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« August 2006 | Main | October 2006 »

Where's the 'Any' Key?

Pcmover You'd have to be an idiot to screw up PC Mover, a piece of software that lets you migrate all your documents and installed programs from your old PC to a new one. Install the program on both computers, plug in the included and special-looking USB cable from one to another, run the program on both boxes, and watch the magic happen. There's really only one instance in which you have to think AT ALL: It asks you (on both machines) if you are on the old computer or the new computer. Apparently, I messed that up (because I'm an idiot and, according to my neighbors who heard me lamenting my screw-up with much profanity and volume late last night, a complete psycho). No worries, though. I later discovered that PC Mover doesn't wipe the destination machine; it just creates a new user profile and moves all your old stuff over there. Thank God. —Joe Brown

Anousheh Update

Anousheh The world's first female space tourist returned today from her eight-day stint aboard the International Space Station, with her Soyuz capsule touching down safely on the Kazakh steppe. Adding to her list of firsts, Anousheh Ansari has to have been the world's first space blogger—Earthlings were treated not only to fascinating, regular blog posts but Flickr photos and YouTube videos as well, all updated live throughout the mission. Very cool stuff.

Now, if only we could have read Lance Bass's blog from space. Sigh. —John Mahoney

What Would You Do With Your Mountain Fortress?

Yucca Hollowed-out mountains are good for so many things. They can house strategic military bases. They can store toxic waste. And if you’re truly evil, you have the option of carving it into the shape of a skull, making it your secret headquarters, or periodically host kung-fu tournaments there. Or, you know, all three.

The Norwegians are hoping to use their hollowed-out mountains for the altruistic, though ominously named, Doomsday Vault. The vault will be a depository of seeds of all the known varieties of the world’s crops, just in case anything goes down. NASA, on the other hand, recently announced that they'll be upping the speed on the whole hollowed-out-mountain game by harnessing the naturally occurring hollow lava tubes on the moon as a library. Information could be stored on computers housed in these lava tubes and sent by satellite. At least it’s good to know that if one day NORAD happens to unleash its missiles or a kung-fu tournament on Skull Island goes horribly awry, all our seeds and back issues of PopSci will be safe.

What would you do with a hollowed-out mountain? Let us know in the comments section below. Me, I’d make a gigantic bounce house. And host a kung-fu tournament. —Dan Smith

Think Fast…And Be Happy?

Timerunning_1Bummed out? Quick—name the capitol of Idaho! First president of the United States! Fiftieth state! Now read the rest of this article really fast!

Why am I haranguing you with these absurd exercises, you might ask? Well, a new study coauthored by scientists from Harvard and Princeton suggests that speeding up cognitive processes can help induce a more positive state of mind. Participants in the study were asked to read a bunch of statements at a fast pace and complete a questionnaire about how they felt afterward. Some of the statements were happy, like, “Wow, I feel great!” and some were sad, like, “I want to go to sleep and never wake up.” But no matter what they were asked to read, the participants reported feeling happier, more energetic, more creative and more powerful after reading quickly.

This thinking-fast-makes-you-happy hypothesis could not only be useful in treating depression, as the Harvard and Princeton guys opine, but may also help to explain the success of many a coke-addled comedian.

So…neat! I feel happier when I think really fast, too. Which is probably why, like most New Yorkers, I spend all my time racing around, doing 15 things at once, never pausing long enough to think of anything of real import—those things could make me sad. —Megan Miller

Maglev's Mishap

MaglevAs you probably saw in the news today, a Maglev train—one that hovers slightly above a track using magnetic levitation—crashed this morning near Lathen, Germany. It was traveling at an estimated 120 mph, and killed at least 25 people. The train, owned by Transrapid International, a joint venture between technology giants Siemens AG and ThyssenKrupp AG, was traveling on a 20-mile test track that is mostly used for demonstrations of the technology to potential buyers—usually city governments from around the world. Rides are also frequently offered to tourists and company employees, the latter group appearing to be the bulk of today's victims.

The Maglev system—which uses alternating electromagnetic attraction and repulsion to move the wheel-less cars forward—is capable of traveling up to 310 mph, and there is only one fully operational system in the world, a high-speed shuttle that runs between Shanghai and that city's international airport 20 miles away.

Will today's accident jeopardize the growth of this innovative technology? Probably not, though other factors may do so. The crash appears to have been caused by human error— the Maglev hit a maintenance vehicle on the same track—as opposed to some technological failure relating to the magnetic levitation itself or to the speed of the train (many conventional train systems exceed that speed in daily service). But since transportation accidents almost always involve a string of failures, the investigation might reveal a problem unique to the Maglev system. Investigators will likely explore whether automated systems that may have operated the train or the maintenance vehicles were functioning properly, whether the elevated tracks were a factor in some of the deaths, and whether any efforts to slow down were impeded by the nature of the technology.

If the investigation turns up evidence that the system itself played a role in the accident, then today’s crash could indeed hamstring the development of the Maglev. But a few factors that are certainly jeopardizing the widespread deployment of the technology are its high cost (roughly five times that of conventional rail systems), the need for precision track construction, and the lack of interoperability between Maglev and rail systems. Stay tuned for more coverage as the investigation shakes out. —Eric Adams

Related Links:

Trans-Atlantic MagLev
Speed vs. Need

Beer Here Now

Picture_11 If you ask me, any data placed into the context of a map instantly becomes more useful and interesting. That's why Google Maps mashups are the best, and why I went bonkers over Flickr's geotagging a few weeks back.

Well, now I've found a new love. Last night, while enjoying a frothy stout at my most beloved local beerhouse, a visiting Chicagoan told me about  beermapping.com—a site that has taken up the noble task of cataloging the finest breweries, brewpubs, beer stores and beer bars in US cities (23 and counting), and plotting them all on a Google Map for easy browsin'. And we're not talking any old bar with Tuesday night Bud Light specials—these are the places for serious devotees of the hops, places whose list of  Dutch Weissebiers is longer than your arm (and most bars' full rosters). Not only is it an excellent source for travelers, it can help you rediscover your own neighborhood through the eyes of an enlightened beer drinker. And seriously, what's better than a little enlightened drinking? Cheers to you, beermapping.com—this next one's on me.
—John Mahoney

The Nerdiest Anthem

WhitenerdyToday I discovered my anthem. I’ve always wanted an anthem. For a while I had a “Big Pimpin’” ringtone and was sort of hoping that could be my anthem, but I had to be honest and admit that it doesn’t work at all since I’m neither big nor a pimp in any literal or colloquial sense of either word.  However, Weird Al Yankovic’s “White and Nerdy” fits the bill to a T. The song is from Yankovic’s new album,  Straight Outta Lynwood, which won’t be released till September 26. But the single is so good that it was leaked on the Internet nearly a month ago. (Yeah, yeah. I’m a little slow on the draw. Had YOU heard it before now?) It’s a spoof on the song “Ridin’” by Chamillionaire, and the theme is that Yankovic yearns to “roll with the gangsters” but can’t because he rides a Segway, edits Wikipedia, and gets off on popping bubble wrap. My favorite part (the part that hits a little too close to home) is when he sings: “My MySpace page is totally pimped out/ Got people beggin’ for my top eight spaces/ Yo, I know pi to a thousand places/ Ain’t got no grills but I still wear braces.”Watch the video below and ROTFLOL (sorry, that’s the whitest, nerdiest acronym ever). Don’t miss the Donny Osmond and Seth Green cameos… —Megan Miller

ROTFLOL: The Tickle Me Elmo Challenge

ElmoTickle Me Elmo TMX, the newest edition of every four-year-old’s most coveted toy, rolls on the floor, kicking and giggling hysterically like Cheech Marin after a little too much Maui Wowee—way more merriment that one would expect from a simple poke in the belly.  The toy, which was released this week and retails for just $40, but is already hard to find (check eBay: “Buy it Now” prices were around $70 when we posted this), houses pretty high-tech animatronics that are ripe for hacking. Now, we wouldn’t want to suggest that you should rip open a perfectly good, brand-new toy and hack it to do something even funnier than crack itself up (ahem, cough). But if anyone is inclined toward doing so, we’d really, really like to see video of the event. Send footy to [email protected]. We like .mov files best. —Megan Miller

Airport Security Alert!

Faa_game You think you have it bad in this age of draconian airport security? Imagine being one of the unfortunate TSA officers who has to pat down your scruffy, overfed self, not to mention rifle through your shoes and dirty laundry in search of a prohibited paperclip. Well, now you can do more than just imagine, with a frickin' funny online videogame titled, yes, Airport Security. The game pits you against an ever-growing queue of Lego-looking travelers and a down-your-neck-breathing supervisor who curses at you if you fail to comply with the TSA's increasingly unreasonable restrictions. One minute, stuffed animals are prohibited, and 10 seconds later you face an angry mob if you confiscate one by accident. Working that metal detector is tougher than I thought—my top score is 160 (a lot better than my first attempt: 10). What's yours? —Joe Brown

Billionaire Babes in Space

Anousheh_longOn Monday, telecom entrepreneur and X-Prize Foundation trustee Anousheh Ansari became the world’s first female space tourist when she launched into orbit aboard a Soyuz TMA spacecraft headed for the International Space Station. She’s also one of just four private citizens of both sexes ever to hitch a ride to the cosmos. Why the small number? Well, the price is prohibitive, of course, but bucks alone won’t get you a ticket—there’s a waiting list to clear, health requirements to meet, and six months of training to ace before you’re allowed to hang out at ISS with the cool kids from NASA. Ansari cleared all the hurdles, saying she hopes her journey will inspire girls—especially those from her native Iran—to study science.

So far, Space Adventures, the group that launched Ansari and fellow space rookies Dennis Tito, Mark Shuttleworth and Gregory Olsen, is the only tourism company sending random rich folks into orbit, but plans are underway to have Richard Branson’s much-ballyhooed venture, Virgin Galactic, up and running by 2007. Ansari is reported to have paid about $20 million for her journey to the Space Station (twice the amount of the 2004 purse for the Ansari X-Prize Cup), but Virgin Galactic will offer flights for the low, low price of £100,000 (about $188,000).  The cost difference is probably due to the fact that the space-station trip is a 10-day affair, while Virgin’s flights will last just three hours.

If Branson’s plan runs according to schedule, Ansari won’t be the only female tourist in space for long. A host of other would-be rocket divas including Angelina Jolie and Sigourney Weaver have sent down payments to Virgin for the opportunity to leave Earth’s atmosphere. Just one caveat, ladies: a couple months back, Virgin Galactic representative Will Whitehorn said that breast implants "might well explode" if subjected to the G-forces of takeoff.  Mythbusters supposedly debunked that rumor, but no one has tested it yet in actual space. What I want to know is, which enhanced celeb is gonna be first to find out what happens? Whaddya say Pam Anderson—you're the adventurous type. Want to step up and set a space record?    —Megan Miller

Last Night's Party

Sl_shot I don't know about anyone else, but I came into work today nursing a bit of a virtual hangover from all the hard partying that went down at our show in Second Life last night. Aside from a momentary server crash (must have been rockin' a little too hard), some avatars rendering sans clothing, and our headliner being attacked by "griefers," everything went off without a hitch. Hats off to all the organizers, musicians, zombies, giant squids and all who were there both in-world and out for making the show a resounding success!

I believe Mr. Coulton put it best: "It was a great deal of fun, and it hurt my brain (in a good way)." Amen.

Watch this space next week for photos, audio and video of the concert. —John Mahoney

Holy $#!@, Sonos Gets Better!

What_hero2 We at PopSci are unabashedly Sonos fans. We gave its wireless music-streaming system a Best of What's New award in 2004 when it came out, and I personally have recommended it so many times that almost every serious digital-music fan I know has one (well, all of them with an extra G to drop, at least). The system has remained more or less the same over the past couple years, and, though it never really needed an update, I kept wondering what the company's crunchy, music-lovin' CEO and his merry band of nerds were going to do next.

Turns out that they have been working on enhancing awesomeness, and by this I mean subscription music content. Starting today, Sonos will be able to access the Rhapsody subscription-based music service, which lets you borrow songs from a two-million-track database for $10 a month. Now any Sonos user has the option to access this service through his remote control with no additional setup required—all the software is built into a software update that the company is pushing out over the Web as we speak. It's kind of like every radio station in the world, and you get to fast-forward. —Joe Brown

Striking Discord in the Solar System

Eris_and_dysnomia You probably haven’t been waiting on this announcement with as much bated breath as for, say, the first Suri Cruise photos, but just weeks after officially kicking Pluto out of the band formerly known as the Nine Planets, the International Astronomical Union has decided on the name “Eris” for the space rock 2003 UB313. Eris, Pluto’s Kuiper Belt mate, helped fuel the whole “What’s a planet?” controversy following its 2003 discovery, when astronomers realized it was larger than Pluto.

Before becoming Eris, the dwarf planet had a public identity crisis that would make even Diddy jealous. Its discoverer, Caltech astronomer Michael Brown, first suggested “Xena,” of warrior-princess fame, which was adopted by many media outlets in favor of the stodgy yet official 2003 UB313. Brown later suggested “Lila” after his newborn daughter and, most recently, “Persephone,” the mythical wife of Pluto, ruler of the underworld, but that name already belonged to an asteroid.

After a quick refresher on Greek mythology, however, Eris is clearly the most appropriate choice anyway. Eris is the Greek goddess of discord and strife, exceptionally proficient at stirring up jealousy and envy to cause fighting and anger among men. At the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, the parents of the Greek hero Achilles, all the gods were invited with the exception of Eris. Enraged at her exclusion, she spitefully caused a quarrel among the goddesses that led to the Trojan War. What a spitfire. —Bjorn Carey

Live! Tonight! Jonathan Coulton in Second Life!

Coulton's avatar (Yonatan Coalcliff) warms up at a recent in-world sound check

The time has almost come, all ye anxious avatars. Tonight at 8:00 p.m. EST, PopSci's  contributing troubadour/podcaster/all-around pop genius Jonathan Coulton will take to the virtual stage for a concert in the online world of Second Life, brought to you by PopSci.com and our good friends at Creative Commons.

If you haven't already heard, Coulton is a funny dude, whether he's interviewing the movers and shakers of sci-tech from PopSci's Lunar Base One or penning touching tributes to overburdened programmers. So what are you waiting for? All the information you need to attend the show can be found on the Creative Commons wiki (if you don't have a Second Life, you can also stream the concert live via Mad Muse Radio). Let it be known, however, that the in-world show will be full of surprises. Surprises involving squids and zombies. So get an avatar today  and join us! Look for me there—I'll be the dude with the green hair and the sweet PopSci STAFF jacket.

Also, for more on the event and an interview with Coulton, check Second Life man-about-town Wagner James Au's blog. And if you're still confused about this whole Second Life thing, see our recent feature, "Your Second Life is Ready." —John Mahoney

Apple Responds

Seriously, The Black Eyed Peas? Ugh.

What immaculate timing. No less than 24 hours after I happened upon CoverFlow, Apple unveiled a new version of iTunes that incorporates, among other things, the exact same cover-browsing technology under the exact same name. And rather than being simply "inspired" by CoverFlow, it looks like Apple bought the technology outright. I don't know, though—iTunes 7 seems to be taking its sweet time downloading my missing art. And where are my Wikipedia links!? Maybe I'm missing something, but for now, I'm sticking with the original.

Other news from Mr. Jobs today included underwhelming iPod updates (although the tiny new clip-on Shuffle is pretty cool), an iTunes Movie Store, and a sneak peek at the long-rumored Apple set-top box, dubbed the iTV and available early next year. Is it just me, or are these Apple events getting a little eh. —John Mahoney

Remember These?

Picture_2_2 There have been a number of attempts made to reincorporate album art—arguably the most tragic victim of the digital music age—back into our more abstract binary lives. Most have been honorable efforts (cover art on color-screened music players, iTunes's little box in the corner), but no implementation that I've seen comes close to touching the elegance of my new favorite shareware app, CoverFlow. Grabbing album art for your iTunes Library from a variety of sources, the software lines up all of your library's covers in a scrollable, searchable horizontal row that whizzes over the shiniest black Lucite table you've ever seen. Double-click an album to play it, right-click it to go to its Wikipedia page (or do a Google Image search if it has yet to be tagged with art). Or just scroll through, blissfully remembering when we all used to buy CDs.

Sorry, Windows and Linux folk—CoverFlow is sadly Mac-only. Anyone know of any good Windows/Linux equivalents?

A Risk to National Security?

Nick Kaloterakis

In his investigation of the super-secret "black" aircraft possibly under development at the U.S. Air Force base known as Area 51 (on the cover of our October issue and available online now), PopSci's resident military aviation guru Bill Sweetman writes:

"The need for such secrecy is simple: It is essential to preserving technological surprise. The Pentagon wishes to prevent enemies from developing strategies to counter the technology. The challenge is to figure out what precisely is happening—without betraying national security—because the bigger the black world gets, the better it conceals its activities."

But if the programs themselves are shrouded in absolute secrecy, does intelligent speculation by a veteran analyst itself represent a risk to national security? Sweetman himself points out that his investigation is "inescapably an educated guess," but what if he's managed to guess more or less correctly?

Take a look at the article and let us know what you think in the comments section below.

A Little Bit Future, A Little Bit Rock 'n' Roll

Fg_edit This week we're unveiling PopSci's House of the Future in California—a real, live wonder-mansion built in partnership with Sunset magazine that contains all sorts of amazing gadgets and new technologies designed to make everyday life easier, more fun and better for the planet. As I write this, our publisher and ed-in-chief are in the Bay Area, preparing to fête the house’s big opening day. (Stay tuned for lots of coverage of the house in the coming months.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, PopSci.com is celebrating the futuristic-house concept with the launch of a brand-new video blog called "Future Girl" (yup, that’s me). The first episode is all about—you guessed it—"Houses of the Future." I talked to Barry Bergdoll, newly appointed curator of architecture and design at MoMA, about emerging trends in home design. I don't want to give too much away, but Bergdoll's vision includes "interactive membranes." (It's probably best if you just watch the video.)

So what's the plan for "Future Girl"? Each month I will interview a notable innovator or expert from the world of science and technology, and probably dance around to the awesome theme song written by contributing troubador Jonathan Coulton. You will watch and laugh and learn. Doesn’t that sound nice? Check out the video here and let me know what you think. —Megan Miller

Link: Future Girl video

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