A number of propositions (SUBPC, HIGAS and TRANSF) have end dates this holiday weekend. Trading will halt on the specific date mentioned within each prop, and payouts will be processed on Tuesday, September 4th. Enjoy the weekend!
I've heard of guys who will drive their families hours out of the way to catch a glimpse of a certain train in motion, who gather with others of their kind for a night of beers and train sounds on the stereo, who talk about superconducting tracks the way I talk about a great steak. But I never knew they were an actual market. For the Bobby Bacala in your life, here's Railfan: Taiwan Takatetsu, a PS3 train sim title (and a sequel, by God) which overlays animated cockpit graphics and readouts atop HD video shot from the nose of real trains. Sounds boring to me, but evidently some dudes will shell out fifty bucks for the experience of piloting a Taiwanese bullet from Taipei to Zuoyong Station. —Jacob Ward
It ain't just for fetus-watching anymore. Engineers from the University of Washington have devised a way to use ultrasound to seal lung punctures. Typically, wounded lungs can be healed when enough pressure is applied to staunch the bleeding. Occasionally doctors have to suction out blood and air from the surrounding area. But in about one-tenth of the cases, extremely invasive operations are needed: ribs have to be separated, long incisions are necessary, the damaged portion is either sewn up or removed. With ultrasound, however, doctors can direct a high-intensity beam at the wound to seal up the fissure [using the hand held device at left]. The heat bonds blood cells even while tissue separating the wound and device stay cool.
Thus far, the treatment has been tested only on pigs' lungs where no more than a couple of minutes were needed to stabilize the "patient." But previously, it's been successful in closing human blood vessels and stemming bleeding spleens. Doctors hope the treatment could have a range of applications in the future, possibly revolutionizing internal medicine altogether. Sounds promising. Till then, presumably, be prepared to don a curly tail if you want the treatment.—Abby Seiff
Everyone's expecting Apple to introduce a few new versions of its enormously popular digital music players next week. And for the same price.
The consensus, gleaned from Wall Street research analysts and blogs, seems to be that the new iPods will be about an inch shorter, and have more space for storing digital media. But there's also some speculation that some of the new models will incorporate the new touchscreen technology developed for the iPhone. The logic there is simple—the company built an innovative new technology, so they might as well use it in more than one product.—Gregory Mone
Apparently 14,800 nail-gun accidents occur each year. Who knew? We can't seem to tear our eyes from the ponderable X-rays posted on thisoldhouse.com. Check it out while we mull over the question: just how did that nail get into this part of the head?—Abby Seiff
A faulty fridge can spoil anything—leftover pasta, eggplants, sections of a skull.
A man who had been undergoing brain surgery awoke to the bad news that a large area of his skull, removed and placed in cold storage while surgeons operated, had to be jettisoned because it wasn't stored in chilly enough conditions. Instead, doctors affixed a plastic prosthesis, which the man claims has been giving him headaches and making him strangely sensitive to the weather.
He sued the hospital for $27,000, but a court yesterday rewarded him only $4,100. Apparently, experts concluded that the plastic cap was actually better than the spoiled skull—the problems he'd been experienced probably resulted from the way it was attached. Either way, the lesson here is clear. If you're going to put part of your head in the fridge, first make sure the appliance is working properly.—Gregory Mone
A survey of British teens revealed that nearly a third are not sleeping enough at night, dozing only for four to seven hours. The probably cause, according to the study, is their device-attached lifestyle. Many of the kids had either a computer, phone or music player in their bedrooms, and a good percentage often went to sleep with one of those devices still turned on.
The result, according to a group called The Sleep Council, is that the kids aren't resting well or long enough to let their brains gear up for the next day. The researchers who conducted the study of 1,000 British teens say these shortened nights are the equivalent of junk food, hence "junk sleep."—Gregory Mone
Aerospace genius Dr. Paul MacCready, founder of AeroVironment, Inc., passed away yesterday at 81 after an undisclosed illness. He had a list of achievements that would make anyone proud. His Gossamer Condor won the Kremer prize in 1977 for a human-powered flight; its successor, the Gossamer Albatross, was the first human-powered airplane to cross the English Channel. He created GM's ground-breaking solar-powered car, the Sunraycer, excelled as both a sailplane designer and pilot, and he developed many high-altitude, long-duration unmanned vehicles, including NASA's Helios. Under his mentorship at AeroVironment, his team of engineers have done everything from develop miniature flying surveillance robots to design the most efficient ceiling fan blade ever.
But MacCready will be remembered most for what he represented—the noble, ever-optimistic pursuit of advanced technology in the name of conservation and efficiency. In 2003, MacCready participated in Popular Science's Centennial of Aviation roundtable discussion about the future of aviation, which involved many aerospace luminaries, including Burt Rutan, Peter Diamandis, and George Muellner. He made one of the greatest impressions of the group—on this observer anyway—with a single comment: "Do more with less." By that he meant, when designing a vehicle—airplane, automobile, bicycle, whatever—don't spend time trying to get more power into it. Rather, focus on getting it to consume the least amount of power possible. Words to live by, and a supremely elegant approach to all of the challenges he faced. It may not be the official mantra at AeroVironment, but it's evident in everything they do there.—Eric Adams
There have been some lively discussions in the forums lately regarding the details of the PPX antimanipulation regulations. Today we amended the rules with some clear language about these issues.
PPX was created to gather information about the PopSci audience's opinions on the likelihood that given science and technology predictions will come to pass. To maintain the integrity of that information, and to keep the game fun for the thousands of people who have become PPX members, we've tightened up the rules to put the emphasis on individual, human decision-making. Operating two or more accounts in conjunction is not allowed; nor is using a script to log in and/or make trades for you. Please read the revised rules, in the About section of the site. Questions? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or ask Yog-Sothroth in the forums. —PPX Admin
The nearly 6,000-foot-long Tacoma Narrows Bridge, known as Galloping Gertie, opened up on July 1, 1940, and collapsed just four months later. Winds reached 42 miles per hour on that fateful day, which proved too intense for the structure. There were a number of causes, but the basic problem was that engineers hadn't yet learned to account for wind loads in their designs. During the planning phase, the engineers reduced the proposed depth of the concrete and steel girders beneath the roadway from 25 to 8 feet. This loosened the stiffness of the road, and made it much more susceptible to wind. In fact, before the collapse, local residents had noticed that less intense gusts could cause the bridge to move. But those movements involved longitudinal waves – one end of the bridge rose, the other fell, in a less dramatic fashion than what we see in one of the early scenes in this clip.
Prior to the collapse, though, the wind induced torsional movement. In other words, the road started to twist. While the center line stayed stable, one side of the roadbed rose and the other dropped. When this twisting motion peaked, the sidewalk on one side was 28 feet higher than the opposite one.
Eventually, this twisting motion proved too much for the structure. The cables started to snap, and chunks of the bridge fell into the water below. Finally, the entire center collapsed. With this mass gone, the sections on either end sagged dramatically, dropping more than 40 feet. Nowadays wind-tunnel testing is fairly standard for bridge designs. When engineers drew up the plans for Gertie’s replacement, which has been standing for more than 50 years, you can bet they spent a lot more time factoring in the breeze.—Gregory Mone
The lawyers for former NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak, currently on trial for attempted kidnapping and intent to inflict bodily harm, may claim temporary insanity.
The married mother of three allegedly drove 900 miles from Houston to Orlando to attack a woman she believed was dating an astronaut with whom Nowak had also been romantically involved.
Nowak, who was part of the second shuttle mission to the ISS following the Columbia disaster, and recently apologized publicly for her actions, apparently suffered from depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, insomnia and other illnesses before setting out on her trip. NASA already dismissed both Nowak and the other astronaut, Navy Commander William Oefelein.—Gregory Mone
If R. Kelly went deaf, he'd surely want one of these. Numerous blogs are buzzing about a new gold-plated, diamond-encrusted hearing aid and wireless remote from Widex that's available for $50,000.
Lately the trend has been to design hearing aids that are as subtle and unobtrusive as possible. Most people don't want to advertise their disability. But this one shouts, Yes, I've lost some hearing, but I've still got money. We haven't had any luck getting in touch with the Widex folks yet to find out whether this is a real product or a clever illustration, but we'll let you know soon.—Gregory Mone
It's a good time to be an Angeleno. Kind of. In the September issue of Geology, USC earth scientists report that the Los Angeles basin is experiencing some seismic downtime. The scientists say that heavy seismic activity alternates between this LA area and the Mojave Desert, and the latter is currently in the middle of a hectic period. Los Angeles, by contrast, is going through a lull characterized by smaller, infrequent quakes.
But what these scientists mean by small might not make sense to anyone who experienced the devastating Northridge earthquake in 1994. According to the authors, the current lull has been in effect for 1,000 years, and the severity of the earthquakes that would occur in an active phase would be far more damaging than the Northridge event. These calm periods generally last about 1,500 to 2,000 years. So, if you're looking to buy in LA, play it safe, and don't plan on staying more than a few hundred years.—Gregory Mone
The teen genius who figured out how to free the iPhone from its AT&T service plan obligations is trading his unlocked super-gadget for a new car, just in time for the start of his freshman year of college. Terry Daidone, founder of Certicell, provider of wireless aftermarket goods, offered 17-year-old George Hotz a Nissan 350Z and three 8GB iPhones in exchange for the unlocked version.
Hotz has offered to send the three new phones to three of his online collaborators, and even though he's starting his first year of school, he's not done tinkering with Apple's latest device. He's hoping to add GPS functionality to the iPhone by using cell phone tower triangulation. And then he'll do his homework.—Gregory Mone
At the Second Life Community Convention in Chicago this weekend, panelists and guests gathered to discuss the progress of and prospects for the growing virtual world. The real-world meeting featured live music, a masquerade ball and proclamations of how Second Life will be bigger than the Internet. Some panels focused on social networking issues - building trust, for example, and the sex life of avatars. The latter panel, hosted in part by someone named Stroker Serpentine, proved to be one of the biggest draws. But some of the more interesting discussions centered around the economic prospects of Second Life members. One entrepreneur noted that it's difficult to get people to show up for work in her virtual shop - her "employees" don't treat it like a real job.
Sibley Verbek, who runs a company called Electric Sheep that helps businesses set up shop in the virtual world, stressed that Second Life needs to be easier to use before it can truly take off. Only 1 out of 10 newcomers to Second Life remain active members, and Verbek thinks this is probably a usability issue. He said that Second Life needs to 'AOL-ify' itself. The comment earned some laughs, but CNET writer Caroline McCarthy convincingly argues that the assessment is dead-on.—Gregory Mone
In the past few years, Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins (hidden at left) have repeatedly demonstrated the value of magical cloaking materials, but proving whether these things are actually possible, sans movie magic, has been more difficult. In a recent issue of the prestigious journal Physical Review Letters, scientists from Zhejiang University and MIT look at the science behind these movie mainstays in attempt to determine whether or not one could ever be made. The cloak would likely be composed of metamaterials, man-made matrices that re-direct electromagnetic waves around an object, instead of scattering them in different directions. Scientists have had some luck deflecting microwave-range radiation using metamaterials, but bending visible light won't be that simple. Still, while it does look like North Face won't be offering invisible ski jackets for another few decades, the good news is that researchers still seem to think these materials can be made.—Gregory Mone
Three weeks after the cave-in of the Crandall Canyon Mine, rescuers are still searching for missing miners, but now they're hoping for help from a robotic camera. After drilling another hole into the mine, and finding no new information, rescuers were planning to use an 8-inch, 70-pound, waterproof camera to search for possible survivors.
The robot, constructed over the past week by the Canadian company Inuktun, could be lowered up to 2,000 feet, and should then be able to travel another 1,000 on its own. It has two cameras and a 200-watt light to brighten up the space, but there's no guarantee that it will even make it down into the holes.—Gregory Mone
A revised version of a brutal video game called Manhunt 2 will go on sale around Halloween. Originally, the U.S. Entertainment Software Ratings Board slapped the title with an "Adults Only" label. This was essentially a death warrant, since none of the big console manufacturers allow games with that rating to run on their machines. Take-Two Interactive Software, the publisher of Manhunt 2, modifed the game, which reviewers at IGN called the "goriest game we've ever seen."
Take-Two is the same company that created the similarly frightening BioShock, and also publishes the Grand Theft Auto series. So, you know, they're kind of accustomed to this controversy thing.
The preview for Manhunt 2 is straight out of a horror movie. I'm frightened just writing about it. In the game, you're the unlucky outcome of a government-funded project gone wrong. You have little or no memory, and essentially have to kill your way out of insane asylum. It's kind of like tossing Jason Bourne into one of the Hostel flicks. Personally, I prefer the little pizza-tossing brothers hopping around giant mushroom land, but if you're into the whole virtual maiming thing, I'd definitely give this a try.—Gregory Mone
Burning Man 2007 starts next week, a festival-city of 40,000 that goes up for seven days in the Nevada desert to celebrate art, community, and the torching of a 40-ft Man. Afterwards, the city disappears in less than a week, leaving not even disturbed stones (you're supposed to rake them back in place).
Fittingly, given the festival’s Leave No Trace ideology, this year's theme is environmental technology. And in response, a team of artists with an interest in alternative fuel is building a 120-foot land slug that will tool around the desert hoovering garbage like a giant Roomba. The designers’ website says the chrome-plated creepy-crawly will produce fuel for natural-gas-powered cars at the event, as well as fertilize a terrarium of orchids and ferns in its body cavity. Also, its excretions will fuel a garden of flame-flowers around its middle and a fire-show out its anus.
How, you say? The Mechabolic, as it’s known, has three segments—head, thorax, and abdomen—each to be outfitted with different technologies that mimic real-life biological systems. The head will have machines for grinding up garbage, the thorax will house the garden (they’re drawing a connection between breathing plants and lungs), and the fuel will be produced in the abdomen by gasification of the garbage. Gasification is a process that converts carbon-based matter into carbon monoxide and hydrogen by heating it with limited oxygen, which extracts more energy than traditional combustion. The resultant synthesis gas—or "syngas"—is converted to hydrocarbons for use in specially modified engines, and the odds and ends left after combustion can be used as fertilizer. While not a new process, gasification has been receiving renewed attention since its high energy output and potential for nurturing new sources of carbon—i.e., plants—means it can actually have a net-negative carbon footprint.
The caveat to all of this is that at last look, construction photographs show only a metal skeleton mounted on a hinged platform. Presumably the machine-guts already exist and just aren’t in the group’s flickr album, but judging from the fact that self-locomotion plans have already been ditched for being dragged behind a tractor, this doesn’t bode well for the final product.
But the group hopes to take the slug on tour after Burning Man, so the festival isn’t the drop-dead date for the Mechabolic. And the greening of Burning Man extends far beyond this one project. A "World's Fair" of new environmental technologies including "interactive artistic, scientific, and educational models" will curl around the base of the Man in the Green Man Pavilion, with both artists and inventors contributing to the display. The greenhouse gases and carbon released by the building and burning of the Man will be offset by tree-plantings and other activism.
Other projects are on Burning Man’s website, and soon hordes of videos and photos will flood the Net from the mobile web the organizers set up for their seven days in the desert. Keep your eyes peeled for the slug.—Veronique Greenwood
Who hasn't looked for the silver lining of this whole climate change fiasco? (Spring-like Januarys! Lucrative shipping passages! More cod in Greenland!) And now that always-optimistic bunch, surfers, are turning Alaska's crumbling glaciers from a frightening harbinger into the setting for perhaps the greatest extreme sport ever invented. Last week champion surfers Garrett McNamara and Kealii Mamala made history by being the first people to ride a glacial wave. After camping for weeks (and spending hours at a time bobbing in the frigid water), they caught the wave made by a 400-feet chunk of Child's Glacier crashing down and rode it for about a minute.
Garrett's conclusion? "I wouldn't recommend it for anyone. I won't be going back. This is not a new sport." Fun!—Abby Seiff