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« June 2006 | Main | August 2006 »

Diamonds? Forever. Gadgets? Not So Much

Apple_newtonHow do you make two months' salary last forever? Buy a diamond. How do you make two months' salary last approximately six months before you endure daily grand mal seizures of buyer's remorse and technolust? Buy an expensive piece of gadgetry. Well, that's my motto, anyway. The fellas at CNET in the U.K. took the matter further and pitted a 1997 Apple Newton against a brand-new Samsung Q1 UMPC. And guess what? The Newton won. One major factor in the victory was battery life. While the Q1 lasted about 2.5 hours before collapsing in a heap of exhausted silicon, the marathon-man Newton was good for 30 laps around the clock. So, Steve Jobs, there's a lesson in this: Create a gadget that can run for 30 hours, and it will be beloved forever. Give me a device that, when scarcely two years old, lasts an hour (like my iPod), and I'm gonna throw the f***ing thing across the office in a fit of rage. —Joe Brown

Link via Slashdot

Combat Wi-Fi Pirates...the Fun Way

Upsidedown_ebay_1 Everyone, admit it: You’ve stolen wireless Internet before. And although popping on to some poor sucker’s unsecured network to BitTorrent last night’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance? is one of the Internet age’s great semilegal pleasures, having people ganking your wireless only impedes your God-given right to free dance-based reality-show downloads at a reasonable speed.

Yes, you could always just enable encryption on your router to stop casual users from freeloading. But instead of simply locking them out, wouldn’t you rather have them questioning their sanity by, say, redirecting all their traffic to kittenwar.com? Or by flipping all the images they see upside down, or making them all blurry? With a little Linux hacking, this guy split his network into two halves—an encrypted half for himself, and an unsecured, tweaked-out half for the Wi-Fi thieves. A pretty ingenious prank, if you ask me, especially if you have thin enough walls to hear your Interweb-stealing neighbors wondering where their marbles have gone. —John Mahoney

Link - ex-parrot.com

Oh My God, I'm Trapped in a Computer!

CursorkiteIf you're walking along one fine summer day, and happen to look up in the air and see a giant cursor pointing down at you, do not freak out. Tron is just a movie, you are not a program, and that giant cursor is just a giant kite. Flown by a giant nerd. And since the company that makes the thing, Windfire Designs, prices its kites pretty reasonably, chances are that giant nerd pointing at you with his cursor kite will be me.—Joe Brown

Link via Make


2boards_small_1It’s no secret that major world events send ripples of collective emotion through communities—witness the outpourings of grief and charity after 9-11, the Southeast Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina—but what if those ripples could be felt without the aid of TV broadcasts and Web news reports?  What if such events made a psychic impression independent of any sort of human communication? Sounds like a bunch of New-Age hooey, but researchers at Princeton University, and one graduate of NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications program, are exploring the possibility with the help of random number generators.

Without going into too much detail about the Princeton project (you can read more about it at the link below), researchers found, over the course of a 30-year project, that during significant global events, random number generators present statistical anomalies that could conceivably be chalked up to changes in the collective human consciousness.

Even if you’re skeptical about this hypothesis, NYU grad Rob Seward’s thesis project, the “Consciousness Field Resonator,” is worthy of attention. Seward built a random-number generator (housed in a handsome copper box) that hangs on the wall and alerts users of statistical anomalies with a series of bright lights. When the lights flash, you’re left to wonder what’s causing the alert. Is it the bombing in Lebanon or Iraq? A World Cup victory? Shiloh Jolie-Pitt’s birthday? Whole new systems of superstition could be built around this thing. Sure, it’s art first and foremost, but it’s also a really interesting use of technology and a kick-ass DIY project. Download instructions for making your own here. —Megan Miller

Link via robseward.com
Link via Princeton University

Dispatch From the Front

Iraq_1 My cousin, Jonathan Adams, is an Army medic serving in Iraq. A few weeks ago, I sent him a care package with a bunch of PopSci magazines, books on military, space and technology subjects, Starbucks coffee, and some of the goofy gadgets that show up in the office from time to time, including a DJ sound mixing station they can use for parties and a hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered model car.

Thankfully, the box arrived safely. Here’s a brief look into life over there:

“Eric: Thanks so much for the package. It was great. I've already read the book "Contract Warriors" and I'm now working on "First Man." My friend saw the book about the Navy Seal Corpsman and just had to read it while on leave, so I let him borrow it. I have passed around all of the magazines and all of my guys say thank you! The thumb-wrestling dragons cracked me up. When I actually get some solid free time, I'd like to mess around with the fuel cell kit. I have yet to completely read the article on the networked battlefield yet, though I have browsed it. Looks like all the contributors really did their research.

Time is really flying by here. I should be going on leave at the end of next month...I can't wait!! Things do get crazy every now and then around here. I'm a medic for an infantry platoon in a cavalry squadron (battalion). I love my guys and we really take good care of each other. We spend most of our time "outside the wire" where cold water and an unoccupied cot is heaven sent. Just the other night, my platoon was hit with an IED while conducting a route recon. No one was injured thank God but two of my trucks were damaged, including mine. My lower back is a little sore from the concussion but nothing serious. We all actually got a kick out of it a few moments after it happened, yelling curses in the middle of the night to the bastards who set it off. But no time to be scared. Mission first. Going right back out tomorrow for another 5-7 days of fun. I hope all is well with you and your family. Thanks again for the package. It really lifted our spirits!

Talk to you soon,

—Eric Adams

Winning—and Losing—the First Wired War
Graphic Indeed

Can the Sun Keep You Cool?

Underconstruction_0805 I probably don’t have to tell you that it’s been hot this week—almost every state in the country reported a high temperature above 90°F somewhere within its borders yesterday. And as we all know, oppressive heat means oppressive energy consumption, a vicious cycle that perpetuates the effects of global warming. New York City’s power company, Con Edison, reported all-time usage records earlier this week as people remained indoors with their air conditioning cranked, causing scattered blackouts across the city (our managing editor has been without power for three days). But what if our air conditioners were able to harness some of the sun’s wicked heat and turn it into the life-saving cool air on which our comfort depends? Florida-based Matteran Energy might be able to help us do just that.

Instead of using expensive photovoltaic cells to convert solar radiation to electricity directly, Matteran’s solution uses far-cheaper thermal-collection technology to heat a synthetic fluid with a very low boiling point (around 58°F), creating enough steam to drive a specially designed turbine. And although a fluid-circuit system converting heat into electricity is nothing new, Matteran’s innovative solution increases the system’s efficiency to a point where small-scale applications make economic sense (see the animation on the company’s Web site for a more thorough explanation).

So far, Matteran has created only small amounts of refrigeration, but the technology is in place to take the next step, creating a unit with the equivalent cooling of a standard window-mounted A/C that is powered entirely by the sun’s heat—something I don’t think our carbon-choked  planet will be running out of anytime soon. —John Mahoney

Link – matteranenergy.com (via Treehugger)

It's Pretty Easy Being Green
The Life Aquatic

Deals Rush In

Picture_8 One of the most important ways the Internet has affected daily life is the way we shop—especially for consumer electronics. I rarely buy anything in a store without first seeing if I can get a better deal online, and BensBargains.com, one of hundreds of sites serving announcements of big rebate offers, coupon codes and close-out deals is usually a first stop. This week, the Ben behind Ben’s Bargains launched dealspl.us, an interesting interpretation of the deal-site model cross-bred with the community-powered nature of sites like digg.com. All the deals on the new site are user-submitted, and the hottest ones surface to the top of the page after receiving votes of approval from other users. Check it out, because if you’ve never felt the unique endorphin rush of saving hundreds on gadgetry over the regular store-browsing schmuck, you’re really missing out. —John Mahoney

Link - dealspl.us

Captcha Yourself a Date

HotcaptchaYou know those little grids filled with squiggly numbers and letters that you’re supposed to copy into a box at the bottom of commercial Web sites? They’re called captchas (an acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing Test to tell Computers and Humans Apart,” after mathematician Alan Turing, in case you’re interested), they’re designed to determine that you’re not a spambot, and they’re almost universally annoying. Almost.

In the interest of making Web security more fun, several clever programmers have recently built applications that turn captchas into games that let you pick out three things that will prove you’re a human. kittenauth.com offers a cutesy version that presents a grid of fluffy animals and asks you to pick out three of a kind.

Hate cats? Try hotcaptcha.com, a Hot-or-Not mashup developed by Web 2.0 group FrozenBear. This variation shows you a series of pics of real people and asks you to choose the three hot ones.  There are male and female versions, and if you like what you see you can click “Meet Me” to access the person’s profile. Sounds funny, but—like Hot or Not—it's kind of mean-spirited and also highly subjective, which makes it useless, security-wise. Case in point: Apparently FrozenBear and I have very different tastes in men, because every time I submitted my picks the response was “Wrong! Die, bot, die.” —Carla Thomas

Link via kittenauth.com; Link via hotcaptcha.com

Caloric or Not
Beauty Check: Angie's Asymmetry

Luxury Travel = In-Flight Smoking?

SmokersI sometimes find myself longing for the golden days of air travel, when it was a luxurious experience and not just a bunch of sweaty businessmen crammed seven-abreast into 25-year-old planes. To be fair, I'm only in my twenties, so I've never actually experienced this golden era, but I have seen it in the movies: attractive, well-dressed sophisticates sat in comfy chairs with enough room to cross their legs while they read international editions of newspapers, drank coffee out of delicate china mugs, and ... SMOKED.

Smoking has been illegal on U.S. flights since 1987, and most other countries followed suit shortly thereafter. But if you find yourself longing for the good old days—particularly the smoking aspect—-check out SMINTAIR (stands for Smokers International Air). SMINTAIR is a new luxury airline based around bringing luxury to flying. And by luxury, I mean smoking. Here's an excerpt from the company's Web site, smintair.com (which could use a copy editor’s touch):

SMINTAIR will treat its passengers like the guest of an international Grand Hotel. It is an obligation to SMINTAIR to bring back the exclusivity in flying encountered in the 1960s and dearly missed by so many. The classic ambience paired with today's technology will make flying SMINTAIR a unique experience. Presentations of luxurious goods with all due countenance, Telephone, TV, DVD, MP3, Internet, are just some of the many envisioned tools and aspects of in-flight entertainment...Allowing our guests to smoke is one of the freedoms we are happily prepared to grant. Non-smokers will find the cabin air more refreshing than on any other flight with any other airline, as SMINTAIR adds fresh outside air to the conditioning system! This is more expensive, as it burns more fuel, but it is seen as an additional service to our guests.

There are no flights scheduled yet, but let's assume a ticket on SMINTAIR costs about the same as a normal biz-class ticket. Would you pay more to smoke your way to your destination? Tell us in the comments section. -Joe Brown

Smoked Brains
Why Nicotine's Not That Bad For You

Are Women Worse At Web Surfing?

Photo by Ordinary Guy

Remember the talking Barbie doll that caused a minor scandal for Mattel in the early 1990s by telling young girls “Math class is tough!” every time her voice-box string was pulled? According to a recent study comparing people’s perceived Internet skills with their actual Web adeptness, the Internet might be Barbie’s new math.

The study, co-authored by researchers from Northwestern and Princeton universities, identified several trends in Internet adeptness that made perfect sense (younger users were better than older ones; more educated trumped less educated). But because the Internet is a relatively new tool, researchers hypothesized that men and women would be equally skilled surfers.

Not so, their study shows. True, women and men are on an equal playing field in terms of skills. But when asked to rate themselves, women consistently stated that they were less able than men. At the same time, men as a group rated their skills significantly higher than women’s.

These findings match up with studies of ability and perception across gender in math as well, suggesting that the old Barbie-endorsed stereotype isn’t fully dead yet. If women aren’t careful, researchers say, this notion of inferiority may become reality. Says Eszter Hargittai, an assistant professor of communication studies at Northwestern and co-author of the study: “By underestimating their ability to effectively use the Web, women may be limiting the extent of their online behavior, the ways in which they use the Internet and, ultimately, the career choices they make.”

Hopefully, my fellow Web-surfing females, this study will serve as a wake-up call to stop underestimating ourselves. I don’t think this troubled world of ours can bear another Barbie-related gender scandal. —Nicole Price Fasig

Link (Los Angeles Times)

Feminists: Destroying the Planet?
Artificial Wombs
Is This Car Sexy or Sexist?

Britain Says Goodbye to Standby

No more standby modes for this man

It seems like it’s becoming increasingly difficult to buy an electronic device that doesn’t come with a standby mode—the “always on” function that draws a reduced amount of power to allow for quick startups. TVs, videogame consoles, DVD players, cable boxes—basically your whole living-room A/V setup, not to mention your coffee machine—now come stocked with little standby lights that continue to glow well after the devices have been turned “off.”

This week, in its annual energy review, the British Government announced intentions to put a stop to this trend, proposing a ban on any device with a standby mode that draws more than one watt of power. With more efficient standby modes—especially from notoriously power-greedy televisions—Britain hopes to reclaim a large chunk of the 8% of annual British energy consumption drawn by devices in standby.

And while we’re talking about phantom energy wasters around the house, what about that tangle of A/C adapters beside your desk, used for charging the laptops, cellphones, digital cameras and portable game systems that no gadget fiend can leave the house without? As long they’re plugged in, power bricks continue to draw energy—even when not charging anything.

What can you do to eliminate this waste? Put your gadget chargers on one power strip that you can switch off when not in use. While you may not notice a huge difference on your individual power bill, when applied to the estimated 2.5 billion devices in the U.S. running on power supplies, the difference is pretty significant: The Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. environmental nonprofit, estimates that increased power-supply efficiency could result in savings of 32 billion kilowatt-hours per year—the equivalent of six coal-fired power plants and 24 million tons of carbon emissions. —John Mahoney

The Surfer's Dream Pillow

Picture_2_1For most people, being abruptly shaken awake by a vibrating pillow at the crack of dawn is not an ideal start to the day. But for hardcore surfers, it might be a dream come true. As any dedicated wave rider knows, the best waves are usually found between 5 and 7 in the morning—a pretty gnarly wakeup call for the typical laid-back beach bum. Or, even worse, said beach bum might find upon arriving that the surf isn’t even good that day and resignedly head back to bed. Australian inventor Elmar Trefz hopes to take the pain out of this tiresome ritual with the Wave Pillow—a smart cushion that can help surfers catch those sweet a.m. waves with ease.

The Wave Pillow maintains a wireless connection with your computer throughout the night, communicating with special surf-monitoring software. After you pick your favorite surf spot, the software will monitor the conditions at that location and, at a designated time in the morning, send a signal to the pillow. If the waves are high, the pillow’s 240-volt motor will vibrate strongly, jolting you out of bed; if they're low, the vibrations are a little softer. The pillow can even communicate the frequency of the waves: long, regular intervals between vibrations mean good waves, while fast, irregular intervals signal fewer waves.

And mercifully, if the surf is too low, the pillow doesn’t activate at all--ensuring that dreams of perfect ground swells and radical curls continue uninterrupted. —Nicole Price Fasig

Link via CribCandy

Saving Surfing

Live and Direct From Low-Earth Orbit

The shuttle Discovery performs its 360-degree pitch
maneuver over the coast of Spain, broadcast live

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: NASA has a truly impressive Web site. Apparently the only government agency these days taking the whole “public accessibility” thing seriously, NASA seemingly makes just about everything available on its site. And right now, with a space shuttle mission under way, it’s NASA.gov’s time to truly shine.

NASA TV—the agency’s own channel, available on the Web and in some satellite and cable packages—is normally mind-numbingly boring even for space-o-philes like me but actually becomes interesting during a shuttle mission, broadcasting live video from cameras onboard Discovery and the International Space Station, along with full radio transmissions from mission control. NASA even provides a minute-by-minute mission schedule, handy for knowing when to tune in for some extravehicular activity—or an “SSRMS ROBOT ARM PUMP MODULE GRAPPLE,” if that’s more to your taste. Either way, check it out and see your tax dollars being put to use somewhere up above the wild blue yonder. —John Mahoney

Martian Standard Time
We Fly the Space Shuttle: Inside NASA's Shuttle Flight Simulator
CEV vs. Apollo

Is Pink the New Black?

NoblepinkWill every gadget turn girly? Last week Nintendo announced that its DS Lite handheld console has given in to the cuteness. The “Noble Pink” DS Lite is only available in Japan for now—not too upsetting because there are plenty of other domestic gadgets that come in the Pepto-Bismol color. There’s a pink USB flash drive that cleverly resembles a lipstick case, a pink tool kit equipped with a pink hammer and five meters of tape coiled in a pink tape measurer, and even the Roomba robo-vacuum has turned cleaning into a pink frenzy.

All this pink is putting me in need of some Pepto myself. Isn’t it just a little patronizing of companies to suggest that technology has to be pink for the gadget-conscious female to buy it? A pink emergency car kit? Come on! I’m stuck on the side of the road; the last thing I’m worried about is how pretty the jumper cables are. But when the gadgets go toward a good cause—many of these pink gizmos include a donation to breast cancer research in their price—I guess I don’t feel so silly when my crib looks like the Barbie Dream House. —Carla Thomas

What Women Want: Is this Swedish car concept sexy or sexist?
Build Your Own Roomba Robot

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