have plenty to worry about: industrial and automotive pollution, the loss of marine life in their over-fished waters, the decline of songbirds in the countryside, and the effects of climate change on everything and everyone.

Could people get as motivated about the beetles down the road as the rainforest in Brazil? That is the hope of a new project in Britain called Open Air Laboratories (OPAL), which aims to mobilise the British population to become more engaged with nature. If the idea works it will create a small green army of ordinary citizens who will create community environmental reports and contribute to national surveys of soil, air, water, biodiversity and climate.

They will be armed with new tools designed for mobile phones to help them study and record wildlife, and share their findings with others. They will also monitor pollutants, rainfall and soils, and in so doing help communities to address local environmental problems. This is particularly relevant when it comes to measuring the impact of climate change.
Open source science meets cheap handheld technology. Cool.

via The Economist


For Good Self-Control, Try Getting Religious About It

“We simply asked if there was good evidence that people who are more religious have more self-control,” Dr. McCullough. “For a long time it wasn’t cool for social scientists to study religion, but some researchers were quietly chugging along for decades. When you add it all up, it turns out there are remarkably consistent findings that religiosity correlates with higher self-control.”

As early as the 1920s, researchers found that students who spent more time in Sunday school did better at laboratory tests measuring their self-discipline. Subsequent studies showed that religiously devout children were rated relatively low in impulsiveness by both parents and teachers, and that religiosity repeatedly correlated with higher self-control among adults. Devout people were found to be more likely than others to wear seat belts, go to the dentist and take vitamins.

“Brain-scan studies have shown that when people pray or meditate, there’s a lot of activity in two parts of brain that are important for self-regulation and control of attention and emotion,” he said. “The rituals that religions have been encouraging for thousands of years seem to be a kind of anaerobic workout for self-control.”
First, "anaerobic workout"? I find that ironic, as anaerobic means without air, and when you meditate you focus on your breathing.

I think exercises for self-control should be added to schools, as it can be improved with practice and it leads to better academic performance and success in life.

I wonder if students in religious schools have better self-control? Looks like even if that were true, just adding religion to schools won't necessarily help self-control:
Does this mean that nonbelievers like me should start going to church? Even if you don’t believe in a supernatural god, you could try improving your self-control by at least going along with the rituals of organized religion.

But that probably wouldn’t work either, Dr. McCullough told me, because personality studies have identified a difference between true believers and others who attend services for extrinsic reasons, like wanting to impress people or make social connections. The intrinsically religious people have higher self-control, but the extrinsically religious do not.
And just being spiritual rather than religious doesn't help self-control either.
In one personality study, strongly religious people were compared with people who subscribed to more general spiritual notions, like the idea that their lives were “directed by a spiritual force greater than any human being” or that they felt “a spiritual connection to other people.” The religious people scored relatively high in conscientiousness and self-control, whereas the spiritual people tended to score relatively low.

“Thinking about the oneness of humanity and the unity of nature doesn’t seem to be related to self-control,” Dr. McCullough said. “The self-control effect seems to come from being engaged in religious institutions and behaviors.”
So, what will work to increase self-control for non-religious individuals?

Dr. McCullough’s advice is to try replicating some of the religious mechanisms that seem to improve self-control, like private meditation or public involvement with an organization that has strong ideals.

Religious people, he said, are self-controlled not simply because they fear God’s wrath, but because they’ve absorbed the ideals of their religion into their own system of values, and have thereby given their personal goals an aura of sacredness. He suggested that nonbelievers try a secular version of that strategy.

“People can have sacred values that aren’t religious values,” he said. “Self-reliance might be a sacred value to you that’s relevant to saving money. Concern for others might be a sacred value that’s relevant to taking time to do volunteer work. You can spend time thinking about what values are sacred to you and making New Year’s resolutions that are consistent with them.”
via NY Times


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Bill O'Reilly vs. Keith Olbermann

Google Suggest cuts through the spin and finds the worst people in the world.

via Digg


Monday, January 05, 2009

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

via The Onion via Digg


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Best of Fat Knowledge 2009

The most popular and/or my favorite posts of 2009: