Archive for January, 2010

Superhuman Navy Seals

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

Photo via flickr by jurvetson

Humans are terrible swimmers, converting roughly 3 percent of their kicks, strokes and general underwater exertions into forward motion. We can boost our efficiency to 10 percent by adding fins, but dolphins, by comparison, can turn 80 percent of their energy into thrust. Not to be outdone, the Pentagon’s research wing, DARPA, is developing a contraption called PowerSwim that lets Navy SEALs and other combat divers swim faster, and with less effort.

When used properly, the device allows swimmers to cover a given distance up to 150 percent faster than with fins, while using the same amount of energy. Much of that boost in metabolic efficiency is due to the muscle groups used.

As DARPA program manager Barbara McQuiston explained, the swimmer is essentially relaxing into a slightly bent position, instead of forcing or pushing the foils through the water. This takes the emphasis off the small muscle groups used to kick, and allows larger muscle groups, such as the glutes and quads, to take over.

The goal isn’t to increase the total distance that personnel can cover, but to get them there more quickly, and with more energy.

via Popular Mechanics

Tactile Hearing

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Photo via flickr by Mat_the_W

Humans use their whole bodies, not just their ears, to understand speech, according to University of British Columbia linguistics research.

It is well known that humans naturally process facial expression along with what is being heard to fully understand what is being communicated. The UBC study is the first to show we also naturally process tactile information to perceive sounds of speech.

Prof. Bryan Gick of UBC’s Dept. of Linguistics, along with PhD student Donald Derrick, found that air puffs directed at skin can bias perception of spoken syllables. “This study suggests we are much better at using tactile information than was previously thought,” says Gick, also a member of Haskins Laboratories, an affiliate of Yale University.

The study, published in Nature, offers findings that may be applied to telecommunications, speech science and hearing aid technology.

English speakers use aspiration—the tiny bursts of breath accompanying speech sounds—to distinguish sounds such as “pa” and “ta” from unaspirated sounds such as “ba” and “da.” Study participants heard eight repetitions of these four syllables while inaudible air puffs—simulating aspiration—were directed at the back of the hand or the neck.

When the subjects—66 men and women—were asked to distinguish the syllables, it was found that syllables heard simultaneously with air puffs were more likely to be perceived as aspirated, causing the subjects to mishear “ba” as the aspirated “pa” and “da” as the aspirated “ta.” The brain associated the air puffs felt on skin with aspirated syllables, interfering with perception of what was actually heard.

“Our study shows we can do the same with our skin, “hearing” a puff of air, regardless of whether it got to our brains through our ears or our skin,” says Gick.

Future research may include studies of how audio, visual and tactile information interact to form the basis of a new multi-sensory speech perception paradigm.

via Science Daily

Extraordinary Mind Vint Cerf Predicts the Future of Mobile

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Vator TV reports that Vint Cerf appeared at the Churchill Club in Menlo Park, CA and offered three thoughts on the future of mobile.

Following are Vint’s predictions, paraphrased by technology trends and news editor, Matt Bowen.

1. Your mobile will become your remote.
You can easily predict that more and more appliances of all kinds—refrigerators, office equipment, etc, will be part of the Internet. That’s significant to mobile because once you connect all these things, the mobile is the remote controller for all these things, or it becomes the way to reach an intermediary that makes those decisions for you. You get rid of all the remote controls, and you might get some help from a third party.

2. There will be Internet capability in autos, and mobile will help us get there.
A car that doesn’t yet have Internet capability, when you get into our car with your mobile, you become the router. Have you ever been in a traffic jam and you didn’t know where it ends, but you know that everyone whizzing by on the other side knows? That information should be coming to you, and it will.

3. Interplanetary-grade connectivity
The current android operating system has a lot of experiments. For NASA, I’m trying to see if we can put the interplanetary protocols on top of Android Operating System, not because I want you to be able to call Mars, but because they’re more robust than what we currently have. What I’m anticipating is that if this works in the civilian mobile environment, we might see that suite of protocols in addition to the other ones we’re currently using today. And if that’s true, then you’d be able to have interactions that ordinarily wouldn’t work very well because communication breaks if connectivity breaks, but the DTN protocols are more robust in that regard.

Also, you may wonder, why are we creating an interplanetary network? Some people think, “Oh, you’re building this interplanetary network in hopes that somebody may come.” That’s not what we’re planning. All of our interplanetary work involves point-to-point radio links to communicate the spacecraft back to earth. There’s something called the deep space network which the jet propulsion laboratory runs which has three big 70-meter antennas that are stationed about 120 degrees apart on the earth, Madrid, Spain, Canberra, Australia and Goldstone, California so no matter how the earth rotates, those big antennas can see out into the solar system. But most of the applications have been point-to-point radio links. Well, that’s a very plain kind of network. Maybe like a radio relay, and that’s about it. If we had richer protocols for these systems, we could build much more complex missions that involved multiple spacecraft, maybe multiple orbiters.

My colleagues are designing these protocols to be used by all of the space-faring nations. The interplanetary network is an open source, open system; anyone can use it. And if they start to using these protocols as standards, then anyone’s spacecraft will be able to communicate with anyone else’s spacecraft. When you complete the primary mission, the spacecraft often survive well beyond that, so they can be re-purposed as part of a communication system. What I’m anticipating is that as we launch new missions, the previous missions’ assets will become part of an interplanetary backbone. I’m guessing that over the coarse of the next several decades we will actually grow an interplanetary system. That’ll be wonderful and useful overtime for both human and robotic exploration.

In a conversation with Sputnik Observatory, Vint shares his view of the future of mobile communications due to the advancement of the interplanetary internet.

SPTNK transcript

What We Desire, We See Closer

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Photo via flickr by Desirée Delgado

We assume that we see things as they really are. But according to a new report in Psychological Science, if we really want something, that desire may influence how we view our surroundings.

Psychological scientists Emily Balcetis from New York University and David Dunning from Cornell University conducted a set of studies to see how our desires affect perception. In the first experiment, participants had to estimate how far a water bottle was from where they were sitting. Half of the volunteers were allowed to drink water before the experiment, while the others ate salty pretzels, thus becoming very thirsty. The results showed that the thirsty volunteers estimated the water as being closer to them than volunteers who drank water earlier.

Our desire for certain objects may also result in behavioral changes. In a separate experiment, volunteers tossed a beanbag towards a gift card (worth either $25 or $0) on the floor, winning the card if the beanbag landed on it. Interestingly, the volunteers threw the beanbag much farther if the gift card was worth $0 than if it was worth $25—that is, they underthrew the beanbag when attempting to win a $25 gift card, because they viewed that gift card as being closer to them.

These findings indicate that when we want something, we actually view it as being physically close to us. The authors suggest that “these biases arise in order to encourage perceivers to engage in behaviors leading to the acquisition of the object.” In other words, when we see a goal as being close to us (literally within our reach), it motivates us to keep on going to successfully attain it.

via ScienceDaily

What will the Net look like in 2020?

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Photo via flickr the waving cat

According to Network World, we won’t recognize the Internet in 10 years. Computer scientists are re-thinking everything.

The National Science Foundation’s Network Technology and System (NeTS) program plans to select anywhere from two to four large-scale research projects to receive grants worth as much as $9 million each to prototype future Internet architectures with bids due first quarter 2010. The challenge is for researchers to come up with ideas that are more secure and more available for everyone: managing user’s identities, embracing wireless optical technologies; consideration of societal impacts.

The Internet research projects chosen for prototyping will run on a new virtual networking lab being built by BBN Technologies. The lab is dubbed GENI for the Global Environment for Network Innovations. The GENI program has developed experimental network infrastructure that’s being installed in U.S. universities. This infrastructure will allow researchers to run large-scale experiments of new Internet architectures in parallel with —but separated from — the day-to-day traffic running on today’s Internet.

Following are 2 experimental projects:


Researchers from Howard University in Washington, D.C. will be experimenting with a new type of mobile wireless network on the GENI platform called Opportunistic Networks. Opportunistic networks would use peer-to-peer communications to transfer communications if the network is unavailable. For example, you may want to send an e-mail from a car in a remote location without network access. With an opportunistic wireless network, your PDA might send that message to a device inside a passing vehicle, which might take the message to a nearby cell tower. Opportunistic mobile networks would be useful for emergency response if the network infrastructure is wiped out by a disaster or is unavailable for a period of time, or for developing countries such as India, which isn’t by traditional wireless infrastructure such as cell towers.


Davis Social Links is an architecture based on social networking that was developed at the University of California at Davis.

Davis Social Links uses the format of Facebook — with its friends-based ripple effect of connectivity — to propagate connections on the Internet. That’s how it creates connections based on trust and true identities, according to S. Felix Wu, a professor in the Computer Science Department at UC Davis.

“If somebody sends you an e-mail, the only information you have about whether this e-mail is valuable is to look at the sender’s e-mail which can be faked and then look at the content,” Wu says. “If you could provide the receiver of the e-mail with the social relationship with the sender, this will actually help the receiver to set up certain policies about whether the message should be higher or lower priority.”

Also, the social control layer interface under Davis Social Links is like a social version of Google.  You type some keywords…and the social Google will give you a list of pointers to some of the social content matching the keywords and the social path to that content.

via Network World

Compassion Economics

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Photo via

On April 9-11, 2010 in Kongresshaus, Zurich Switzerland, there will be a dialogue between economics, neuroscience and contemplative sciences. The conference, Compassion Economics, hosted by Mind & LIfe International, will feature speakers such as The XIV Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism; Lord Richard Layard, PhD, Professor of  Economics at the London School of Economics; Roshi Joan Halifax, PhD, founder of Upaya Zen Center, and William Drayton, CEO, Ashoka Foundation. The University of Zurich, regarded as a place of education and research, is the event’s co-sponsor.

Remote Viewing. No Cameras Needed.

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Photo via flickr by Bill M

While it’s believed that many mystics and saints could bilocate, such as Padre Pio whose doppelganger would be seen simultaneously around the world, the stealth tactic of remote viewing is more secular although lesser known. Remote viewing, the ability to perceive and obtain information about a distant person or event armed with only geographical coordinates, was the objective of the 1972 CIA-sponsored project led by scientists Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), and conducted by now-famous remote viewers Ingo Swann and Uri Geller, among others, for the purpose of espionage.

Following, Jacques Vallee, Venture Capitalist, explains:

Remote viewing is a very rich opportunity for experimentation about how information can be transmitted from one part of the world to another, from one part of our world to another. One of the surprising claims of remote viewing is that this can be done in time. If that could be validated then we would have another need to research what time really is. The question, the basic question is, “Is there really such a thing as time?” Does time, itself, have multiple dimensions? If time is a dimension, why should we only be able to go one way? When we’re told that time is a dimension like the others, that’s obviously not true because time only goes in one direction. I can move back and forth in x, y, and z. I cannot move back and forth in time. Or can we? Now if we can then that would give us insight into something that has been a mystery ever since mankind has existed, and it will immediately raise a lot of spiritual, religious questions. What is left? If time can be reversed then we exist forever. Or we can access other consciousness that may not be tied to the human body, to the human brain. That would open up all kinds of new areas. So the moment we break out of the multidimensional model that we have today, all kinds of things become possible.

Kalachakra: The Time Machine Buddha

Friday, January 8th, 2010

Photo via flickr by MarenYumi

Kalachakra is a Sanskrit term that means “time wheel” and refers both to a Tantric deity and to the philosophies and meditation practices contained within the Kalachakra Tantra, and its many commentaries.

Buddhist Scholar Robert Thurman, during an interview with Sputnik Observatory, states:

“The world appearance of The Maitreya prophecy in Buddhism is that probably hundreds of thousands of years after the Shakyamuni Buddha, another Buddha will come. I’m arguing that we have to have a turnaround much more quickly than the Buddha Maitreya would provide us, and I’m more therefore related to the Kalachakra, the time machine form of Buddhism, the Shambala prophecy, where it happens sooner. I think it it will happen in this century. It has to.”

NASA Studies Butterflies in Space

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Photo via flickr by tiswango

Astronauts are not the only ones earning wings on the International Space Station. Butterflies emerged aboard the station recently, to the delight of science students across the country.

The butterfly experiment, which included stunning Monarch and Painted Lady butterflies, is focused on stimulating science education across  the country by studying the insects’ development and behavior in microgravity. Hundreds of science teachers are participating with ground-based versions of the study and sharing the excitement with their students. The Monarchs were the first to be sent into space, while the Painted Ladies were the first to undergo a full metamorphosis from larva to pupa to adult while in orbit. Dr. Nancy Moreno, professor at the Baylor College of Medicine, is the project’s principal investigator.

‘Scaffolds’ Regenerate Bones, Stop Aging

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Illustrations for BODY / SPACE / FRAME by artist Antony Gormley and research engineer Sean Hanna via 3T RPD Ltd

Implantable organ and tissue “scaffolds” are currently in the spotlight for regenerative medicine, and may allow for the replacement of most body parts that flounder with age within 30-50 years, according to a report from BBC.

That means future centenarians born today could have a “physical” age of 50 at a calendar age of 100.

A “scaffolding” technique developed at Leeds University allows for transplantable tissues, and eventually organs, that the body can make its own. Once the scaffold has been transplanted, the body takes over and repopulates it with cells without any fear of rejection—the main reason why normal transplants wear out and fail.

Using this technique, a research team at Leeds has managed to make fully functioning heart valves, which involves taking a healthy donor heart valve—from a human or a suitable animal, such as a pig—and gently stripping away its cells using a cocktail of enzymes and detergents. The inert scaffold left can be transplanted into the patient, writes the BBC. According to Eileen Ingha, a professor at the university’s Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, trials in animals and on 40 patients in Brazil have shown promising results.

Across the continent, another approach to scaffolding is underway at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. There, professor Meital Zilberman has developed an artificial biologically active scaffold made from soluble fibers, which may help humans replace lost or missing bone.

via BBC

In a conversation with Sputnik Observatory, biologist Donald Ingber explains that our cells and proteins within the body are scaffold-based.

About five years ago, people began to discover that there is a cytoskeleton in bacteria and actually bacteria are not filled with floating little enzymes. They’re about as dense as a catalytic converter. It’s like the mitochondria in our cells people think came from primordial bacteria that essentially inhabited the first cells – like two cells coming together to join to create a more complex cell.

So in my work on the origin of life, I started at the atom, and I go up to molecules being synthesized off of clay, and these molecules folding up like tensegrity and having some shape stability and grouping together and forming complexes. And some key ideas that are involved in this are that when you form a complex over time, if you had enough stability in the complex, you might evolve complexes that can produce themselves and you have replicated complexes of proteins. It’s not so bizarre because there are proteins, like prions, which cause brain diseases. Essentially, they’re proteins that replicate by inducing shape changes in other proteins. This is like mad cow disease, prion disease. In any case, once you get scaffolds that have certain functionalities, in millions of years and you might have lots of different functionalities and they may come together and form more complex structures. But what came out of this discussion, and referring to the literature about what people have actually seen, began to describe the emergence of the first cells which essentially would, based on this paradigm, would start with structures that can maybe use RNA to make their own scaffolds and maybe, over time, convert into proteins that can make their own protein so that you have protein-synthesis scaffolds. And then, on top of that, you would then emerge structures that replicate: can induce, synthesize nucleic acids, like other RNAs or DNAs. Essentially, when you look at the literature and you look at how bacteria are structured, they have machineries that essentially match very much the idea of sort of coupling the DNA synthesis machinery and the protein-synthesis machinery and the cortical membrane of the cell, actually using scaffolds. It’s all scaffold-based. It’s almost the solid structural system, that structure and catalyst as one. The idea of tensegrity hasn’t been explored in a great way, but it’s certainly a system that has different sorts of cytoskeletal elements and is undoubtedly prestressed because it only has attractive forces between the different elements.