Popular Science News $section News
  Get Popular Science posters here! > Subscribe | > Newsletter 

What's New
Photo Gallery
Aviation & Space
Automotive Tech
Contact Us
Digital Edition
Customer Service
Gift Subscription
Current Issue
Media Kit
PS Showcase
PopSci Store

Enter e-mail address to receive popsci weekly updates to your inbox.


« July 2006 | Main | September 2006 »

Tag Your (Flickr) World

Picture_28 Is there anything Web 2.0 can't do? Earlier this week, the photo-sharing site Flickr rolled out a new feature called geotagging, letting users tag their photos with the location of where they were taken. This is done via a gorgeous AJAX-type interface that lets you grab sets of your photos and drag them onto a zoomable Yahoo map of the world, which automatically tags them with the exact location you drop them on.

And if that's not brilliant enough, the geotags have been folded seamlessly into Flickr's preexisting tag-based search. Want to see all the photos of graffiti in New York City? All the photos of sausage in Germany? All the photos of aurora borealis in North America?  Just scroll the map to the part of the world you want to search, and type in a keyword. Done.

The applications of a huge community-based database of geotagged photos are virtually infinite. (Special emphasis on huge: Flickr has 228 million photos in its database with an additional million photos added daily, and 1.2 million photos were geotagged within the first 24 hours of the feature's launch—far exceeding Flickr's expectations.) Moving to a new neighborhood? Scout it out first on Flickr. Need a free illustrated travel guide to Romania? You got it. Plus, like, a million other uses that neither I nor anyone else has thought of...yet. Seriously, mind-boggling stuff.  —John Mahoney

Blast From the Past

The region of Aries before (left) and after (right)
the explosion, with the pinpoint of light created
clearly visible. Courtesy NASA.

Scientists are in the midst of observing a supernova that's  in the act of exploding. GRB060218 is cooking right now in the constellation Aries. It’s quite exciting, but it helps underscore what is to me one of the eeriest aspects of astronomy: the fact that it's essentially looking back in time. GRB060218 is 440 million light-years away. That means this explosion actually happened 440 million years ago and is only now getting to us. This thing started waaay before the Internet. It even preceded the dinosaurs. Back then, all the continents were still shoved together in a giant Pangaea.  Makes you wonder what other amazing—or horrible—things are racing toward us at light speed right now. If, for example, our sun went prematurely bust, we wouldn’t know it for a full seven minutes! —Eric Adams

Your Fave Fembot

Drgoldfoot Blog readers, we asked for your help in compiling the ultimate fembot list to accompany Annalee Newitz’s recent PopSci.com essay, and boy, did we ever receive it. After sifting through the mountain of comments and e-mails, we are prepared to make the following addendums:

1. The world of Japanese anime is full of buxom robo-babes (who knew?). Reader favorites are Major Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell and Bloodberry from Saber Marionette R. Seriously, when will American children’s cartoons be full of fembots named Bloodberry and have names like Saber Marionette R?

2. Cherry 2000 received numerous reader nods as the runaway pleasure ’bot played by Pamela Gidley in the 1987 cult sci-fi flick of the same name, also starring Melanie Griffith and Laurence Fishburne (!). Other film ’bots we missed include notorious Playmate Dorothy Stratten as Galaxina and Pris’s fellow replicant Rachael, played by Sean Young in Blade Runner.

3. Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager (actress Jeri Ryan) seems to be the most notable small-screen fembot we overlooked. As readers have pointed out, her presence on this list is contentious, considering she’s more of a human-cum-Borg, but all Borg/human dynamics aside, Seven’s silvery catsuit and Bluetooth-headset-from-the-future accessories more than qualify her for inclusion.

4. And finally, in the How Could We Possibly Have Missed This? category is the 1965 film Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine. Vincent Price—best known to some as the deep-voiced guy on the “Thriller” voiceover—stars as the conniving Dr. Goldfoot, who uses a brigade of hot fembots to siphon off the fortunes of wealthy single playboys. Also starring Frankie Avalon. Netflix queue: add!

5. Of the ’bots that did make our list, it seems PopSci.com homepage girl Pris and Battlestar Galactica’s Number Six were the reader faves.

Many thanks to our readers for filling in the gaps. And if you just can’t get enough (and happen to live in the NYC area), the New York Hall of Science in Queens is hosting “Alluring Androids, Robot Women, and Electronic Eves,” a multimedia exhibit chronicling the history of fembots. It runs through September 10. —John Mahoney

The Fembot Mystique
Fembot Fantasia

It’s All Fun and Games Till …

KitetubeactSad but true: The lure of being cast into the air by a speeding floatie was so intense that PopSci almost featured the Wego Kite Tube in our magazine’s What’s New section earlier this spring. We didn’t, because it just seemed too dangerous, but heck, we weren’t the only idiots who thought it looked like a ton of fun. More than 19,000 Kite Tubes were sold this year, and the thing was even named 2006 Sports Product of the Year by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

But what was everyone thinking? If there were a Darwin Awards for toy manufacturers, these guys would get top honors. The floppy 10-foot diameter discs—brazenly printed with skulls and the slogan “Never kite higher than you’re willing to fall”—were recalled a few weeks ago after causing 39 injuries and two deaths. And we’re not talking Slip ’n’ Slide–caliber injuries. One 29-year-old man broke his neck after falling from a height of 35 feet at 45 miles an hour.

The problem is that the tube provides a means of creating loft (a vertical-pulling mechanism that lifts the front of the disc enough to force air beneath it) but no means of steering once you’ve gotten off the ground. As aviation writer and resident aerodynamics expert Bill Sweetman puts it, “Flight is more than just lift (the bottom of the tube) and thrust (the boat). There is also something essential, which is referred to as control. Without that, you are fish food.” So without further ado, the tasteless feature you’ve been waiting for: The Wego Kite Tube crash video. —Megan Miller

NASA's Embarrassing Name Game

News081006b Who leaked the new name of the spaceship NASA plans to fly to the moon by 2020? It wasn't Jeffrey Williams, a flight engineer living aboard the International Space Station. Sure, Williams taped a video message in which he held up a model of the spacecraft. “We’ve been calling it the crew exploration vehicle for several years, but today it has a name…Orion,” he said.

However, Williams was just following the instructions of his PR handlers on the ground. His message wasn’t supposed to air until next week, when NASA had planned to announce the new name along with a decision about who will build the spaceship. Lockheed Martin is vying with a consortium of Northrop Grumman and Boeing contractors for the project.

The plan was to transmit Williams’ message from the space station to the ground on a private channel, and record it for later distribution. Instead the NASA public affairs office transmitted the message on an open channel, where it was intercepted by the Associated Press. After the cat was out of the bag, NASA issued an official press release “announcing” the new name. In typical fashion, NASA made no mention of what really happened.

The Orion name isn’t news to everyone. The website collectspace.com reported the new name last month after discovering Orion in a search of federal trademarks. Although NASA still hasn’t unveiled the Orion logo, collectspace.com reports that a logo with that name has been marked “approved” in NASA internal documents. —Dawn Stover

Link via collectspace.com

Post Your Questions for Lawrence Lessig

Lessig at Wikimania 2006. Photo by Gus Freedman.
Homepage photo: Lessig.org

A few weeks ago I was in Boston for Wikimania 2006, the second annual conference where wiki-folk of all types come together to talk about what’s new and exciting in the wiki-world. As you can imagine, it was a veritable Woodstock for the “free culture” movement—the ongoing mission to provide free and unrestricted access to precious informational commodities (including encyclopedias, textbooks and software) on the Internet.

One of the movements most noteworthy proponents is Lawrence Lessig, a professor of cyberlaw at Stanford University and the founder of the nonprofit organization Creative Commons. His speech at Wikimania was among the more inspiring calls to action I have ever witnessed [you can watch it on Google Video below]. Simply put, if you’re reading this blog (or any blog, for that matter), you should know Lawrence Lessig.

To that end, PopSci.com is giving you the chance to become better acquainted with one of the Internet’s greatest thinkers. We’re sitting down with Lessig on Thursday, August 24, and would love to present him with questions from our readers. Add them in the comments section below, or e-mail them to [email protected] by Wednesday, August 23. Lessig’s responses will be made available on PopSci.com next week. —John Mahoney

Lessig’s speech at Wikimania 2006 (Google Video or MP3 audio).
Lawrence Lessig: Wikipedia

Attention Fighter Pilots: Your Job is at Risk

Joint_strike_fighter_1 I hereby admit to being excited about the movie Stealth about this time last year, and for making my friends come and see it with me. I was expecting to enjoy laughing at what I presumed would be entertaining ridiculousness; instead, the laughter that fateful night in the theater was only to help make the pain go away.

Today I'm laughing again about unmanned aerial vehicles, but this time it's that through-the-teeth kind, indicating nervous apprehension—or maybe even fear. Today Lockheed Martin announced its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could someday be modified to fly pilotless, making it the world’s first full-scale fighter aircraft with remote-operation capabilities.

This marks Lockheed's first major jump into the world of unmanned military aircraft--a field being heavily developed by weapons manufacturers which most have conceded will some day replace all conventionally-piloted military jets. In fact, many experts have projected that the F-35 could be the last major fighter to be designed with an onboard human pilot in mind. And while all of this has an obvious air of practicality, I can't help but feel more than a bit creeped out by the whole thing. I don't think I have to worry about our fighter jets achieving full Stealth-style sentience just yet, but still: a little more than 100 years ago, no one really believed we would ever even get off the ground. —John Mahoney

Taking Flight: Aviation Images From PopSci

Fembot Fantasia

Fembots_ss_weirdsci We handpicked a host of lovely and powerful cyborgs to illustrate Annalee Newitz's essay on pop-culture fembots, but film and TV history has blessed us with many, many more. Who did we miss? Which 'bot in this gallery is your favorite? Next week I'd like to crown one fembot with a  People's Choice Award. Personally, I think Kelly LeBrock (Weird Science) portrayed the hottest fembot ever. What do you think? Tell us in the comments section below.  —Megan Miller

Pigeon-Powered Research

Npb_4 Ever seen Hitchcock’s film, The Birds? Well, I have. And now I cringe every time I see a cloud of birds in the air.  So it’s a good thing I don’t live in northern California, where, tomorrow, a battalion of racing pigeons is scheduled to bomb through the skies over San Jose. Thankfully, these guys not targeting humans; they’re collecting information about air pollution with—get this—tiny cell phones, smog sensors, and GPS devices. Each bird (they have names like “Ricardo,” “Laura” and “Scott”) will carry a little backpack stuffed with a $250 array of gadgets for beaming carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide measurements back to ground control, where the info be broadcast in real time on the project’s Web site. There will also be reporter birds on the scene, equipped with little cell phones and cameras for documenting the occasion. It’s unclear whether a pigeon editor will be stationed at a pigeon news desk somewhere to receive the reports.

Anyway, this avian reconnaissance mission, masterminded by UC Irvine professor Beatriz da Costa, is part of a weeklong art and technology showcase called ZeroOne San Jose. And lest you think creating pigeon-sized electronics is an easy feat, you should know that it took da Costa and two graduate students a year to develop the tiny cell phone, GPS device and smog detector.

So is it nice to make pigeons haul around a bunch of electronic equipment? The project has received some criticism from PETA (of course),  but a spokesperson from Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology says, “Racing pigeons are high-performance athletes,” and since the tiny backpacks weigh less than ten percent of the animals’ body weight, there’s probably no cause for concern.

A second flight is scheduled for August 18, which means you won’t find me in SoCal anytime soon. I’ll be watching the events unfold on my computer screen from the safety of the PopSci offices—across the continent.  –Nicole Price-Fasig

Link via LA Times

Beautiful Wake

Friend sees awesome photo mentioned on blog, friend sends link to photo to me, photo is judged to indeed be awesome, photo is placed on work computer's desktop, and photo is mentioned on another blog by me. Ah, the beauty of the system. Anyway, check it out—a 777's eye-popping wake turbelence rendered in the clouds above foggy London town, taken by Steve Morris. Check it out. —John Mahoney

Flickr, Blogmobs, and a Seriously Fascinating Lesson on Content Licensing

One of my jacked Flickr photos, which
is now licensed under Creative Commons.
Share-Alike people!

This weekend, I received an interesting email from someone I had never met before regarding some photos I’d posted to my Flickr pool:

"...some slimeball was stealing pics from Flickr and representing them as his own professional work on his website (which has since been taken down)...I've got print screens of the two pictures I know he stole from your Flickr, if you want them. Just thought you would want to know."

Flickr allows users to upload their works and organize them with tags, and while it is possible to make your photos available only to certain viewers and protect them with a copyright, Flickr encourages its users to make their images freely available to everyone via one of six Creative Commons licenses, which outline various definitions of free fair use.

Licenses such as these, no matter how forward-thinking and brilliant they may be, rely on the central tenet that people will actually obey them. Until this whole saga began to unfold, I was seriously doubting that anyone anywhere would ever be able to adequately police licensed content (especially semi-small-time thefts such as these) on the Internet. In this case, my photos weren't even licensed with Creative Commons—they were filed under the traditional and uber-restrictive "all rights reserved" copyright, which allows for no usage of my photos anywhere without my specific permission. Clearly, even this did nothing to deter the plagiarist in question. So what did put the kibosh on this guy's cyber thievery? The rapid mobilization and deployment of a force I hadn’t even considered: the blogmob

It just so happens that a number of the Flickr users who were stolen from also had blogs (duh), so naturally, Googling the name of the thief soon displayed nothing but blog posts referencing his plagiarism. After the story broke on digg.com, Flickr became a veritable hive of citizen-policemen. Soon the thief's possible home address and phone number were made available (pretty scary), as well as the locations around the net of other photos published under his name. His Web site, Flickr account, and MySpace page were all either taken down or locked, all in a matter of hours. And sure enough, someone using the name of the thief eventually posted an apology.

A lot of people were riled up about this whole thing, but I couldn't help but be anything but fascinated by the immense power of a closely networked community being demonstrated before my eyes. The blogmob has spoken and I will never doubt its power again. —John Mahoney

A Better Mouth Trap

DietmaskHaving trouble saying no to that bacon-double cheeseburger? Try on patent # US4344424, the "Anti-Eating Face Mask." Lucy Barmby of Sacramento, California has invented a Hannibal Lecter-esque diet aid that can be locked in place over your mouth. Barmby describes her pad-lock equipped contraption as "a cup-shaped member conforming to the shape of the mouth and chin that thereby prevents the ingestion of food by the user." In other words, a metal caged strapped over your yapper. As primitive as it sounds, it appears to be a failsafe solution for uncontrolled cravings: Sub sandwiches and other caloric solids bounce right off the mask, as shown in an animated patent drawing found in Delphion's Gallery of Obscure Patents. Other notably awesome and bizarre inventions in the gallery include an inflatable carpet that turns into a mattress and a bird diaper. My own revolutionary idea (which I've yet to patent, so don't steal it) is a car seat that doubles as a porta john. It turns waste into fuel and eliminates the need for inconvenient rest stops. Not to be paired with Anti-Eating Face Mask of course. —Nicole Dyer


Welcome to the Invention Convention
The Fashion Flu Mask

Ahnold + Tony + the Environment = Love 4-Eva

Photo: State of California/

Although he’s appeared on film in scandalously skimpy attire more often than most bombshell babes, the Governator is apparently no girly-man when it comes to cracking down on polluters. Impatient with federal policies on global warming and greenhouse-gas emissions, Ahnold took his own stance earlier this week by signing a partnership with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to explore cleaner-burning fuels and cut back on industrial carbon dioxide output.

President Bush has declined to implement aggressive policies regulating industrial emissions, preferring to leave the regulation up to individual companies. And although officials at the state and national level insist that Schwarzenegger’s move did not sidestep the White House, the California EPA stated that they had not been asked to review the agreement before its signing.

“California will not wait for our federal government to take strong action on global warming,” Schwarzenegger said, calling it “the single most important issue" faced by the world community.

The state was the 12th-largest source of greenhouse gases in the world last year, producing more than some whole countries, so efforts to curb emissions in the Golden State could put a serious dent in pollution worldwide. —Nicole Price Fasig

The Future of Energy

Can the Sun Keep You Cool?

I'm, Like, So Much Smarter Since I Started Playing Brain Age

Joe Brown making
Dr. Kawashima proud

Generally, if a company claims that its product does something cool, I don't believe it. That's my job, see? But I gotta hand it to Nintendo. Its newish Nintendo DS title, Brain Age (PopSci loves Brain Age), has actually made me smarter. Today is my one-month anniversary of playing the game, which claims to stimulate your prefrontal cortex with fun little mini games involving math, memory and split-second decisions. How do I know I've gotten smarter? Here are some examples:

1. I paid my rent not on time, but early. I usually forget until I'm crouching under the kitchen table on the sixth of the month while my landlady (Hi, Marie) pounds on the door.

2. I have already started Christmas shopping—no joke.

3. I destroyed a bunch of Irish folks in Charades at 5 a.m. Saturday night, solving most of the pantomimes within 10 seconds. It got to the point where they asked me to retire from competition and just come up with subjects.

And here's a prediction: New York City will have a blackout today or tomorrow. Our power grid is already waaay overtasked, and, with the damaged power lines in Queens, we can't handle two 100-degree days in a row. If I'm right about this, I'm running for office. —Joe Brown

Subscribe to Popular Science Magazine

Latest Entries

January 2008
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31

Customer Service
Copyright © 2005 Popular Science
A Time4 Media Company All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.  |  Privacy Policy  |  Site Index