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« May 2007 | Main | July 2007 »

PopSci's iPhone (THE FOOTBALL) Secured - Indiana Comes Through

Iphone_grass So as Megan mentioned, I'm here manning the PopSci satellite office in the great state of Indiana on this fateful day. And oh what a state: drove up to an AT&T store 5 minutes from my house at 5:15PM, sat 25th in a sparse line, was filmed for a live local TV news spot, and walked out with an 8GB iPhone by 6:30, being thoroughly congratulated on my purchase by the high-alert staff all the way out the door. I even got a free water bottle while I waited for all of 45 minutes! Suckers!

So yeah, the FOOTBALL is secure. No lawn chairs in the sun (sort of jealous of Pete for that time, had to have been great), no strip club nearby (sort of jealous of John too), no sprint to the subway dodging crackheads to avoid the inevitable mugging on 5th avenue had I been at home in NYC.

And there it is, sprouting from my back yard. My dog just licked the box.

I'm excited to get to work (sorry family!)and hopefully provide some new insights that Walt, David and the rest were afraid to give, for fear of some horrific Jobsian retribution. I don't even want to think of how many bloggers stricken with post-purchase euphoria are hammering away right now (will they bring down the Web?!), so I'm gonna cut it short. Again, if there's anything iPhone related you want your faithful PopSci team to investigate, leave it in the comments. --John Mahoney

Gotta Get An iPhone: The PopSci Saga

663154431_f144b7347b As the iPhone launch day fiasco unfolds, we thought we'd take a moment to share our own tale of getting our hands on a phone. As the world's largest consumer electronics magazine, you'd think we'd be able to get a review unit from Apple, yes? Well, no. Herr Jobs decided to seed just a handful of iPhones into the hands of high-profile journalists at daily newspapers including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.

We contacted Apple back in April to try to secure an iPhone for review, but got no response. So senior editor Mike Haney sent this email on June 11:

> Hey [Apple employee's name withheld here]
> Just wondering what the going bribe is to be among the pubs to get 
> a review phone on the 29th? Do we have to arm-wrestle the punks at 
> Gizmodo? Name our first-born Steve?
> As always, any help is appreciated. We’ll be covering it 
> extensively on PopSci.com right away and likely have editorial 
> coverage in What’s New or H2.0 as soon as we can.
> Thanks!
> -Mike

Hi Mike,  I hope my email finds you well and enjoying your day.   
Thanks for your interest in iPhone.

I am forwarding your request to my colleague [name withheld] for her 
records.  She'll capture your request, and will get back to you if 
we're able to accommodate.  We don't know the availability of loaners 
at this time.   Please feel free to follow up with her directly. She 
can be reached at [number] and or [email].

You may find pictures and information about the products on the Apple 
Press Info website located at http://www.apple.com/pr/. We appreciate 
your interest in the product.

We never heard back from [name withheld], so we placed a few more frantic phone calls. No answer. So, our alternative strategy?  Dispatch far-flung staff members to tiny stores in the boonies.

Associate Web editor John Mahoney—who is on vacation visiting family in Indiana—is currently in line at an AT&T store near Indianapolis.

Marketing director Pete Michalsky is reclining in a folding chair outside a strip mall in Connecticut. He sent this dispatch:

On 6/29/07 4:05 PM, pete.michalsky wrote:

> Megan - on line now.  The crowd is polite, but they started lining up here in
> Stamford @ 12 noon, so they're restless.  Store manager's coming out making
> announcements every 20 minutes or so.  Only one phone per.  Everything,
> including service selection and # porting being done on iTunes.  More updates
> later.

> What fun! Do you have a lawn chair?

All 2-fiddy sitting in a chair at a strip mall.  Livin the dream...

Staff photographer John Carnett is at an AT&T store in Philadelphia (notice a pattern here? PopSci officially feels that anyone waiting outside an Apple store at this moment is a total schmuck). He sent this report:

I went to a brand new AT&T store in Philadelphia at 12 Noon today—It was very remote so I figured I'd have no trouble getting one. I pulled in the lot and I see three very sort of rough-looking guys on a blanket. I see a topless bar across the street and then it all becomes very clear—they tell me they got the idea at 1 AM... They were not APPLE fans, they just figured they would sell them to someone, or sell the slot in line. Then I talked to this guy in a white van who started screaming about the fact that he has three months to go on his contract. I expect to have an iPhone and a cold beer by 8 pm. Wish me luck!

So, there you have it. Three men, 9 hours or so of paid salary time between them... three semi-functional but widely-coveted gadgets to show for the effort. The question remains: what should we do with the iPhones once we get 'em? Tell us in the comments. —Megan Miller

Image: TheQ!

iRobot Arms Bomb-Inspector 'Bots With Tasers

Irobot_resize One law down, two to go? iRobot, manufacturer of the Roomba vacuum, has teamed up with Taser to arm its Packbot robots with stun guns. But it’s hard to say whether this is actually a violation of the first of science fiction author Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Clearly, arming a robot with a stun gun is the first step towards breaking that rule. But the Packbots, currently used as bomb inspectors in Iraq, are remote-controlled. If there’s a human operator standing at a distance with his finger on the Taser trigger, is it really the robot that’s doing the harm? Yeah, probably. But please discuss.—Gregory Mone

Price Freeze Update

Due to a technical issue, we're not going to activate the "price-freeze" feature on PPX until Friday, July 6. So from now until that day, trades will continue to happen in real time, with no opening-bell effect. Please make a note of the schedule change.

Mars Mission Foiled by Alien Robot

This has got to be the best excuse for a failed space mission ever. The European Space Agency’s Beagle 2, which was set to explore the surface of Mars around the same time as NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity, never managed to dispatch a byte of data from the Red Planet. The probe was last seen a week before its planned landing in December, 2003 – unless we’re to believe a preview of the new film Transformers. What really happened, according to Hollywood? Why, poor little Beagle was crushed by a giant alien robot, of course. Its last transmission, sent from the surface, shows one of the enormous Transformers punching the helpless robot into scrap metal.

While we love this fictional scenario, we doubt ESA would have been able to keep details of such a transmission classified. Not while Spirit and Opportunity were grabbing headlines worldwide in their search for signs of water and life. With the folks at NASA boasting about sulfates, one of the Brits surely would have been tempted to counter, “Yes, but we found intelligent life forms that assume the shape of popular American vehicles.” Top that, NASA.—Gregory Mone

Your Local Weather Radar on Google Earth

Picture_38 Morale could use a little boost here at PopSci HQ this evening—our long awaited first office softball game has been postponed due to the approach of inclement weather. Alas, our poor opponents will have to wait another week to face our softball wrath. One good thing has come out of Mother Nature's cruel trick, however: the discovery of the National Weather Service's free Doppler Radar service on Google Earth.

If you ask me, Doppler radar is one of the finer developments of our time. From switching over to the local cable channel that used to show all-radar-all-the-time as a kid to witnessing the news channels' eternal Doppler arms race (New! Doppler Super Hawk Vision 3000!), much ballyhoo has always surrounded our ability to visualize the approach of oncoming storm clouds and prepare ourselves accordingly.

I don't know if it will ever get better than this, though: simply head over to the NWS's special site, choose your region and the type of radar you want (Composite Reflectivity! Storm Relative Motion!) and open the resulting file in Google Earth. Awesome. —John Mahoney

Link - NWS Enhanced Radar Images

Stopping the Silver Surfer

Only tachyons can save us now!

Note to the Reader: For those of you who haven't seen Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, yet are serious enough about it that you want even the most trivial plot details kept secret until you actually watch the movie, what follows will be a bit of a spoiler. (A rough calculation makes us think there are about three of you out there.) For the rest of you, don't worry, this little detail won't ruin anything.

So, Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic, is sitting in his lab trying to think of a way to separate an alien from his cosmic surfboard when he gets an idea. "A tachyon burst!" he exclaims.

Fast-forward a few scenes. A series of devices capable of delivering said burst are built, one is activated, and the aforementioned alien, known as the Silver Surfer, is cleanly knocked from his board.

Now, would this really work? Tachyons are theoretical particles believed to travel faster than the speed of light. Trying to think about what effect they would have on a liquid-silver alien can be thoroughly mind-bending—would they send him back in time or even arrive at their target in the past, thus having no effect whatsoever? So, we appealed to University of Washington physicist and science fiction author John G. Cramer, who has the scientific and imaginative chops to handle such questions.

First, Cramer notes that knocking the surfer off his board would require a transfer of momentum. And while the momentum of the hypothetical tachyon beam would be relatively small, there might be another, more dramatic effect. "The delivery of energy would be much more efficient than the delivery of momentum," Cramer says, "so it seems more likely they would blow the Silver Surfer apart rather than knock him around."

Instead, Cramer proposed another, decidedly less-sexy idea. "I think a cannonball or an artillery shell would work a lot better."

So, Mr. Fantastic, next time you try to save the world, do it the old-fashioned way.—Gregory Mone

The Web-powered Earthquake Meter

Earthquake A Japanese company called SunShine, Ltd., has developed an Internet-connected device that can warn you of an impending earthquake as many as 20 seconds before the tremors strike. The paperback-novel-sized device hooks into Japan's Meteorological Agency's early warning system, and emits an alarm when an earthquake occurs. The downside? Some reports suggest that it isn't always accurate. Not to mention that it won't actually give you a heads-up if you happen to be near the epicenter, since the shakes will spread faster than the Meteorological Agency's detection system can spread the word. Life-saving potential aside, a bit of clever hacking could turn it into a pretty good party trick.—Gregory Mone

Via Reuters

Beyond Einstein

Einstein It's good to know that NASA isn't wholly focused on that orbiting headache known as the International Space Station. The agency is still searching for answers to the grand questions. Yesterday, NASA established the new Einstein Probes Office to support several wild astrophysics missions that fall in the Beyond Einstein Program. Yes, it's just an administrative move, but we're still happy to see that programs like LISA, an on again, off again space-based observatory that will listen for gravity waves that roll out of merging black holes, are progressing.

Even more exciting are the three finalists (ADEPT, Destiny and SNAP) competing for a slot to solve one of the more perplexing mysteries in the cosmos, the nature of dark energy, the strange force that's practically blowing our universe apart.—Gregory Mone

iPhone Sign of the Apocalypse

Okay, so you've all heard about the spate of crack addicts, homeless people, freelancers and other layabouts advertising on Craigslist that they'll stand in the iPhone line at the Apple store for $200. But this post marks a new low: linesitters for the line. "Will let you pee for cash"? Somebody just bomb us—we're done for. —Megan Miller

Announcement: "Price Freeze" Coming

In a real-life trading system, there's a starting time that marks the moment when a market goes into action. This levels the playing field, allowing every trader an equal opportunity to jump in and buy or sell a stock at the opening price. Many PPX traders have expressed the desire for a similar feature on this site, so we’ve decided to create one.

Starting Monday, July 2, new IPOs will be released at an unspecified time each Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, and traders will be able to buy or short the new propositions... but trades placed throughout the day will be frozen until late afternoon, when the stock will be released into play. This way, each trader will have a chance to buy while the price is fixed at $50. In the evenings, you'll be able to see how your stock is performing in the market. All part of our plan to make this game more fair and fun. Now, go make some money!

Announcement: Trade Commissions Starting Monday

Effective Monday, PPX trades will be subject to a one percent commission. So, for example, if you purchase 10 shares of a given stock at POP$50 per share, a POP$5 commission charge will be deducted from your account.

Why would we charge for each trade, you might ask? Commissions are an important part of any market, especially those operating with play-money currencies. A small commission prevents abuses of the market system and makes every trade much more valuable in providing accurate probability information on the proposition at hand.

Serious traders need not fear, though—we'll regularly be offering special "commission-free" trading days. Watch the calendar to make sure you don’t miss them. Happy trading!

Mummy, Dearest

Vertmummyap Geesch, just when you think that you know a little something about history, along comes another DNA test to throw a monkey wrench into the grand scheme of things. According to a recent Associated Press report, a mummy, initially discovered in 1903, that had been lying around gathering more dust is none other than pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut.

Hat-a-who, you say? Oh, you remember Hatshepsut; like Cleopatra and Nefertiti, she ruled ancient Egypt. Unlike these other two purported beauty queens, however, Hatshepsut was a drag queen.

She called herself “pharaoh” and even dressed as a man. Unfortunately, Hatshepsut became a historical enigma at the end of her reign. No temples, no pyramids, no big budget movie deals starring Elizabeth Taylor. Oddly enough, even her mummy disappeared—that is, until now.

Researchers at the Cairo Museum had a “relic box” in their collection which turned out to contain some Hatshepsut organs and a tooth. The DNA samples from this box were compared against the 1903 mummy and, jumpin’ Jehosaphat! We had found our lost pharaoh queen.—Dave Prochnow


What Should NASA Do With the ISS?

Iss_2 The International Space Station has always been sold as an orbiting science laboratory, though just what those astronauts were studying has never been entirely clear. Now NASA has announced that once the ISS is completed in 2010 (or will it?), the agency will open up about half of the U.S.’s research space on the ISS for outside use—both for other government agencies, such as the DOE or Pentagon, and for universities and corporations.

So we ask you: What would you like to see the research space on the ISS used for? We’ll forward along the best suggestions to NASA HQ, and include a roundup in either print or on Popsci.com. Leave your ideas in the comments.—Michael Moyer

Three New Biofuel Centers to Come Online

Ethnol_2 Yesterday Samuel Bodeman, the Secretary of the Department of Energy, announced that the DOE will spend $375 million to fund three new research centers  dedicated to the problem of creating a commercially viable supply of biofuel in the U.S.

The challenge is to create fuels like cellulosic ethanol, which use as raw materials either agricultural waste or energy-efficient feedstocks like switchgrass, and produce them in sufficient quantities and at a low enough price to compete effectively with petroleum. Will it work? Probably. The PPX now says there’s a 54 percent chance that we’ll achieve Bush’s initiative to produce 20 percent of the U.S.’s fuel supply—about 35 billion gallons—by 2017.—Michael Moyer

Saved by the Virgin Mary


In 1709, someone spotted an image of the Virgin Mary in a tree root in northern Colombia. That turned out to be a lifesaver for two rare bird species, the Recurve-billed Bushbird and the Perija Parakeet, which were recently photographed for the first time in the wild.

Thanks to the Virgin sighting, declared a miracle by the Vatican, the remote bamboo forest around the tree root has been preserved as a sanctuary for almost three centuries. In 2005 it was also designated as an Important Bird Area, which attracted ornithologists and birdwatchers.

The new visitors re-discovered the Recurve-billed Bushbird, which had not been seen for 40 years. It’s known as the “smiling” bird because of the curve of its lower bill. Earlier this month, researchers from the Colombia bird-conservation organization Fundación ProAves finally caught the bird on film.

Photographed in the same habitat, the Perija Parakeet (also known as Todd’s Parakeet) is even rarer. Scientists estimate that only 30 to 50 of these birds survive in the wild. It may take another miracle to save them from extinction.—Dawn Stover

Birth of a Dream

First787june3 Get ready to fly in style. The first Boeing 787 Dreamliner finished assembly Tuesday night in Everett, Washington. Local aviation lover Charles Conklin pulled a James Bond to snap some rare photos, waiting with camera in hand until the hangar gates opened and revealed the future of commercial flight.

The Dreamliner makes its official debut July 8, and could make its first flight later this summer. And though the interior design does look enticing, we're also excited about the new air filtration system, which Boeing says will make for a much more comfortable flight. Arriving at your destination without a sandpaper-dry throat and a headache sounds like heaven.—Gregory Mone

See more photos here.

Zooming in on Genocide

A massive market cap and impending world dominance don't necessarily mean Google is evil. Take the newly announced initiative, Google Earth Outreach , in which the company hopes to show non-profits how to use its popular satellite software for good.

In one of the more stirring examples, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum hopes the technology will bring more attention to the crisis in Darfur. Zoom in on the region and you see the areas devastated by the genocide, while informational pop-ups provide added details about the horrors taking place and, of course, how you can help.—Gregory Mone 

The Un-Particle

Cms Sometimes you have to wonder if physicists are just playing out a cosmic joke on the rest of us. Harvard's Howard Georgi, a renowned theorist, has suggested that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the giant accelerator due to switch on next year, might be able to detect what he calls "unparticles." The members of this new class of matter have no mass, and should be difficult to detect, but physicists are already at work trying to figure out how to find them at the LHC.

While Georgi deserves applause for the clever nomenclature, the astrophysics community still prevails in this department, having proposed the existence of such strange beauties as repulsive dark matter (RDM), self-annihilating dark matter (SADM), and, our favorite, fuzzy dark matter (FDM).—Gregory Mone

Via Phys Org

Grass, Clay, Space

We'd be psyched too if someone named a star for us

Federer might dominate the grass, but in space? Out there, his rival Rafael Nadal rules. On May 28, 2003, Spanish astronomers discovered a new asteroid in the Main Belt and named it after the tennis star. Today, while Nadal hits at Wimbledon, his namesake is drifting somewhere between Mars and Jupiter, more than 100 million miles from Earth. Track him...or, it, here.—Gregory Mone

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